Hollywood execs can get awfully creative when they need to come up with excuses for why film and TV should stay so male-centric. Boys won’t watch stories about girls? Wrong. Women and girls don’t go to the movies? Wrong. So what’s the next self-serving industry delusion they’re peddling now?
Boys like dolls so much more than girls do. (Because, come on, action figures are totally dolls.)
Boys’ love of dolls is, in fact, the explanation writer Paul Dini got for why his Cartoon Network show, Tower Prep, was canceled. In a fascinating discussion with director Kevin Smith, Dini relates that higher-ups at the cable network urged him to focus his storylines on his male characters and make his female characters “one step behind the boys, not as smart as the boys, not as interesting as the boys.” When Dini proceeded to create fully realized girl characters anyway, the Cartoon Network axed the show.
Here’s the relevant excerpt (emphases added):
DINI: They’re all for boys. “We do not want the girls,” I mean, I’ve heard executives say this, you know, not [where I am] but at other places, saying like, “We do not want girls watching this show.”
SMITH: WHY? That’s 51% of the population.DINI: They. Do. Not. Buy. Toys. The girls buy different toys. The girls may watch the show —SMITH: So you can sell them T-shirts if they don’t — A: I disagree, I think girls buy toys as well, I mean not as many as fucking boys do, but, B: sell them something else, man! Don’t be lazy and be like, ‘well I can’t sell a girl a toy.’ Sell ’em a T-shirt, man, sell them fucking umbrella with the fucking character on it, something like that. But if it’s not a toy, there’s something else you could sell ’em! Like, just because you can’t figure out your job, don’t kill chances of, like, something that’s gonna reach an audi — that’s just so self-defeating, when people go, like… these are the same fuckers who go, like, “Oh, girls don’t read comics, girls aren’t into comics.” It’s all self-fulfilling prophecies. They just make it that way, by going like, “I can’t sell ’em a toy, what’s the point?”DINI: That’s the thing, you know I hate being Mr. Sour Grapes here, but I’ll just lay it on the line: that’s the thing that got us cancelled on Tower Prep, honest-to-God was, like, “We need boys, but we need girls right there, right one step behind the boys” — this is the network talking — “one step behind the boys, not as smart as the boys, not as interesting as the boys, but right there.” And then we began writing stories that got into the two girls’ back stories, and they were really interesting. And suddenly we had families and girls watching, and girls really became a big part of our audience, in sort of like they picked up that Harry Potter type of serialized way, which is what The Batman and [indistinct]’s really gonna kill. But, the Cartoon Network was saying, ‘Fuck, no, we want the boys’ action, it’s boys’ action, this goofy boy humor we’ve gotta get that in there. And we can’t — and I’d say, but look at the numbers, we’ve got parents watching, with the families, and then when you break it down — “Yeah, but the — so many — we’ve got too many girls. We need more boys.”SMITH: That’s heart-breaking.DINI: And then that’s why they cancelled us, and they put on a show called Level Up, which is, you know, goofy nerds fighting CG monsters. It’s like, “We don’t want the girls because the girls won’t buy toys.” We had a whole merchandise line for Tower Prep that they shitcanned before it ever got off the launching pad, because it’s like, “Boys, boys, boys. Boys buy the little spinny tops, they but the action figures, girls buy princesses, we’re not selling princesses.”
Let’s put aside the disheartening implication that stories can only be told if they can be also reduced to colorful chunks of plastic and sold to a bunch of little kids who can only express fandom through buying merchandise.
What Dini and Smith’s conversation reveals is that the lazy and incompetent suits at Cartoon Network were so intent on selling to just 25% of the audience (young males) that they completely disregarded that they had captured all four viewer quadrants (boys and girls as well as families, which presumably includes parents). As Scott Beggs notes over at Film School Rejects, “It’s clear that ‘Girls don’t buy X’ is another way of saying ‘I don’t know how to sell girls X'” — a problem that might be alleviated by the greater presence of female execs over at the network. (They do know that girls love cartoons too, right?)
Unfortunately, the consequences of Cartoon Network’s shortsightedness — and frankly, their piss-poor business decision — is the continuation of a media climate hostile to female characters and audiences. Kudos to Paul Dini and Smith for laying bare the jaw-dropping levels of idiocy and complacency we’re battling against.
[h/t Film School Rejects]