The blockbuster mentality and the invisible audience

iStock_000010133336XSmallMelissa Silverstein of Women And Hollywood recently wrote a piece for Women’s Media Center called Pondering the Chick Flick. It’s a great read that explores the history of the chick flick up to now, describes the frustrating dichotomy in which “chick flicks” often promote women filmmakers (yay!) while encouraging regressive sexist values (boo!), and suggests thinking beyond the labels.

One particular part of Melissa’s post struck a chord with me, and I want to expand on it just a bit:

Fast-forward to the late 70s and early 80s when feminism was saturating the cultural landscape of the country and, for a brief moment, also penetrating Hollywood as women moved into powerful positions behind the scenes.  The films of that period show some of the strongest, most feminist women ever seen onscreen and displayed the depth and range of the rising female consciousness.  These films—including Julia, Norma Rae, An Unmarried Woman, Silkwood, 9 to 5, My Brilliant Career, Yentl, Places in the Heart, Out of Africa, The Color Purple, Children of a Lesser God, Desert Hearts— relayed women’s stories as important and valid to the culture and often appealed to men as well.  But just like the women’s film flamed out, by the late 1980s, feminist films began to disappear as the blockbuster mentality grew in combination with the “backlash” documented by Susan Faludi.  Since that time women have slowly and steadily been losing clout onscreen in a disturbing way that belies their behind-the-scenes power positions.

We’ve discussed before on this site about how women are not slowly making progress in film and TV but are, in fact, merely recovering ground we lost in recent years. Melissa offers the “blockbuster mentality” and the “backlash” Susan Falludi wrote about as an explanation for why that’s happening. This is absolutely correct. As far as the backlash goes, you really need to read Susan Falludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women if you haven’t already. Falludi is one of those rare writers who can distill history into a simple chain of actions, consequences, reactions and more consequences, and in this book, she documents how a few powerful people deliberately attacked the gains made by women through the early 80s with a campaign of media spin, fear mongering, and outright lies. I’d love to try to sum up the book for you, but I can’t. It really has to be read.

The blockbuster mentality, however, is something I was thinking about just last week.The film industry used to be run by filmmakers who’d been promoted from within. At some point in the late 70s or early 80s, these folks started getting replaced en masse by people who had MBAs and business experience but no particular love for nor understanding of films. Film hadn’t been doing so well in terms of profiting (neither had anything else – look up the late 70s and early 80s sometime), and this was cited as a reason for change.

The people who came in quickly diagnosed the “problem” – those silly filmmakers wanted to make artsy-fartsy stuff the audience was too stupid to understand. Only MBAs really understood the audience and just how dull-witted a collection of Homer Simpsons it was. The MBAs immediately set about impressing themselves with their own fabulous reports and demographics and spreadsheets, and engaging in ferocious dick-measuring contests anytime two or more of them wound up in a room or on a conference call together. I can say that without fear of being sexist, because there was nary a woman in sight.

It was also around this time that the new breed of film executives allegedly “figured out” something no one has ever found a shred of evidence to back up: that the best audience is white teenage boys. Hey, go figure! Was it just a coincidence that as soon as film got taken over by a group containing more than its fair share of emotionally stunted man-boys who functioned at a pre-teen mentality, they suddenly discovered that movies really should only be made for teenage boys? Probably not. We humans are not as objective as we like to think. Spreadsheets and computers give us the delusion that we’re not steering the Ouija planchette when we put our hands on it, but the irony here is just delicious: early film executives guessed what the audience wanted, based on their own desires, because they loved movies just like the audience did. The MBAs thought they could totally take their own desires out of the equation and be perfectly objective, but in reality, they just projected themselves into the audience so hard that all the people who weren’t teenage boys stopped existing for them. At least the early filmmakers understood that women shopped with real money and stuff. It takes a very special kind of brain warp to lose sight of a fact like that while making six movies a year about women shopping.

Comments

  1. MaggieCat says

    but the irony here is just delicious: early film executives guessed what the audience wanted, based on their own desires, because they loved movies just like the audience did.

    Just last night, I was watching a 30 min documentary about Chuck Jones’ childhood and how he got into the cartoon business, and this very sentiment was one of the things that lodged in my brain the most strongly — that during the early years of Merrie Melodies they had no idea if the audiences would find the shorts that funny, they were just trying to make each other laugh. Which is why so much of it holds up so well.

    Since Jones’ work is in that pantheon that probably comes the closest to being universally beloved as is possible, that makes it really absurd that people currently producing most television/film seem to have forgotten that point.

    (Also entertaining is the fact that I’d already thought of that documentary in connection with THL, since I noticed in the credits that it was funded by Women Make Movies. How very random.)

  2. says

    Jennifer-

    What a great and thoughtful piece. I’ve been thinking about the bush years as the 2nd backlash years. I wonder when we look back at the films that were released and put into production in the bush years will say about our culture. Might be something to think about.

  3. says

    Maggie, that’s some coincidence, LOL. And it is a perfect example of the instinctive choices that made the industry what it was. We’re sort of told to believe film was on the verge of collapse because of these instinctive choices before the suits swept in and fixed everything, but I don’t think the evidence really supports that. Nor do I think movies are, on the whole, more profitable than they used to be.

    Melissa, thank you. Yes, much of what happened under the Bush administration made me think of Falludi’s chapters on the Reagan administration. Her book, Terror Dreams, uses the post 9/11 trauma to look at how our society constructs manhood, and how we must all conform to the so-called “natural” behaviors of our respective genders which, you know, we have to be reminded of constantly despite the “fact” they’re hard-wired. ;)

    Film seemed bent on reinforcing this “natural order” more than usual during these years. And I still want to know what the administration said when it made a big trip to Hollywood to speak to film people first thing after 9/11. Supposedly, they needed the expertise of screenwriters to figure out what the terrorists might do next, but I call horse puckey on that. If it’s true, the CIA and FBI should immediately be disbanded and no further money be wasted on them, since screenwriters do it better, and for free. ;)

  4. Robin says

    I realize that I’m not the Hollywood stereotype of a female audience member, but I’ve never been into “chick flicks” just because their main characters are women. I like movies with characters who are entertaining to watch, whatever their gender, doing interesting things. Growing up as a geek girl in the ’80s, that mostly meant sci-fi and action.

    But here’s the thing… there was sci-fi and action starring women. I grew up in the era of Sarah Connor and Ellen Ripley and She-Ra, Princess of Power. (Okay, yes, in hindsight She-Ra was pretty sexist, but I didn’t realize that when I was seven.) These were women who could kick some cyborg / killer alien / monster butt and still clean up pretty good. They didn’t pull each other’s hair over the perfect wedding dress (but if they did they totally would’ve won). There were strong women role-models in every genre, not just the one the Hollywood number crunchers decided we should like.

    Now, I will admit that there are some romantic comedies I enjoy. I can’t relate to the women of Sex and the City in the slightest, but I love Heathers and most of the John Hughes / Molly Ringwald movies. I have an inexplicable weakness for Someone Like You starring Ashley Judd. But probably my favorite “chick flick” of all time is Keeping the Faith, a story that is largely about the relationship between three friends, only one of whom is a woman, and directed my one of its (male) stars. And I almost never make a point of seeing these films in a theater, the way I did with Watchmen and Dark Knight and Iron Man.

    Breaking through this blockbuster mentality is the same struggle viewers of the SciFi Channel (soon to be called “Syfy”, but that another argument entirely) have been having for years now. The entire genre, be it chick flicks or science fiction, is classified by the people in power as silly or frivolous, so they only fund the silly, frivolous scripts because they think those will turn the greatest profit. Thus we end up with things like Bride Wars and Ghost Hunters, when all we really want is good storytelling.

  5. MaggieCat says

    Okay, yes, in hindsight She-Ra was pretty sexist, but I didn’t realize that when I was seven.

    I’m going to have to disagree with you on that. Yes the skirt is a little short, but I’d argue that with a decent pair of bike shorts underneath it’s miles ahead of He-Man’s furry underpants and random chest straps costume. Frankly, I still think that’s one of the few cartoons that would update nicely to a live-action movie, and yet apparently someone decided to produce a movie based on Candy Land instead. Yes, really.

  6. Robin says

    I wasn’t talking about the portrayal of She-Ra herself, as such. I was more commenting on her world as a whole. Maybe I just saw their bad episodes, but when I watched a few online a couple years back, I was struck by how demeaning it was in terms of gender roles. Then again, that’s kind of hard to avoid in a Dark-Ages-y setting, so maybe I’m just being overly sensitive about the whole thing. It’s been known to happen. [/off topic]

  7. Pocket Nerd says

    Incidentally, the “MBAs replace artists” phenomenon isn’t limited to Hollywood. It happens often enough in the electronic gaming industry that I’d started to think of it as “the Electronic Arts Effect”— a company is founded by visionaries who just want to make really great games, it establishes itself with a popular franchise or two, and then its leadership is gradually replaced by business wonks who worry more about the bottom line than about making a fun toy. Gradually the visionaries leave as the corporate culture becomes hostile to ars gratia artis, and they’re replaced by uninspired clock-punchers more willing to conform to the business wonks’ policies. Eventually the company is reduced to a line of increasingly derivative works (Madden 200X, anybody?) while the upper management wonders why all their devoted fans and positive press seem to have disappeared.

    It seems to me this promotes sexism in the video game industry as much as it does in the film industry. Game developers struck by the Electronic Arts Effect create games where women are trophies to be won with the male lead’s skills and prowess (“rescue the princess” is the most cliche example of this, but far from the only example) or, possibly worse, the simple state of being a woman is somehow depicted as strange and exotic. (Jennifer Brandes and Chris Hepler described this sort of character as “Woman Man” in their article Saving Throw for Half Cooties. Google it right now if you haven’t read it. No, seriously, right this instant.) Developers focused on merely creating a good game with a fun story aren’t immune from creating games with dumb stereotypes about women, but they are more likely to create games like Portal or Mass Effect.

  8. says

    I can’t find a link to that article that actually works. :(

    But you’re right. I think it even goes beyond entertainment – look at corporate farming. It takes a special kind of psychosis to feed a cow beef or use sadistically inhumane methods of slaughtering if you actually see your livestock every day and you’re the one responsible; it’s much easier for sick stuff to happen when there’s a chain of responsibility, and everyone along it is removed from the actual activity they’re sanctioning, and no one feels solely responsible. It’s like mob psychology: individuals in a group will do really sick things that none of those individuals would ever do alone, because the responsibility is diffused and people get swept up in minutia.

    Of course, some corporations choose to be ethical, and some solo entrepreneurs are unethical as hell. I’m just saying the corporate atmosphere makes unethical activity easier to perpetrate, because of the diffused responsibility and plausible deniability that comes with working as a group.

  9. Pocket Nerd says

    I’m not sure about the legal issues, or whether a document that was once freely available on the web is okay to redistribute, but I can send you the PDF, if you like. Feel free to shoot me an email if you want a copy.

    I think this website belongs to one of the authors:

    http://www.strange-child.com/

    You might be able to contact the author there. Me, I’m thinking about adding yet another blog feed… as if I didn’t have enough already…

  10. Ikkin says

    I managed to find a copy of Saving Throw For Half Cooties on the Wayback Machine:
    http://web.archive.org/web/20061024035513/http://www.tasteslikephoenix.com/articles/women.html
    The internet seems to make things more and more difficult to lose permanently. ;)

    Going back to the topic of the “blockbuster mentality,” I think it causes some problems with entertainment that it couldn’t cause in other industries. After all, trying to create something as subjective as a movie or a game from an objective list of qualities is unlikely to result in something worthwhile. Not only is it incredibly difficult to pin down whether an audience doesn’t like a type of movie/character/whatever or just the way it’s implemented, but even if there was a perfect checklist of things people like, a movie could meet every relevant criteria and still come off as generic and soulless.

    Letting the creators write things that they’d enjoy themselves might not be a perfect solution, but at least there wouldn’t be any “objective” ideal to pander to.

  11. says

    Robin: I just finished watching all of She-ra (and it was good, and I feel my life has been muchly enriched) and while there are certainly some sexist elements, I’m not sure what you’re getting at there. Yes, the Fright Zone is filled with stupid male robots while Whispering Woods has several female characters with special powers. It’s commentary on environmentalism vs. industrialism. If we’re talking about Hordak, Hordak’s demeaning to everybody. The only thing that sticks out to me are the people whose costumes have gender codes and often it looked like there were more men than women, but there are several women in power throughout the show. It’s hard to say unless I know what episode you’re talking about. I know I found a couple of episodes very sexist, even while I was tittering with hilarity.

    Back to the topic – This whole corporate mentality isn’t just hitting Hollywood either. I remember when I was in university, the fact that many large companies supported the school financially loomed large in the forms of the business school being nicer and shinier, the football field getting upgrades (while students had to deal with an increase in fees to subsidize it), and a general feel that the institution wasn’t for learning anymore.

    It’s like mob rule. And, as we know, “a mob is only as clever as its stupidest member”. And stupid people tend to be cruel.

  12. DragonLadyK says

    The problem here isn’t the MBAs in charge of the industry, IMO.

    The American viewing public are the ones positively reinforcing the MBAs’ “blockbuster mentality.” It’s like giving a dog a bone to shut him up when he barks at the neighbors: without meaning to, you’re training the dog to bark at the neighbors because the bad behavior (barking) is getting him what he wants (bones). Similiarly, by watching sexist/mindless television and movies “just because it’s on,” the American public reinforces the MBAs’ notion that teenage boys are in fact the best demographic. The bad behavior (sexist, brainless movies) is getting them what they want (money).

    If blockbuster films/television suddenly plummeted while smart films/television held steady or increased viewership, the MBAs would change their tunes just to survive. It’s exactly like what’s happening with free-range eggs and organic foods: the production companies are noticing that more and more people are willing to buy those products even at a higher cost, so more and more companies are making those products available to cash in. The industry is being trained to produce better-quality food. McDonalds has very strict rules about how its animals are killed because there was a huge scandal about their slaughtering plants and people stopped buying their food because of it. Temple Grandin even uses McDonalds as an example in her books of the fact the industry is capable of change if given sufficient motivation.

    The MBA’s care for money above all else makes them eminently trainable by a determined public. ^^

    DragonLady

  13. says

    DragonLadyK, I disagree for the most part, and have written extensively about why (no, I promise I’m not throwing a hoard of links at you – I’ll sum up my argument as best I can after *g*):

    http://thehathorlegacy.com/nobody-knows-anything-but-dont-tell-the-financiers/

    http://thehathorlegacy.com/why-women-cant-vote-with-their-dollars-in-film-and-tv/

    http://thehathorlegacy.com/women-dont-go-see-movies/

    http://thehathorlegacy.com/women-viewers-need-not-apply/

    And from the L.A. Times: http://articles.latimes.com/1998/jun/26/entertainment/ca-63618

    The William Goldman link is the best (the first one) – in it, he describes how when a film does unexpectedly well, normally the studios try to figure out why so they can replicate the success. Except when it features or targets women – then, it’s just a fluke, and you can’t replicate those, so onto the next bit.

    The flipside of this is: when a movie flops, the MBAs also ahve to try to figure out why. They have to guess at possibilities and then reason out whether those sound right. And gee whiz, I’ve never heard of any of them guessing “Maybe people other than those weirdo feminists are sick of gender stereotypes.” If it doesn’t even occur to them as a consideration, they can’t possibly realize that’s the change the audience is after.

    Whereas, if people stop buying Big Macs, and you haven’t changed how you make ‘em lately, and FAST FOOD MAKES YOU FAT, AND THEN YOU SUCK is all over the news, it’s pretty easy to figure out what your consumers are rejecting.

    I also wrote this article:

    http://thehathorlegacy.com/why-discriminate-if-it-doesnt-profit/

    Which compares the film industry’s unawareness of the desire for cool women characters to the hair styling industry’s unawareness that they aren’t by and large servicing the curly haired majority unless we conform by straightening our hair. So, this sort of ignorance is not limited to film – and the result is that the industry becomes the mountain and the consumer becomes Mohammed, rather than the other way around.

    BTW, this does not negate your point that it might eventually help if people would stop watching crap. I’m just saying that before that CAN help, the MBAs will need a wake-up call in order to even begin to guess what’s being rejected.

  14. says

    Ikkin, thanks for finding that! Awesome article – seriously, everyone must go read it, gamer or not. I found it particularly insightful because I’m not a gamer, and it paints vividly the misconceptions people have about women and gaming and women gamers and women who opt out of gaming.

    Re: your remark about the guessing system filmmakers employed before things got more corporate. I agree – and it also doesn’t give people the illusion they’ve been objective, and therefore whatever conclusions they’ve drawn are unassailable, thereby making everyone who disagrees with them wrong. I can’t tell you how many conversations I had with film pros that went something like this:

    Me: You say numbers don’t lie. Where are the numbers proving, for example, people don’t want more Ellen Ripleys?
    Them: That movie last month about the blond shop-a-holic didn’t do well.
    Me: Yeah, and? She was nothing like Ellen Ripley.
    Them: [blank stare – perhaps they thought “has vagina” was the extent of my criteria?]
    Me: I’m talking about heroic women in action and sci-fi, not Valley girls shopping in chick flicks.
    Them: Well, people only saw Aliens because of the aliens, not Ellen Ripley.
    Me: And you know this how?
    Them: Because the numbers don’t lie. Look, I’m sympathetic, but someday you’ll understand.

    After I got assimilated, I guess.

  15. DragonLadyK says

    BTW, this does not negate your point that it might eventually help if people would stop watching crap. I’m just saying that before that CAN help, the MBAs will need a wake-up call in order to even begin to guess what’s being rejected.

    I’m saying that as long as the American viewing public (and by that I mean not just women and feminists, I mean people of both genders and the non-feminists, that is, the same people who are rewarding the MBAs now) are willing to watch crap even though they want not-crap, or if they enjoy crap, then any wake-up call efforts are doomed to failure.

    In behavioral science, primary reinforcers are things that have an effect all of themselves, like sex, pain, and food. Secondary reinforcers are things that mean something else is coming, like sirens or a promotion. Primary reinforcers trump secondary reinforcers every time.

    To use an example, let’s take parents yelling at their kids. Parents are told by experts that good parents don’t yell at their kids because yelling at kids is bad for them. Other people look askance at parents who yell. Both of those are social consquences, which are secondary reinforcers. They don’t stop parents from yelling at their kids most of the time because a negative reinforcement loop is a primary reinforcer: the child is doing something painful or distressing to the parent, the parent yells, the child stops; the child habituates to yelling, so the parent yells louder, and the child stops. The tangible satisfaction wins. Only when yelling stops working (either because the child has completely habituated, or because the constant activation of the RAGE system caused by constant yelling becomes in itself painful to the parent) does the parent stop yelling and start listening to other training options held forth by the experts they were ignoring earlier. Sometimes that point is never reached and the loop continues until the child leaves the house.

    The MBAs are being primarily reinforced for producing blockbusters — like the parents yelling at their kids, they’re stuck in a loop. They provide crappy entertainment, the public watches and habituates, the MBAs provide even more crappy (or crappier) entertainment, the public still watches and habituates, and so on and so on.

    As long as the loop is working and the reward persists, they have no incentive to listen to an alternative viewpoint. The secondary reinforcer of feminist ire and losing the feminist market they already don’t have will not trump the primary reinforcer of millions of dollars from the viewing public as a whole. Telling MBAs they need to change now and expecting it to work is working against human nature.

    Instead, it would be more effective and more likely not to backslide as soon as your back is turned to convince the American viewing public first that they have the power to train the MBAs (which most people don’t feel is true; they think they just have to accept what is produced or else abandon TV/film entirely), and to convince them that better-quality programming is worth boycotting in the short term. That will make the reinforcement loop stop working, which will give the MBAs a primary reinforcer reason to listen to the feminist viewpoint.

    The change-the-market-first approach would take a lot of time, of course, but behavioral science is like engineering: you can make it cheap, fast, or right, but not all three. ^^

    DragonLady

    • says

      DragonLadyK, that’s very well said and I can’t add anything to it but agreement.

      Just to be clear, what I was specifically arguing against was:

      The problem here isn’t the MBAs in charge of the industry, IMO.

      A lot of people tell me it’s not them, it’s the viewers. But they don’t go the extra step and acknowledge the feedback loop: that the MBAs have to figure out WHY we’re rejecting a film, or nothing the audience does will help. (As I pointed out to one young producer, I had been avoiding films for years because they don’t feature more Ellen Ripleys, but the MBAs think it’s because I’m a girl, and girls don’t go to movies unless their menfolk dragz ‘em along. That’s why I said women can’t vote with our dollars – no one understands what we’re voting for.)

      Interestingly, the MBAs also swear “It’s not us who’s sexist, racist, etc. – it’s the viewers! We hate it, but we must chase those dollars, and we have proof, we swear, that the audience wants bigotry on screen! We can’t produce this proof – take our word for it.”

      So I totally think the MBAs are a big part of the problem. I agree with you that the audience is also part of it. But one could also argue that the lack of anything comparable to going to a theater is also part of the problem – as long as people enjoy being locked in a dark room in a state of sensory deprivation while entertainment unfolds on a screen and they eat candy and popcorn, people are going to continue to see movies, no matter what crap is put out. So as I see it, the MBAs are by far the primary problem. Even if we all did what you suggest, which I wish we would, I think it’s actually possible the industry would fail before MBAs would ever consider the possibility that people other than weird academics were tired of stereotypes. They are that firmly convinced we love stereotypes and get confused and angry when we can’t judge a character by their looks.

  16. Kiki says

    The whole reinforcing by going to blockbusters etc. Made me think of an example from my life.

    My boyfriend loves comic books, and loves movies based off comic books. He really wants to see “Watchmen”. I’m really tired of all the comic book movies about ambiguous morality and “world of darkness”. This is like the 5th movie out this year about the same basic premsis IMO. Not going. Period. I play the roleplaying games where you are amibiguous morality superhero and I live in a world where it seems like working hard is not getting people anywhere. I’m on stike until we get what the public really needs: splashy 1930s era musicals that make the publc feel good.

  17. Pocket Nerd says

    I don’t buy the “we poor movie moguls are just obeying the mighty Vox Populi” angle either. It has always been the privilege and the duty of art to challenge cultural standards and boundaries. And it’s not like Hollywood turns out just one or two movies every year and has to pick them carefully; there’s plenty of room to experiment. Sure, movies have to please the moviegoing masses to make a buck, but sometimes you can present the moviegoing masses with something they didn’t know they’d like. American Beauty, Braveheart, and The Matrix are all award-winning films that almost didn’t see the light of day because conventional Hollywood wisdom said they would never sell; and each has been widely copied since then, helping to shape the direction of modern cinema. Hollywood took a chance, and it paid off.

    Why don’t we see woman-positive works as ground-breaking and as seminal as those movies? Why do we see so few movies that take a chance on the idea that women are not only a market demographic, but a rich source of stories to tell? (I mean, there are three billion of you, so there must be a few bucks to be made in catering to your tastes, right?) Why is it easier and more socially acceptable to make a big, expensive, heavily-promoted movie about a computer nerd’s power-trip fantasy or a creepy middle-aged man’s age-inappropriate sexual infatuation than it is to make a movie about women acting like women?

    I can only assume it’s because Hollywood’s producers and financial backers are genuine misogynists. Maybe not in the “RAWR ME HATE WO-MAN” sense, but they find stories about women boring or repellent, so they tell themselves that everybody else finds stories about women boring and repellent too. The Vox Populi argument just doesn’t hold water. The masses may not be screaming for movies about and by women, but they weren’t exactly screaming for a movie about fourteenth-century Scottish history either.

  18. DragonLadyK says

    I think it’s actually possible the industry would fail before MBAs would ever consider the possibility that people other than weird academics were tired of stereotypes.

    I disagree.

    Ed Bernero’s “Criminal Minds” is full of vivid, realistic, powerful women both behind badges, as civillians, and as victims. Every character regardless of gender, including the walk-ons, is a three dimensional being with a soul. The show has incredibly deep thematic elements, as well as evoking every possible emotional response from the viewer in turns. CBS let Ed make his show his way, they haven’t cancelled it, and it’s sitting beautifully in the Neilsens making them beaucoup bucks.

    “Babylon 5″ also had vivid, realisitic female characters who were the equals of their male counterparts. Delenn was a powerhouse (like John Sheridan), then there was courageous, hilarious, but damaged Susan (and Michael Garibaldi), Talia who had the courage to turn everything she believed on its head when she had to (as G’Kar did), and Lyta who had the power to face down gods and did so. Dodger was a soldier who lived for the day and killed efficiently just like her male GROPOS counterparts without apology. The TNT execs put B5 on the air and on DVD, and as a “cult hit” it has made them money.

    The MBAs have the capacity to fund smart entertainment. They have in the past. In an America with a picky viewing public, only those shows would still be making money. That would provide proof (and positive reinforcement) to the feminist viewpoint.

    Even if those particular MBAs didn’t listen, other MBAs would come along who would listen. Capitalism doesn’t exist in a vacuum — if one person refuses to make money off something, someone else will step in. Just look at Dr. Temple Grandin’s work. No one in the meat industry thought you could make money being humane or make money off behavioral science, and she’s been doing it and teaching others to do it for decades.

    DragonLady

  19. says

    (I don’t want to derail this thread, but…)

    DragonLadyK said:

    Um…do none of these female characters have last names like the male characters you also mentioned? I do know that Susan’s last name was Ivanova, Talia’s last name was Shire, Delenn was alien and therefore didn’t seem to have a last name, and I don’t remember Lyta’s last name, but I know she had one.

    Why not use their last names while you’re using the male character’s last names? It’s a pattern I see often–not just with you, but many others who refer to female characters and male characters. Female characters are referred to by their first, familiar names, while male characters are almost always referred to by their full names or last names only.

  20. says

    Actually, that entire message was messed up. That entire quote section is mine. Jeez, and here I’m on my second cup of coffee this morning. Never mind my second comment.

  21. says

    DragonLadyK, those are all TV examples. TV is quite different from film on this point – much more willing to experiment and risk a few bucks to see if this new idea someone had will fly with the audience. Very often, we lump TV and film together on this site, but this is one case where the very nature of the two media makes that impossible – a movie is a one-shot deal, and a very expensive one (particularly in the case of a blockbuster, which is what this post is about), while a pilot TV show is much cheaper and poses much less risk to any one individual’s career.

  22. DragonLadyK says

    Talia’s last name was Shire, Delenn was alien and therefore didn’t seem to have a last name, and I don’t remember Lyta’s last name, but I know she had one.

    Talia’s last name was Winters, not Shire. Lyta’s last name was Alexander. Delenn doesn’t have a last nime, but she was the Chosen of Dukat and the Entil’zha and for a while she was Satai.

    Why not use their last names while you’re using the male character’s last names?

    Because I figured that some of the people here wouldn’t immediately know that “Sheridan” and “Garibaldi” were men I was using as similarities unless I included their first names as well, just like they wouldn’t immediately understand “Ivanova,” “Winters,” and “Alexander” were women. “Susan,” “Talia,” and “Lyta” are pretty obviously female and the names are somewhat unique instead of the utterly generic “John” and “Michael.”

    Secondly, that “rule” isn’t true. In SGA fandom John Sheppard and Rodney McKay are John and Rodney. Elizabeth Weir is sometiles Elizabeth and sometimes Weir, Samantha Carter is sometimes Sam and sometimes Carter, and Radek Zelenka is sometimes Radek and sometimes Zelenka. In Star Trek: TNG everyone — Picard (M), Riker (M), Crusher (F), Troi (F), Data (M), Pulaski (F) — is called by hir last name except Geordi LaForge and Wesley Crusher. In DS9 it’s a total toss-up: Julian (M), Sisko (M), Kira (which is her last name) (F), Kassidy (F), O’Brien (M), Jadzia (F), Ezri (F), Garak (his last name) (M), and Jake (M). Then there’s Worf, Quark, Rom, Nog and Odo who don’t have last names. I guess technically Worf is a Roschenko but no body ever pays attention to it. Everybody calls him “Worf.” In Criminal Minds JJ (F) and Hotch (M) are both called by their nicknames in fandom; Rossi (M), Gideon (M), Morgan (M), Reid (M), Strauss (F), and Garcia (F) all go by surnames; while Elle (F) and Emily (F) go by first names.

    It’s not a gender thing, it’s whichever name “sticks.” ^^

    DragonLady

  23. says

    Why don’t we see woman-positive works as ground-breaking and as seminal as those movies?

    That’s what William Goldman has been asking. When most movies do unexpectedly well, everyone scrambles to replicate them. But when movies featuring women do well – his example being First Wives Club, which not only made money but appealed to audiences they had thought would ignore it – it’s dismissed as a “non-recurring phenomenon”, and no attempt to replicate it is performed.

    but they find stories about women boring or repellent, so they tell themselves that everybody else finds stories about women boring and repellent too. The Vox Populi argument just doesn’t hold water. The masses may not be screaming for movies about and by women, but they weren’t exactly screaming for a movie about fourteenth-century Scottish history either.

    That’s what I’m saying. I believe it is the MBAs who are only interested in stories about people just like themselves, and they are projecting that preference onto the audience. Therefore, they will HAPPILY produce chick flicks, targeting women viewers and featuring women who behave like they think women behave.

    Gategrrl and I once talked to a young African-American screenwriter who’d graduated NYU and moved to L.A. to sell screenplays. She’d written a script that was basically autobiographical, and studio after studio told her it wasn’t plausible. Because, of course, they know better than she what is plausible in a young African-American woman’s life. I’ve talked to white women screenwriters reporting similar phenomenon – our stories, which any female reader would immediately understand as plausible, get dismissed by white men as implausible.

  24. DragonLadyK says

    Very often, we lump TV and film together on this site, but this is one case where the very nature of the two media makes that impossible – a movie is a one-shot deal, and a very expensive one (particularly in the case of a blockbuster, which is what this post is about), while a pilot TV show is much cheaper and poses much less risk to any one individual’s career.

    If fear of bombing is these guys’ biggest fear, then bombing is the perfect punishment to use.

    I picked TV examples because I don’t go to the movies often ($7.50 a show, plus snacks, are you kidding me?) and the mentalities of the writers are often the same as movie writers, but the film “Push” was a step in the right direction. The Stitch and the enemy Watcher were completely cold-blooded and non-nurturing — especially the Stitch. Cassie’s mother was so powerful that the most powerful Division worldwide locked her up because they knew they couldn’t control her (yet Cassie’s mom still managed to orchestrate a plot to wound Division like a true chess master). Cassie was a tough cookie as well as smart — “if it’s shadowed I won’t be able to draw it,” brilliant — and while Kira was the Love Interest and the McGuffin she still took out the Head Baddie at the end by forcing him to put his gun in his mouth and pull the trigger. The main hero treated a thirteen year old girl like an equal and a partner, and he never underestimated his female adversaries. It was a noire-sensiblity film, too.

    “Enchanted” had a woman choosing the man who respected her as a person and showed her how to express negative emotions over the “prince charming” fairytale ideal of love. She also chased after the kidnapped male love interest with a sword when he was taken by the dragon. The “prince charming” was also completely oblivious and useless. I love that movie.

    “Stardust” and “Hercules” featured snarky, sarcastic, and independent female leads. Yvaine, we’ll note, took out the bad guy herself after Tristan spent fifteen minutes getting his rear handed to him — and would have a lot sooner if her powers didn’t stop working when she was sad — and then there was Una, who locked her sorceress keeper in the wagon and drove the wagon to the rescue like a bat out of Hell. I loved Meg’s smart mouth to pieces.

    “Shrek” had Princess Fiona choose ugliness and happiness as an ogre over the ideal of beauty as a princess. She also could hold her own against bandits. In the sequel she proudly confronted her father expecting to be loved in spite of her appearance, and then in the third movie she roused the other princesses into rescuing themselves.

    There’s potential for trainablity in Hollywood film-making if the American public was determined enough.

    DragonLady

  25. says

    This phenomenon isn’t just limited to H’wood, nor to appealing-to-female-audiences: I’ve seen it in a number of retail fields, where bosses who in theory, and who *think* that they are in fact, committed to The Bottom Line and Making Money First And Foremost, simply *insist* on courting market segments that they personally are invested in (usually their own demographic, but not always) or attempting to do so in ways that are idiosyncratic because they have some fixation on a particular type of advertising vehicle or model – only advertising on AM radio because that’s the only thing they listen to personally, or having this touching childlike faith in those newspaper inserts for some inexplicable reason, nevermind what the marketing studies show, or common sense, or polling customers, or *anything.*

    Sometimes they will try to find data that “proves” what they already believe, over the heads of the marketing departments or the department analysts, calling loudly on the names of Objectivity and Show Me The Numbers! – but when we come back with the counter-data, then they swear by their guts instead.

    Then, when nobody responds to the given gimmick, when for some reason not enough Heavy Metal Station or Easy Listening/Oldies listeners want to buy certain expensive products with a limited target audience to pay for the ads let alone bring in a profit – well, it’s all The Economy, or Incomprehensible Market Forces. (–This is quite apart from the sorts of issues that discourage customers/repeat business, and assuming all things being equal. There are many many ways for businesses to shoot themselves in the foot, though I keep thinking I’ve Seen Them All By Now, I am perpetually surprised.) Not that we should have advertised in one of the trade journals targeted to people whose job involves using our products, oh no! Not that we should have concentrated on selling our best features, instead of spending the budget on the 3-D animation or the really expensive mailer sent out to people who have never bought from us before from the mailing list that the owner thinks is “a classy one” printed on the heavy stock with the high-gloss varnish and die-cut because that’s what the owner thinks is WAY COOL!!!1! even though he won’t allow a cheap test ad run in a likely market full of previous and repeat customers, says it’s a “waste of money on a gamble”…

    I’m deliberately being vaguer here than I could be, to protect the innocent and guilty alike. But the “we will pretend that SCIENCE!!! is responsible for our going along with our biases” is very human, and H’wood is no more immune to it than anywhere else. I remember also the feature on NPR some years ago, when the question of female voices as narrators of movie trailers came up, and all these dusty old cranky studio honchos kept saying that Men Don’t Like To Hear Women Telling Them What To Do (in this case, “Go see this movie, you’ll love it, it’s right up your alley!”) even when the statistics showed that the (extremely rare) films with female-narrated trailers did no worse at all…

  26. says

    DragonLadyK, how do examples of movies that don’t suck prove that MBAs are open-minded enough (or even just asking the right questions) to be “trainable”?

    Bellatrys, very nicely said. Yes, businesses DO leave money on the table because execs think they’re being objective when they’re not. It happens all the time, because it’s not just the numbers, it’s how human brains interpret them, and what they expect to see has a lot to do with that. So when the audience changes the numbers by not buying the product, that does not necessarily result in the desired change.

    I mean, when Hathor has a low month for traffic, do you think I have the slightest idea why people aren’t showing up so much? Could be you’re all busy. Could be an article offended someone. Could be too many posts, or too few. Could be a technical issue. Could be everyone lost interest and decided their current entertainment is okay. Could be there’s another site doing what we do, only better, and everyone’s there now. Could be everyone thinks our work here is done. Could be… you see what I mean? There must be at least 100 other possible reasons that will never even occur to me, and one of them might be the correct ones. And in any case, how can I ask my readers why they’ve left when they’re no longer here to read the question? If I wanted to pay a market research firm to hunt y’all down and ask where you’ve gone, how could I? You come here anonymously, like a movie ticket buyer.

    This is because understanding consumers has ALWAYS been difficult when it’s not impossible, and – as William Goldman suggested – the MBAs have more invested in convincing financiers they understand the audience than in actually understanding the audience.

  27. DragonLadyK says

    DragonLadyK, how do examples of movies that don’t suck prove that MBAs are open-minded enough (or even just asking the right questions) to be “trainable”?

    You can’t train a horse to track mountain lions and tree them. A horse doesn’t have predatorial instincts, it doesn’t have parallax-depth perception, it doesn’t have a “tracking” sense of smell, and it does have thousands of years of prey-animal instincts telling it to run away from mountain lions. A horse is not a dog and it will never be a dog. It does not have the capacity. No amount of training can ever make a horse track & train a mountain lion like a hunting dog does.

    Movie and TV execs have made well-written movies featuring strong female characters that didn’t stick slavishly to stereotypical gender roles or behaviors. They have the capacity to do what we want them to do, just like the dog in my previous illustration has the capacity not to bark at the neighbors or parents have the capacity not to yell at their children.

    Training is about expanding on that, about taking the behavior you do want that the training subject is already doing and rewarding it; and then punishing or failing to reward the behavior you don’t like.

    Right now the American public is rewarding sexist crap and non-sexist crap. Both crap and not-crap are doing well at the box office and making the execs money.

    When a feminist rolls along and says “we need to make more movies about realistic female characters” the MBAs have no incentive to believe: what they are doing now is getting them what they want, just like the dog barking at the neighbors is getting bones. If that particular exec had a non-stereotypical movie bomb for whatever reason, then that has negatively reinforced him to try to change because his worse fear (bombing) was connected with the idea “non-stereotypical crap.”

    However, if the American public stopped rewarding the bad behavior and stopped watching crappy films and only the non-sexist films that already exist — though rare — did well, then that would break the reinforcement loop. The MBAs would then have reason to change their behaivor just like a dog stops barking at the neighbors when quietly sitting starts bringing the bones (and/or barking starts brining mild shocks).

    Furthermore, if they didn’t change their behavior than those particular execs would go bankrupt or be fired and some other individuals who are flexible would take their place. Those MBA execs are answerable to stockholders and corporate boards, and those are entities that do not take losing money well. And even if all coroporate moguls are really misogynists who would drive their companies into the ground rather than write stories about real women, other companies would start up who didn’t have that problem out of sheer capitalist market pressure.

    Either way, the American viewing public is what has the power to make the change by bringing forth primar reinforcement punishments, if it is determined enough to follow through. Feminists should then be appealing to them, not to the execs stuck in a reinforcement loop.

    DragonLady

  28. says

    Okay, I still think it will be more difficult than you think to crack through the brainwashing, but let’s agree to disagree about that.

    Even assuming audiences have the power to retrain the MBAs now, audiences did not generate the bias upon which the MBAs have been acting for 30 years, so that much of the responsibility must fall squarely on MBAs. For example:

    (1) When the MBAs decided only young white men were worth making movies for, it was a time period in which entire families were trekking to the latest blockbuster on a weekly basis. The audience contributed nothing to this idea that everyone else is just not a worthwhile audience (which the Wall Street Journal, Business Week and the LA Times have all questioned, too).

    (2) When the MBAs decided no one wanted to see movies featuring women… well, this was right after the time period Melissa mentioned (which I quoted). See her list of all the rather profitable movies featuring women which clearly a lot of people wanted to see.

  29. TurelieTelcontar says

    Regarding the misunderstanding of numbers:
    Some years ago, after watching “Star Trek: Nemesis” on DVD (because it was out of theaters so soon), I asked Richard Arnold, who was a research consultant for star trek and has some contact with the people responsible, why they decided to get the director they had for that movie. Since, in my opinion, the directing was one of the main problems with the film. Somehow, I was bored during most of the film, and was just glad when it was over.
    His answer was that it was planned as an action movie, and so they got a director for action movies, instead of someone who knew anything about Star Trek.
    Then, he mentioned that the film made about 40% of its total income on opening weekend, and the weekend after was the opening of Return of the King, and that was probably the reason people didn’t watch the star trek film.
    My opinion – note that I wasn’t involved in that fandom at that time, so I can’t be sure – is that many fans watched the movie when it came out, since it was a star Trek film, so it had high initial box office numbers, and afterwards they didn’t saw it a second time, and told other fans not to bother. talking with other fans afterwards, I haven’t yet found anyone who really liked that film.
    Now, what I found fascinating is that although the producers – or at least Richard Arnold – knew that the film just didn’t have any character interaction, and people plain didn’t like it much, the low box office result wasn’t attributed to any of those flaws of the film although he clearly recognized them. No, the main problem according to him was the fact that a film as popular as Return of the King opened a week later, and people didn’t go to both movies so they decided on LOTR.

    And also a problem: taking the box office results of the first weekend as an indicator for the overall quality of the film. The first weekend, people go to watch a film based on the general idea, prequels so they exist, or trailers. It completely leaves the people out who – like me – wait until someone else they trust has seen the film.

  30. says

    There’s also a big problem with the whole “blame the audiences for not demanding better product” thing – we simply *don’t* have the power to compel the makers to build better mousetraps, and DIY amateur mousetrap building will only go so far in a national/international distribution chain.

    If the manufacturers – whether it’s makers of movies, or washing machines, or color scanners and printers, or books, or shoes, or portable hard drives, or cell phone networks, or blogging platforms – simply *refuse* to pay attention to what the customers are loudly demanding, the customer has limited ability, individually *or* in groups, to force them to change.

    All the manufacturers have to do is sell *enough* product to stay in business, which is easy when there is little competition *or* all the competition stinks equally badly – and they may not *care* that their customer base is staying flat *or* shrinking, at least not enough to *do* anything about it, let alone to change. Plenty of them would rather go down with their sexist ship than admit that they have a problem – q.v. DC and Marvel, frex. Stop going to movies? Stop buying books?

    Okay, but has the shrinking customer base – or the flight to alternatives – over the past 20 years done anything to make them reconsider?

    No, like superstitious idiots everywhere and everywhen (“prayer isn’t curing my family/health problems, obviously the answer is MOAR PRAYERZ! And GALLONS of holy water for the DIY exorcisms! Not counseling or doctors!”or substitute Homeopathic Vegetable Extracts, depending on chosen superstition–) their answer is to *try harder* to *make* their beliefs come true – to spend *more* money pursuing the demographic that they believe is the One True Source of Prosperity.

    “There’s no point in trying to win more female customers to restore our shrunken customer base because Girls Don’t™ go to movies/play video games/read comic books/read skiffy/do DIY projects/buy cars/buy computers LA LA LA WE CAN’T HEAR YOU SAYING THIS IS BECAUSE WE SPIT ON YOU IN OUR PRODUCTS AND PROMOTIONS–”

    Substitute “customers” or “X demographic” (like “home users” or “Joe Smoe” or “grandparents”) for “women” and rinse, repeat to get the story of decades of wasted investment in product R&D and advertising in the computer and related technology industries for the past 20 years – the constant expressions of Utter Shock on the part of the big name manufacturers when someone finally made and distributed what customers had been begging for for years – Who Could Have Thought That Ordinary Citizens Would Have Wanted To Scan In Their Own Family Photos And Make Holiday Cards Out Of Them To Send To Their Relatives? Who Could Have Known That There Were So Many Hobbyists Out There Who Wanted To Record Their Own Music & Edit It But Couldn’t Afford A Studio? Who Could Have Realized That Lots Of People Would Like Custom Artwork Not Available In Catalogs, And Yes Indeed There Is An Amateur Market For Large-Format Color Printing And Ways To Move Large Image Files? Who Would Have Thought That So Many People Want To Watch Hi-Res Videos Of Funny Cats And Want More Bandwidth To Do It With–?

    –Because, the unspoken corrolary of all this is, Because *I* Certainly Don’t, and *I* being the Center of the Universe am the Arbiter Of All Tastes And Desires!

    Which is why there was such industry resistance to making, to pick a few instances, 1) relatively-inexpensive color scanners, 2) relatively-inexpensive color printers, 3) widely-available high-bandwidth connections, 4) affordable wide-format color scanners and printers or printing services, 5) rugged portable hard drives, 6) affordable photo editing software -all justified with the arguments that “Nobody wants them, therefore it isn’t worth our time to make them”, (sometimes with the explicit “and YOU’RE nobody” coda) and in every case once these things became available, the supply couldn’t keep up with the demand. Only in a very few cases, however, was an amateur product or products able to successfully take over the empty niches (photo-editing software) because R&D, and even moreso production/distribution, of these things is prohibitive.

    And the big companies which did adapt, some of them fell behind because they ossified – Iomega was the first to realize that yes, there WAS a market for large file transfer systems for ordinary customers, made a bundle…and then started ignoring us when we tried to tell them that we did NOT need Yet Another Incompatible, MORE Expensive drive/cartridge unit.

    There was a looooong, dry hole, though, before we got SD cards and thumb drives and cheap CD burners, and so we were stuck with Zip drives like it or not.

    When all the shoes and boots in the all the shoestores are flimsy/high-heeled/fugly, or all the bras are underwire, there’s only so much you can do. Most of us aren’t cobblers and don’t have the time/money to become cobblers, not all of us own sewing machines or have the time to learn how to make our own clothes, and only some of us can go without bras and shoes…my personal boycotting of the lingerie industry for the past ten years hasn’t seemed to force them to return to making non-wiry, non-scratchy, front-closure undergarments! And while I do know some leatherworking, I don’t have the tools or the training to make boots from scratch…

    So good luck “rewarding” the MBAs, DragonLady – the pros’ responses to threats of boycotts tends to be (often explicit!) “Neener neener neener, don’t let the door hit you, pthhpt–” Just look and see how well our attempts at “retraining” Joe Quesada et al have worked in comics fandom. They’d rather go down with their ship – sexist and otherwise – than admit that their chasing of the Lowest Common Denominators, with MOAR BOOBZ, more Shocking!Gore, more WANGST and more willful disregard for good plotting, good art, and good character development is losing them loyal readers right and left.

  31. says

    Another example with which I am all too familiar – landlords could do better if they were responsive to tenants’ complaints about things like broken heating systems, broken doors, plumbing problems, holes in the walls, etc, and thus not have a constant cycling-through of tenants and units standing empty for up to six months at a time and people actively warning future tenants against their properties.

    But, while that would inarguably be better for their profits over all, that would them to a) invest some money in the short term, b) even more, admit that they were not little tin gods and all their customers a bunch of losing losers who deserved to be ignored and mocked…and anyway there are always more people who will need to rent space to live, so who cares how many leave and tell others how bad they are?

  32. DragonLadyK says

    I never said the American Viewing Public got the party started. I said that it has the power to stop it.

    There’s also a big problem with the whole “blame the audiences for not demanding better product” thing – we simply *don’t* have the power to compel the makers to build better mousetraps,

    Actually, we do. They need the American Viewing Public’s money far more than we need their movies.

    The problem now is that a very small portion of the public — the feminist-sympathizers and some conservative Christians — are unhappy. The rest of the public would have to be convinced as well. Boycotts only work if the lion’s share or all of the customers do it.

    So good luck “rewarding” the MBAs, DragonLady – the pros’ responses to threats of boycotts tends to be (often explicit!) “Neener neener neener, don’t let the door hit you, pthhpt–” Just look and see how well our attempts at “retraining” Joe Quesada et al have worked in comics fandom.

    Threatening boycotts and actually doing it are two very different things with very different responses. And again, the lion’s share or all of the current customers would have to do it. Right now, the MBAs know that the lion’s share will keep filling their pockets. The “no, no, bad dog” is not outweighing the “bone.”

    Secondly, those MBAs are individuals. They are human beings with families and emotional baggage and limitations and flaws and virtues and above all the potential to be someone good. To write each and every one of them off an unfixably bad monster who would rather be fired by his financiers than for one moment make movies about strong women who are equals, without ever having met them, is horrific.

    Everyone has the potential to be better than they are and the power to change. Training, like the civil rights movements’ bus boycott, taps that potential.

    Thirdly, a black Democrat is sitting in the White House right now because he tapped into a demographic no one else wanted, organized it, and showed everyone that “populist sentiment” does have power and can change things if it wants to badly enough.

    And fourthly, my landlady is lovely. She fixes everything within a week of being told she needs to, she stays out of her tenants’ way, and she actually puts deposits in a savings account instead of spending them like a Christmas bonus. Still, I have yet to have a neighbor last longer than six months and I’ve only had three neighbors who didn’t trash their places. Low-income housing attracts people who were never taught how to be good tenants by their parents.

    DragonLady

  33. sbg says

    But, while that would inarguably be better for their profits over all, that would them to a) invest some money in the short term, b) even more, admit that they were not little tin gods and all their customers a bunch of losing losers who deserved to be ignored and mocked…and anyway there are always more people who will need to rent space to live, so who cares how many leave and tell others how bad they are?

    Wait – did you live in the building I was assistant manager at?! LOL, this is exactly why I finally gave up the free rent and left. I am much happier spending half my monthly earnings on room and board.

    That is all, except to say I am really enjoying this conversation, you all.

  34. TurelieTelcontar says

    To write each and every one of them off an unfixably bad monster who would rather be fired by his financiers than for one moment make movies about strong women who are equals, without ever having met them, is horrific.

    I don’t think anyone here is saying that those people would go and ignore the boycott knowing what caused it. The problem would be getting them to understand the reason there would be a less people watching those movies.
    The example I cited above, and I guess I wasn’t too clear on it, showed someone who was a Star Trek fan himself. He was involved with Star Trek, he knew the shows, he knew the movies. He admitted that the last movie had a big amount of flaws, and once even said that the director with the editing had practically cut the heart out of the film – all the character interaction. He did see all those problems with the film – and yet he attributed the fact that it got such poor audience results to the fact that a more interesting-looking film came out a week later. So, basically, if your dog just doesn’t understand that he gets punished for barking, but instead thinks it’s because he sits somewhere he’s not supposed to, or in the end just believes that there is no reason at all you punish him and you’re just mean, how can you train him?

  35. says

    (oh, sigh, Susan Faludi. I really should try reading Backlash, but I’m scared to know because when I attempted Terror Dreams the preponderence of “quotes” annoyed the “shit” out of me , especially becuase they came without “footnotes” or any other “attributing source .” It’s not that I think that she lies it’s just that it’s 1) distracting and 2) I WANT TO KNOW WHO SAID THAT!)

    Dragonlady

    “I’m saying that as long as the American viewing public ….are willing to watch crap even though they want not-crap, or if they enjoy crap, then any wake-up call efforts are doomed to failure.”

    I have to agree with Jennifer here, I don’t think that’s anywhere near the main source of the problem. The issue is not that people will watch crap, The issue is that no one bothers to notice the people who AREN’T watching crap. And they do this beacuse (in the execs’ minds at least) crap is cheaper to make and less risky, so even when they do start to notice that I’ve been to the movie theatre maybe once in the last year or two, they will not suddenly start making not-crap, they will only become more adamant about making even cheaper and more predictable crap. It’s lazier and more self-centered thinking to assume that I don’t like movies than it is to realize that I don’t like their movies. And sexism makes this easy to do. That someone is always going to watch their movies is more of a product of movie’s place in our culture and having a very large population than anything else at this point.

    “Ed Bernero’s “Criminal Minds” is full of vivid, realistic, powerful women both behind badges, as civillians, and as victims….CBS let Ed make his show his way, they haven’t cancelled it, and it’s sitting beautifully in the Neilsens making them beaucoup bucks.”

    Yeah but, aside from the TV/movie-apples/oranges issue, it didn’t start that way.

    I remember watching the pilot when it first aired. Cuz I had to see the show that Mandy left Dead Like Me for. Aside from working extra hard to make mgg not cute (why, why would you do that?!?!) the only “girl” was a newbie with all the newbie questions – Garcia and JJ being mostly absent and not anywhere near as cool as they are now. So, I thought it was utter crap and excessively annoying. I didn’t actually start watching the show until after the first season was nearly over. By which time mgg was allowed to be adorkable rather than just dorky and Garcia was complete awesome. I’m guessing, however, that if it had been presented to studio execs as the show it is now – the one that I love, it never would have been greenlighted.

    This is part of why TV and movies are apples and oranges. Part of why TV is taking risks that movies won’t is because when Ed goes to the studios and tells them he’s going to do a ep like True Night or Masterpiece, Ed’s already spent a lot of their money working on that episiode. They can mess around with stuff and tell him that the unsub needs to die rather than escape, but it’s not as easy for them to say stuff like “you know, I really don’t think Wil Wheaton would be a good choice for Floyd.” It was a lot easier for them to say “um, less of the fat chick, more Mandy” back when they had yet to greenlight the show to begin with.

    Not that I think they said that. Not because they wouldn’t have, but because I don’t think they had to. Because the other factor that comes into play here is self-censorship. Just look at the pathetic mess that Dollhouse is. Whedon may not be The One True Feminist. But he can make better shows than that. But the last one he tried got screwed over and canned. I’m sure he still fights with FOX, but he’s also changed the kind of stories he’s telling and it’s not hard to guess that it has something to do with wanting to stay on the air – and fight less with FOX execs. Ed otoh, currently has a solid show and the studio likes him at the moment. So he’s less likely to self-censor. Back when he was trying to get CM on the air, however…..

    Well, you do know that Garcia was suppsed to be a fat, ethnic dude, yes? (And, I believe, slightly un pc) Thankfully, Ed and his team are not as narrowminded as some other TV creators. So when one of them suggested Kristen and encouraged her to audition, the rest were fine with that. Which is very cool. But still, it’s not like they set out to create a character like Garcia. They set out for something more like Dexter’s Masuka.

    “To write each and every one of them off an unfixably bad monster who would rather be fired by his financiers than for one moment make movies about strong women who are equals, without ever having met them, is horrific.”

    But that’s not what we are doing. What we are saying is that they are powerful, priveleged, white men living in a culture considers male and white as the default, and working among mostly other powerful, privileged, white men like themselves. This tends to create a very self-centered view of the world, even if one is not naturally all that self-centered.

    And also that they are businessmen and not artists. The point not being that the two cannot mix, nor that they are cold-hearted, greedy men, but that, in a sense, they are laypersons trying to tell professionals how to do their work. This isn’t to say that their opinions are moot or crap or worthless – they are the ones doing the investing, after all – just that a group of investors greenlighting movies are often going to choose very different movies than a group of directors would choose to make if they didn’t have to look for investors. I don’t think either extreme is good for the movie industry – or even necessarily art. But while the latter is more likely to produce navel-gazing crap the former tends to churn out the kind of lowest denominator crap we are getting now.

    One of the main reasons, after all, why CM rocks is because Ed has done this before. Both the law enforcement part and the show part. The people that greenlight movies don’t always have that same kind of experience. And a lot of the ones that do have experience – especially on both sides – are the ones that are responsible for a lot of the non-crap that we get.

    Also, while I haven’t met any exces personally, Jennifer has met plenty of people in the industry, seeing as how she not only studied screenwriting, but did so at UCLA.

    Also, while I haven’t met any exces personally, I know people who know people. I figure when I not only know stuff like what kind of porn Scorcese likes, but when I know it because I know the guy that organized it for him as his intern, then I can make some pretty good guesses as to why certain people do what they do. (The point, of course, not being the porn necessarily, but actually hearing first hand what kind of work student interns – and others – actually DO.) They are guesses yes, but they are hardly uninformed guesses.

    And then there are the non-guesses. For example, I know why certain decisions were made at Disney (although mostly minor and relating to the parks) not because I’m clarivoyant, but because I know people that were high enough up to get the memos, sometimes even be involved in the decision that led to the writing of the memos. And by know, I don’t just mean have met a few times, I sometimes mean “I’ve known them since childhood and I know what kind of people they are.” The good and the bad.

  36. says

    I never said the American Viewing Public got the party started. I said that it has the power to stop it.

    But you said the MBAs weren’t “the problem”, which I took to mean the audience was the problem. Did you mean something else? (Because while the audience may be the solution – in fact, I agree that they’re a big part of the solution, even though I think you’re overestimating their power, or I wouldn’t bother with this website – I see no way that viewers contributed to some of the weird-ass ideas MBAs cooked up that had misogynistic effects, whether or not they had any such intent.)

    And, what TurelieTelcontar said.

  37. says

    Yes, this:

    But that’s not what we are doing. What we are saying is that they are powerful, priveleged, white men living in a culture considers male and white as the default, and working among mostly other powerful, privileged, white men like themselves. This tends to create a very self-centered view of the world, even if one is not naturally all that self-centered.

    Exactly.

  38. says

    “Thirdly, a black Democrat is sitting in the White House right now because he tapped into a demographic no one else wanted, organized it, and showed everyone that “populist sentiment” does have power and can change things if it wants to badly enough.”

    And I have noted, with no little fascination, that it is a black man who is in the White House. And that it was a white woman he was running against in the primaries.

    Not just because of the obvious, but because of a comment Scott Westerfeld made back at the beginning of the race about life imiating art. In one of his books (and in the post I can’t link to bc my work is blocking his blog) he calls it the “missing black woman formation.” Not so much bc black women are the only people missing from the formation, but because the absence of a black woman in particular highlights how much “white male” is still the default – even when we make sincere attempts at diversity. If it were not, more people would notice the black woman’s marked absence from the formation, and it’s repeated usage in art and advertising would strike us as false rather than proggressive.

    Think about all the presidents you’ve seen portrayed in the movies. How many of them have been white men? Now (starting in the last few decades) how many have been black? A few yes? Now, how about hispanic? Asian? None, right? And the women are always white, yes? And, gee, look, we have our first president that isn’t white… and he kinds reminds one of the way Morgan Freeman always plays the president, yes?

    And I have also noted that, as much as I adore it, CM still follows the same formation.

    Interesting, yes?

  39. Patrick J McGraw says

    Several posters have hit upon the “of course everyone is like me” mentality that is a major contributing factor to the problems with Hollwyood’s product. My experience has been that this mentality is the cause of many more problems. There are any number of opinionated people firmly convinced that their opinions are the only conclusions that an intelligent, informed, and well-intentioned person could reach. Therefore anyone who disagrees with them must be stupid, ignorant, or evil (or some combination of those). (Any number of bloggers who write about any number of subjects come to mind.)

    I’d best not respond to any of Bellatrys’ comments about the decision-makers at Marvel and DC, because their unthinking misogynistic idiocy deserves its own topic. It’s just as well that I can no longer afford to buy comics, because I wouldn’t be buying anything from Marvel until Quesada gets fired anyway, and nothing from DC that isn’t written by Gail Simone or Greg Rucka.

  40. says

    “It’s not a gender thing, it’s whichever name “sticks.” ^^”

    Gideon
    Hotchner
    Morgan
    Reid
    Jareau
    Garcia
    Greenaway
    Prentiss
    Rossi

    Jason
    Aaron
    Derek
    Spencer
    Jennifer
    Penelope
    Elle
    Emily
    Dave/David

    JJ is in between cuz, well, JJ.

    What name they are called depends on the situation and who is doing the talking. Reid and Morgan never call Hotch “Aaron.” But Hotchner and Rossi call each other Aaron and Dave all the time. Both Rossi and Hotch are more likely to call Emily “Prentiss” than anyone else. I think Morgan called Elle “Greenaway” once – in the same episode she got shot in. (And I’m guessing that was just because one of the writers likes puns/rhymes.) And Morgan may not call Reid “Spencer” but he does call him “kid” and “pretty boy.”

    It’s not so much a gender thing as it a a familiarity/status thing. The show itself has made a point of this on occasion:

    “The only person in the world who calls me “Spence.””

    The cop in Chicago calling Morgan “Derek” all the time. And then his family doing the same (but without the nasty tone of voice).

    “What’s to understand Erin?” quickly followed by “I’m sure your know Agent Rossi” says Strauss and then Rossi and Hotch are all “Dave!” “Aaron!”

    Which makes it a gender thing – among other things.

    (It’s also sort of a time thing – the shorter names tend to win. But, you know, the writers get to pick the names.)

  41. says

    One other note:

    To write each and every one of them off an unfixably bad monster who would rather be fired by his financiers than for one moment make movies about strong women who are equals, without ever having met them, is horrific.

    The MBAs don’t work directly for the financiers. They work for the studios. They must secure funds from the studio and/or outside financiers to make movies. The financiers contribute funds when they believe a movie can profit. Where do they get their ideas of what can profit and what won’t? From the MBAs. And where do MBAs get the evidence to show that their ideas are accurate? From manipulating the data to support their views.

    That is what Goldman’s point was all about. It’s not a direct line from the MBAs to the people who buy tickets at theaters, and that’s part of what both creates this disconnect and makes it challenging to get everybody on a new same page.

  42. Ikkin says

    I’m not sure whether it’s even possible to get anywhere through boycotting, regardless of what the MBAs’ reaction will be – mostly because hitting them hard enough in the pockets to convince them that they needed to change would require coordinated self-control on a scale I’m not sure would even be possible. Even if I might be overly-cynical about humanity’s tendency towards complacency, there’s still the problem that a lot of the people who would need convincing would also be those who don’t care as much about what they’re watching to begin with.

    Creating an organization to act as a new financier with a different set of values seems like it would be more effective. You might still need a couple million people to make it work, but it wouldn’t matter which couple million people they were (whereas boycotting a movie you wouldn’t watch anyway wouldn’t help much). As long as its bets pay off, it could be self-perpetuating, and it would be in a position to say that it’s making money because people want to see strong female characters. (It also might be in a good position to make money anyway, since there’d be so many people who’d consider it “theirs” and want to see/show others the result) I’d imagine it’d be very difficult to do, but probably less so than organizing massive boycotts.

  43. Pocket Nerd says

    I’m not sure whether it’s even possible to get anywhere through boycotting, regardless of what the MBAs’ reaction will be – mostly because hitting them hard enough in the pockets to convince them that they needed to change would require coordinated self-control on a scale I’m not sure would even be possible.

    Aye. Most of the successful boycotts in recent memory succeeded because they were bad PR, not because they managed to hurt a company’s finances. A good example is the boycott of Taco Bell over its fruit pickers: There’s no solid evidence that the boycott itself had a significant impact on the company’s bottom line, but it was embarrassing, and Yum worried that the negative publicity could eventually damage their position.

    This is much harder with feminist issues, though, as the reactionaries and religious fundamentalists are very, very skilled at manipulating the national media. No matter how good their intentions, no matter how well-spoken their objections, no matter how photogenic their protesters, a feminist boycott of the latest lowbrow, misogynistic blockbuster will be portrayed as a bunch of shrill, vindictive dykes attempting to destroy the last vestiges of male independence and suffrage in American society.

    (Yes, there are actually people who think like this. They see white males as persecuted, disenfranchised victims in modern society… which is another example of Faux News and other reactionary media outlets “controlling the narrative.”)

  44. says

    Ha! You’re all wrong. Except bellatrys.

    Well, not quite all, but I see things so differently than most of you (and my time is so limited) that I’ll just make a list.

    1. The contrast is not between the MBAs and the creatives, it’s between the MBAs and the old studio heads.

    2. One of the differences is that the MBAs are just like their brothers in the finance industry: they’re working for their own personal gain, not for the good of the stockholders or the company. And they’re not in it for the long term.

    3. For an old studio head, 5 $20M movies would be just as good as one $100M movie — better, even, because of spreading the risk. For a modern-era MBA, the $100M blockbuster is better, because if it wins big he has more of a chance to make off with a huge chunk of change before the revolving door hits him in the ass. Even if it doesn’t win big, that huge single project makes many people at once beholden to him, and gives him more chances to cook the books in his favor.

    4. Also, it makes his dick look bigger. Or whatever it’s called when men impress other men with their manhood.

    5. When Reservoir Dogs was shown at Sundance, the women in the audience walked out because of the violence. Tarantino was glad, because that meant he was “edgy” and manly. This is what most of the creatives in H’wood want, and it’s why I think Jennifer is wrong about the problem lying at the MBA level.

    6. I have long said that there’s an IQ-Depressing Field centered on Hollywood, and the effects are amplified by testosterone. I have no empirical evidence to refute this theory and much to support it.

    7. The IDF may be due to the fact that almost everyone in H’wood spends much, much more time socializing (on the clock or off it) than doing anything involving thought. Dick-measuring appears to be the main social activity for men: when you spend most of your time comparing dicks, everything that contributes to perceived dick size becomes highly-motivating, and everything else (even money, even the audience, even movies themselves) shrivels into unimportance.

    8. There’s a positive feedback cycle going on: fewer, more expensive movies -> more time to compare dicks -> collective IQ drops -> make even more expensive movies and fewer of them.

    9. The only way out IMHO is to make cheaper movies.

  45. says

    Doctor Science,

    1 is exactly what I said.

    2 doesn’t contradict anything I said.

    3 is an interesting point.

    4 is almost word for word what I said

    5 not sure where you’re getting your knowledge of what “most of the creatives” want. Men in our culture are generally encouraged to be whatever is considered “manly” at the minute, but I actually encountered a higher percentage of male “creatives” who weren’t interested in that crap than I have found in most other collections of men. And I am confused by your disagreement with the problem lying at the MBA level, since your entire comment here talks about what MBAs are doing wrong.

    6 I thought I implied clearly that it’s really the MBAs who are stupid, not the audience.

    7 Uh, it’s a bit of a local joke that everyone in HW is a workaholic. No one socializes – they network. If you’re new in town and looking for pals, believe me you will notice the difference. If you can’t advance their career, they don’t have time to be your friend. Mutual back-scratching may seem like a silly business model, but it’s kept the good ol’ boy network in nice digs for a very long time.

    8 Since movies got so expensive, they actually make a lot more than they did when they were cheaper…?

    9 Again, interesting.

  46. A Very Bad Girl says

    Yes, there are actually people who think like this. They see white males as persecuted, disenfranchised victims in modern society

    Well, here is somebody who has exchanged more than my share of expletives with that type of individual. LOL

    In response to this article:

    When I see websites like AmericanWomenSuck.com & MenAreBetterThanWomen.com, the MPA’s motives become all-too-clear; these are the people they are catering to, and fueling their hatred equals $$$.

    I too am annoyed by the myth that men are the only ones who watch TV or go to the movies. A perfect example of this wrong-headed mentality is The WWE. I have been a pro-wrestling fan since I was a very young child, and I know of many other females who are, yet, the industry would have us believe that men are the primary viewing demographic! All they ever talk about is how popular the show is with “men aged 17-35″, but one look at the audience (or on any pro-wrestling oriented forum) suggests that a rather enormous amount of women enjoy watching this program.

    So, why are they ignoring us? We buy the pay-per-views, DVDs, merchandise, etc, just as the men do. Is our money less valuable because we don’t have a penis? And, to be perfectly honest, I am of the belief that this type of show is more suitable for heterosexual women & gay men, rather than self-identified heterosexual men.

    Soap opera style drama? Check.
    Scantily clad beefcake? Check.

    How any guy can dub himself as “straight” while watching this is beyond me. I was visiting a forum for gay men, not too long ago, and they basically expressed the same sentiments that I do. They also suggested that pro-wrestling is a “safe” way for men, who identify as straight, to secretly admire the bodies of other men, because it is under the umbrella of a “sport” (even though it is clearly not a legitimate sport).

    OK, a little more back on topic, now. LOL

    I think the MPA is trying to create their own little perfect world, and the movies they pump out are intended to brainwash society into fitting the mold. I disagree with DragonLady, in regard to how much power we have over this type of thing. For instance, the average woman is about 5 feet, 3 inches tall… yet, the fashion industry continues to bombard us with images of freakishly tall models, wearing clothes that would probably never look good on a petite woman. Short girls are the majority, but we are ignored, nonetheless. A lot of people talk about sizeism in the modeling industry, but they never talk about heightism. Hmmmm…..

    Anyhow, my point is… supply does not always conform to demand. In certain cases, especially where women are concerned, demand is almost entirely ignored… and we are forced to accept the supply… or kindly f*ck off. That is the mainstream, misogynist mentality in a nutshell.

  47. A Very Bad Girl says

    When Reservoir Dogs was shown at Sundance, the women in the audience walked out because of the violence.

    Not all women are put-off by violent films. I think Tarentino would have been greatly disappointed, had I been in the audience. ;)

    Btw.. one of my favorite movies is a French film by the name of Baise Moi. It makes most of Q’s stuff look like a Disney production. Also, I am an avid horror film fan.

  48. says

    5. When Reservoir Dogs was shown at Sundance, the women in the audience walked out because of the violence.

    Additionally, I wonder about the truth/context of this. Did ALL the women run out, vomiting? Or did one woman leave because she got a cell phone call, and someone assumed it was the violence upsetting her delicate heart, and the story Telephoned into “the women left because of the violence.”

    After all, studies with test groups have shown that when men and women (for example) talk exactly the same amount of time or participate exactly the same amount in a conversation, people quizzed afterward consistently believe the women talked longer or “dominated” the conversation. People have a tendency to blow everything we do that’s not in the kitchen way out of proportion, and also to interpret our actions according to their understanding of gender bioengineering.

  49. MaggieCat says

    Speaking of context I also kind of wonder about when people left, assuming that anyone did. I’ve sat through more hours of violent film and television than I’m entirely comfortable with now that I think about it, and I can only remember one time when I left the theater for a few minutes because of what was about to happen on screen — The Green Mile, when I realized what was going to happen during Del’s execution. I don’t need to watch someone suffer because someone else is going to grossly abuse his power because he’s a petty twisted man and there’s no threat of retaliation.

    If I hadn’t already seen Tarantino’s other movies by the time I saw Reservoir Dogs and so known exactly what to expect I might well have turned that one off, but that would have little to do with how I react to violent material in general and everything to do with a specific situation that I’ve seen less homicidal versions of far too often in real life.

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>