I’ve talked before about the film/tv industry’s standard rhetoric for why they can’t make shows and movies women want to see: that women are hard to influence through commercials, so why waste your advertising dollar chasing them when young men will buy anything? Sounds sensible, if it’s true. But is it? Let’s look at this alternative view offered by a 1999 article from the Village Voice, on the spending habits of ad agencies buying TV spots:
All that cash buys “eyeballs”"”or viewers. But not all eyes are equal, at least not to the mavens of the marketing game. Networks charge far more for men’s eyeballs than for women’s, especially when it comes to prime-time shows. “This year, you could reach a thousand guys, 18 to 34, on a minute of network prime time, for 60 bucks,” says Erwin Effron, a leading ad-industry researcher. “Women of the same age group would cost you $47.”
This gender gap may seem unfair to women who were raised to believe “You’ve come a long way, baby.” But it stems from the conventional ad-agency wisdom that women are easy. “More women watch television, and more are available in prime time,” says Peter Chrisanthopoulos, president of broadcasting and programming at Ogilvy & Mather, “and that impacts on the cost to reach them.”
“Conventional ad-agency widsom.” Isn’t “conventional wisdom” a term for ideas that have been handed down from generation to generation for so long no one knows the logic behind them anymore? And the bottom line from the Village Voice article:
“TV is, after all, a group activity,” says James Webster, a professor of communications at Northwestern University, “and along the lines that girls will play with GI Joes but boys don’t play with Barbie, you find that women will watch what men want to watch.”
It’s not hard to read between the lines: if we don’t watch male programming, our tastes won’t be allowed to influence those shows. But if we do watch male programming, our tastes still won’t be allowed to influence those shows. The industry blindly accepts “conventional wisdom” as fact, and since no properly interpreted data can indicate something which contradicts fact, they find ways to interpret the data that fit these “facts”. But that’s where they’ve gone off the rails. Gravity is a fact. “Women don’t like sci-fi, but will watch it for their boyfriends” is not a fact. It’s a supposition, and one I think you’d be hard-pressed to prove with anything resembling a well-constructed study.
Here are some examples of the phenomenon that I’ve thought of. If you can think of other shows that were canceled for suspicious-sounding reasons, or movies that supposedly didn’t appeal to one gender but were beloved by every member of that gender you know, please add them in the comments. I want to see how many we can come up with.
- When women dropped over half a billion to see Titanic, frequently citing Kate Winslet and/or her character as their reason (and the special effects in more than a few cases), it was dismissed as a fluke. The biggest gross-earner of all time, and we’re not allowed to learn anything from its success because it was just a fluke. And why was it a fluke? Uh, something about when it was released, and what else was out, and er, stuff. Conventional wisdom. Don’t question it.
- When huge numbers of women attended the Matrix movies, the industry refused to accept this as proof that women liked action movies, sci-fi, a kick-ass female lead who sometimes rescues the guys, or lots of guns. Or even gawking at Keanu Reeves. Nope, it had to be that we were attending with boyfriends, husbands and male friends – thus proving once more that only men determine the success of a movie, and women’s tastes can safely be ignored without anyone being accused of prejudice.
- When Firefly proved more popular with women than men, that should’ve helped industry pros alerted by the appeal to women of Titanic and the Matrix movies narrow down just what it was we were digging: that we love special effects and action as much as men, if you just give us at least one relatable female character. Instead, it was recognized as “proof” that Firefly wasn’t cutting it as an action series and needed to be axed.
- When Buffy the Vampire Slayer drew plenty of male viewers (7 men to every 10 women), it should’ve proven that guys will indeed watch female action heroes. But instead, the fact that the show targeted female viewers put it right out of the running for any consideration about male viewing habits. Which is kind of like saying if a non-Christian kid chooses to go to a private Christian school because it’s providing a better education than the public schools in his area, his choice and its results don’t merit consideration because the school was targeting Christians.
Got any others?