5 Things I Realised After Reading Joe Strike’s Review of BroNYCon

 

Surprisingly enough, I didn’t have a My Little Pony image in the library already.

Over on AWN, Joe Strike has posted a review of BroNYCon, the get-together for fans of, yes, My Little Pony that took place at the end of June. The entire thing is very much worth reading whether you’re a fan of the show or not. It’s a positive, neutral look at the  show and the community that surrounds it as well as a description of the event itself. I found the article quite intriguing on a number of levels; here’s a few things I realised after reading it.

Fans Are Fantastic

Every show needs fans, a fact that is well-known and well-documented countless times over the years. Fans are however, finnicky. Just because a network throws globs of money at promotion, etc. doesn’t mean that fans will necessarily follow. When they do though, the signs are very good indeed.

Bronies are no exception. They watch the show, they buy the merchandise, they discuss it, the expand the universe, they write fan-fiction for their own amusement and they ultimately put a lot of money into Hasbro’s coffers. So do the target demographic of kids, but their purchasing power pales into insignificance in the face of grown adults.

Devoted fans like Bronies are what every show needs and desperately wants but are notoriously tricky to conjure up out of the masses. My Little Pony now has its own convention. Surely proof that fans can make a big impact.

Good Shows Will Smash Demographic Boundaries

This is another aspect to shows that is often rarely discussed. Networks don’t like it when shows grow beyond their demographic because the effects are much more difficult to measure and hence plan for. Having MLP garner an adult audience is great on one level, but will that same audience feel alienated after the hype has died down or the network declines to tailor the show to them?

That said, many shows have smashed demographsic boundaries. The Simpsons, while ostensible aimed at an adult-heavy, primetime audience became immensely popular with kids. The reverse could be said of Avatar: The Last Airbender, with story arcs and characters that many argue are better than the bulk of adult-oriented TV shows.

Breaking though the demo barriers is only a good thing for a show. In the case of MLP, it gave the newest incarnation of a toyetic show a life of its own beyond the TV set.

Lauren Faust is Soooo Underrated

Lauren Faust and Craig McCracken are a creative powerhouse that together have worked on some of the most undeniably brilliant animated TV shows of the last 20 years. However Lauren seems to get the short end of the stick when it comes to her own creations. Many animation fans know she worked on the PowerPuff Girls, but how many know she has her own girl-centric creation, Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls? How many own something from that? (Hint: this blogger is at least one).

That’s not to belittle Craig, he awesome too, but Lauren spells out the challenge pretty clear in this quote from Joe’s article:

And what about her dream project, the one she pitched to the Hasbro executive who instead asked her to reconceive My Little Pony? “The Galaxy Girls is the bane of my existence. It’s in stasis until I can do it right. I’m looking for the right partner who shares my vision for it.”

Here’s hoping an animated version sees the light of day soon.

Full Cast & Crew Support is Essential

Another thing that Joe’s article makes clear is that the cast and crew of the show are behind it 100%. They see it more than just a job, they see their success depending on its success, and if they can help it to succeed, they will! Voice-actor Tara Strong is particularly fond of her Brony fans, often tweeting to them and answering questions in addition to meeting them in person at cons.

A lot of TV shows rally behind their creator, such as Family Guy and Seth McFarlane, but others like Adventure Time and MLP focus on the team behind it rather than just one individual. This has benefits for everybody involved, and gives the all-important fans something even more to relate to.

Trust In Third Parties Is A Win-Win For Everyone

The one big thing that Joe’s article made me realise was the WeLoveFine and other outfits like it are perhaps the keystone in the link between a show and its fans. A quick cursory glance of the WeLoveFine website reveals more than a few famous shows have merchandise for sale there.

What makes companies like this so relevant is that they are simultaneously at the forefront of the fan movement while being actively engaged in the licensing/merchandise part of the network’s marketing machine.

Even better, WeLoveFine uses fan-made designs, running competitions with cash prizes. What better way to get fans excited than to give them the chance to have their very own T-shirt! The Hub naturally has to approve the design, but it’s a rubber-stamp process and basically eliminates a lot of risk involved with selling merchandise; let the fans tell you what they’d like to buy! Genius!

Apparel and clothing are very popular forms of merchandise because they let fans express their favourite show without permanence and with the ability to adapt to changing weather conditions; very important for temperate climates I assure you.

By trusting third parties and with careful monitoring, networks can ensure that they gain the best of both worlds. A fandom whose appetite for merchandise is fulfilled and a network who wishes to earn revenue from their content.

 

Martin Goodman on The Lightening Rod that is Spongebob Squarepants

Via: Dr. Toon on AWN

Martin Goodman has an interesting post over on AWN entitled “Society and its Discontents”. In it, he discusses the fact the animation is merely a product of the culture from whence it came and as a result, interacts with it on many differing levels. Below is an excerpt from the post:

Once produced and seen, it [animation] takes its place in the enormous mosaic of our media and is consigned a definitive niche by the consensus of both the public and we, the critics.

For example, animation undergoes a process of “branding” in which it becomes a definable commodity. A simple example: there is today a subset of animation called “Classic Looney Tunes”. I have no idea what this really means, since many of the most beloved Warner shorts were actually “Merrie Melodies”, and shorts bearing this title continued to be produced by the studio until its final days. “Looney Tunes” today means both the characters that originated at the Warner studio and the cartoons both past and present, featuring them. Another example is Nickelodeon: It is both a network and a brand, with economic endeavors separate from its televised fare.

Thus, we have a confluence of culture, economics, politics, and demographics to consider whenever we analyze a particular piece of animation. The way in which these factors interact is an important consideration for you future critics (Of course, you can forego all of this and simply watch cartoon films and shorts for the enjoyment of it, and that’s fine. Consider this a “think piece”)

I agree with pretty much everything Martin has to say. Animation is indeed a product of the culture that created it. Pretty much any cartoon ever made is an example of that! It’s also forms part of out very complex and intricate cultural landscape, that is almost a given at this stage.

Where the post gets interesting is when it starts discussing the various allegations made against Spongebob Squarepants. Mark promises to go deeper into some of the controversies in his next post, but there’s an important aspect to the whole scenario that I think is a simpler explenation for everything:

Spongebob is a winner.

Yes, Spongebob Squarepants the loveable man-child of a sponge is a winner. He’s been on the air for a decade and continues to rake in the cash for Nickelodeon.

SB (as we’ll call him for the duration of this column) rivals The Simpsons in popularity and longevity, and like them, has a generational crossover audience that seems to span every demographic.

“So what?” I hear you say. “Fair play to him” is what Irish people would say. However, plenty of people look at that success and are either reviled or jealous because of it. Such feelings can inherently obfuscate (fancy word for obscure/contort) otherwise rational views towards a show.

In a way, it’s very similar to the various patent battles surrounding smart phones. Android is racing past Windows and Apple in terms of market share and features so both parties are going after it with the patent guns blazing. It’s not because Android necessarily infringed, it’s because it’s easy to go after the clear leader.

Just think of the guy who tried to sue (how he’s eligible for a Wikipedia page, I do not know) because he though Stephen Hillenburg stole his idea for a talking sponge. The evidence to the contrary is on my bookshelf in the Nicktoons book, where there’s a comic Hillenburg created in 1989 featuring a character called “Bob the Sponge”. Any lawyer worth their salt could have seen that your man didn’t have a leg to stand on, but he decided to sue anyway, and lost, big time.

He’s been the most popular cartoon for kids for the last decade. He’s wildly popular in all respects so just that simple fact will make him a target. You can bet that if our favourite yellow sponge had stuttered to three or seasons we wouldn’t have heard any of the controversies, past, present or future.

Having lived in the States for just about 4 years now, I can safely say that although there is very real cultural and societal recognition for those who get ahead or are successful, there is also a sector that sees that success and attempts to undermine it or take it for themselves by using the legal system for their own ends. Back home people would just begrudge you, that’s just the Irish way,

All this goes back to my series of posts on why animators need to be aware of the legal implications of their work. It’s a minefield out there and you have to have your wits about you if you are going to successfully navigate it.

 

AWN Deals With Some Tricky Women

Spotted over on the Ambling Around column of AWN is this review for a book that you may not be aware of. Tricky Women is a festival held each year in Austria dedicated to, you guessed it, women in animation and they’ve put out a collection of essays devoted to the topic.

The description from the review is as follows:

Published by Schüren Verlag (Marburg, 2011), this 189 page volume contains essays by scholars, animators, and educators that address issues relating to women practicing animation and gaming. The book also includes a DVD with five well known auteur films discussed within the text.

The review is quite thorough in its detail of the essays contained within the book, the first of which may appeal to most of you out there as it pondering the following

[Jayne] Pilling concludes by raising a number of important questions, the most interesting of which is, “Is there a difference overall in the approach of male and women filmmakers in adapting fairytales within animation?”.

Suffice to say it looks like an entertaining (if slightly academic) read, as the conclusion make out:

…this unique scholarly contribution is a highly recommended text for the following areas of study: Animation, Art, Education, Film Studies, Gaming Studies, Media Studies, Women’s Studies, and Gender Studies at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. And it’s a must buy for university and college libraries that collect texts on these subjects.

It’s welcoming to see a topic like this receive some attention. Much the same as other industries, the contribution of women to the animation field was ignored for a long time, so its only right that the history of such be celebrated in the appropriate fashion.

Check out the AWN article for details on how to order the book as well as the full review by Sharon katz.

 

Apparently Lady Gaga Doesn’t Like Animation

Lady GoogooVia: TBI

This just in, yesterday, The Hollywood Reporter among others posted that Lady Gaga has won an injunction against a parody creation from Mind Candy called Lady Goo Goo. The reason?

“Lady Gaga argued that the character would confuse consumers.”AWN

There’s a couple of different aspects to this decision but all spell potential trouble for animators or studios so they are well worth being aware of.

Firstly, there’s the issue of confusion with the real Lady Gaga and secondly there’s the issue of parody works and whether or not they are legal. Before you carry on reading though, here’s a video of Lady Goo Goo herself:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v53lmd5URQQ

Starting with the confusion, Gaga relied on trademark law and its reliance on the famed tests which essentially boil down to the “moron in a hurry” scenario. The court ruled that consumers and fans of Gaga would be susceptible to confusion between Gaga and Goo Goo and thus the latter should not be permitted .

Anyone with half a brain would conclude that this is a clear admission from Gaga that her fans are clearly idiots but as Mike Masnick at Techdirt put it:

Unfortunately, Lady Gaga doesn’t have a sense of humor about the situation and it appears that neither do the UK courts.

Michael Action Smith of Mind Candy puts it fairly bluntly:

“It’s pretty obvious that kids will be able to tell the difference between the two characters.” I can certainly tell the difference, but Lady Gaga and the courts couldn’t

The shame is that millions of kids fell in love with Lady Goo Goo’s debut single on YouTube and now won’t be able to enjoy her musical exploits. It was all done in the name of fun and we would have thought that Lady Gaga could have seen the humor behind this parody.

This leads us nicely into the second aspect of the ruling, which is that parody works are not strictly legal in the UK, where the lawsuit was filed.

The importance of this aspect? Well, in the US, parody works are considered legally distinct from the original material and as a result, do not require prior approval from the copyright holder. This is not the case in the UK, which has no laws regarding parody works. The result is that Gaga was legally able to sue over a parody featuring an animated baby and some Eurotrash music.

Why is this a concern for animators and studios? Because animation has relied on parody and making fun of things since almost the day it was invented! Imagine if all the classic Warner Bros. shorts couldn’t have parodied the political and entertainment figures of the day? Imagine if the Simpsons couldn’t send up films like Citizen Cane? Imagine if Weird Al Yankovic couldn’t release a video to go with his parody of a song? (Side note, Al had is own run-in with Lady Gaga but because he’s in the US, he could release his single anyway).

Our ability to create would be seriously hindered wouldn’t it? The world would be a much more serious place in the absence of all this comedy and poking of fun.

Animation has delighted in being one of the prime candidates when it comes to sources of parody. Nevertheless, this lawsuit simply proves that you have to be on your toes when it comes to this kind of thing, because as bad of a control freak as it makes Lady Gaga look (and all the increased attention the lawsuit has garnered as a result), it ultimately forces a studio to write off an investment it made and to swallow the costs of the project with no hope of getting them back.

Small studios and animators cannot be expected to be effective economic units if they face the prospects of lawsuits like this. There is no reason why Lady Goo Goo had to be yanked in the UK, the decision hurts everyone, including Gaga herself.