Does Cartoon Network Care Only About Boys?

3 years ago

Television executives on Cartoon Network have a "No Girls Allowed" sign on their treehouse because they think girls won't buy enough toys to make it worth it to give female characters their due. That's what industry insider Paul Dini postulated on Kevin Smith's Fatman on Batman podcast, and he makes a convincing case.


For part of the program Dini and Smith were discussing the sexism and greed that Dini experienced while trying to run a show that featured female characters on Cartoon Network. It's an interesting riff; you can listen to the podcast in whole via Smith's site or read transcribed excerpts on A Bird's Words. 

The upshot of the conversation: The trend on Cartoon Network is for goofy, boy-oriented humor; and there is an active, deliberate attempt to steer away from any potential female audience market and to market to boys in the worst possible way -- by positioning girls as one step behind boys.

Image: Teen Titans Go! on Cartoon Network

Dini's show Tower Prep, which was a live-action series on Cartoon Network, was cancelled prematurely. Dini believes it was cancelled after the show started featuring the girl characters more, and was gaining in family and female market share. This is what he said about that (transcript excerpt from A Bird's Words):

DINI: “That’s the thing, you know I hate being Mr. Sour Grapes here, but I’ll just lay it on the line: That’s the thing that got us cancelled on Tower Prep, honest-to-God was, like, ‘we need boys, but we need girls right there, right one step behind the boys’—this is the network talking—’one step behind the boys, not as smart as the boys, not as interesting as the boys, but right there.’ And then we began writing stories that got into the two girls’ back stories, and they were really interesting. And suddenly we had families and girls watching, and girls really became a big part of our audience, in sort of like they picked up that Harry Potter type of serialized way, which is what The Batman and [indistinct]’s really gonna kill. But, the Cartoon Network was saying, ‘F***, no, we want the boys’ action, it’s boys’ action, this goofy boy humor we’ve gotta get that in there. And we can’t—’ and I’d say, but look at the numbers, we’ve got parents watching, with the families, and then when you break it down—’Yeah, but the—so many—we’ve got too many girls. We need more boys.’”

SMITH: “That’s heart-breaking.”

DINI: “And then that’s why they cancelled us, and they put on a show called Level Up, which is, you know, goofy nerds fighting CG monsters. It’s like, ‘We don’t want the girls because the girls won’t buy toys.’ We had a whole… we had a whole, a merchandise line for Tower Prep that they s***canned before it ever got off the launching pad, because it’s like, ‘Boys, boys, boys. Boys buy the little spinny tops, they but the action figures, girls buy princesses, we’re not selling princesses.’

Where money meets misogyny is such a dark, sad place. As Smith outlines in the podcast, this line of thinking is essentially also a ridiculous excuse to perpetuate the status quo, because of course girls buy toys and related merchandise, and of course the market would respond to innovations as well, and to assume otherwise is a cynical self-fulfilling prophecy that keeps girls and women one step behind.

This reminds me of the recent video released by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media& which has the mission of addressing disparities in the shows children see because representation in media affects girls' abilities to dream about lives full of opportunities. As Geena Davis brilliantly stated in that recent video, we need to see more of Jane, and why shouldn't we? We see Dick all the time.

What do you think? Is Cartoon Network actively dissing female audiences? What affect does media and merchandising have on all of our children, both boys and girls? 


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