I don’t do a lot of research for these columns (or shows, for that matter.)
I don’t intend that to sound like showing off, it’s just the way I prefer to work. The writing/talking doesn’t really flow naturally if I’m not talking about stuff I’m readily knowledgeable of (“can’t teach what you don’t know,” I guess). 90% of the time I’m working from material I already know and only go research-diving afterward, mostly for things like spelling, dates and fact-checking for the parts I’m iffy on (helpfully, this often leads me to “new” facts that can be added later.)
Most of the time, I think this works out for both of us. You get an honest column/show, as opposed to me trying to sound smart(er) by reciting a Wikipedia entry, I get the satisfaction of feeling like a journalistic wunderkind capable of pulling fully-formed gold directly out of my, um … let’s say “mind.”
Other times, though, it can be limiting – like when I sit down to write a piece and realize, midway in, that I don’t really know enough about it to speak with any authority. And it’s downright frustrating when it’s a topic you can’t actually research because it involves elements of memory, nostalgia or personal experience – stuff you can’t learn.
Case in point: It occurred to me, looking at the truly baffling amount of merchandise-driven narrative (cartoons/books/whatever originally created to sell toys) properties being snapped up for movie adaptations to feed off Generation X/Y’s infinite appetite for its own nostalgia, that the field, however vast, was somewhat limited. Specifically, all the big acquisitions were from Boy Stuff.
Now, to be fair, that’s more of a term of art than anything. Youth-oriented entertainment and merchandise in the late 20th Century, particularly where the two entities crossed, was a rigidly stratified place where gender was concerned, and while there were plenty of female fans who geeked out for supposedly masculine-targeted stuff like Transformers or G.I. Joe, as far as marketing was concerned, the lines were very specific. Remember the priceless “Pink Aisle” sequence in Toy Story 2? It wasn’t just the broad “guns = boys, dolls = girls” archetype, either – things got into very specific Distaff Counterpart territory. My Little Pony was the girl version of Transformers, just as The Hardy Boys were the boy version of Nancy Drew. Polly Pocket? Mighty Max. Easy-Bake Oven? Creepy Crawlers. Heck, even G.I. Joe began his life as, literally, Barbie for boys.
Sure, there was no law mandating what was and was not “correct” for one gender or another, but everyone knew what was guy stuff and what was chick stuff. And it’s my observation that while Hollywood’s slate of upcoming films looks more and more like a 10 year-old’s birthday wish-list from 1987 (or a yard sale from 1994) and the metaphorical Toy Store is being picked clean for new ideas, the aforementioned Pink Aisle has barely been touched.
Part of this is just the usual unpleasantness of male privilege rearing its head. There are more men in Hollywood with the power to utter the words “I remember that! Here’s money, go make it!” than there are women, and geek culture is still coming to terms with accepting girl geeks as equals even when their affection is toward traditionally male-geek franchises. (The big exception here is anime/manga fandom, which is quite frankly light-years ahead of any other fandom subculture in terms of its ability to both welcome and absorb fans both across racial/gender and sexual orientation lines.)
So, thinking on this, I figured it would make a good topic for a column: properties, premises and franchises from the world of girl stuff that deserved a spot on Hollywood’s “to-do” list. “Film This Chick Stuff,” as it were … and then I ran into a wall.
I don’t actually know enough about this.
I mean, obviously, growing up in the 80s I was cognizent of My Little Pony, Rainbow Brite and all of that. And as a comic book geek I’m certainly familiar with Wonder Woman, even the most casual otaku knows who Sailor Moon is and who hasn’t heard of Nancy Drew or, of course, Barbie? But I get the distinct sense that an outsider’s perspective wouldn’t really do here.
So I’m asking you for help.
This is a call for all you female (or male, sure, why not?) Escapists, casual readers or just waywardly-browsing geeks in general to fill me in on which of the Pink Aisle characters, stories, or franchises you’d love, hate or be curious to see as Hollywood’s next big Nostalgia Blockbuster. Or maybe you’d just like to take the opportunity to reminisce about the whole subject in general? Educate me, in other words, by posting your thoughts on the matter in this article’s comments thread, or by emailing me at [email protected] between now and next Wednesday, November 17th.
There are no rules here; this isn’t a poll (or, if it is, it’s a very informal one). It doesn’t matter how obscure the stuff you’re suggesting is (though example links would be appreciated), or what era it came from, or what nation/country it originated in, or even what medium: books, toys, games, comics, movies, TV shows, stories, whatever. Yes, “female perspectives on” or “female characters from” more traditionally male properties certainly count. Yes, even stuff that’s already been adapted (or announced for adaptation.) And in next week’s Intermission on November 19th, I’ll present a mix of the most interesting, surprising and (of course) most in demand stuff you all came up with.
I’m really interested to see where this goes. I’m thinking (and hoping) that the list I end up with is going to be substantially different from the list I might otherwise have conjured just on my own, or just by asking my female acquaintances (I’m already under threat of some unspecified retribution if “Strawberry Shortcake” doesn’t make the list, on that front). And, of course, there’s the selfish hope that casting a feedback net like this will bring in some new readers, fans and site visitors … like, say, if links to this article were to wind up on fan boards, the blogosphere, or Twitter for example (hint hint).
So … ball’s in your court, folks.
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you’ve heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.