Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Who are bland leads aimed at?

I think I have it figured out.

They are sometimes referred to as the "identity character". Like you are supposed to identify with them. But does anybody? Or do we just put up with them so we can get some animated action here and there?


Identity Characters are not Very Identifiable

Who are these bland goody 2 shoes boy characters aimed at?


They can't really be aimed at real boys. No real boy wants to be "good" or normal. Most boys want to be bad. They want to be tough, they want to get away with stuff, they want to skip school, they want to be cool, funny or whatever - anything but middle of the road and bland or good!

Grown up society tries to make us bland (especially today) but most kids are humanity in the raw, and all very different.


Girls like bad boys better than good boys too.

Good boys who are normal, first of all don't really exist in the real world.

The closest thing we have to that are sissies, and not too many people in middle America want to be sissies.

Yet good sissy boys are really common in animated cartoons, and those are the characters that we are supposed to be identifying with.



I don't know about you, but I find that strange and contrary to being "normal". Normal people want adventure, excitement, surprises and charisma from their heroes and celebrities.



So who the heck are these characters aimed at?




Moms Want Boys To Be Good Upstanding Citizens
And they should. That's their job. But it's our job as entertainers to undermine the Moms! Humans need balance. A pure good person won't have any friends when he grows up. He'll be too damn boring.

Walt Disney aimed at Moms, knowing that they would "drag the men in", including the boys. He must have thought - like Marc Deckter does, that shaded protagonists would turn people away-which I find to be an incredible theory completely unsupported by history! I'll put up his "Defense Of Bland" next.

Many animation producers -and animators themselves- still believe this theory, probably not because they've thought a lot about it, but because all animated features have bland characters and that's what they are used to so they just keep doing it by rote.

If you give someone not very creative a job running a creative department, what's the first thing he will do? Take out anything that's creative and unique. Not because he is responsible or a good business person, but because conservative people in charge fear talent and imagination.


To them we are witches that need to be bound up and squeezed just hard enough to let a tiny bit of magic ooze out...but not toooo much or all the screaming demons of fun and imagination and joy will come charging out to destroy them!


What is "Family Entertainment"?

MYTH

I think of it as a general term for entertainment that no one in the family wants to watch. But Moms wants you to watch it so that you will learn valuable lessons about life. They aren't entertained by it either, but they'll watch with you out of duty.

Christian TV shows are the most extreme example of these kinds of shows and many people watch them just to laugh at them. Because it's fun to be bad.

Family sitcoms like "Leave It To Beaver" or "The Partridge Family" are sort of like that too, but not anywhere near as extremely boring as the characters in "family" animated cartoons. Live action characters can't help but have some uniqueness, just because it's almost impossible to be completely average in reality.

Every real person is different. Only in animation can everyone be right in the middle. But what a strange goal for animation.

Most animators insist they are "caricaturing reality", when to my eyes, they seem to be doing the exact opposite, they are taking out the interesting things from life, rather than using the immense potential of our art to draw attention to them and enjoy them to the fullest.

50 comments:

Sean Worsham said...

>Family sitcoms like "Leave It To >Beaver" or "The Partridge Family" >are sort of like that too, but not >anywhere near as extremely boring as >the characters in "family" animated >cartoons.

You forgot Full House, that is the most bland show of all time imho! I'm guessing this is why sitcoms like All in the Family, the Jeffersons, Married With Children and Roseanne were far more memorable sitcoms than bland shit like Full House, Partridge Family and Christian Programming. It's because shows like Married With Children and All in the Family are REALLY parodying real life, and the actors portraying the characters are better than mirror images they are exaggerations in and of themselves.

The same could be said about cartoons. No sane man I know (except mothers) love Captain Planet, but we would all watch Tex Avery cartoons, Woody Woodpecker and Popeye because we all deep inside want to have food for free, get the naughty girl or be tough. Plus the Mom's will watch it regardless even though they may hate it since they'll watch it out of duty.

I guess this is why most of my friends Mom's in my younger years hated the Three Stooges and told them never to watch it. I had a cool mom who would let me watch Three Stooges but for some odd reason would not let me watch cartoons. I guess that's what certain friends are for. I would hang out at my buddies houses and watch cartoons while my buddies would hang out at my house and watch Three Stooges!

It's a fair trade IMHO.

Strangely enough my Mom would let me watch Married With Children and Archie Bunker ;)

Marc Deckter said...

...He must have thought - like Marc Deckter does, that shaded protagonists would turn people away...

Haha, ok the debate begins....

Well the argument is that shaded protagonists might turn people away. If a character is unique, you might like his traits, or you might not like his traits.

But with a bland character, there are no traits to like or dislike. Therefore, you cannot actively dislike the bland character.

You can't hate a blank piece of paper. There's nothing there to hate.

READ MORE ABOUT THIS AMAZING THEORY NEXT POST!

Sean Worsham said...

Also, I didn't listen to my Mom. I loved her dearly but went on and pursued my career of being an animator/ cartoonist and now I got it and have a stable career doing it! See you should listen to your heart everyone and follow your passion! Don't eat your cauliflower or brussel sprouts! Watch Three Stooges and Our Gang! It'll only do you good!

Being rebellious and doing what you like can lead you to good things! Ahh I love my life! Thanks for showing the light John!!!

YESSSSSSSS!!!! HAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA!!!

Blammo said...

Great post!.....and true too!

Jason;)

Matt said...

Only you can make someone wish they'd never been loved and nurtured growin' up, John. :)

trophiogrande said...

I sometimes think most people in charge of creative people only know "Bland"...at least that has been my experience.

kate yarberry said...

I disagree with deckter
The only boys worth their salt are the bad ones. Who wants to screw around with a sissie? other sissies, thats who. I like it when guy slap girls around just a touch, just to show them who's boss. A sissie wouldn't do that. My theory is if you make a male characters you would otherwise make "bland" just make him like steve mcqueen. No one hated him. Hence his nickname"king of cool". You can do this with animation. Make girls fall for boy cartoons. Boys have been making hot girl cartoons for ages.

Stephen Worth said...

You can't hate a blank piece of paper. There's nothing there to hate.

You can't like it or identify with it either. However if EVERYTHING is blank (like most cable TV channels) you can certainly hate the absence of things to like.

Entertainment raises certain expectations in the audience... like the expectation that they are going to be entertained.

See ya
Steve

stiff said...

Not because he is responsible or a good business person, but because conservative people in charge fear talent and imagination.

You hit that nail on the head. I try to offer new creative ideas at my boring science job, and the bosses just look at me like I'm speaking in tongues -- they have no idea what I'm saying, and they're afraid of it, because they don't understand. The problem is insecurity--if they don't understand, they don't have faith that it will succeed, and if it doesn't succeed, then they're afraid that their insecure boss will unleash a shitstorm on them. In their mind, it's far better to be mediocre than to risk failure to be successful. THEN, insecure bosses feel the need to justify their existence by telling their subordinates what to do and otherwise micromanaging. So their safe mediocrity steadily chips away at any flashes of brilliance, and you're left with a big steaming pile of shit.

kelvinkao said...

I know it's bad to jump to conclusions but let me do that because I feel like it today: Oh wow! Disney movies help create sissies!!!

I found that I tend to like sitcoms that's more "cartoon-y" in a way. I like Married with Children where everything is super exaggerated, especially the strange things Al Bundy does and how he does it. And I like how exaggerated George Constanza and Krammer are in Seinfeld. In comparison, I never really like those sitcoms that's like (and there's many of them!)... we are a bunch of young people living living in an apartment in New York together and we have all these relationships constantly and it's funny to talk about them.

Stephen Worth said...

Moms perceive the world completely different from normal human beings.

One day my mom was searching for my missing tennis shoes and she found my stash of National Lampoons under my bed. She was horrified because to her motherly eyes, they looked like "dirty" magazines. My brother and I tried to explain that they were "funny" magazines, not "dirty" ones, but it didn't help. Into the trash they went. I still miss them.

See ya
Steve

Evan said...

i know youre not talking about anime here, but ive read anime actually intends to make protagonist characters plain looking, that way more people think that character is like them. and on the other hand, they make antagonists have big noses, green skin, horns, etc. i guess the theory is, if you draw a bland looking white kid, the largest % of viewers will identify with thinking that kid is like them. (no one wants to think they're ugly, right?) whereas, a green goblin looking thing with a big nose and sharp teeth, they won't identify with at all. maybe these disney bland characters developed out of that same school of thought.

pinkboi said...

I know what you're missing, John..

I thought it was just me all along, but maybe most people project themselves through Disney villains. Though still bland, they, unlike the leads, do have quirks and do have eccentricities and a certain arrogance [giant] kids like me can relate to!

JohnK said...

>>do have quirks and do have eccentricities and a certain arrogance [giant] kids like me can relate to!<<

You can relate to poo sniffing?

ChrisW said...

Um....don't know if you've noticed John....but animation is chock full of sissies. Hands up who plays a sport on this post.... And no, ping pong doesn't count. Neither does playing the banjo. There's no sense in trying to strike up a conversation about the game Monday morning...since nobody cares. I'm pretty much the only one who can not only identify a hockey stick, but uses one on a regular basis.

Now, I'm not saying sports are the be all and end all here. But a bunch of cartoonists standing around and making fun of sissy drawings is kind of ironic to me.

JohnK said...

You have a bit of a point there.

But!

Most cartoonists may be wimpy (as most artists, musicians or creative people), but the honest ones make up for it by creating fantasies that are NOT wimpy.

I doubt Segar, or Chester Gould, Clampett, Avery could beat anyone up. But that didn't stop them from making earthy cartoons about stuff we wish we could get away with!


The pretentious artists draw the sissy stuff, because someohow sissiness is equated with "quality" in animation.

ChrisW said...

Ok...fair enough. But I don't run into very honest ones. When I actually had a pencil in hand and had to make a living with my lousy drawings, I was surrounded by cartoonists who were compensating...not creating.

Clinton said...

ABC had TGIF, which is a good example of the bland family entertainment you are talking about. Full House was full of characters, each with a single character trait. every episode was full of generic storylines with an ultimate, wholesome "moral" that the entire cast learns in the end.

Married with Children was the realist adaptation of the american family I have ever seen. Al was a balding middle-aged man, with a dead-end job, and one highlight in his whole life. Peg was a housewife who never cooked, cleaned, or raised the kids. Bud was always horny. Kelly's character was awesome. Kelly was the dumb blonde, and her slutty antics was always implied. I loved the show as a kid because it was honest, unlike Full House.

Moro Rogers said...

I agree with Kate Yarberry somewhat...It seems like Disney animators don't really try too hard to create male characters that actually appeal to females. They seem to be stuck at the phase where little girls like to be princesses and wear makeup but think boys are yucky. Hence ciphers like the prince in Cinderella. It's all about the beautiful dresses and beads and shit...
(Sorry, that wasn't a very well-constructed paragraph. I think there's an idea in there somewhere...)
I mean, so far, Disney's sexiest male character is a......I hesitate to say it....a dog, and that's a shame.=p

Gabriel said...

gee, Stephen, your mom was tough. Mine was nothing like that. When I was kid she grabbed one of my uncle's playboy magazines and showed it to me, to keep me from being ignorant. I looked at it with mild interest, because i wasn't interested in girls yet. I probably still thought they had cooties back them.

JohnK said...

>>Therefore, you cannot actively dislike the bland character. <<

False assumption.

Of course you can.

most people do. And we hate Muzak too.

Mr. Semaj said...

The closest thing we have to that are sissies, and not too many people in middle America want to be sissies.

Is this why you hate SpongeBob?

I'll say this much: I love my mom and always will. But my mom still believes that I've long out-grown cartoons, period. At the same time, she doesn't believe in the raunchier cartoons out there, which would immediately null her previous argument.

Both reasons are why I never tell her about most of the cartoons I still make, especially online.

CGsucks said...

I completely agree with family entertainment not entertaining anyone. I actually have first hand proof of this fact. The only movie that I've seen recently at the theater with my family was 300, one of the least family friendly movies ever. And guess what, we all loved it. Of course my mom just wanted to watch it because Gerard Butler was in it.

Evan, i have to say say I must challenge your statement about anime protagonists a little. Sometimes they are bland, I admit it, an example would be Kouta from Elfen Leid. But I know alot of anime protagonists who aren't bland at all.
Like Hideaki from Chobits. Even though he was an average dude, like so many real guys, he was a horny little bastard who was into hot girls and porn. I personally found him relatable and damn funny to watch. There's also Kenshin Himura from Rurouni Kenshin. He's a good combination of sensible-not-sickening morals,kickass fighing skill, a dark past, and ackwardness towards girls. I personally don't find that bland.
Anyway, Im sorry to bring up anime. I really hope an arguement doesn't break out because of me. I just felt I should throw in my two cents.

Evan said...

yeah, cgsucks, i really know next to nothing about anime, this discussion just reminded me of something I had an art professor tell my class about. im sure its not true in all cases, etc. i just thought it was an interesting theory that kind of goes along with this post.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Well said! Now it's time for Mark to step up to the plate!

cartoon lad said...

Chris W sounds like a big macho man.

Tim said...

Brilliant, John. I got into your blog not as much due to my love of animation (though my Ren and Stimpy and George Liquor fanboyism had much to do with it) but my love of film. What you're saying here not only applies to animation, but to all types of stuff - TV, cartoons, movies, comics.

There is a time and a place for a "bland" role, but in my humble opinion it should never be the lead character. I'm really tired of the terrible cliche that says a lead character has to be bland with a bunch of hollow supporting actors to add the "personality" (you know, the funny one, the smart one, and so on). Characters can have a defining trait or two but still have real identifiable personalities.

PCUnfunny said...

"Hands up who plays a sport on this post"

I have a green belt in Ju-Jitsu. I know that isn't a sport but I can kick someone's ass.

Bob Hell said...

To tell the truth, Marc, I think deep down inside, I'd rather hate something passionately than just be completely neutral about it. I mean, I'd much rather read a book on Richard Nixon's loathable paranoid craziness than, oh I dunno, Millard Filmore or some such guy. Maybe folks don't outright hate blandness, but it's grating in a subconscious way. You see so much of it that eventually you build a deeper kind of loathing for it than something you merely hate.

Also John, I love my mom, but she never let me watch Ren and Stimpy. I had to sneak peeks of it when she wasn't looking. I guess she thought it would warp my mind or something, though I don't really understand why.

Jorge Garrido said...

>I have a green belt in Ju-Jitsu. I know that isn't a sport but I can kick someone's ass.

Plus, you're an ABM (Angry Black Man) so that helps.

Atta Havlykke said...

"The theory is, if you draw a bland looking white kid, the largest % of viewers will identify with thinking that kid is like them"

It's not the visual traits of a character your' suppose to identify with.

I can easily identify with Ren's insanity, and I don't even mildly resemble any dog breed.

The identification with fictional characters is ment to be an extension of oneself not a crippling limitation.

Marc Deckter said...

>>Therefore, you cannot actively dislike the bland character. <<

False assumption.

Of course you can.

most people do.


The moment you hate a character, that character is no longer bland.

Part of the definition of bland is that it's "nonirritating" and "tasteless".

How can you dislike the taste of something that lacks taste? That would be a contradiction.

Marc Deckter said...

To tell the truth, Marc, I think deep down inside, I'd rather hate something passionately than just be completely neutral about it.

Hi Bob,

I can understand that, and so would I.

But a big animation studio would prefer the population feel neutral about their movie, rather than hate it passionately.

btribble said...

Hey... this post comes on the same day that the Popeye DVD set is released. I just finished watching the first disc. Popeye mostly punches everything into oblivion - something that never gets old or boring... and something mothers around the world hate! Go figure!

Fco. de Borja said...

As animation has the curse of “being just for kids” Executives use to have strict rules about safety and extreme fear of any complaining that could come from the parents. The overprotection rules makes the bland characters spread like a disease in every cartoon. All based in a stupid idea that has been proved to be useless. To hide any incorrect attitude (violence, drugs, excitement, sex, politically incorrect behaviour etc) to prevent your kids from them. That’s why Execs fear anything creative that stays away from the bland formula

he said said...

"You can't hate a blank piece of paper. There's nothing there to hate."

Have you seen some of the movies made by Hayao Miyazaki lately? The characters were always bland, but now he's blanding the plot too. Nothing freaking happens in any of that crap. It would be the most on point parody of Disney ever if only he didn't actually want to be Disney. There's no conflicts anywhere in his movies now and at the end the "bad" guys just grin at the "good" guys' fortune and luck. It might as well be a series of really colorful drawings on a wall because it has all the pathos of those motivational posters that people hate so much. At least in Princess Mononoke, there was violence; now there's just a bunch of pointless stuff.

R said...

I agree with you in your overall distaste for blandness but its unfair to pin all of this on Christians and conservatives. Most of the good cartoons were produced when the country was far more Christian and conservative. Go figure!

Are Christians and conservatives running Hollywood now? I don't think anybody can say that with a straight face. The fact is, liberals have dominated the entertainment industry for the past forty years. If you're going to pin the current state of affairs on anybody, it has to be them.

I'll grant you that Christian "entertainment" is the bottom of the barrel. Probably because its mostly made by amateurs now. However, putting that aside, I think real conservatives are not the problem. For some strange reason, its the liberals, in striving for their utopian fantasies, who give us the "let's all cooperate and save the planet" cartoons. "Let's have diversity and equal time for all" cartoons have been the ruin of real entertainment.

Apreche said...

In pretty much every animated show and movie I have watched in recent years, mostly Japanese animation at that, I have found the main characters to be bland and unlikeable. I always find myself, and my friends, identifying and rooting for one of the very interesting side-characters.

It definitely does seem like the status quo is to make the central character well, status quo, while supporting characters are all interesting in their own ways. It would definitely be awesome if all the characters were interesting in their own way, including the main one.

JohnK said...

>>Are Christians and conservatives running Hollywood now? I don't think anybody can say that with a straight face. The fact is, liberals have dominated the entertainment industry for the past forty years.<<

When I use the term conservative, I'm not talking about the political party, I'm using it in its dictionary sense.

Conservative people like to leave things the way they are. They distrust new ideas and creativity in general.

I can't think of a more conservative concept than "political correctness".

The so called "liberal" democrats are as conservative as anybody. they just have a different set of dogma than the "conservative" Republicans.

Anyone who follows the party line is by nature conservative, no matter what party he belongs to. He surrenders his free thinking to the cause.

If you belong to the Disney party, you are conservative in your idea of creativity. Completely afraid to break the mold.

Political liberals may run some of Hollywood, but they follow the most republican of practices. They squeeze out the competition, blitz market their blandness into success and brainwash the masses, who never get to see alternative, more creative and skilled entertainment.

Jorge Garrido said...

>How can you dislike the taste of something that lacks taste? That would be a contradiction.

No, you hate THE FACT that it lacks taste. There's a great Bible verse about that, it goes something along the lines of cold you spit it out in disgust

"The Lord hates those who claim to follow him only sometimes, and like lukewarm food, since it is neither hot not cold, he spits you out in disgust"

Jorge Garrido said...

Oops! That last comment had too many typos to print!

Moro Rogers said...

Hehe, that's a good quote! (For the record, I am both Catholic and right wing, but I like my art pretty demented. Heironymous Bosch is my idea of a good religious artist.^^)
What's really gross is movies like OVER THE HEDGE which preach about the evils of consumerism...This coming from the unimaginative capitalist weiners at Dreamworks...

Winter said...

So how does this square with Bugs Bunny? He's certainly not bland, but i think "sissy" isn't entirely wrong either. I mean, he oscillates from ultimate coolness to hysteria and the like. He doesn't solve his problems with violence, or ever even win a physical fight that i can remember. He's somewhat cultured. He has no real motivations except, perhaps, for a desire to be left alone and not killed. He doesn't go after girls much.

Oh, and there's that whole "dress up as a girl and seduce the other characters" thing.

So: how does this fit in? Or am i totally off base?

(Also: the problem with "you can't hate them" characters is that, unless you cant hate them because they're totally awesome, you probably can't like them either.)

Kol Ra'ash Gadol said...

Dude,
Quit raggin on the moms! This mom grew up on Ren and Stimpy, read Mad, and continue to spend my life making people pay attention. What you're talking about aren't Moms, they're people who have been brainwashed to think badly about how to make good people. You don't make people good by saying that they must watch boring television - heck, look at the Bible: it's chock full of messed up, confused, morally ambiguous characters - and you can learn a lot more from them than from a bunch of boring pajama-bottomed toddlers with big eyes.
I don't particularly want my son to be a bad boy. I want him to be an interesting boy how can take on strong powerful people and throw their bs back in their face in the name of the right and good. Todlers in pjs can't do that becasue they're too afraid of upsetting the status quo. In fact, IMO, the problem with wimps isn'tthat they're good, it's that they're bad- if you don't go out and do something, you're contributing to the problems of the world. A good cartoon, like any other kid of literaturte makes its point through helping people experience a nother view point - even if it's maybe one that teaches by negative example!

Jorge Garrido said...

>Oh, and there's that whole "dress up as a girl and seduce the other characters" thing.

That's FUNNY.

PCUnfunny said...

"I mean, he oscillates from ultimate coolness to hysteria and the like. He doesn't solve his problems with violence, or ever even win a physical fight that i can remember. He's somewhat cultured. He has no real motivations except, perhaps, for a desire to be left alone and not killed"

What you describe is the Jones Bugs, a weaker characterization of the wabbit.Clampett's and Avery's Bugs was a rougher street wise smart ass.

TamalH said...

<< So how does this square with Bugs Bunny? He's certainly not bland, but i think "sissy" isn't entirely wrong either. >>

I wouldn't say he's a "sissy." He's still a smart ass (only when provoked), but he's physically weaker than his foes, which is why he has to use his wits to get out of conflicts (not that it's that hard since most of his enemies are morons).

In a few Freleng and Jones cartoons (like Bugs Bunny Nips the Nip and Bunny Hugged),Bugs does try and physically fight, but ends up losing horribly.

Besides like pcunfunny said, it's Jone's characterization of Bugs you're basically describing.

<< Oh, and there's that whole "dress up as a girl and seduce the other characters" thing. >>

Slapstick drag was a popular gag back then, same with the Insult Kiss (which Bugs also does alot). Besides, it served a purpose in the situations of the cartoons, while being funny as hell.

Winter said...

I guess Jones's Bugs is the one in my head, or something. His cartoons are the ones i think of, at least.

And don't get me wrong, i think the cross-dressing gags are funny too. I'm a huge fan of the whole Bugs Bunny thing. But it's... i guess the ambiguousness that sort of makes the character, for me. These traits--which are clearly "bland" when used by some people--work so well.

So my real question is, unless you all are going to argue the Jones Bugs was bland, is it the traits themselves or is there something else fundamentally wrong with the characters/characterizations/designers of the characters?

I suppose i'm not really sold on the "these traits are bad" idea.

Jim Rockford said...

"He must have thought - like Marc Deckter does, that shaded protagonists would turn people away-which I find to be an incredible theory completely unsupported by history!"

Thats true,I dont see that either.
all the great shows have "shaded protaganists",unique characters with traits and personas make the shows interesting and exciting,whether the traits are good or bad.
Take Angel Martin on "the Rockford files" for example,he was a complete weasel and con man who always stole,lied and got Jim into hot water,he had almost no redeeming qualitys...but man,whenever he was on the show it got that much more interesting!
I think it works the other way around,people hate bland uninteresting characters,after all if you dont have feelings one way or the other about the characters,whats the point in watching,they have to be unique,have depth and believabilty

Alvaro said...

If you want to know why there are too much blandness in the movies or television, is because for people like this:
http://www.capalert.com/

You have to read his movie reviews.