I’m in the right age group (& gender) for this to send chills down my spine every time:
I adored Transformers, and managed to amass a reasonable collection of the toys during my primary school days (many of which remain just metres away from me as I type this).
The idea however that the show was simply a “30 minute advertisement for a toy-line” always felt offensive to my sensitive ears. How could one say that about my beloved Optimus?
The truth of course was - that statement was absolutely and entirely correct. Hasbro collected the rights to an army of shape-shifting toys, and then pitted them against one another in a cartoon designed purely to sell toys to the kids that tuned in - and tune in - and buy the toys - they did.
Hasbro was not alone.
He-Man, Defender of the Universe! Ever wondered why Battle Cat was the size of a freakin horse? Because they ran out of development money to sculpt a toy the right size for the action figures, and had to use something off the plans instead - all before the first cell of the cartoon had been drawn.
Voltron? Marketed to the English speaking world using a mish-mash of footage from at least 2 different Japanese shows - designed to sell toys.
Pokemon even goes as far as to tell the audience:
Gotta Catch 'em all!
Gotta Catch 'em all!
That’s not even subliminal advertising…
So… Was every cartoon I grew up watching merely created to convince me to buy a toy? (And - if you saw my bedroom - you’d know they succeeded in spades.) Indeed - are they now continuing this capitalistic model of mortgaging our kids’ souls? Or do these shows deserve the right to be recognised as actual entertainment; worthy of Sophocles himself?
As a former student of film/tv, I know for example that when planning a project, you bank on 10% of your budget coming from the sale of the DVD rights (err, maybe now selling to Netflix). So already some degree of merchandising has come into play. You only have to visit a shop like Pop Cultcha or Zing however to see just how far beyond DVDs the merchandising of film/tv goes.
Another of my childhood faves - now reborn - Doctor Who, reportedly has/had to ensure that each new season featured storylines that could specifically cash in on an array of merchandising - Indeed for at least the first 5 years of the revival, Doctor Who was a massive cash-cow for the BBC through not only international tv rights, or the DVDs, but action figures, books, novels, magazines, tshirts and other clothing, even dust bins.
However… Does selling your artistic soul to help raise funds mean that you can’t also create a meaningful, artistic and thought provoking, entertaining story? Does meeting a quota of new, easy to mould in plastic bad guys make the content of your craft less than if you purely followed your heart?
I don’t know.
Since about 2002 I’ve been working on a story - the very reason I quit finance (ha) and went to study. It was recently suggested that I change the main character’s gender, as “strong female leads” are becoming very popular - could help get an edge in the market. But will that compromise be a step too far?
Think I’ve lost cohesion here now so I’ll leave it at that… :}