Disney is worried it’s losing its appeal to tween and young adult boys, and has hired a 45-year-old female anthropologist to help work out what this group are interested in. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/14/arts/television/14boys.html?_r=1
“Ms. Peña and her team of anthropologists have spent 18 months peering inside the heads of incommunicative boys … Disney is relying on her insights to create new entertainment for boys 6 to 14.”
Oh dear, I thought. Here come worthy, improving programmes designed to make boys more like girls, perhaps stop them wanting to play with toy guns…
Steady on. It could be a good thing.
One of her conclusions was that boys want ‘fun with a purpose’ and that they identify more with protagonists who ‘try hard to grow’ rather than those who just win all the time.
Might that not be because the character had a better arc, more disasters and scrapes – in other words, a more entertaining story? And don’t girls also want ‘fun with a purpose’?
So her conclusions sound sensible but did Disney need an academic to tell them what most writers could?
Perhaps they do.
The book industry has a similar problem to Disney’s. The agreed response is to pretend that boys give up on reading when they’re 11 and there’s nothing they can do about it. But I’ve ghosted bestselling books for that age group in the action-adventure genre and I’ve found that the publishers wanted to censor the kind of full-blooded mayhem that boys like. Charlie Higson, author of the Young Bond books sums it up:
“Why do boys stop reading at a certain age?” He asks the question and then immediately answers it. “In the 1950s and 1960s all children’s literature was aimed at boys, but when I started writing the young Bond books, apart from the Alex Rider series there was very little.” http://www.mi6.co.uk/news/index.php?itemid=4848&t=mi6&s=news
So writers know already what boys want. But it seems publishers and film makers will only take notice if they have the backing of respectable, grown-up research.