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Equestria Girls: Displeasure Among Bronies

It was quite a busy day yesterday on the My Little Pony Facebook page.  Hasbro announced the release date for the Equestria Girls movie (on DVD this Tuesday!  which makes it the widest release!) as well as the toy line associated with the spin-off.

As I have been tracking since the beginning of the marketing for the spin-off (starting here, then here, and here), there has been a lot of displeasure among the professed fandom of bronies, to both the movie and the toys.  The amount of in-fandom fighting has been particularly keen on the representation of the ponies as quasi-humans, and the new toy line only drives home the pony/human hybrid that has been created by Hasbro.  The criticisms range from anorexic to sell-outs to disingenuous — with very little voiced reflection as to whom the toys are actually meant.  (Hint: it is not the bronies.)

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Equestria Girls: Targeting Furries?

This will definitely be receiving more academic treatment from me, as I do some side projects on the issues of gender and reception surrounding My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  This new movie turns the ponies into quasi-humans (they retain their pony colors but in human form).  Hasbro says they are trying to target teenage girls with this film, which is due in theatres this June, by giving them characters they can more easily identify with.  — Equestria Girls, a My Little Pony Offshoot, in Its Movie Debut – NYTimes.com.

However, it is not hard to see how a specific subset of the MLP:FIM fandom will take this in a very different way.  We have already seen instances of anthropomorphizing the ponies into human form across fan art — to the extent of applying Rule 34 to the characters. The sexualization of the characters is an fan activity that is common to cartoon characters, even non-human cartoon characters.  The application of it to MLP:FIM is slightly different, given that this is a text targeted to girls, and yet the Rule 34 is often applied from older, and usually male, fans — leading to interest fan activity such as this “dispute”.

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Awesomest Cookbook Ever

Every once and awhile, you’ll go into a used bookstore, and after you finish wondering about the future of the print industry thanks to e-readers, you’ll browse the musty collections and find a gem.

A gem like what I have deemed to be the “Awesomest Cookbook Ever” — and that’s awesomest in the original sense of the word.  I mean I got down on my knees and thanked the mystical forces of Asgaard for leading me to that day.  Or I would have, if there was room in the tiny bookstore I found myself in.

Here is the item that inspired the awe:

Back in 1981, Random House put out this cookbook for kids featuring the main pantheon of DC superheroes, those that form the front guard of the Justice League.  (Nerd time: The Martian Manhunter was not included in this book because at the time of publication he was not a regular within that pantheon; he is now considered to be one of the fundamental members).

Currently, used copies of this book are selling at Amazon for $88 — I bought mine for $4.50: there were a few torn pages that needed taping, but other than that, it was in as good of condition as you would imagine a book that old to be in.

What I love about this book is how it utilizes the semantics of superheroes to instruct children on “Good food kids can make themselves” — even if it means using sharp paring knives.

The book is choke full of recipes and helpful healthy advice for children and their parents.

By using the superhero genre, the information is being distributed without completely talking down to the kids.  Instead, the kids can learn the recipes and healthy tips by getting the in-jokes from their favorite superheroes.

Using superheroes, and other cartoon characters, is a classic advertising tactic when addressing children — for either prosocial or commercial purposes.  Using their favorite superheroes allows adults to make the information more accessible by making it more relevant and more attractive to the intended audience.  It is a tactic for addressing the children on their level, by respecting their affection for these characters and the role of these characters in their lives.

We may see the use of standard superhero genre tropes and semantics and gimmicky –

– but this “playfulness” has repeatedly been shown to appeal to the intended audience.

The playfulness is most apparent in the variety of “healthy” recipes in the book.  Following the standard cookbook format, the recipes are categorized by type of food being presented: breakfast, main meal, snacks, and so forth.  Each recipe is designed to reflect or refer to a specific superhero or superhero duo, as is the case for Batman and Robin.

The recipes are all clever and humorous, and written to illustrate the process of preparing the food as a way to help the young cooks and to allude to the comics medium the children would be familiar with.

Here are some of my favorite examples from the collection of recipes:

Green Lantern battles the scourge of open-faced PB sandwiches

Wonder Woman packs a healthy punch

Perhaps this salad will give Jimmy super powers

Mild mannered bun by day...

Awesome beef-cake by night!

The Story of The Dark Knight and Its Brethren

Back in the spring of 2007, like other Batman fans who loved Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, I was eagerly awaiting his follow-up, The Dark Knight. When the “I Believe in Harvey Dent” website went live in May, I was there with others.

However, not long after the original website went live, some digitally scrawled graffiti all over it, in a style highly reminiscent of Batman’s arch-nemesis, The Joker. On this website you were invited to enter an email address, with no indication of what would happen when you did.

So, of course, I entered my email address. I received an email with a code. In returning to the website, I was invited to enter the code. And, as many had done before me, this led to a pixel being removed from the picture…until…

The first image, official or otherwise, of Heath Ledger as The Joker appeared.

This series of events was important for two reasons. First, the casting of Ledger and the portrayal of The Joker had been questioned in the fan community since the knowledge of what Nolan was planning first became known. Fans, including myself, were concerned what a more realistic take on The Joker would mean for how he was represented. Having us play a game by collectively inputting codes to reveal the picture was a way to tantalize us and have us be involved in the canon of the film — two things fans really like.

Second, this was the beginning of what would become a massive alternate reality game organized by 42 Entertainment to market the upcoming sequel. By itself, this marketing campaign was significant for its size and scope, flawlessly mixing real world students and scavenger hunts with online games and websites to promote or represent, as realistic, fictional businesses, people and organizations. However, this campaign also represents a rise in similar marketing campaigns that in some way attempt to co-opt the rise in how active fans and audiences can be due to the Internet.

Along with The Dark Knight, I followed several other campaigns: Leverage, Cloverfield, Heroes, Lost, and still more. I’ve been collecting information and screenshots of the activities whenever I can. You can find the collection of screenshots here:

Examples of Gameplay Marketing

I’ve written several papers on this topic, with one being published by the International Journal of Communication.

For me, the researcher, these new gameplay marketing campaigns are interesting for the innovation in advertising they are, as well as changes in how Hollywood is conceptualizing the position of the fan and the audience in the production and marketing of television shows and motion pictures.

For me, the fan, these campaigns give me the chance to engage with the material I love in all new ways, and to feel, if fleetingly and wrongly, that I in some way matter to bring what I love to air or to keep it circulating.

The big question is: do these marketing campaigns work?

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