Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Fields of Honey

Paul Dini has some good comments about Geena Davis's recent speech about the lack of female characters in cartoons.

It seems while selectively ignoring or alternately dwelling on the past, Ms. Davis has also ignored current female characters like Kim Possible, Juniper Lee, the girls on THE PROUD FAMILY, many more from contemporary children's anime (TOTORO, anyone?) and even Sandy the squirrel on SPONGEBOB. Are they favorite characters of mine? Not really (well, except for TOTORO) but they certainly seem to fit the roles that Ms. Davis says TV and animated movies are currently lacking. And they are an encouraging sign to show that attitudes toward female characters, especially lead heroines, are changing. In feature films, Elastigirl AKA Mrs. Incredible is smart, funny, caring and tough, one of the best heroines in live action or animated films, period.

I also found it both amusing and depressing that not one word was mentioned about the deluge of contemporary negative sterotyping aimed directly toward young girls, such as those freakish poster girls for baseless entitlement The Bratz or the grotesquely overmerchandised Disney Princesses. Today's girls sure live in a schizoid society -- prodded by their parents to be proactive doers and thinkers like Dora and Kim, yet encouraged to act like spoiled celebrities and princesses and magically "have it all!"

I just find it weird that Davis, or whoever wrote the speech, didn't seem to have any specific references to recent cartoons, anything more recent than The Smurfs. (Okay, she cites Dora the Explorer, but doesn't say anything about it beyond the fact that the title indicates that there's a female with a cool job.) Yes, she cites some data about the percentage of female characters in "family entertainment," and obviously that could be a lot better -- but as the above examples show, there are more good female characters in cartoons than there were in the Smurfs era. It doesn't make sense to talk about cartoons today without addressing that, if only because you'd think she would be naming some characters as positive examples, examples that should be emulated. Instead there's a lot of talk about the way things used to be, and very little talk about where we go from here.

So it's true that Looney Tunes cartoons characters were all male and that no one seemed to think of creating a female cartoon star. Paul Dini knows this, because when he was working on Tiny Toons he story-edited an episode that directly addressed the lack of female characters in old cartoons. But that was the '30s, '40s, and '50s. What should we be looking for now? This speech doesn't tell us -- and by giving no specific examples of modern cartoons (good or bad), it suggests that the speaker isn't really all that interested in the issue.


Stavner said...

Gadget Hackwrench is a great example!

Gregg said...

The interesting thing about that Tiny Tunes episode is that their wacky, zany, very active Honey had precious little to do with the original, who seemed to exist only so Bosko would have someone to rescue in the second half of each cartoon. Basically, to provide Babs a role model, they had to create a Honey that never existed in the 1930s. Of course, what were their choices? Honey, Petunia Pig, and that duck who turned up as Daffy's girlfriend in a cartoon or two in the mid-50s?

John said...

The thread on Davis' speech over at Cartoon Brew has grown to over 100 comments, and gives a pretty good representation of both sides of the argument.