Tuesday, March 13, 2007

300 and the Female Anomaly

Unless you've been sleeping under a rock for the past three days, you already know that Zack Snider's spectacular adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel 300 is a massive success, earning more than $70 million on its first weekend (I saw it on Sunday!). What does this have to do with Gamine Expedition, you might ask? Well, while the film doesn't fall under my usual focus on kids' culture and videogames, 52% of those who saw it over the weekend WERE under the age of 25, which certainly makes it part of youth culture. But more significantly I've been really fascinated by the press and industry attempts to make sense of the film's success, which seem to reproduce those found within comparable analyses of the video game industry - namely, sticking to their stereotype-guns when it comes to notions of the gendered audience.

It seems that the audience for 300 this past weekend was both slightly younger and much more 'female' than the industry expected it to be. Surprisingly (well, not really) this isn't driving the "experts" to rethink their gender assumptions when it comes to highly-stylized action films (like 300, Sin City, Kill Bill, etc.) - instead, they've somehow found a way to make the numbers fit into the same old worn-out gendered templates of "fanboys on the Internet" and "girls remaining faithful to their heartthrob." Case in point, the LA Times reported today on the "fanboy" power behind the film's success, which was further enabled by those fountains of buzz "viral marketing" and "MySpace":
Fanboy buzz is not enough to sell a film -- "Snakes on a Plane," anyone? -- but Garabedian points out that while the online community was obsessively talking about "Snakes" they were ultimately making fun of it. The people who were driving the chatter around "300" were genuinely excited about the film, especially the way it looked. And after Comic-Con, Warner Bros. marketing department made sure that the fanboys got the usual dribs and drabs of movie art and trailers just to keep their excitement up.

The marketing folks also took full advantage of MySpace. There was of course the requisite MySpace page for the film (now standard for all movies) -- featuring a ferocious looking muscle man in a metal helmet plus tons of video clips, wallpapers and links to the film's official website. But the stroke of genius came when the studio sponsored a feature upgrade to the site that told users they could store 300 photos on their profile thanks to the movie "300." (Previously the limit had been 12). That started Jan. 2 and was incredibly popular with teens. The result was billions of ad impressions and 8 million viewings of the trailer. Is it any wonder that the 52% of the people who saw "300" were under 25?

Eek! Contrast this to this item from ScifiWire, which put forth its interpretation of the film's then-anticipated success among the female audience couple of days ago:
Zack Snyder, director of the upcoming graphic-novel adaptation 300, told SCI FI Wire that he was caught off guard by the number of women who want to see the film, which is an action-packed R-rated sword-and-sandals epic. The reason is simple: Gerard Butler.

Snyder said he was "surprised" by the strong following among women of Butler, who stars as Spartan King Leonidas. "I knew that there were these women [who] loved Gerry, but ... who could ever know?" he said in bewilderment in an interview at WonderCon in San Francisco last weekend.

Indeed, most of the questions addressed to the 300 panel at WonderCon came from female fans of Butler's, many of whom run Web sites devoted to the hunky Scottish actor. It also came as a surprise that fans will see Butler in any film, no matter the genre; Butler has appeared in films as diverse as Phantom of the Opera and Dear Frankie.

So, despite the fact that this is Butler's first big film, we are to somehow believe that his female fan base is so dedicated that they will make sure to see him "in any film, no matter the genre", and large enough to make a significant dent in the boxoffice figures. What this basically amounts to is explaining away women's/girls' excitement for 300 as an anomaly - one that finds its true source in female fans' worship of Butler and their desire to maintain an audience "relationship" of sorts with this particular actor...no matter the genre (a.k.a. even genres that are otherwise "not for them"). Instead of trying to expand or dispel existing (narrow) notions that "what women want" out of films are romantic comedies and relationship dramas, they seem to have found a way to merely reproduce these notions within a slightly different context. Even though women are obviously watching horror and action movies in great numbers (just look at the success of LOTR and the superhero movies).

This immediately reminds me of T.L.Taylor's discussion of gender and games in her book Play Between Worlds, and how female gamers are viewed by industry and academics as "anomalies"--not representative of the larger female population, because they are drawn to media content that is also "not for them," and therefore not worthy of serious consideration if the object is to understand what would attract more female players to videogames. In their quest to maintain these categories, the media is truly missing out on opportunities to both create better quality content and reach a larger a.k.a. more diverse audience.

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