Monday, May 28, 2007

Miscellany: 28 May 2007

Goodness, I'm running behind here. Where shall we start?

- I'm not going to get into the merits of the Heroes for Hire #13 controversy, simply because I've already touched on it in passing in the April sales column. However, I did think Joe Quesada's spin at Newsarama was remarkable. Essentially, it came down to "Sexual overtones? What sexual overtones? This concept of 'tentacle rape' is a mystery to me."

Quesada normally has more sense than that, when presented with controversy that he wasn't intentionally baiting. I'm actually inclined to believe him when he says he's never heard the reference, simply because I can't imagine his spin would be this clumsy if he actually understood what people were talking about. But by the same token, "tentacle rape" was the standard derisive manga cliche for years - and not entirely without some basis. And manga is, you know, the single biggest rising force in the American comics market.

So if I'm an investor in Marvel Comics, or even somebody over in the marketing department, I'm thinking something along these lines. Our business, these days, is mainly based on licensing of our family-friendly range of characters. Our editor-in-chief apparently (i) can't see a problem with a cover that he's approved for a title certified as suitable for children of nine, even though on any reasonable view it's wildly sexualised and it's been widely interpreted as having deeply unpleasant misogynist overtones; (ii) doesn't understand how to deal with the criticism he got for it; and (iii) by his own admission, is almost completely ignorant of his main competition.

If I'm in that position, I start genuinely wondering whether this is the man for the job. Because either he's incredibly dumb, or incredibly ignorant of the market I'm paying him to understand, or he understands perfectly well but thinks that disingenuous flippancy is somehow a suitable response. On any reading, I'm not thrilled, surely?

- Mind you, the marketing department are almost as stupid in their own right. They've just promoted the new Fantastic Four movie by releasing 40,000 US quarters with a picture of the Silver Surfer on one side. These are actual US quarters with the picture added.

The Mint isn't happy. They take the view that this is the illegal defacement of currency, and punishable by a fine. Which seems pretty self-evident to me. Guerilla marketing types do have a tendency to think that they're Special, and that obviously the law wasn't meant to apply to somebody like them, but actually, this is pretty much what were trying to present by making it illegal to mess about with legal coinage. Silly people.

- Big Brother starts its new season on Wednesday, which should be very entertaining from a media-watcher standpoint. Channel 4 are under a huge amount of pressure not to screw this one up. On the one hand, it's one of their big earners, and it needs to drag in the crowds. On the other hand, they've just been slaughtered by Ofcom over Celebrity Big Brother earlier this year, which was one of the most complained-about shows in history, after most of the audience decided that Channel 4 was presenting racist bullying as populist entertainment. The subsequent investigation has shown that some of Channel 4's comments at the time, about what had happened in the house, were, you know, kind of, er, well, not strictly accurate. As such.

Big Brother has been in danger of losing the plot for several years now, and CBB marked the point where it finally screwed up on a major scale. The first season of Big Brother was presented as a "social experiment" and featured relatively normal people who had no idea of how big the audiences would be. Over the next couple of years, it deteriorated into a gameshow, but still understood that the point of the show was to watch a bunch of people interact over an extended period.

The trouble started with season four, in which the contestants got on famously and settled down to enjoy two and a half months of very, very little happening. Featuring arguably some of the most boring television ever inflicted on the British public, most of the entertainment value came from watching Dermot O'Leary on Big Brother's Little Brother attempt to extract half an hour of daily discussion from the contestants' tea-making habits.

Since then, Channel 4 and the show producers, Endemol, have been absolutely petrified about the possibility that things might not happen, and so they've drowned the show in ill-conceived twists and manufactured conflict, in a desperate attempt to guarantee shouting. Lessons really should have been learned after season six, in which the security staff had to enter the set to break up a fight. Instead, Endemol seem to have decided that this was remarkably edgy, ground-breaking television, and that they needed to give themselves a good firm pat on the back for being so very clever.

After the disastrous CBB season, the pressure is on to deliver a successful show with nothing controversial at all. They've spent years being gratuitously vicious to the contestants, but there's really nowhere to go but fun and happiness if they want to pull this off. Do they know how to do it? Do they have the confidence in the format to make it work without bending over backwards to engineer a fight? I'm not sure they do, but I think it could be fascinating watching them try to get out of this situation.