Title of Case Study: ‘More than Meets the Eye’: Consuming Licensed Media
Martin Charlton, South Tyneside College.
What is of primary interest to this session however is the development of television shows based specifically around pre-existing toy lines. Pre-1980s the media form was banned in America following the ‘Hot Wheels’ show of the 1950s, condemned for essentially being ’30 minute long commercials’. The argument against this media form relies heavily on ‘media effects’ based judgements implying that these texts are effectively adverts, and also implying that children are unable to clearly distinguish between adverts and scheduled programming, with the conclusion being drawn that media institutions are being given dangerous levels of access to a highly impressionable audience. Furthermore, cursory examination of these texts suggests that they lack much of the ‘educational, spiritual or moral’ value of traditional children’s television.
However, this does not account for children’s individual interpretations of these texts, something which this session uses as a focus for discussion. This session, then, as well as using existing texts for discussion, relied on the students integrating their own situated culture into the argument. This not only ensures that the session will take vastly different directions every time it is delivered, but also offers an opportunity to discuss nostalgia regarding childhood. The focus on nostalgia for childhood is of pivotal importance in an increasingly media centred society, where many of the students involved in the session, upon being asked to reflect upon their childhood reflected not upon the experience of being a child and of growing up, but rather on their childhood media consumption. That much of this discussion concerned itself with these ‘licensed’ forms of media enabled students to see that this topic needed debate and also that ‘licensed’ media can be seen as significant cultural artefacts. These media products, then, raise valid questions around the nature of childhood in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
The key readings could be considered to be Kline (1993), who discusses the changing nature of children’s media, concluding that ‘licensed’ media is having a negative effect on those who consume it and Fleming (1996), who provides a number of useful case studies into the social context of many examples of ‘licensed’ media, including the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ & ‘The Transformers’. Both Kline and Fleming also provide dissections of the changing nature of children’s media consumption through the 20th century, providing sufficient background for anyone wishing to run this session or to direct students to further reading around this subject.
Using this text and context as the basis for the session, students were asked to form small groups of four or five and discuss exactly with whom the ‘meaning’ of this text lay, be it the companies responsible for their conception, the creators involved in producing these texts or the children involved in consuming them (See questions below).
They were also asked to assess, from their own media consumption, the validity of the declaration that ‘licensed’ media lacked ‘spiritual, moral and educational’ substance, going on to discuss whether children’s media as a whole had a duty to include such content.
To conclude the session, they were asked to propose reasons why franchises such as ‘He-Man’, ‘The Transformers’ & the ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ had enjoyed nostalgic returns to popular culture of late, returns denied other contemporary texts which were not based on licenses and which often specifically did attempt to include ‘spiritual, moral & educational’ substance.
The importance of student’s
own media consumption:
Advice to others wishing to
run this session:
However, the examples used in the screening and seminar are considered universally known examples of the form and can be used irrespective of the age of the cohort. ‘Transformers: The Movie’ is readily available on DVD from most retailers and although it has been released in a number of packages; the product remains the same in all iterations. In this session in particular, Metrodome distribution’s ‘Transformers: The Movie Reconstructed’, available from online retailers at prices around £5 was shown. The Legacy of Unicron: Part 5 is available in the Titan Graphic novel ‘Transformers: Legacy of Unicron’, which is currently in print and available from most online bookstores.
Fleming, Dan (1996) Powerplay : Toys as Popular Culture Manchester: Manchester University Press
Kline, Stephen, (1993) Out of the garden: toys, TV, and children's culture in the age of marketing London: Verso
Sutton-Smith, B (1986) Toys as Culture, Psychology Press
Sweet, R (2005) Mastering the Universe: He-Man and the Rise and Fall of a Billion-Dollar Idea, Emmis Books
Furman, S, et al. (2003) Transformers: Legacy of Unicron Titan Books
Transformers: The Movie Reconstructed (2005) Metrodome distributors
• Is it the responsibility of the media to provide children with ‘spiritual, moral and ethical’ substance, or is it sufficient that they simply ‘do no harm’?
• To what extent does ‘Transformers: The Movie’ function solely as an advert for a toy line? Think about your own readings of this text.
• It has been argued that many of these licensed media texts, whilst under no obligation to do so, still provide some educational value to children. Why might this be?
• ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ were the number 1 selling Christmas toy of 2003. ‘The Transformers’ is to be the next movie directed by Michael Bay. Why might licensed media enjoy such a degree of nostalgia from adults who consumed these texts as children? (You should discuss whether you consider yourself to be nostalgic about any texts rooted in your childhood…)
Charlton, M. ‘More Than Meets the Eye:
Consuming licensed Media’ in the MEDAL Casebook, MEDAL Consortium
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