“No Girls Allowed!” – Cartoon Network’s Unofficial Motto for Superheroes

 

Even though the female audience in comic books and superheroes is becoming more acknowledged these days much of the genre is still geared towards males. Especially when it comes to the television shows and merchandise. This became apparent after the cancellation of Young Justice and Green Lantern: The Animated Series on Cartoon Network. Both shows had a dedicated fanbase but were very short lived; Young Justice had 2 season while Green Lantern had only 1. At first many of the fans blamed Cartoon Network for the way the show had been marketed and handled for its low ratings but after an interview by Paul Dini, a writer and producer of many animated superhero shows, the assumption became that the executives had cancelled it because the fans were mainly females.

The usual reason a show gets cancelled is because of low ratings which is why fans grew frustrated with the network. Older fans who were dedicated enough to look up the schedule of the show were able to find out when the shows would be on but for casual fans the airing of episodes was so sporadic it was near impossible to follow. Here is the schedule for both seasons of Young Justice:

  • November 26, 2010 – Season 1 Episode 1 & 2
  • 6 week hiatus
  • January 7, 2011 – Re-run Season 1 Episode 1
  • Every Friday they played a new episode
  • March 11, 2011 – Season 1 Episode 9 airs
  • 27 week hiatus
  • September 16, 2011 – Season 1 Episode 10 airs
  • Every Friday they played a new episode
  • November 18, 2011 – Season 1 Episode 18 airs
  • 14 week hiatus
  • March 3, 2012 – Season 1 Episode 19 airs
  • Every Saturday they played a new episode
  • April 21, 2012 – Season 1 finale airs (1.5 years after premier)
  • April 28, 2012 – Season 2 Episode 1 airs
  • Every Saturday they played a new episode
  • June 9, 2012 – Season 2 Episode 7 airs
  • 16 week hiatus
  • September 29, 2012 – Season 2 Episode 8 airs
  • October 6, 2012 – Season 2 Episode 9 airs
  • 13 week hiatus
  • January 5, 2013 – Season 2 Episode 10 airs
  • Every Saturday they played a new episode
  • March 16, 2013 – Season 2 Finale airs

 

That is an absurd schedule and Green Lantern’s is pretty much the same. There are only 46 total episodes of Young Justice and the show spent 41 weeks on hiatus (not including the first hiatus after the original airing of the first two episodes) before the first season was even completed. At the end of September 2012 there was only a two episode break in between hiatuses. Most 9 years olds are not going to keep up with when the show is on and when it is not let alone remember the interwoven plot elements after a minimum 13 weeks. Many assumed that despite having a strong older fanbase that the ratings just were not great but soon found out that the reason might be a result of who was watching and not how many.

Paul Dini, who did not work on Young Justice nor Green Lantern but was a fan, said that he noticed a trend of superhero shows dumbing themselves down to appeal to the younger audiences. But not only younger audiences, specifically young boys. He says this is why he believes these shows were cancelled because “I’ve heard executives say this, you know, not where I am but at other places, saying like, ‘We do not want girls watching these shows.’” The reason for the sexism is because girls do not buy as many toys as young boys do and that is where the real profit for the company lies. Kevin Smith who was hosting the podcast responded by saying “A: I disagree, I think girls buy toys as well, maybe not as many as fucking boys do, but, B: sell them something else, man! Don’t be lazy and be like, ‘well I can’t sell a girl a toy.’ Sell ‘em a t-shirt, man, sell them fucking umbrella with the fucking character on it, something like that. But if it’s not a toy, there’s something else you could sell ‘em! Like, just because you can’t figure out your job…” As Smith points out, if the issue is that girls are not buying merchandise it is simply because the merchandise is designed and marketed towards men. The advertisers expected little boys to watch the show and so they made toys for little kids, shirts for little kids, and other things that either do not appeal to the older audience or they simply cannot use or wear. Once they realized that they hit a different demographic they could have changed course with their marketing strategy but instead decided that they could make no money out of mass amounts of fans who were already buying the comics, DVDs, toys, bed sheets, and whatever else was not too age and gender specific. When talking about his own Cartoon Network show, Tower Prep, Dini recounted his own sexist execs. “[W]e began writing stories that got into the two girls’ back stories, and they were really interesting. And suddenly we had families and girls watching, and girls really became a big part of our audience… But, the Cartoon Network was saying, ‘Fuck no, we want the boys’ action… we’ve got too many girls. We need more boys.’” Despite having interesting stories, decent ratings, and strong viewership he was still being told to make his stories more male oriented because there were too many girls. Fans of Young Justice and Green Lantern heard this and became outraged and became outraged.

Paul Dini may not have worked on either show so he does not know for sure whether the shows were cancelled because of the primarily female fanbase but he at least has encountered this kind of thinking from Cartoon Network execs. Looking into the statistics for both shows they were highly rated with Young Justice getting an 8.6 and Green Lantern an 8.1 on IMDB. As for viewer ratings, since January 2013 when episodes began airing regularly Young Justice had an average viewership of 1.9 million and Green Lantern had 1.7 million. The finale for Young Justice was watched by an estimated 2.05 million viewers and was the top watched show on Cartoon Network that entire week. For comparison, the show that took over the time slot, Teen Titans Go!, averages a little more than 1.7 million. Teen Titans Go! has received a second season but going by the numbers it is doing worse than Young Justice and the same as Green Lantern.

The question all this leads to is what value does the female audience hold in the superhero genre. The problem is that young boy audiences do in fact bring in more money through toy sales but until the companies change the merchandising there’s nothing the female fans can do to change that fact. However, girls are increasingly getting into the superhero genre and at younger ages so it seems damaging for shows to alienate such a large potential audience, and yet they continue to willingly do so.

  1 comment for ““No Girls Allowed!” – Cartoon Network’s Unofficial Motto for Superheroes

  1. October 12, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    There’s a lot of (alleged) sexism here, but what’s most striking about these accusations to me are 1) the tacit assumption that a cartoon show exists as a vehicle to sell merchandise, and 2) that boys won’t be interested in a show when it tells stories that focus on girls characters. It’s just really depressing on both of those fronts.

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