Disney Expert Uses Science to Draw Boy Viewers

15 Apr

From The New York Times (you might have to log in to access):

Ms. Peña and her team of anthropologists have spent 18 months peering inside the heads of incommunicative boys in search of just that kind of psychological nugget. Disney is relying on her insights to create new entertainment for boys 6 to 14, a group that Disney used to own way back in the days of “Davy Crockett” but that has wandered in the age of more girl-friendly Disney fare like “Hannah Montana.”

Children can already see the results of Ms. Peña’s scrutiny on Disney XD, a new cable channel and Web site (disney.go.com/disneyxd). It’s no accident, for instance, that the central character on “Aaron Stone” is a mediocre basketball player. Ms. Peña, 45, told producers that boys identify with protagonists who try hard to grow. “Winning isn’t nearly as important to boys as Hollywood thinks,” she said.

Actors have been instructed to tote their skateboards around with the bottoms facing outward. (Boys in real life carry them that way to display the personalization, Ms. Peña found.) The games portion of the Disney XD Web site now features prominent trophy cases. (It’s less about the level reached in the game and more about sharing small achievements, research showed.)

Creating a punch line about the need to extract information from “incommunicative boys” is left as an exercise for the reader.

None of this would likely have much affect on my family, given that we don’t happen to fall into traditional gender roles much (witness Princess Stitch). But if this “headquarters for boys” succeeds, it could mean some welcome trends for parents who complain that Disney Parks don’t have much to offer boys. I hope the researchers will also do some data-mining on Disney fan message boards, where the Disney Digerati have often clamored for boy-centric character meals, all-Villains meet-and-greets, and other events they feel would appeal to their sons.

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