The Audience isn’t Stupid
|My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic|
There was a brief period in the early 2010s where I was absolutely obsessed with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. There was something that just made the first few seasons special.
MLP, as people may know, is meant for children. Often when creating work for children, people may immediately think it must be simple, similar to communicating with children in real-life. Indeed, it is safe to assume children are incapable of understanding complex issues in life. Given children must not know any better, surely it means creating content for them is easy!
That’s not really the case, as you would imagine. In fact, I would argue it’s harder than making content for adults which is precisely why MLP: FiM was a masterpiece.
There is a point when content can be patronizing. This occurs a lot in children’s media especially. Everything is written and designed in such a way that even children understand what’s happening. I don’t know about anybody reading this, but even as a child I would think I know more than I should. I frowned upon media which make everything on-the-nose. Children, in general, does not care about the creators’ feelings; if something isn’t working, they make sure everyone knows in the household.
Poor designs. Bad, patronizing writing. If anybody thinks children are not capable of detecting those, then perhaps the creators are not fit to make media for them in the first place.
Going back to MLP: FiM, what struck me immediately was the brilliance of their designs. Their characters are child-friendly yet they display universal appeal and fundamentals. Children, like adults, may not understand why something might be good but they sure know what is good. The fact is that no matter the age, there are universal shape language which are more appealing than others.
It’s often the case that having a lot of colours create a more child-friendly environment. This is why toys are colourful; it ensures the daycare doesn’t look like a scene from Saving Private Ryan. However, this does not give license for media to look like colourful vomit which is often what happens when the art direction is led by incompetent artists. MLP: FiM clearly had creators who knew what great designs look like and, in turn, I was able to appreciate it just as much as a child.
This mature understanding of universal design also pertains to their writing but, for the sake of this blog, I will spare you the details and simply recommend people to study the series themselves. Just trust me when I say the show is a good watch because it is not trying too hard to be a “child-friendly show”; it’s a good show which just so happens to be child-friendly.
All the examples shown in this post are shows you may want to study if you're going into media fit for family and children. All of them share one trait; they can be enjoyed even if you aren't necessarily the specific target for the media.
The point of this entry is to consider your art and whether if it’s being too on-the-nose. Just like with MLP: FiM, you don’t need to have a checklist of the perceived requirements for your audience. Your sole goal is to create good content based on the skillset you’re consistently improving. If it doesn’t fit the mold of what’s out there, who cares? As long as it’s good, you may end up changing the criteria itself.
This is often what irks me about, you guessed it, Anime and Cartooning styles. In a lot of cases, I see artists forcing design decisions for the sake of playing it “safe” without the consideration of whether they fit or not. Our goal as artists is ultimately nuance; we aren’t screaming “ANIME!” with our work so much as making good media which so happens to say “Anime”. When it looks forced, people will know.
|My Neighbour Totoro|
We can look back at some of the most influential media in history. I guarantee they always brought something new and appealing which redefines the genres and styles they cover. Cookie cutter, conspicuous pandering may work at times (and sometimes very well, unfortunately, for some series like the Michael Bay Transformer movies) but expect audiences to realize it immediately and react negatively.
There is nothing as insulting and unappealing as media which thinks the audience is stupid, whether they’re 6 or 60.