In her recent study entitled Girls and Boys and Television, which she presented at Cinekid in Amsterdam last week, Dr. Maya Götz notes that boys gravitate towards ‘getting-over’ characters who are able to overcome hurdles or meet the high standards/expectations others have set for them.
Nothing appeals to boys like stories that teach them how to deal with challenges, which is probably why they are so drawn to the action-adventure content genre that features these hurdle-jumping types. And aggression is not such a bad thing when it connotes the heightened energy with which protagonists tackle their problems and conflicts. Unfortunately, violence can also be an entertaining substitute for more positive approaches to problem-solving.
But just as appealing to this demo are ‘getting-under’ characters, rebels who buck convention and set new standards for themselves. She describes them like this: ‘They make light of every situation, they come up with ideas, they always have a smart quip up their sleeve, and they invariably manage to extract themselves from sticky situations. Bart Simpson and SpongeBob SquarePants epitomize this type of hero.’
Boys almost never relate to passive characters cast in the role of victim, and they also find overly verbose characters to be a big turn-off. ‘Compressed communication’ is critical to keeping boy viewers on-side.
When Götz ‘s crew asked 1,000 kids to draw their least favorite types of boy characters, bullies, weaklings, dummies and bad boys were all frequently depicted.