More than any other artistic medium, it’s the moving image which goes out of its way to trigger a deliberate and intended reaction. Film and TV bombard your senses with information, and use calculated and considered methods to achieve the desired effect. Music and literature can, of course, be equally emotional and influencing but they require more effort, more association and more personal investment than the moving image does. Visual media has more tools at its disposal, more ways of inducing you into feeling a certain way and more ways of presenting a situation so that you can quickly identify and empathise with what it is presenting.
Often this can go wrong; if the love scene fails to arouse, or the chase scene fails to thrill this is because the filmmaker has failed to manipulate the audience sufficiently with the tools available. Occasionally, though, this can go horribly wrong and can result in the opposite effect being triggered. This will be have been witnessed by anybody who watched the animal torture in kids romp ‘Babe 2′ or the use of rohypnol as an amusing subplot in the romantic comedy ‘Loser.’ Sometimes the filmic methods are so misused that they enable the viewer to supress an emotional reaction and see instead the cold, hard, calculated intention of the producers.
It is with this is mind that I’d like to talk about The Nancy Drew Movie: Podcast #1
Nancy Drew. I used to like Nancy Drew. I was such an avid reader when I was a child that by the age of about 12 I’d already devoured the entire Hardy Boys collection, the Three Investigators series and the Willard Price adventure books. I’d also read 1984, Brave New World and On the Road but since they’d largely confused me I turned to my sisters anthologies of the worlds greatest teenage female detective.
And now they’ve made a movie of Nancy Drew, it doesn’t even look half bad as childrens’ films go. Since it’s coming out this summer they’ve started putting EPK materials on the web. EPK is an Electronic Press Kit – a collection of interviews, trailers, behind the scenes footage and featurettes that are touted to the worlds media as various forms of promotion and ‘exclusives.’ For years they’ve been cast love-ins and boring interviews, but since the world is now far more media-savvy they’ve become smarter, more entertaining and less relevant to the film they are promoting. All of that is a good thing.
As someone who makes EPKs (and, ok, likes Nancy Drew) I watched the podcast with interest, but something about this piece of promotional, forgettable web-fluff chilled me to my very core. Far from being interested, as was the filmmakers intention, or ironically amused which would have been the unintended effect, I was horrified as I saw before me all the cynical tools employed to present the image of something false.
Nancy Drew is a fun movie, a film for kids that is not meant to be taken seriously and that they can watch with friends or parents. The filmmakers behind this podcast has strived so hard to create the impression of a relaxed casuality that the whole piece fails to convince. As opposed to letting the teenagers talk freely and show their true personalities, the podcast has been scripted, managed and buffed to imply talking freely and the depiction of a personality.
I am well aware that this is for children and not for a conspiracy-seeing cineaste. I am also aware that this form of advertising and subtle manipulation has been occuring for decades and that Nancy Drew is doing nothing new. There is something about this podcast, though, which makes it seem like the epoch of promotional materials – like the heavens aligned and all the factors were brought together to create an impression of genuine.
All the elements are there, but exaggerated. The iPod is experiencing the same sort of product recognition as the Walkman or the Hoover did, so its inclusion is not surprising, but that the children proudly display it, finger it and promote accessorising it is worrying. The kids themselves are Disney kids, permanently smiled WASPish offspring hawking brands and product lifestyles – even the black girl is white. I didn’t even know the lead was a singer until she candidly admitted to having her own album on the iPod. Another strike there for cross-platform marketing.
What amazes me is that the producers felt the need to orchestrate every section of this podcast. By their very nature these things are meant to be informal and candid, and what could be a better way to utilise them than to let the child actors be honest and by their natures appeal to their youthful audience? Rather than trust the genuine attitudes of kids to appeal to other kids, the producers have chosen to brand behaviour, present an autonomous impression of childhood and sell goods at the same time.
By dressing this up as a wacky, informal podcast they are enforcing the idea that this is how all children behave, and that if kids want to be normal they need to buy the specifically mentioned iPod and accessorise it. Again, there is nothing new about this kind of promotion (hello He-Man, you 20 minute advert for toys you) but there is something about this one that worries me more than the rest… maybe it’s that I make this stuff for a living and see how it’s made more clearly, maybe it’s because I’m nearly 30, maybe it’s because I’m been fostering a deep mistrust of corporate entertainment for several years now or maybe this stuff has been going on for years and I’m seeing it for the first time. Either way, it doesn’t seem like the Nancy Drew I used to know and love.
By the way, they’re going to be making a Hardy Boys movie next year featuring Tom Cruise and Ben Stiller. Ignoring for a second the car crash that that genius idea will be, I personally can’t wait until Joe Hardy whips out his Sony Viao laptop and Frank makes a call on his Nokia mobile phone.