Thursday, 31 May 2007

My critical review rudely flashes its under-garments.

In a manner... here is the scaffolding of my first chapter. The framework, expressed here loosely the way that I'm working with it, continues to build the main structure of the review - really a Literary Review built around my theoretical position.

Critical Review
Tween Marketing Subverted: Designing an Engaging Omnimedia Sanctuary for Girls


Overview/introduction; A simple expression of main concerns around girls. I will utilise design to combat:

• Excess consumption and the gatherer/collector/completist mentality
• Exploitative, covert and early sexualisation of girl children
• Uni-directional flow of media content, stymying creativity
• Diminishment of hand skills (craft)
• The commerce endowed obsession with physical appearance/celebrity worship/shopping etc which have the power to distract girls from broader understanding of the world around them.
• The aesthetic monotony of toys and books available to girls. Regarding the sea of hot pink - are there other design manifestations that girls would enjoy?
• The lack of engagement with literature, history, sciences, the arts severly limiting the vision and life options of girls.

And to enable and encourage:

• Reflective thought, self reliance, creativity
• Fun and enjoyment
• Tactile, creative expression (using the hands to mark paper, spread paint, shape clay, weave textiles, and much more)
• A sense of connectedness with other girls, encouraging friendship
• An appreciation of genuine individuality - girls are different whereever they are found, but the model of the white, middle-class, hetrosexual girl dominates in contemporary tween girl media/literature in a way which is mean to imply universality.

Framework for Review

The following sub-points draw on textual references which in some cases support my position, and in some cases refute it. I haven't linked in those references here because they form the body of the review and are the flesh and muscle around the bones...

Aspects of Tween Culture: inextricably linked with marketing, because the tween demographic is an “invention” of marketers.

• The “nature” of a tween (not yet adult but longing for adult lives)
• History
• Emergence – the invention of the demographic
• Media, harms and benefits – magazines, TV, film, consumables, advertising,
• Financial mobility of young people
• Tween heroes - who are they? Why?
• The nature of the culture: Adult generated, child consumed
• Privatised and supervised free time is now the norm in heavily scheduled lives few children are able to spend time dreaming, playing and creatively exploring. The restriction of autonomy caused by parental fear

Aspects of Marketing:

• Feminism is uncool. In the context where men and women are presumed equal, astute marketers manipulate well the assumption that feminism (particularly second-wave) is overly serious, which they utilise to sell things to girls which quickly undo all the good work of the past.
• Peculiarities of selling to tweens
• Peculiarities of Selling to girls - What has changed?
• American Girl Place, Bratz, and girl marketing successes
• Why I can’t, as a designer, operate successfully outside of the standard marketing paradigm (The perogative to join ‘em to beat ‘em)
• Transmedia intertextuality – fast food/film/toy tie-ins

Aspects of Subversion: Using the tools of marketing to undo its aims. Working against repressive societal conventions and expectations of girls.

• What is truly subversive now? Refusal to consume, innocence, supporting other women (girls),
• Forms of play (history) . Simple occupations, lack of technology.
• The new nature of innocence
• Creativity
• The home-made, and making one’s own fun without purchasing things
• Independence
• Engaging with others, face-to-face, is subcersive in the bcontext of Second Life, online messaging and other forms of internet-based remote sommunication.
• Books are subversive – in the context of the internet, gaming etc.
• Selling a product which doesn’t encourage any further buying and entertains for a long time is subversive
• Kids creating their own media and entertainment without the mediation of adults.

Aspects of Design: The "hows" of the project - the physical methodology

• How is design for children different?
• How is design for girls different? Is it possible to design things differently, and for them to still appeal to girls?
• How girls identify with the design of the objects they own: Keeping pink objects around you signals or emphasises traditional femininity, which must seem crucially important to girls considering all the efforts of marketers to make the impact of this influence pervasive (mentioned previously)
• Design for tweens - are you designing for adult visual literacy, or children’s visual literacy?
• What is tween design currently like? Can a designer make any safe aesthetic assumptions?
• The HOW TO - researching the visual, aesthetic and tactile portions of this project. Research methodologies.
• Engaging the senses - the journals as sensual experience. Consideration of texture, smell, sight...
• Ways of researching visual appeal and design, specifically, my approach to the physical research phase with girl research subjects – what are my questions, and how best to reach the truest, most useful answers to my questions? What are the "right" questions?

Aspects of engagement:

• Technological aspects of the book - potential for technical interactivity - E-paper etc.
• Design of the book - The journals as kit
• The Diary format, and a year of story/projects
• History – Investigate Girl’s Own Annuals
• Scale and scope of the creative projects within the book/web
• Interaction with other girls – community, learning to respect other girls (and by extension as girls mature, learning to respect others and respect self)

Aspects of an Omnimedia environment:

• Existing media, harms and benefits – magazines, TV, film, consumables, advertising,
• What are children watching?
• The interaction between the web/book/newsletters in the project (command of technical things combined with enjoyment/mastery of tactile and engaging things.)
• The difference in young people today – the short attention span and instant gratification afforded by technologies like the internet
• Adult control over the media environment of children – media is rarely created by children, for children
• Discussion re the “death” or re-invigoration of literacy, as it applies to young people
• Text and media convergence – interactivity and intertextuality

Aspects of Sanctuary:

• The girl's bedroom environment - the bedroom as sanctuary
• Safe zones – the family and friends
• Safe haven from predatory behaviour of adults – sexual exploitation, exploitation as consumers
• Daydreams and fantasy. The inner life – building the confidence to trust and rely upon oneself
• The retreat one can draw upon at any time of their life, because it’s an internal resource
• Escape from “relational aggression” ie. "Mean girls". Revisit and address the idea of sacrificing relationships for relationships among peers.

Aspects of girlhood:

• Girlhood in the context of the theoretical dismantling of Feminism – if it is assumed that women are equal to men then there is no need for over politicised challenge to the patriarchal system
• The normalising of heterosexuality and white middle-classdom and the alientating influence this exerts (eg, magazine quizzes)
• The power of girl culture to distract girls from more important things – the obsession with appearance and related consumption as a diversionary tactic (I haven’t encountered discussion of this distraction as a harm anywhere yet, but it’s a big one as far as I'm concerned. While kids will eke out a creative, learning experience out of pratically anything, some leisure occupations are undeniably less valuable than others in my view.)
• Computer literacy and access to technology, such as the internet
• Relating to other girls – mean girls, sacrificing relationship for the sake of relationship
• Geography, class, demographical concerns of my physical research recruits
• Intersection of girlhood and adulthood – notions of girl as exploiter and exploited
• The conflicted role of adult men in tween media
• Grappling with girl “fixing” vs culture “fixing”
• How saving the “selves of adolescent” girl saves the woman
• Polarity between “celebration (resilience) and alarm (risk)
• That there is nothing “essential” about girlhood
• Female individualisation as outcome of feminism and reward for its abandonment

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