She stressed that as the head of Twin Galaxies Live she and the owner of Twin Galaxies Jace Hall (film, television and video game producer associated with Monolith Productions Inc., WBIE and HDFilms, Inc. and currently producing The Jace Hall Show) have a strong female positive environment with individuals in both creative and talent based roles.
Recently I was forwarded a tweet by a friend, the tweet was made by Molly McIsaac, an entertainment personality, a feminist and an anti-bullying advocate. It is from September 1st and said “Hey @TwinGalaxies do you know your talent is posting gross sexist casting calls?” and linked to this Craigslist posting looking for on screen talent. She also linked to his Youtube channel where Erik “8-bit” Johnson (hosted by the Twin Galaxies Live network yes the same people from King of Kong) broadcasts his Let’s Play stream. It would appear that he is looking to branch out beyond his Youtube fan base and in to “mainstream”media. The “cattle call” (as they are called in the industry) is pretty offensive featuring pictures of bikini models and “booty babes” looking for:
First it is stating that the call is for a program that is part of a “budding gaming network” namely that of Twin Galaxies which was formerly an arcade that grew to be a record score archive (and has been featured in King of Kong) but was recently bought by Jace Hall (the star of an“online reality TV show” The Jace Hall Show) and other “undisclosed” backers. It would appear that recording game scores like some kind of geeky Guinness Book of World Records (which let’s be honest is pretty geeky) is not enough, they want to be the next G4.
Second the host is looking for two women, one to basically be a piece of meat on display as a “twerking model” and the second as a co-host to “flirt” with.
In closing he emphasizes they will be the “cohost” not the host and that they are to be there to provide eye candy and if they do their job well they “might” have the opportunity to contribute to creative.
Now that we have unpacked the casting call in to its component parts we have one of two choices, we can focus on the sexist elements about this above statement or we can talk about the inherent flaws in the assumptions it is making regarding the state of media geared towards gamers
and geeks. I feel it more important to address the latter which will, I think, take care of the former.
The old saw about Sex Selling is not entirely untrue, this is the motivator behind many marketing campaigns and casting decisions going back to the first time Norma Desmond or Mary Pickford’s apparitions painted the silver screen. The concept of “sexy” though is an elusive one, one person’s sexy is another person’s “meh”. If you show many men today the doe eyes and curly tresses of Mary Pickford they would shrug. If you showed many men in the 1930s any example of modern beauty with its pneumatic curves and botoxed vacancy they would in all likelihood recoil in horror. Before you say it, no it’s not because they were prudes, I challenge you to read Warren G. Harding’s letters to his mistress if you think that, no it’s because concepts of beauty change.
I would counter the above cattle call’s statement and say the concept of beauty in regards to a large share of the gaming community has changed and they are in fact painting themselves in to an ever less sustainable niche of the community.
For the purposes of this discussion I will focus on their aspiration channel G4, G4 was a Frankenstein’s Monster of a network. It started as Tech TV and traded hands eventually falling in the lap of Comcast/NBCUniversal before its eventual demise and pending rebirth as Esquire Television. During that time they rebranded, refocused, reenergized and re-whatever the corporate speak of the day said they should do hundreds of times. The network itself lacked cohesion, starting as a straight up tech channel it had very little original programming and what programming it did possess was like a poor man’s Spike. It mostly consisted of reruns of Cheaters, Cops, and rebranded Japanese game shows. Two exceptions to this were XPlay and Attack of the Show.
Both of these programs appeared to exist in a sort of pocket dimension where the network kind
of forgot they existed. X-Play (formerly GameSpot TV and Extended Play) for the majority of its time on the air was hosted by Adam Sessler who for a large portion of that time spent it as on air, producer and editor in chief of the show taking an active hand in not just the broadcast content but also the written and video content put on the web. Sessler is a somewhat controversial figure among some gamers, he’s never been one to pull punches when it came to material he felt insulted the intelligence of the player, but he has also been able to recognize elements of somewhat stupid games that could be considered fun and was able to relish in that fun. From the get go the show featured a female co-host on the show, in the first few years it was Lauren Fielder and Kate Botello before settling in to the long time co-host Morgan Web.
Morgan is an accomplished technology correspondent, who started on TV with Gerber and McDonalds commercials under her belt as a child before attending UC Berkeley and graduating in 2000 taking a job as a web administrator for the abundant dot-com companies to spring up in California at the time. She knows her tech, she was approached to be on TechTV by Catherine Schwartz another TechTV on air personality where she got Webb a job working as an associate producer and web researcher for The Screen Savers and would make regular appearances on Call or Help. Both of these programs were tech heavy and not something to be taken lightly. She started co-hosting with Sessler in 2003 on X-Play often infusing a dry sense of humor in to her reviews and interviews combined with a genuine enthusiasm. After the merger of G4 and TechTV she was one of the few people to make it past the cull and continued on X-Play as well as working as a game columnist for FHM and starting her own tech blog WebbAlert which ran from 2007 to 2009 discussing the drier aspects of the technology world. She continues to work in the industry at Activision Blizzard working as a creative advisor helping develop content for the game she has long enjoyed.
Further, she is not alone, hosts like Jessica Chobot fit the same mould. A smart, brash and brassy woman who could kick my ass in most games. She worked on X-Play as well as on Attack of the Show, Chobot has worked at IGN, FHM UK, as well as several other media outlets and programs. She has worked as a writer on several projects including the video game Daylight and co-wrote the film project Soul Code. Hell, she even appeared as an in game character in Mass Effect 3! Currently works as the host of upstart media behemoth Neridst’s Nerdist News. This is another example of an intelligent and capable woman who while being attractive lives her life on her own terms.
This carries over to the other tent pole program Attack of the Show, formerly known as The Screen Savers (where Ms. Webb had previously worked) before being re-branded after the merger of G4 and Tech TV. This would appear to be the model that Mr. Johnson appears to be attempting to emulate. The show itself was an extended news, sketch comedy, entertainment, technology and pop culture information platform featuring host Kevin Pereira for much of its tenure (another one of the few Tech TV carryovers). Johnson would appear to be trying to emulate the dynamic from this show in his own program, the problem was with Attack of the Show it was quite apparent much of the time the tongue was firmly planted in the cheek.
The show featured Pereira, a wise cracking guy always ready to make a joke at his own expense, and always very sharp and knowledgeable about the subjects he touched on. He had several female co-hosts including Olivia Munn, Layla Kayleigh, Candace Bailey and Sarah Underwood. He was eventually replaced by Matt Mira (of Nerdist fame) and a rotating stable of guest hosts before the show’s demise along with the end of the network.
Three examples of recurring hosts really stand out in my mind as counter points to Johnson’s limited vision of the network, Blair Butler, Alison Haislip, and Candace Bailey the replacement for Olivia Munn. Again, all three are arguably attractive women, this is television, I think it goes without saying if you are on air talent you are most likely going to be attractive. That said all three had distinct strong voices and were not your typical “arm candy” to bounce flirtation off of.
Blair Butler is a televisions producer, stand-up comic and writer who for a time the head writer of X-Play. She worked as both behind the camera and on air talent and is one of the few voices who I trust explicitly when it comes to the world of comics (the other being my brother). She was regular go to talent for panels on both X-Play and Attack of the Show as well as hosting her own web series Geek Out and Fresh Ink (an extended version of an Attack of the Show segment).
Alison Haislip was what my grandfather would have called a“sparkplug” she was a host just full of piss and vinegar and always gave as good as she took in the ribbing department. A professional actress she trained at the British American Drama Academy and has oft recounted how a G4 employee met her while she was working as a bartender and brought her in based on her personality to cover The Feed a news segment on Attack of the Show. On top of that she worked doing G4’s Tech News Countdown, co-host of American Ninja Warrior, a correspondent for The Voice and her own vlog which tapered out in 2009 followed by a Nerdist topical discussion program 4 Points. Atop this she has dozens of film and television appearances. Watching five minutes of her vlog you know that what you are seeing is what you are getting. She’s genuine in her interactions and genuine in her love of games, movies and geeky things.
Finally there is Candace Bailey, the last permanent host of Attack of the Show. Again a professional actress who’s appeared on kids shows like U-Pick Live and other Nickelodeon fare, more adult shows like The Sopranos as well a recurring role in Jericho. The process of getting this role as a permanent host for the outgoing Munn was not one to be relished with a drawn out “initiation” process.
What one has to realize, Attack of the Show was a live program four out of five days a week with the fifth (Fridays) being a highlight episode. Many of the critics of these women have often sited them as being “fake” or not being genuinely in to the areas they were discussing. The writers would lay out the content and there would often be riffing and a back and forth between the hosts that could not be scripted but if not genuine would easily read on camera as being absent and not engaged and at worst simply awe inspiringly painful. These were women who were in control, aware and empowered the entire time they on camera.
Alex Sim-Wise appeared as a model in a number of publications but that by no means defined her. She possesses a degree in Film and American Studies, she’s done shoots for Agent Provocateur, Rankin and Perou but she’s also worked as Games Editor for Front and BBC Radio. After doing a segment for G4 they learnt of her experience and hired her as an International Correspondent. I was lucky enough to correspond with Alex and she described this time as involving a lot of travel around Europe and to Los Angeles but included an extended stay in Japan and would cover E3, Gamecom as well as cannabis festivals in Spain and animation studios. She indicated that the work was varied and enjoyable and said “I never had any unreasonable demands placed on me. I think part of what made the work fun was that the crew were so nice.”
She elaborated by saying:
Overall my experience in that sense was positive. I suppose the most common thing that was questioned was your authenticity. It wasn't a pre-requirement to be into video games to be a presenter for G4 although I think they preferred that I was as it made my opinions more authentic. The most important thing for them was that you were fun and enthusiastic. A lot of the writers were female also so I never felt like it was a boys club at all. All opinions were welcomed and there was definitely a very strong female voice. Unless I was in the studio or on a live feed I didn't have a script so a lot of what we said was ad libbed, especially any interviews we did.
She has since retired from modelling citing the lack of consistency and reliability in the industry but is looking forward to her most challenging role, that of a new mom.
And this gets to the thrust of my argument with Mr. Johnson, these women were all beautiful in different and varied ways and when on camera all played off Adam, Kevin, or whoever they were set against in a fun way but that was genuine, that was because they were smart and empowered and free to contribute and not be called upon to simply act as ornamentation.
Does this mean we shouldn’t have cheeky or irreverent shows? No, by no means does this mean that, the tone of G4’s programming was often subverting the message in much the way Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel’s The Man Show would. It would blow out the paradigm of its genre or the stereotype of its audience to ridiculous proportions to illustrate the absurdity (as could be seen with The Man Show’s trampoline credit sequences or Attack of the Show’s Munn hot dog sequences). But this also means we need varied voices, if the voice of geek culture is defined by this “Bro-Gamer” attitude it is not representative of the true “Geek” culture. We need voices like Feminist Frequency, we need voices like the Indoor Kids, we need voices like EP Daily and more and more varied to boot.
Most of all we need to not recruit women as an accessory, a collectible object to bounce off and use as a totem of self worth. We need to engage them as partners, we live in a culture where 48% of women are gamers and 71% of gamers are over 18 while only 17% of gamers are males under 18. We live in a world where women are creating some of the most successful products in pop culture like Guardians of the Galaxy (Nicole Perlman) and Mad Men (of the 11 writers 8 are women). Even in the video game space with professionals like Rihanna Pratchett (Tomb Raider), Amy Hennig (Uncharted series), and Jill Murray (Assassin’s Creed Liberation), Robin Hunicke (Journey), Kim Swift (Portal), Jade Raymond (Managing Director of Ubisoft Toronto) are showing they are able to go toe to toe with males in the industry.
They are people with unique perspectives and points of view that are of equal importance and equal relevance. While some aspects of “Geek” culture may be hanging to the former“no girls allowed” culture that is the past, the future is a bright one defined by the collaboration of men and women being the best “Geeks” they can be (and maybe having a bit of fun while doing it).
So how do we proceed? Given that 48% of gamers are women do we let 17% of gamers (males under 18) and the individuals catering to that 17% call the tune, or do we get out there and show the real diversity of this community? Is this lowest common denominator programming an inevitable conclusion of an extant cycle and something that is inherently harmless like beer and Carl's Jr ads or is it something we need to push back against? I think my opinion is pretty clear in the fact I started a website dedicated towards giving equal voice to a variety of geeks and gamers of all persuasions and continuing to push for that in our community but this is something only you can answer for yourself but let's make sure what ever we feel we conduct ourselves with respect for the differences of those who disagree with us. The time for hate is over the time for building is upon us.