The Onion ran a satire piece a few months ago headlined "Disney Lab Unveils Its Latest Line of Genetically Engineered Child Stars." As with all good satire, there appears to have been a germ of truth to it. While Disney is not literally creating new Zac Efrons and Miley Cyruses in beakers and test tubes, the company does employ people whose entire job is to scrutinize the tastes and habits of young boys in order to manufacture entertainment that will appeal directly to them. If they could find a way to do it all mathematically, and take those pesky "writers" and "actors" out of the equation entirely, you can bet they would.

The New York Times has a fascinating look at this behind-the-scenes process in today's paper, following the efforts of 45-year-old Kelly Peña and her team of anthropologists as they interview and analyze boys ages 6-14. They find test subjects and, with parental permission, study the boys and their bedrooms, toys, hobbies, and interests. They talk to the kids to find out what makes them tick. They look for subtle clues: what the boys have on their bedroom shelves, for example, or what kind of sheets they have on their beds. The boys are never told that it's the Disney company doing the studying, and they get $75 for their trouble.

Armed with this knowledge, the researchers tell Disney how to make programming that will hold boys' interest. In the 1950s, when every boy in America went around wearing a Davy Crockett hat, there was no question of Disney's stronghold on the young male mind. Today, it's the girls who live in Disney's back pocket, while boys are more likely to seek out Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network.
categories Movies, Cinematical