Tag Archives: TV

Meet Julia: Sesame Street’s First Autistic Character

Sesame Street is incredibly nostalgic for me – I used to watch it every lunch time with my mother whilst eating shepherds pie after a morning at pre-school. Random. Anyway, Sesame Street is a truly iconic American show that seems as immortal and recognisable as The Simpsons. The difference between this and other kids shows is that Sesame Street was created (in 1969) as an experiment with the intention of finding out whether television could be used to educate young children. We now know how influential both TV shows and adverts can be on children. Since, they’ve written story lines ranging from basic learning skills to race issues and even coping with death.
On April 10th, “Sesame Street” aired the special episode “Meet Julia” on HBO to introduce viewers to their newest character. Julia was created as part of the ‘Sesame Workshop’ (the non-profit educational organisation behind Sesame Street), alongside their autism initiative, Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children’For years, Sesame Street received requests from parents to feature storylines surrounding autism, so Stacey Gordon (plays ‘Julia’, below) and Christine Ferraro (the writer of the “Meet Julia” episode) who both have close family relationships helped bring this character to life. Stacey was uniquely placed to take on the job as her son has autism: “Had my son’s friends been exposed to his behaviours through something they had seen on TV before they experienced them in the classroom, they might not have been frightened. They might not have been worried when he cried. They would have known that he plays in a different way and that that’s OK.”

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A common concern amongst parents of autistic children is how their peers will understand, communicate with them and treat them. As autism has such a broad spectrum, the team wanted to ensure that Julia was represented based on extensive research into common traits of kids with learning difficulties.

Bringing Julia to life as a Sesame Street Muppet is the centrepiece of all of our new materials to support families of children with autism. The response from the autism community to See Amazing in all Children has been extraordinary, and we are committed to continuing our efforts to promote understanding and acceptance of autism, as part of our mission of helping all children grow smarter, stronger, and kinder – Sherrie Westin, EVP of Global Impact and Philanthropy, Sesame Workshop

Although the team were cautious regarding the representation of such a broad learning difficulty in just one character, writer Christine wants Julia to exist as herself, rather than be known as “the autistic one”. Aside from this, the main aim is to teach viewers about inclusion, understanding and patience. I don’t know if it’s the childhood personal tie I have with Sesame Street, but watching the intro video above actually made me quite emotional – the way in which Julia is represented is so endearing and gentle, with Big Bird patiently trying to understand all the facts about her learning difficulty. Scenes include Julia meeting new people, the relation between autism and eye contact, common physical reactions like “flapping”, becoming overwhelmed when she hears sirens and the heartwarming scene where they all join in on Julia’s version of ‘tag’.

The most important part of this well-written storyline is how they have steered away from Julia’s differences being the source of confusion or fear, and instead created the narrative to focus on the rest of the muppets enjoying their relationships and having fun. Whilst parts of Julia’s behaviour were clearly explained to Big Bird and the viewers, the main focus was on integrating Julia into the group, like all the other muppets. My heart has melted!
It just goes to show that whilst TV can be a very scary place for easily influenced children, creatives and marketers can use their platform to educate in a way that has never been done before.

 

P.S. take a look at the comments on the YouTube video – lots of users have praised the creation of Julia as something they wish they could have seen on TV as children.
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Lysol: Protect Like a Mother

Mother’s Day in the US is imminent, so ad agency McCann (New York) and cleaning products company Lysol teamed up for the campaign “What It Takes To Protect”. Lysol is probably the US equivalent to the UK’s cleaning brand ‘Dettol’, and instead of marketing their anti-bacterial products like most competitors do, globally, they adopted a more emotional and sensitive take on protecting against germs.
The adorable narrative celebrates the protective strength of parents, with Lysol there to help them, focusing on the universal human instinct to keep your loved ones safe. Using metaphors for protection against germs, we see animal mothers protecting their human children against rain, bullies and accidents.

The campaign expands beyond TV and digital, as Lysol will host an experience in Brooklyn Bridge Park called “Protect like a mother: an exhibit presented by Lysol” over the US Mothers Day weekend (14th May). It aims to highlight the most fierce protectors in the animal kingdom: mothers, and will include large scale animal installations that children can interact with.

I think it’s a fantastic concept! So much more effective and memorable than the cringey cleaning ads we’re used to.

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Hollywood is Deeply Failing Those with Mental Health

A few weeks ago I was sitting at home, watching ads in the break of whatever TV show was on at the time. I found myself both saddened, cringing and wanting to change the channel – the ‘Split’ movie trailer was being aired. As someone who isn’t a fan of horror films, I’d usually never pay attention to trailers that do not interest me, however it was impossible to ignore the clear demonisation and offensive narrative created by M. Night Shyamalan.

From start to finish, James McAvoy provides a performance (an outstanding one, however) that is detrimental to those suffering from mental health, and more specifically dissociative identity disorder (DID). The character, Kevin, has obtained DID from childhood trauma, which is both a Hollywood classic and highly inaccurate assumption of the causes of DID. Most importantly is the overt and presumptive link between mental health and violence, stringed by Hitchcock in the 1960s (e.g. ‘Psycho’) but replicated in hundreds of movie plots, such as Rear Window, Betty Blue,High Tension, Fight Club, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Shining, Silence of the Lambs… the list goes on!
Why should we care about the plots in horror films? Isn’t it all clearly an over-dramatic, scripted fantasy that has no attribution to real life? Well, thousands have already signed a petition to boycott Split because “at a time when so much attention is being paid to mental illness and gender identity, we’ve reduced both conversations to a horror movie trope.” I couldn’t agree more! The film and TV industry has progressed enormously in the representation of gender, sexuality and race (although there is a very long way to go, but that’s a whole other story), but has seriously failed those with mental health problems. Despite organisations and campaigns for mental health being heard more and more in the 21st century, Hollywood has remained obsessed with narratives including schizophrenics who murder, rape and torture random victims.

Aside from the representation of DID in ‘Split’, the most common mental health condition used in horror films is schizophrenia, and characters with mental health are being depicted as more demonic and crueler than at any time in movie history, according to a report for mental health charity Time to Change.

Psychiatrist and film expert Dr Peter Byrne says:

This is omnipresent in cinema misrepresentations – the psycho killer is immortal and sadistic, motivated by madness – in almost all psychosis films, that character will kill.

The report highlights something really important – that the main source of information about mental health is from films. That is scary and highly damaging. Unfortunately, the mass media shapes people’s ideas about mental illness, and whilst British soaps contribute a lot of their story lines to mental health, the horror film directors and producers are yet to follow suit.
Little discussion of sympathy towards mental health is depicted in Hollywood horror, apart from the exception ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. In 1975, a time of little understanding or discussion of mental health, a film sympathetic to the mentally ill managed to win all five of the Academy’s top awards. Hollywood (well, some of it) took note: compassion can pay, and gave us films depicting empathy towards mental health like A Beautiful Mind, Shine, Rain Man, Adam, The Aviator, The Black Balloon, Séraphine, Keane, Away from Her and Girl, Interrupted. That being said, take those examples with a pinch of salt, as the characters were not accurately or correctly represented, but still contained sympathy rather than demonisation, which is really important.

One of my favourite films, ‘Shutter Island’, has received a mixed response from those concerned about mental health. Set in the 1950s, when psychiatry involved barbaric practices like lobotomy, electric shock and incarceration (scenes I found incredibly upsetting to watch), the film is based on a best-selling novel by Dennis Lehane published in 2003. Scorsese was out to create high drama and to maximise emotional impact – but how could he do this without becoming yet another director taking advantage of mental health? Before filming, Scorsese’s intense research included appointing his own psychiatrist, Professor James Gilligan, who specialised in violent psychosis. The character Dr Cawley is actually based on Dr Gilligan, who in fact was the director of a Massachusetts prison hospital for the criminally insane (much like the one depicted in the film) in the 1970s. Dr Gilligan wanted to protect the image of psychosocial treatments, and was pleased by the historical accuracy in ‘Shutter Island’, but not so pleased with the script itself. Dr Cawley’s treatment of Teddy Daniels was highly inaccurate, as his attempts to shock Teddy out of his delusion were done by enabling him to act it out. This would never happen. Despite the highly empathic narrative and the fantastic performance by DiCaprio, Teddy is still represented as a murdering maniac. However, Dr Gilligan believes that the plot is:

a kind of metaphor for psychosocial methods of treatment as opposed to damaging the brain.

So, ‘Shutter Island’ was successful at portraying the inhumane practices in mental health hospitals, but in the end, movies are drawn to madness because it’s scary. Horror fans eat that up.

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Hollywood needs to focus less on the fear-factor and presumption of traumatic etiology in mental health, the misrepresentation of psychologists themselves, and more on the authentic experiences those with bipolar disorder, DID, schizophrenia etc. experience. Hollywood has a responsibility to steer away from harmful stigmas about mental illness.

Here’s a list of films that have been praised for avoiding the sensationalism of mental health narratives:

Silver Linings Playbook
Clean, Shaven
The Hours
A Beautiful Mind
Christine

Have a watch! And next time you want to spend your hard earned money on a horror flick, think about what kind of industry you are supporting. Mental health is so common, you will undoubtedly have a friend or family member who suffers and/or has been diagnosed. By supporting films like ‘Split’, you are halting the progression of destigmatising mental health, and that deeply effects people like me.

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CANAL: Kitchen

One of my favourite ads of all time is for CANAL+ (‘The Bear’), which has raised the bar for the ads by BETC Paris for CANAL (they recently merged CANAL+ and CANALSAT).
Whilst their newest spot to celebrate a the revamped network isn’t on par with ‘The Bear’, the idea, execution and visuals are fantastic! As always, BETC Paris has nailed alternative concepts to TV advertising amongst their competitors.

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UKTV: Purpose

What a delightful animation by Cookie Studio! The brief was to “conceptualise and develop a virtual journey through the versatile and rich world of UKTV’s iconic brands, channels and shows”. Cookie Studio successfully did this by creating 3D models of ephemera from the office, such as furniture, mementos etc.

The animation is both quirky and enchanting, which is complemented by the colour-scheme (which I love!)

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DIRECTV strike gold again: Marionettes – No more wires!

If DirecTV is trying to position its Wireless Genie Mini device as a high-tech toy for doofy bros who view women as puppets—mission accomplished!
Perhaps that’s a tad harsh or too literal. Still, there’s something unnerving about these new ads from Grey New York, directed by Bryan Buckley, featuring a life-size blonde marionette. In one ad, she struggles with her wires while pouring lemonade for a pair of DirecTV-lovin’ dudes. In a second spot, our heroine dangles from the bedroom ceiling in a sexy negligee, concerned her human beau is more attracted to DirecTV.

Once again, DirecTV fails to disappoint. Their ads just keep getting better! Completely different from the last campaign (one of my favourites of all time), but still just as hilarious. You don’t even have to be an ad-geek to love this!

CREDITS
Client: DirecTV
Campaign: “Marionettes”
Agency: Grey, New York
Chief Creative Officer: Tor Myhren
Executive Creative Director: Dan Kelleher
Vice Presidents, Creative Directors: Doug Fallon, Steven Fogel
Art Director: Marques Gartrell
Copywriter: Kim Nguyen
Agency Executive Producer: Andrew Chinich
Agency Producer: Lindsay Myers
Agency Music Producer: Zachary Pollakoff
Account: Chris Ross, Beth Culley, Anna Pogosova, Aaron Schwartz, Meredith Savatsky
Production Company: Hungry Man
Director: Bryan Buckley
Executive Producer: Mino Jarjoura
Producer: Rachel Curl
Production Supervisor: Colette Findley
Director of Photography: Scott Henriksen
Editor: Tom Scherma, Cosmo Street
Assistant Editor: Dave Otte, Cosmo Street
Editorial Executive Producer: Maura Woodward. Cosmo Street
Editorial Producer: Heather Richardson, Cosmo Street
Visual Effects: The Mill
Visual Effects Executive Producer: Sue Troyan, The Mill
Visual Effects Producer: Anastasia Von Rahl, The Mill
Casting Director, Los Angeles: Kathy Knowles, Kathy Knowles Casting
Casting Director, New York: Fay Shumsey, Fay Erin Casting
Audio Mixer: Tom Jucarone, Sound Lounge

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Bertolli Makes the Most of Barilla Chairman’s Anti-Gay Comments

Bertolli took advantage of the comments made by Barilla’s chairman about how the company would never put gay couples in its advertising. Bertolli posted pro-gay imagery in its social feeds, “Love and pasta for all!”

“We just wanted to spread the news that Bertolli welcomes everyone, especially those with an empty stomach,” – a rep for Orca im Hafen, Bertolli’s social-media agency in Germany.

The brand has been gay-friendly for years, too, with this old advert:

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Mercedes-Benz TV: MAGIC BODY CONTROL

As part of Mercedes-Benz Intelligent Drive MAGIC BODY CONTROL ensures optimum driving comfort.
Advertising Agency: Jung von Matt, Germany

This did make me laugh! I don’t approve of using animals for entertainment, which is a worry that they were possibly sedated or clipped, but I can’t deny that it’s a great ad.

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Dove Men hilarious new advert

“Dove’s latest ad campaign acts as a firm warning to men, showing them exactly what will come of using a women’s shampoo – ultra feminine hair.
The satirical ad, a parody of the iconic Pantene television spots, promotes Dove’s Men + Care range.
Dressed in a shirt and tie behind his office cubicle, a man called Diego greets a confused-looking colleague, who is staring at his sweeping, shiny, and luscious locks.”

Hilarious ad by Ogilvy & Mather! So different to all the macho, sports men, James Bond style men shampoo adverts.

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