The Disturbance in "Urbance"

I am archiving older pieces I have written on other sites, making this the definitive home for all my work. Enjoy!

Just about a week ago, Steambot Studios (of TRON Uprising fame, also having done a ton of concept and IP development work for film and game properties you know well) released a trailer for a TV show project they have dubbed Urbance.

It is a phenomenal piece of character design, world building and incredibly luscious animation. It looks amazing, and I would love to watch it, to see what the world is about and learn more about the characters.

It was accompanied by this little blurb:

In the big city, gender war rises. Sex is prohibited because of a genetic deadly virus. Ruled by hate and anger, boys and girls grow up apart from each other, forming rivals gangs.

Among these lost teenagers, Kenzell and lesya will fight adversity and defy all the rules in order to live their love and restore peace.

The Usual Bad Science

Hmm. Okay, I'm sorry, but that's just silly. Sex is prohibited because of Space AIDS, fine, but why would some means of asexual reproduction - and, indeed, the elimination of sex altogether - lead to a gender war without also splitting the populations into homogenous regions? If men and women don't need each other, biologically, to survive and propagate the species, why would they continue to share the same spaces? They would have effectively become separate species.

(Which raises questions about how reproduction would work, unless the organic synthesis of new individuals from genetic material from parents of both genders is replaced with cloning, allowing each species, homo masculum and homo feminam, to sustain itself independently.)

Bad science has a long history in science fiction premises, though, so let's put the preceding aside and turn to a far thornier problem: money.

The Business Model Problem

Television animation is a business. There are a host of environmental, geographic, legislative, financial and commercial factors that affect both its production and its distribution. With regard to distribution, virtually all broadcast television animation in North America today is supported by advertising. (The notable and noble exception is public television; in the US, the Public Broadcasting System finances, with corporate and user contributions, a pretty impressive slate of animated shows.) Advertisers look at aggregate and per-demographic ratings - how is a show doing among girls aged 7 to 12, say—but also at social and critical response to the show's themes.

The trailer appears to show a boy punch a girl, implicitly in the face. What advertiser is going to embrace that? Lest you think I'm making too much of a mere few seconds, think of every animated show you've ever seen and think of who hit female characters. To a one, they were either other female characters ("Girls punching girls? I'm ok with that!" - Advertiser X) or bad guys. Problem.

"Well, what if the show is aimed at adults? Look at Adult Swim! The Boondocks uses foul language and homophobic slurs, and it's their most successful show!" You have a point, but Adult Swim's shows are overwhelmingly satirical and parodic. That grants them a broad range of social and legal protections. Urbance doesn't appear to be highly comedic in structure, examining contemporary issues through contrast with absurdist extremes. It is also likely to be aimed at the same audience as TRON Uprising, Steambot's previous show, or Motor City, though, and the setup is much more problematic—from the perspective of parents and adults in general—when targeted at tweens and early teens.

"...And Here's the Dismount ..."

I think the themes Urbance is focused on are very powerful and very interesting. Sexuality, gender, identity. I think the way it is currently presented will run afoul of still overwhelmingly heteronormative perspectives and could create a backlash completely unrelated to the quality of the show. Fortunately, the show is still very much in development, apparently at the pitch stage. There is plenty of time to find better ways to tell the stories and make the statements the creators want to tell/make.

Of course, I could be completely wrong about the show. I am, after all, going off a single 2-paragraph blurb, which could be inaccurate, slightly mischaracterized, or even an intentional feint by the creators. Shows evolve tremendously between pitch and premiere.

PS, I heartily recommend a (re-)read of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World for its clever handling of issues of sex and reproduction, childhood and socialization. I see faint parallels to Urbance which could be developed, as the themes of the book are still very relevant today.