Sunday, July 5, 2009

Acronyms gone wild

It seems appropriate on this July 4th to recognize the exact moment when referring to a movie by a silly acronym became popular.

If you want to be really technical, you could say this trend first started in 1991, with the release of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which was quickly dubbed T2 for short. And I suppose Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have always been TMNT.

But it wasn't until five years later that Independence Day really got the trend going. The interesting thing about the "acronym" for Independence Day is that it isn't actually a correct acronym for the movie's title. That would have been ID. However, the marketers for Roland Emmerich's bombastically craptacular blockbuster thought that they should make a nod to July 4th, so the abbreviated title became ID4. And kicked off a flurry of imitators.

It's hard to search these online, but the ones that come to mind are MI: 2 and MI: III (Mission Impossible 2 and III, though the confusing alternate usage of the I as a letter and a Roman numeral should have prevented this abbreviation in the third installment), LOTR (more a convenient shortening for Lord of the Rings than an actual marketing tactic), X2 (X-Men: United), T3 (not widely used), MIB (Men in Black), MIIB (the "clever" substituting of the Roman numeral II in place of the letter I), SC3 (The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause), HSM2 and HSM3 (High School Musical 2 and 3) and perhaps even JP III (the highly forgettable third Jurassic Park movie). Okay, I will admit to doing a little research here.

My favorite ones are the ones we make up ourselves, such as PBMC (Paul Blart: Mall Cop), and the classic coined by a couple of my friends: CBTD2 (Cheaper by the Dozen 2).

The thing about these abbreviations is that they seem to cheapen the product in question. The marketing department is trying to make it more of an event or a phenomenon than a movie -- of course, the really successful movies have to be events and phenomena to make the box office the studio execs want, but there's still something cheap about it. Or maybe it's just my opposition in general to acronym-speak, such as LOL and ROTFL.

And so it was that I was a little disappointed this spring to come across this poster for a movie coming out later this month:

I don't know why I should consider the Harry Potter movies to be above the fray -- they're product just like anything else, meant to make a gazillion dollars, or as close as possible in today's economic climate. But maybe what really struck me is that the last movie was not HP5, nor was the one before that HP4. Suddenly with the sixth movie, though, Harry Potter has joined this crass marketing trend that makes us all feel a little less like consumers of art, and a little more like consumers of commerce.

Or I guess it could just be the name. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, as a title, has strange undertones of racial insensitivity. I haven't read this book so I don't know who the half-blood prince is, and chances are, it doesn't have much to do with any human races we're aware of. But a "half-blood" outside the fantasy realm is someone racially mixed -- to use a term that everyone hates, a "mulatto." Maybe on some level this movie is ashamed of its own origins in the same way that a "half-blood" would stereotypically be ashamed of where he/she came from.

But it also has to do with which letters we ourselves are comfortable with as abbreviations. As a society, we seem to like shortening words to letters when the letters have an "ee" ending, don't we? Let's take people's names. People named David are often known as "D." People named Terrence might go by "T." You could call a guy named Charlie "C" and it would catch on. Paula would be "P." Veronica might be "V." But try it with other names. Robert is never going to be called "R," is he? It just doesn't sound right. Try calling Walter "W" and you will be laughed out of the building.

And so we see this trend in many of the movies listed above: T2, MIB, SC3, JPIII, and yes, HP6. It's part of the reason why CBTD2 is so funny -- all the letters have the "ee" sound at the end.

So, Harry Potter, join the party. Be an acronym. Just do us a favor and be better than so many of the other movies that have become popularly identified by a string of letters and numbers.


Lord Vader said...

The 'Mission: Impossible' acronyms are made even more mental by the colon in the actual title - inspired by your article I hunted down the theatrical posters, and the titles are represented thus:

M:I:III though they had deliberately tried to be as inconsistent as possible with their acronyms.

A further point - acronyms as a marketing device made their first appearances in association with genre films, but they have been in common usage in print for a couple of decades when it comes to genre film. Anyone who read magazines like 'Starlog' and 'Starburst' in the 80s would have regularly come across - and would instantly identify - acronyms such as TESB, ROTJ, ROTLA, IJ&TOD, TWOK, ST:TMP, to name a few. Is it George Lucas' fault? If C3PO and R2D2 had been called Dave and Steve would this have happened?

Finally, I've never known anyone to have their name shortened to the first letter - perhaps it's an American thing?

Vancetastic said...

I got them all except for TWOK -- I had to cheat and look it up. But that's not fair -- shouldn't it really be ST2:TWOK?

Thanks for the comment ...

Lord Vader said...

No, it's completely fair - the acronym was always TWOK!