Originally published 11/5/2016. Lead image from Wikipedia.
Note: I stopped watching MLP loyally, because I found that it declined in quality. Some shows just run out of material.
Includes minor grammatical edits and an extra Ratatouille quote.
You’re Either Wrongfully Shamed or Missing Out
I hear lots of complaints about bronies.
For those of you who don’t know, a “brony” is a male who enjoys the hit show, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, currently in its 6th season on Discovery Family. For a 4-minute introductory video on the topic (in the form of song, of course), see this YouTube AMV: Let’s Go and Meet the Bronies (Note: AMV stands for “Animated Music Video”).
Despite the amazing, original songs (personal favorite: “Don’t Mine at Night“), shorts, animations, and artwork that bronies have contributed to the online community, they get a bad reputation. Why? Two reasons:
1. Rule 34, which we shall not go into
2. There’s “something wrong with a grown man watching a show meant for little girls.” <— THIS is the statement we will be debunking today.
We can accomplish this by breaking the phrase “little girl” up into two categories:
A. Girl (aka sexism)
B. Little (aka the main point of this article)
The first of these, you’ll find, is significantly easier to argue than the second.
And here I thought we were beyond this.
Here are some “boy things” that my female friends partake in: videogames, Transformers, Robotics, and superhero movies.
Here are some “girl things” that my male friends partake in: None.
For some odd reason, it’s considered shameful to do something “girly.” If a girl likes videogames, she’s cool. If a boy likes the color pink, may Heaven have mercy on his soul.
Girl shows tend to be ordered by male TV executives, who translate “girly” as “boring as tar.” This was the curse of the original My Little Pony show, which was reincarnated into two different series before finally coming to the current “generation” of my Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. This final version has gotten rid of the “boring as tar” trait and replaced it with engaging characters, a good mythos, original storylines, actual humor, and exciting plots. What girly aspects of it remain? Here’s a list:
- The word “pony”
- The emphasis on untangling social situations/disputes using the “power of friendship”
- The color pink
- The term “cutie mark,” which functions like the spirit quest of each character: every pony has a unique task/job he/she were meant for, so when a pony comes of age, he/she receives a “cutie mark” that represents that destined job.
Why are any of the above things shameful? What psychological disorder must a man have to make him like ponies? I personally think it shallow that people would approve of this show if it was “My Little Tiger” instead, or that Harry Potter would be so much less entertaining if the owls were replaced by butterflies. Including “girly” terms, animals, and colors does absolutely nothing to change the character, “goodness,” or “appropriateness” of any type of media.
While watching the show, the only feminine aspect that I can find issue with is the second point above: the emphasis on friendship. Many of the episodes revolve around basic friendship lessons taught in countless other shows: don’t be racist, don’t lie to your friends, don’t be something you’re not, etc. But here’s the thing: that’s not a girly thing. That’s a kids’ show thing. Which brings me to my next point.
This one is a little more understandable. An intelligent person will likely not fall for the “girly” argument, but it’s still reasonable to think that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, as a kids’ show, may not have the mental capacity to entertain adults.
And I find that this is generally true. I felt nostalgic one day and looked up an episode of Dragon Tales, which bored me to tears. It was just too simplistic to entertain me as an adult. But there is a strong difference between “little kids’ show” and “family show,” and there is a strong difference between “meant for adults” and “intelligent.”
Look no further than The Lion King and Jersey Shore (I wonder if anyone has ever put those two in the same sentence before?). I have hardly any friends who are disdainful of Disney/Pixar movies, simply because they are family movies. They’re meant to be entertaining for all ages while still being kid-friendly; they can be insightful, charming, engaging, and witty enough for the parents to drag the kids to the movie theater. By contrast, Jersey Shore is a show meant for adults, but it certainly isn’t as mature or intelligent as adult shows are supposedly meant to be. Just because it’s meant for a more mentally developed audience doesn’t mean it has to act that way.
I find that successful family shows/movies tend to have something important in common: they’re entertaining for adults and teens: Spongebob, Avatar, Wizards of Waverly Place, Justice League, Harry Potter, Animaniacs, Fairly Odd Parents, Kim Possible, Danny Phantom, etc. There are many shows from your childhood where, if you go back and watch an episode, you’ll find plenty of surprises and hidden jokes (and not just innuendos) waiting for you. And don’t give me that “Spongebob was originally meant for adults” crap: it was still held to the same expectations as every other kids’ show on Nickelodeon, and if adult-aiming writers can work on Spongebob, they can also work on any of the other shows I’ve mentioned, including My Little Pony.
So now that we’ve established that “kids’ show” does not equate to “a show that cannot possibly be good for adults,” let’s focus back on My Little Pony. Surely it can’t be as clever as Spongebob or as creative as Harry Potter?
No, it’s not. In fact, I only think about half the episodes are worth watching. Of all the friendship lessons the show promotes, only one was original enough for me to learn something from it–though I will say that it’s still fun to see how they incorporate the other lessons in original, fun plots. So why do I watch the show as loyally as I watch Big Bang Theory or 30 Rock?
1. The salvation: Friendship is Magic has attracted a HUGE fanbase, whereas the original show was the epitome of girly boredom. What changed? Why is this show different? Well, it’s entirely different. The only real aspects they kept from the original show are some of the characters’ names. The personalities, designs, tone, plot, mythos, and story arcs are all 100% different (At least, according to Nostalgia Chick, Lewtoons, bronies, and Wikipedia. I haven’t personally watched the older versions of the show.). As a writer, I like to think about what changed. Why is it so much more popular now? Why do bronies and pegasisters spend unimaginable amounts of time making AMVs for it? Why do I love it, and how what can I learn from that love?
It’s not like I systematically takes notes on this stuff, but it adds an extra layer of interest to it.
2. The world: I think I’m unique in this regard: while most people I’ve asked believe that the characters are the most important part of a story, I’ve always found it to be the world/premise. I really don’t care if Harry or Malfoy or Luna or Dobby is the main character of Harry Potter so long as I get my wizarding school. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has an entirely original world with its own rules, many of which I’ve never seen before, like the concept of a “cutie mark.” It excites the imagination. And what do you expect? The writers had to turn a show that didn’t work into one that somehow works, so they changed everything. There were no mistakes they could make, so we ended up with an enormous outlet of unrestrained creative energy.
3. You can gain value from unexpected places if you keep an open mind: As I watch My Little Pony, I either see old trophs, entirely new worlds, or lessons in solving social disputes, which I can improve upon. Yes, I’m tired of the old TV trophs, but those are honestly unavoidable. As a writer, anything that sparks my imagination–and the imaginations of thousands, possibly millions of viewers–is valuable. But the most important thing for this paragraph is that very last point: the lessons that the show tries to teach. The show dedicates a HUGE portion of time to teaching about friendship, so it wouldn’t make sense for me to watch the show if I found the lessons annoying. Instead, I like to rip them apart. I like to see what the mainstream media is telling our kids, and decide whether or not that’s something I want to teach my kids some day. Did the episode’s plot actually do a good job in teaching the lesson? Does the lesson itself have holes in it? Are there people in society today who have obviously failed to learn these lessons? The same goes for characters and plot holes: what could they have done better? What did they do that really worked? How obvious is it when the writers choose to write a song vs. when they were forced to write a song (The answer is “very obvious.” The songs are very hit and miss.).
Again, all of this analysis makes it seem like conscious effort on my part to find unnecessary depths in a kids’ cartoon. But the truth is that I liked My Little Pony long before I realized why I liked it. There are plenty of kids’ shows that are popular among teens and adults (such as Steven Universe and Adventure Time) that just aren’t my thing. And then there are others that I love (such as Gravity Falls and Lion Guard). This article only mentioned kids’ shows, but I’ve also engaged in shows/movies of many different genres: The Late Show, Young Justice, Glee, Game of Thrones, South Park, Last Week Tonight, Survival of the Weirdest, X Men, the Avengers, Deadpool, game shows, anime, lets plays, online animated shows by one weird teenager, online animated shows by an entire team of surprisingly professional people, and more.
I don’t care what genre a show is in, so long as it makes me happy to watch. That’s something that no one seems to realize when I tell them the kinds of things I spend my time loyally watching. They can never put a finger on what genre I like, because I like everything that’s good. It makes me a well rounded person and writer to engage in so many different sides of life. Sometimes I need to learn something from a documentary, sometimes I need a laugh from a comedy, sometimes I need to have some heart-wrenching suspense from a drama. Sequestering myself to just one genre does me no favors, and that also goes for refusing to watch something just because of what demographic you’re “supposed” to be in–as if that wasn’t an arbitrary social construct. This isn’t a matter of hipster vs. mainstream or rebel vs. traditional; it’s a matter of receiving intense social shame for something as trivial as watching a goddamn show.
And what about you? What demographic do you belong to? If you’re willing to have an open mind and check out the show, my personal favorite episodes are “The Return of Harmony” Parts 1 & 2, the beginning of season 2. And if you honestly don’t like it, I respect your opinion. But in the future, don’t be afraid to check something out if you feel that it’s good. Don’t shame other people for watching shows outside of their demographic, because they’re obviously gaining something from watching it. You just won’t know what it is until you watch it for yourself. I don’t care if it’s “the nerd show” or “the idiot show” or whatever label people have assigned to it. As long as it makes you happy, that’s all that matters.
Remember what Ratatouille taught us: “Anyone can cook.” That doesn’t mean everyone can cook, but it means that a good cook can come from anywhere.
The same applies to any media. Not every show is good, but you can gain insight, humor, or entertainment from any genre.
I eagerly await your decision.