Thursday, January 19, 2012

Friendship is AWESOME:In Defense of My Little Pony Friendship is Magic

I feel like it’s about time for me to make a formal defense of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  Doing so reveals my desperate need for my opinions to be approved and accepted by others which is a major personal flaw I’m trying to work through, but I’ll save that big post for another day. 
For the last 25 years, both geek and young male culture have been really into “dark” stuff.  We’ve liked our superheroes “dark and gritty” and over-the-top violence has been shorthand for “adult and deep”.  This paradigm shift wasn’t necessarily started by, but definitely cemented by, the comic books (sorry, graphic novels)Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.  Both are fantastic graphic novels whose “dark and edgy” takes on superheroes changed the comic industry as well as the rest of all pop culture.  But while each book is great, the Watchmen was meant to destroy the concept of superheroes not make them darker (read this essay-it’s fantastic:, while the Dark Knight Returns only represents one very specific take on the caped crusader (because like it or not campiness is a major element of the Batman mythos [plus Frank Miller is homophobic war-mongering crazy person, and not in the good way Alan Moore is]).
So in recent years, some geeks have been getting into the idea of going back to a more optimistic form of storytelling.  After all, real life can be pretty great sometimes, and to ignore all the good in life by focusing on the awful is just as bad as sugar-coating reality.  There is some official support for this minor shift in mood; a while back Marvel Comics had a “Heroic Age” period, where they tried to tell fun, mildly campy superhero stories that tried to stay light in tone.  The popularity of cartoons like Adventure Time and Phineas and Ferb with people other than small children is also evidenced of this.  While I won’t deny that most of the people in my demographic still equate overly dark and violent content with it being “cool”, “smart”, and “realistic”, this new camp is growing.
I’m definitely in this new camp.  Between finding and marrying an amazing woman who has proven to me that not all humans are inherently selfish assholes and realizing how great my life is in comparison to other people, my mood and general life philosophies have seen unparalleled amounts of optimism in the last few years of my life.  Naturally, I want to watch entertainment that matches my love for life.  And that’s where My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic comes in.
I’ve relayed the origin story of MLP:FiM as well as the primarily male fan movement called “bronies” countless times to people, so I’m sick of it.  Short of it: Powerpuff Girls/Dexter’s Lab/Foster’s Home major contributor Lauren Faust was asked to create a new My Little Pony show for Hasbro’s new revival of cartoons that sell shit to kids line, and she decided to make a great show instead.  When internet geeks on 4chan tried watching it to get material to make fun of it, they realized it was actually good.  REALLY GOOD.  Here’s the long of it:

A lot of people still don’t get the whole brony thing though, and I was one of them.  Up until late last summer I just assumed that the only “fans” of the show were geek hipsters watching it ironically, pedophiles and furries.  Then I caught like, half an episode before leaving for Otakon and noticed it was actually kind of good.  After seeing countless MLP:FiM cosplayers and artwork at Otakon and going “WTF?”, when I came home I caught another episode.  It was also… surprisingly good.  Really good even.  I read the above article on Know Your Meme and said to myself “Shit, I’m going to get into this aren’t I?  Like I need another reason for my friends to question my masculinity”.  
There's a reason this minor meme exists.  The realization that
you like a My Little Pony show is
enough to drive one to alcoholism
I poured myself a drink, and watched the 2 part pilot episodes.  And I WAS HOOKED.  Because I have the aforementioned insecurity that makes me want to convince people to like the same things I do, and because I want you all to experience the same joy I feel, here are the primary reasons I watch MLP:FiM.  I know that not all bronies like the show for the same reason, and there are probably plenty of freaks who like it for unsavory reasons, but I have a feeling most bronies share the same first reason that I’m about to give, and many share the rest:

1)It’s a really, really, REALLY good cartoon.
If you’re not the kind of person who watches cartoons as an adult, and can’t understand why anyone would, then I’m going to just give up on you right here.  You’ve clearly lost all joy in your life, take yourself too seriously, and can’t tell the difference between “family” and “children” entertainment.  I can’t help you at this point, just go about your life and keep missing out on gems like Pixar movies and Homestarrunner because they don’t curse enough.  But for the rest of us who have experienced the joy of catching a random episode of Adventure Time or Chowder, or who would gladly watch an old Looney Tunes or Powerpuff Girls cartoon, listen up: this MLP:FiM shit is one of the best damn cartoons I have ever seen.  It blends classic cartoon bits and physical comedy along with geek references for the adult viewers and gorgeous animation. 
It's hard to find all the best clips, but here's a couple:

Not to mention all the pop culture references: 

Big Lebowski characters:
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope ending:
Doctor Whooves:
Doctor Whooves id.png 
Not to mention Benny Hill chase scenes in at least two episodes:

And did I mention the animation quality?  This is really a point only cartoon geeks and otaku care about, but the range of facial expressions are amazing:
 Not to mention they're ability to pull off crazy:

2. It’s chicken soup for the soul, for both its intended audience and for its adult fanbase.
When Lauren Faust was a kid, she loved her My Little Pony toys.  However, while the ponies on the tv show would just have girly little tea parties she would send her pony toys on adventures.  Thus, she developed a show that reflected her childhood instead.  The result is a beautiful, much needed message for little girls.  It’s just what young women need during their crucial developmental period: female role models that aren’t stereotypical girly, yet aren’t stereotypical preachy independent feminazi  mouthpieces.  The characters are simply people (or ponies in this case).  The key to making strong female characters is to stop making STRONG FEMALE CHARACTERS and to start making STRONG CHARACTERS, FEMALE (or rather, strong developed characters who also happen to be female).  When you draw attention to the fact that they‘re women and make that their defining personality trait it just continues sexist stereotypes by pointing out that these ponies are special and different because they’re girls who DON’T go to tea parties.  Instead it just shows different characters with a variety of personalities and varying levels gender behavior, from girly to androgynous to tomboyish.  Plus it represents a nice swath of personalities between the 6 main ponies: Twilight Sparkle is the organized nerd, AppleJack is the country tomboy, Rainbow Dash is the athletic tomboy, Rarity is the fashion-obsessed girl, Fluttershy is the shy animal lover, and Pinkie Pie is the silly party girl (who also doubles as the fat chick if you notice how much she loves eating).  Little girls need that, they need to find someone they can relate to that lets them know that they are fine just the way they are, because our society really doesn’t do that for them enough.
You know who else needs that?  Males aged 18-30.  And more importantly do we need to see females in a feminine environment in a non-stereotypical tea party way, but we need the lessons taught by the show.  Each episode is a morality tale on friendship that while cheesy and obvious, is still a valid life lesson.  Humans tend to keep having to relearn the same lessons throughout life; we tend to forget important shit that never stopped being true.  Since when did listening to your friend’s opinions and learning to not to be racist stop being relevant?  It hasn’t.  And it’s certainly important for young adult males like me who are finishing their adolescence and entering adulthood and who think they have the world figured out.  And it’s ESPECIALLY important for young men and geeks who have spent the last few years dealing with the cruelty of their peers and had their pessimistic world views reinforced by pessimistically dark superheroes.  We need to relearn that there is good and light in this world, and that you can create more of it by treating others this way.  Two of the most common responses bronies give on the internet when someone insults them are posting these pictures:

While it might be hard to actually feel that way towards your bullies (I know that even when I post those responses I’m still angry and a little hurt), Aristotle said the best way to become virtuous is by acting virtuously.  A more positive existence starts with our actions.

3. BOUNS REASON!: The creators actually respect the fans and show it.
While the creators of MLP:FiM were certainly shocked by the brony fanbase, they didn’t dismiss it outright.  Lauren Faust has had open dialogue with 4channers, the show continues to put brony memes like Doctor Whooves and Derpy Hooves into the show, and even mentioned bronies by name in a music video commercial they made.  They even released a full version of said video exclusively for one of the big brony fansites!  I’m not just a geek, but I’m a consumer as well.  I love it when the people who are providing me a service demonstrate that they care about my business.  It means I’m going to keep coming back to them for more.

So seriously, if you haven’t watched it already, watch the first two episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.  Then watch the rest.  It’s worth your time.  Here's episodes 1 and 2:

If you end up liking the show, let me know so I can send you the initiation to brony-dom:


  1. You don't have to convince me, I love this show. This and Adventure Time are probably my favorite two American shows right now.

    I do think we are going to see more of good family entertainment. Pixar has proven it doesn't have to be cheesy crap. And I think more then ever people want encouragement, that yeah things will get better if you work hard. Not just everything is shitty all the time of Dark and Gritty. So, I hope they keep making stuff like MLP:FiM and the New Muppets movie.

  2. Jonjon here, and while I don't make a big deal out of it, I am also a brony. (Chris, I don't know if you remember that conversation we had on facebook about the likelihood of my becoming a fan, but boy is my face red.)

    I too can testify on the quality of the show - I am well known for the fact that I am not a fan of Miyazaki films for what I perceive to be their one glaring weakness: a lack of binding plot/conflict/tension. MLP is episodic in nature, but each weekly exploit is a complete story, bound by an interesting theme, with reasonably complex plot twists for a cartoon, outstanding animation quality and expressive characters, and even a worthwhile soundtrack. In short, like Community, it is the complete package - except it's ponies.

    Which is the primary problem I've found people have with MLP - if they aren't already put off by the idea of adults watching cartoons, they're struck by what they know of the franchise from THEIR childhood. The quality of which was, quite frankly, horrendous (apologies to those who did enjoy the show; I too have my own 80's and 90's guilty pleasures). They expect more of the same from this generation of MLP, and with that bias firmly in place, roll their eyes and scoff at those who enjoy such a "horrid" show without even giving it a chance.

  3. Yeah, it's pretty horrendous that people can just dismiss things without giving it a proper chance to try. I used to be the same way until my first anime convention in highschool, and later my first D&D game in college and watching the whole second season of Top Chef. Now I'll try almost any activity or food. You miss out on so much if you don't