Friday, June 29, 2012

My Little Pony... Really? Bronies, Kids' TV and Fandom.

So, in the last few years, there's been a heck of a lot of talk about the My Little Pony cartoon, and not all of it is from parents or young girls.  All over the internet, there's a young male demographic talking about friendship, kindness, magic and ponies with "cutie marks" stamped on them.  At first, when I encountered the phenomenon, I assumed that it was guys trolling the internet. Professing love for a show that is clearly marketed to little girls, I found MLP references all over the internet, and ran across the term "Brony" (a teen or adult male fan of the show.) My reaction was simple, at first. What. The. Hell. The pervasiveness of the male fanbase and its persistence led me to believe that these guys, at least some of them, weren't kidding. So, I pride myself on being an open minded sort of fellow, I decided to do whenever I encounter something I don't understand. Research, analyze and experience.

It was time for me to enter: The world of the Brony.

See, this is where I could have re-used that Diablo 3 Whimsyshire Screenshot.

First off, I learned that the full title of the series was My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, frequently abbreviated MLP or MLP:FiM.  Then, I noticed something interesting. A name I recognized. A lady by the name of Lauren Faust. I'm not huge into cartoons, but I appreciated the work behind Powerpuff Girls and Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, and was aware that Lauren Faust was involved in both. Intrigued, I looked deeper. The pedigree of the animators, writers and producers read like an animation Dream Team.  You've got folks who worked on Dexter's Laboratory, Samurai Jack, Johnny Bravo, Ren and Stimpy, and the list went on and on... Virtually every cartoon show I'd appreciated as clever enough to be watched by adults had someone involved who went on to work on this show about happiness and ponies. There was definitely something going on here.

I learned that Faust originally had no interest in working on the project, familiar with earlier offerings as a show where ponies resolve differences "primarily through tea parties and crying." She only agreed to produce the show if she could do it her way, with strongly developed characters and a genuine adventure story tied in to the plot for the series. Now, we were getting somewhere. I fondly remember another cartoon that took a licensed product and put honest-to-goodness Fantasy Adventure into it, making it way better than it had to be. That show was Gummi Bears, and it was one of my very favorite cartoons from when I watched them every Saturday morning with cereal. I understood the appeal of the series in theory, now all I had to do was disregard how silly I felt, and actually watch... My Little Pony.

Fans of the show annoyed certain online communities so much that
references to ponies in any way were ban-worthy.

The hype I'd encountered made sense. I've seen a few episodes and the writing is good, clear characterizations and solid plots throughout each episode. The series focuses on an over-serious student of magic named Twilight Sparkle who cannot complete her studies by staying where she'd prefer, poring over tomes and scrolls. Dark threats menace the Kingdom, and in order to master her powers, she would have to do one thing she never learned about in all her books. She'd have to figure out how to make friends, and how to be one.  Simple lessons about treating people kindly and being a good friend are told with humor and, occasionally action or adventure sequences that could have stepped out of any fantasy roleplaying game suitable for younger children.  The dialogue and storytelling really is sophisticated enough for an adult to appreciate, while remaining simple enough for very young children to follow.

Once I understood the appeal of the show, I started noticing the community of fans of the series, and their impact on social media and things I already had an interest in around the internet.  Now, I'm not ready to don a Rainbow Dash T-shirt and start a collection of plastic ponies, but with all the low-brow, immature, racist and homophobic teens and young adults on the internet, there's gotta be something great about a group of people of that same age/gender group who honest-to-god believe in love and tolerance.  I noticed that for the last few Humble Indie Bundles, the top spot in terms of overall donations, narrowly beating out Minecraft creator Notch is a group called @HumbleBrony. I've written about the bundles before, and think they are one of the best things that has happened to gaming in years. The last bundle, the Brony community donated a combined $13,167.84 and the friendly competition brought Notch's own contribution up to $12,345.67

Internet favorite minor character "Derpy Hooves" was named by
bronies, and the name and assumed personality was made official in Season 2.

For me, the questions.. "What the hell?" and "Are they serious?" were pretty adequately answered. My wife still giggles if she catches me watching an episode of the show on Netflix, but I don't care. For a show that could have gotten away with being another shallow 30-minute toy commercial, MLP and its fans have created something pretty awesome. I suspect that some of the fans started out "ironically" liking ponies and magical lessons about sharing and kindness, and lost track of when they stopped pretending to be fans and actually became fans. I might not self-identify as one of you, Bronies, but you have my respect.

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Jay said...

Yeah, you're definitely one of them now... :)

Anonymous said...

One of us! One of us! One of us!

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