I Watched a ‘My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’ Marathon – Some Thoughts
Any mention of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic on the internet is going to conjure up one image: The Bronies. If this is your first time online (welcome, avoid the YouTube comments section), Bronies are a mostly online fanbase outside of the expected demographic of the show. In short, they are teenage and adult males who are heavily invested in a show that was created primarily for girls under the age 10.
My contact with the Bronies has…not been positive. I included them in a comedic feature about ‘annoying fandoms‘. We had quite a few comments from Whovians, Star Wars fans, shippers and fan fiction writers laughing along with the jabs. Bronies were the exception, as they exclusively responded with anger and poorly worded insults. Out of all the different fan groups who responded they were the ones who were universally hostile and humourless. They made rude and hostile arguments about Bronies only wanting to spread friendship and happiness. I guess they missed the irony of this.
I didn’t have any real reaction beyond amusement. I had no investment in this and had never explored the show myself, so the new found hatred washed right off my back.
But this week I found myself in a curious position. I watched My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Not exactly by choice, but I was subjected to a 3+ hour marathon session of pony adventures. My daughter, aged 4, was suffering from high fevers and needed rest and comfort. She picked MLP from the options of Netflix and I was pinned by a feverish child so I settled in to watch. Maybe I’ll learn firsthand what it is that inspires such fervour and dedication from such an unexpected group of people. Rainbow Dash is fun, and Twilight Sparkle is a good entry point character (also played by my favourite voice actor). Maybe I will become a fan myself. Let’s see what MLP is all about!
After 3 hours I…just don’t get it…
Not to say the show is bad. Lauren Faust, the showrunner responsible for the modern reboot of franchise, has done good work with the source material. Each of the characters has a distinct personality and extols positive virtues and simple-to-understand messages. It’s easy to see why it’s a big hit with the target audience. What I’m having trouble understanding is the appeal of the show to anyone older than 8. I’m not going to say that you shouldn’t watch it, or that there’s something wrong with you for watching it because it is harmless, but I don’t see what the fascination is. So I searched some message boards that have asked the same question to see what others have said. The Brony camp are always on the defensive so I didn’t get much help there, and the other side often dismissed them as paedophiles and worse. No wonder the Bronies assume that they’re being baited.I think my confusion stems from the content of the show and how it is constructed to appeal to a small audience grouping. It’s worth noting the distinction between entertainment for ‘children’ and ‘families’, as these terms are often treated as being interchangeable. A ‘Childrens’ show will be made specifically for young children, offering nothing for older viewers. The content will be simple and presented simply. Examples would be Teletubbies, Seasme Street and the like. ‘Family’ entertainment, on the other hand, doesn’t restrict the complexity of the content but is appropiate for all ages to watch and enjoy. Star Wars fits nicely into this group, but also animated shows such as Gravity Falls and Adventure Time.
My Little Pony is absolutely in the first category. It’s not made to be enjoyed by all ages, it’s made for female children. The stories and jokes are simple, the conflicts are the type to be encountered by or understood by a school aged audience and the character types are all based around feminine archetypes. After watching roughly half a season in one sitting it was clear that there isn’t any content in the show designed to appeal to an adult or male viewer. I was completely bored. I had no investment or emotional connection to these stories.
Based on a comparable experience, I can say that The Powerpuff Girls held more appeal than MLP for an adult male viewer. It has a sly sense of humour and relies more on visual comedy, which has broader appeal.
Again, I don’t have issue with the show itself. My daughter loves it and puts up posters of the characters in her room, so it’s obviously hitting the intended target. I endorse it for younger viewers.
Perhaps it’s the aesthetic of a children’s show that appeals to the ‘Brony’ fandom. But, again, this doesn’t line up because there are plenty of other shows with the same or a similar style that does have content that may appeal more to adult male viewers. The aforementioned Gravity Falls and Adventure Time fit the bill, as does Steven Universe and the seriously excellent why would you watch anything else Avatar: The Last Airbender.
I’d be the first to admit that there could be something I’m missing. When the topic came up on Reddit I took the chance to ask what else there is to MLP that I may have missed. I was assured that yes, there was a subtext to the stories I may not have picked up on. Intrigued I asked for an example and this is the actual response I got:
That was the first thing suggested. That Fluttershy, from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, is the victim of sexual abuse from an authority figure and this defines her character. I hope to god this line of thinking isn’t standard among the fandom (although the poster of this ‘subtext’ was shocked by the negative response, apparently this discussion wasn’t deemed strange for some fans), because this is disturbing on a number of levels. Firstly, this is a children’s show and the characters have no sexual agency, nor is there any suggestion of sexuality. They are applying sexuality to an innocent, childlike character. They’re justifying their enjoyment of a kid’s show by applying adult concepts, which suggests they can’t enjoy it for what it is. More disturbing is that Fluttershy is one of the characters the majority of…unsettling…fans on the internet gravitate towards (along with Pinkie Pie). Painting her as a victim of sexual abuse makes that whole side of the fandom that much more creepy.We can wind back and look at how this whole thing started. The sub-culture started on image posting site 4chan, where the number of participants in the trend increased to the point that site founder Moot set up a new section of the site just for MLP discussion. Participants on 4chan have demonstrated a tendency to jump on every bandwagon that rolls through without giving much thought to the consequences. This instance is pretty harmless compared to some of the hostile behaviour exhibited on the site. Sometimes it feels as though everyone was jumping onto a fad and trying to define themselves by being more invested in said fad more than anyone else. It’s the internet version of that one goth/emo/hipster you’ve met who just takes things to far and makes everyone uncomfortable.
This whole feature is based on one person’s – mine – experience watching the show and responding to one disturbed fan. It’s a very narrow viewpoint, we acknowledge that, but we’ve tried watching the show, we’ve tried asking fans, we’ve looked for answers and there’s no explanation for why this show is popular with this group of people. Bronies have been a consistent part of internet pop culture for a years, but we’re not grasping it.