I’m a fan of lots of things, and I’m used to most people not quite understanding my obsessions. Many of the other kids watched Lost In Space, for instance, while it was running in prime time during first and second grades, but didn’t understand why I still liked to watch the reruns in sixth grade. And none of them seemed to be watching Star Trek when it was on prime time, so I got a lot of blank looks if I talked about it, until years later when it became a big hit in syndication. Similarly, all the kids knew who Superman and Batman were, but thought I was weird for reading the Avengers and Doctor Strange.
Once we finally moved to a town big enough to have a significant sci fi contingent (10th grade), I started feeling a little less like a freak. And when, that summer, the original Star Wars came out, it seemed for a while as if everyone was at least a bit of a freak. Though I still got some funny looks and rolled eyes when people found out that I had driven to a large screen theatre in another state 13 times just to see Star Wars on the highest quality screen and sound system I could find.
And so for the last couple of years I’ve found myself having to explain the appeal of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, a show originally intended for little girls.
The truth is, I resisted watching it. When I first heard about the Brony phenomenon, I thought it was mildly amusing, but more because other people were making such a big deal out of young adult men watching a kid’s cartoon. Then one of my friends started showing episodes to my husband while we were all at a comics con together, and though I tried not to watch, I couldn’t resist.
The answer to “why ponies?” is simply that the scripts were well written. Yes, Lauren Faust, the producer for this relaunch of My Little Pony, had wanted to create a show for little girls, but specifically she wanted to get away from the sexist assumptions of most toys and shows aimed at little girls. She wanted a story that treated girls as humans, not little princesses who are only interested in dolls. So the six main characters, all female, are written as six young adults with diverse interests and occupations. We have an athlete, a baker, an animal caretaker, a farmer, a designer/seamstress, and a librarian. The emphasis, in the first season, at least, was less on outlandish mystical villains (though, yes, there are a couple of those) and more on personality conflicts, misunderstandings, and mundane misadventures.
More importantly, the writers don’t generally talk down to the audience. Instead of writing stories that will appeal only to children (or what some adults think would appeal to children), they write character-driven stories.
It reminds me of a theme I read again and again back in the days when I regularly read Writers Digest and The Writer magazine: a good children’s story was a good story, period. Every established children’s author or editor of children’s publications has tons of stories of meeting aspiring writers who have the mistaken notion that writing for children is a good place to start, because children’s writing is easier, because children are simple, right?
Children are people, they just don’t have as much experience as adults. Yes, there are areas of the brain that don’t reach full development until mid-to-late twenties, there are topics that children may not have the emotional maturity or context to handle easily, and there are topics that society generally agrees aren’t appropriate to share with children. Their priorities and perspectives are different, but they aren’t stupid and they aren’t simple-minded. Their stories, therefore, shouldn’t be dumbed-down versions of adult stories.
And that was certainly the case in the first couple seasons of the show.
Another thing I like about the show is the utter lack of cynicism within the stories and so far as I can tell in the execution of the series. It’s just a fun, often joyful experience.
I understand why some people don’t like the show. I understand why some people think it is strange that adults follow the show, organize conventions to talk about it, and so forth. But then, I also think that more people should ask just what the appeal is to so many otherwise intelligent adults of the by-the-numbers, totally unchallenging, practically sleep-written Law & Order franchises.
Come on! What’s with that?