|Posted by Ratin8tor on July 7, 2012 at 5:00 PM|
Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where this week I'm over-analysing My Little Pony.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. For some reason it has become inexplicably popular. Even grown men confess that they like it. But why? What is it about this innocent children's show aimed at girls that causes it to have so many fans? Well join me as I over-analyse this show to see why it's the hit it is.
Lets start with one of the reoccurring praises of the show - the animation. A lot of people praise it for being good. I... Don't. Oh don't get me wrong, it's not badly animated. But when I think good animation, I think Pixar. I think the Adventures of Tintin movie. I think of animation that is so brilliant that it fools you into not noticing that it's animation at all. That you think it's totally real. My Little Pony doesn't do that. In fact there are times where it's badly animated, with characters missing or gaining things they otherwise should or shouldn't have. Sometimes there are small glitches that end up becoming defining characteristics of certain characters (I'm looking at you Derpy, even if you're not exactly looking at me). There have been better animated movies, and even better animated TV shows. So the animation isn't great.
The aesthetics, on the other hand, are superb. I bring up a similar argument when people talk about how great video game graphics are. What they sometimes mean isn't the graphics, but the aesthetics. How well everything is designed and how it fits together. The general 'look' of the piece. My Little Pony is a brilliant example of the old 'style over substance', but not in the way you think. The substance in this case is the somewhat average animation, very sub par. However its visual style is unmatched. This show, for the lack of a better word, looks pretty. It looks as beautiful as one of Rarity's dresses. Everything is cleverly designed to make this world feel real, as well as looking good. The ponies themselves are visual masterpieces, expertly blending the look of the pony with enough personification to make them relatable. The mane six are clearly designed to be recognizable in silhouette. I for one love Fluttershy's character design, especially her hair. It tells you everything you need to know about the character without her saying a word. She's shy and quiet because her hair often covers her face. To quote one of my English lectures, it immediately symbolizes the shyness the character represents. Another example is how when we see Applejack's Stetson, we immediately know that she's a cowgirl. We see Rarity's beautifully styled hair and we she knows that she loves fashion. So while the animation isn't flawless, the aesthetics are.
The other thing people tend to mention about the show is the music. Namely how good the songs are. That's a pretty undeniable fact. Very few shows I can think of at the top of my head have good original music. So is there anything more I can do to elaborate on it then just post links? Well the other thing about the music is that it also fits the story and actually drives it forward. More often than not, songs in musicals are merely put there so the character can express their feelings.... IN SOOOONNNNGGG. Yes, Zac Efron, we know you feel bad because your girlfriend dumped you. But I fail to see how a three minute solo of you running through a golf course is going to change anything. Meanwhile every song in My Little Pony is designed to drive the plot along (as well as providing some hilarious moments, like the stallion 'strangely obsessed with tubs of jelly'). Because of this they never feel out of place, but instead flow in and out seamlessly. So while people do talk about the music, they fail to mention just how well it fits in with the overall story.
The third thing people tend to bring up is how well written the characters are. At first glance they seem to be the sub-standard character types. You have the smart nerdy one (Twilight); the tomboy (Rainbow Dash); the girly one interested only in fashion (Rarity); the other, more mature, tomboy (Applejack); the silly one (Pinkie Pie); and the shy quiet one (Fluttershy). You've seen these character types in all sorts of shows. Normally that's all you get though. The most basic characterization based on such bland labels. On the surface, My Little Pony does the exact same thing. But there's a big difference between the usual rubbish in children's TV and My Little Pony, which is thus:
In most shows aimed at females, there is always a rich, snooty character that acts as the counterbalance to the lead. She is, not to put too fine of a damper on it, the Alpha Bitch. The most popular jerkass in school. I loathe this character with every fibre of my being. Now when I first started hearing about the show, I immediately labelled Rarity as being this character. The stuck-up prima donna that refuses to do hard work. Which is true. But then the show didn't something incredibly unexpected:
It gave her the Element of Generosity.
Here is a character that fits in with many of the stereotypes associated with the hated alpha bitch seen in so many TV shows... being given the one thing that makes them more bearable as a character. Something so completely out of left field that it works brilliantly. Now Rarity isn't the only one that subverts the stereotypes found in most works of fiction. Twilight, the nerdy bookworm who would normally be off by herself or on the outskirts of society, has the Element of Friendship (friendship, after all, is magic) and the linchpin of the group. And Rainbow Dash, the tomboy who only cares about herself, has the Element of Loyalty.
The characters are more than just basic archetypes. They're fully fleshed out, with several aspects to their personality. It's refreshingly different; something that most shows don't have the time or energy to try to do. Most just have the generic “The Big Guy”, “The Smart Guy”, “The Hero” labels slapped onto their characters and call it a day. But My Little Pony goes out of its way to give actual characters to their... well, characters, making them three-dimensional. As a result they're more interesting to watch. So fleshed out characters certainly is one of the appeals of the show.
Another somewhat less commonly mentioned aspect of the characters is how we all have a bit of the mane six in us. We're all shy sometimes. We're all brash occasionally. We're all nerdy, pampered and silly at different times in our lives. We're all certainly whichever adjective Applejack conveys. But the point is we can relate to all six characters, because there are times when we've felt Pinkie, or felt Fluttershy. The characters are a representation of how we feel occasionally. But more than that, there are some ponies we relate to over others. I have a friend who is almost the human version of Fluttershy, with a bit of Twilight thrown into the mix. Meanwhile I'm very much a mix of Rainbow Dash's brashness (and a dash of loyalty) and Pinkie Pie's enthusiasm (and a seasoning of her madness after being rejected). So not only are the six the separations of our amalgamated personalities, they're also the extensions of both our greatest strengths and most crippling weaknesses.
Furthermore, have you ever noticed how the pegasi, unicorns and earth ponies of the mane six are the exact opposites of each other when it comes to character? Applejack is down to earth; Pinkie Pie is crazy. Rainbow Dash is brash and loudmouthed; Fluttershy is quiet and shy. Twilight is a bookworm; Rarity a fashionista. The characters are opposites of each other, allowing for nice distinctions within the species. Also, within the mane six it is clear that there are three pairs. Rarity and Fluttershy get a spa treatment each week, Pinkie Pie and Rainbow Dash love pranking people together, Twilight and Applejack are both down to earth and sensible (also note how Applejack is the first pony Twilight fixes when it comes to removing Discord's influence). So not only do these characters play off well with each other, you can see distinct character friendships in the mane six.
But that's why other people like the show, or at least their gut reaction when I ask it. Why do I like it? Well there are a few other reasons on top of the ones I listed. Firstly is that it breaks gender and cultural stereotypes being imposed onto us since birth. Lets look at this statement. “My Little Pony is a children's show aimed at girls.” Or, to put it another way: "My Little Pony's demographic is young girls.” Now you'd find it pretty hard to argue against such a generalised statement, so lets take it to be true. However there are two problems I have with these statements: 'children's' and 'girls'. In other words, childish and girly. Both of these imply a sort of lack of quality; a mark of derision. I've heard bronies say “I like the show even though it's childish and girly.” But are childish and girly really indicators that something is bad?
First off, lets look at 'childish'. This is, after all, a cartoon. But at what point did 'cartoon' become synonymous with 'children'? Oh, sure, in the past cartoons were made for kids. In fact I'd argue that if someone other than Disney had made the first animated movie and built up an empire, animation wouldn't be seen in the light that it is seen today (aka something only for kids). But what I find fascinating is that we don't have a differentiation between different types of cartoon. At least none that immediately spring to mind. Not when you compare it to animé. Animé is both incredibly mature and incredibly childish. Sometimes both at the same times. However, animé is praised as something that can be mature and interesting. It's one of the reason why it's so popular. Now, Western animation doesn't have that same prestige, even though you'll find just as much adult animation as you will children's. It is still seen as this 'lesser' art form; something only reserved for little kids.
So what does this have to do with the popularity of the show? It in part explains the existence of bronies. They are men aged about 18-35 according to one description I read. Way too old to be watching 'children's television'. They should be doing mature things like reading fine literature and watching classic movies. They shouldn't be watching children's television. But for this argument to work, we have to support the idea that all children's television is automatically inferior. Well, why? Who says children's TV has to be crap? Oh, sure, a lot of it is. But some isn't. Batman the Animated Series isn't. Darkwing Duck isn't. Ben 10 isn't (well, the original series wasn't). So the existence of bronies is a defiance against watching a 'children's cartoon'. Why do we make the assumption that children = inferior when it is so often proven wrong?
And what about the other aspect; the 'girly' side of things? Well I have to admit, it's pretty girly how there's a character coloured blue. But there is a pink one. A very masculine colour. It's odd that they've mixed up the masculinity/femininity associated with the colours.
Oh no, wait, looked at the calendar wrong. I though this was the 1800s, where pink was a boy's colour and blue was a girl's colour. Yes the whole 'pink is girly' thing isn't something that's been around forever. It's a rather new development. So how can we call something 'girly' when, in all likelihood, the association of what is girly and what isn't will probably change in a century or two.
But there are things that are instinctively feminine, like female characters. These characters are girly... most of the time. Tomboy at the very most. They're still female characters dammit, and that makes them girly.
… And why should that be a bad thing? Again, this is an instance of society putting on negative stereotypes that shouldn't really exist. We think of My Little Pony as being for little girls because while it is made for girls, it also has the leads be female. But that means that there can never be a female character that men enjoy reading/watching. It means that we aren't allowed to cross gender in what we like. Why must it be seen as a bad thing if I like a female character? Why should it seem derogatory towards me? I like the character because the character is interesting. Why should people be persecuted if they're defying stereotypes?
The media has, at times, been negative of bronies. Making them seem inferior or invalid for watching a 'girls cartoon'. But I ask myself, why should it matter? Do we make a song and dance when a girl watches Batman? When a female enjoys a distinctly masculine thing? No. We accept it as part of the norm; that they are allowed to do it. So why do we make a big deal when it's the reverse? Why is it when a man enjoys a feminine thing he's seen as weak? As mentioned previously, it is the stereotypes created by the media. However I don't believe people can be stereotyped based on what they like. A hardened marine might enjoy knitting. A housewife might like Call of Duty. Do we think differently of them because of what they enjoy? If so, why? Why do we stereotype people based on what they like? Should we stereotype someone who likes My Little Pony as being someone who is girly and childish? No. No we shouldn't. And while it may be a bit sensational to say, perhaps My Little Pony is the breakdown of gender stereotypes. The moment when liking something outside the norm doesn't get you mocked or hated. Perhaps this may eventually become the norm.
But this isn't the only reason, oh no. A second reason I personally enjoy it is that it doesn't look down on its audience or imply that they're inferior. Aside from My Little Pony, one of my favourite shows is Doctor Who. Even back when it first aired it didn't look down on its audiences, but instead appealed to both adults and children. It was interesting and challenging. It introduced death early on and never strayed away from that fact. It never looked down on its audience for being children, but instead rose up and became more entertaining than most adult television. My Little Pony does the same. When you compare it to some dreg (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse immediately springs to mind for managing to suck all interest out of the characters) it is a league above the rest. It is a good show first, audience second. It doesn't talk down to the kids, it treats them as equal. Even though the show ends on the cliché “What we learnt in this episode was...”, the lessons are actually important. Rather then the dull “Sharing is good”, it instead elaborates on the importance of sharing all round. It teaches life lessons that are actually important to life. There aren't many shows that can claim that.
Now the final reason that I love this show is that, in this cynical and pessimistic world in which we live, sometimes it's refreshing to find something optimistic and idealistic. Something that isn't trying to give some social criticism, or revolutionarily change the way people think. Instead it's just a happy show about the everyday lives of ponies. While at times it can be incredibly epic, most of the times it's just standard fluff. Nothing grand and amazing, just every day life. Characters doing their everyday routines for the audience to see. Why has the show become so popular? Because it's happy and cheerful. Because it makes us feel warm and fluffy inside. It reminds us what it feels like to be a child again. Sometimes all you want is nothing more challenging than Pinkie Pie's attempt to cheer people up.
So there you have it. My examination of My Little Pony: Friendship of Magic. Many, many reasons why it's become as popular as it has. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.
Categories: In Too Deep