My New Year's resolutions aren't great and I've sort of failed on a good chunk of them, but one I'm going to keep sticking by is participating in Robot 6's What Are You Reading. Every week on Sunday, we post a few words on what the gang has been reading (just like the name of this cartoon!) and I've been pretty good about it... but this week I didn't send anything in. Mostly, because I haven't been reading much.
I've been watching.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is phenomenal. Just phenomenal! What started out at a peek into 'brony' culture (more on that later) has turned into a full-on binge of cartoons, silly songs and life lessons revealed via brightly colored horses. The characters are remarkably self-aware that they indeed are pony that live like people and there's plenty of wink-winks to the audience to let viewers of all ages in on the jokes. The ponies avoid the terrible stereotype trappings that "girls' cartoons" can fall under and are more characterized by positive personality traits that "the one who likes shopping" or, as Margaret Cho would put it: "the smart one, the pretty one, and then there's the ho". The life lessons learned aren't just 'sharing is caring' but 'there are things you can't explain, but you can choose to believe in them' or 'take pride in your talents, even if they're not the ones you would choose for yourself'.
Yeah, the songs are earworm catchy and the pony's names can be ridiculous to say outloud ('achem, it's Twilight SPARKLE, not just Twilight!'), but that's because this is a cartoon. Admit that, and you'll sing right along.
I missed the pony gene when I was young. Never liked horses, never wanted to draw them or ride them or brush their manes. Other girls around me hit that pony craze, but I just kept drawing Orko or Garfield. I never owned a My Little Pony, so I didn't even have that nostalgia adoration when I sat down to catch a couple episodes of this new show. It would have come and gone in my pop culture vernacular if it wasn't for two things: Lauren Faust and Bronies.
Lauren Faust (and her husband, Craig McCracken) have cartoons like the Powerpuff Girls and Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends behind their name, so I took to them with instant credibility. In a recent Ms Magazine article, a writer had put out an opinion about the show, focusing on strange negative traits like 'racism' and 'phallic' in an op/ed column. Lauren Faust went right to the online mag and sent them a rebuttal and explained not just her answer to those negative points, but all the positive ones she wanted to infuse in a marketing tool for plastic horses.
The messages I’m really trying to get across with the show are these:
* There are lots of different ways to be a girl. You can be sweet and shy, or bold and physical. You can be silly and friendly, or reserved and studious. You can be strong and hard working, or artistic and beautiful. This show is wonderfully free of “token girl” syndrome, so there is no pressure to shove all the ideals of what we want our daughters to be into one package. There is a diversity of personalities, ambitions, talents, strengths and even flaws in our characters–it’s not an army of cookie-cutter nice-girls or cookie-cutter beauty queens like you see in most shows for girls. * Find out what makes you you. Follow your passions and ambitions, not what others expect of you. For instance, if you like sports don’t let someone’s suggestion that that is unfeminine stop you from doing what you love. Be considerate of others’ feelings, but not at the expense of your own goals and dreams. * You can be friends with people who are vastly different from you. And even though all friendships have their share of disagreements and moments when you don’t get along, that does not mean that your friendship has to end. * Cartoons for girls don’t have to be a puddle of smooshy, cutesy-wootsy, goody-two-shoeness. Girls like stories with real conflict; girls are smart enough to understand complex plots; girls aren’t as easily frightened as everyone seems to think. Girls are complex human beings, and they can be brave, strong, kind and independent–but they can also be uncertain, awkward, silly, arrogant or stubborn. They shouldn’t have to succumb to pressure to be perfect.
A recent Extra Credits video explained that strong female characters in video games come from either a focus on genetic or societal roles that women play, or simply a divorce of those concepts. We don't have to play Cooking Mama to play a game with a strong female character, but we should have a game that explores why it is we think women should be good at cooking. Sometimes, when your female characters exploring general concepts not particular to gender but to growing up, I think that brings in a bigger audience and can form a bonding point for both genders to draw from. Yeah, not all guys know what it's like to deal with the societal pressures of being thin and pretty and not all women feel like they can't show weakness to the public, but we all know what it's like to have a bully, feel jealous, or have the will to succeed. I like comics because justice and responsibility are universal truths.
Someone told me this morning that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic does well with girls 9-14 and men age 22-30. Yeah, I have no idea where he pulled such numbers, but even so, there is a large fan following of not just boys, but men. My Little Pony has a devout and incredible male fanbase times, sometimes referred to brilliantly as "bronies". 4Chan, dark heart of the internet's booger throwing bad boys, had something of a falling out from this cartoon and now has their own image board for all things My Little Pony. Memes are everywhere and are hilarious. Guys are trading plastic horses amongst each other and, most importantly, being better internet citizens. Over the weekend an amazing story was posted by a brony that had gone through a tremendously abusive childhood and, though a love of Rainbow Dash and a silly song, was not only able to express himself, but overcome a personal fear in a brave and healing way. Bronies came out of the woodwork to congratulate this achievement, admit the got a little teary eyed, and wished him the best. Lauren Faust herself posted to the image board to wish him well and everyone learned a little something about bravery, honestly and kindness.
Friendship is freakin' MAGIC.