My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic promo image showing the main characters

OMG, Ponies! (Or… my love affair with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic)

I always thought my friend Sarah summed up the appeal of My Little Pony the best:

Once you believe in rainbow-coloured ponies who can talk, there isn’t much limit to your imagination.

My Little Pony group shot, artist unknown

My Little Pony group shot, artist unknown

I was the sort of little girl who had over a hundred My Little Ponies, largely due to my mother’s uncanny ability to find them incredibly cheap at garage sales. With so many, we could put on pony musicals where we wrote or adapted all the music and made costumes out of whatever scraps our parents were willing to lend us. My childhood best friend and I built an entire “computer game” for my little sister to play using ponies as the characters (Gameplay was inspired by our favourite adventure game for PC, Monkey Island. Nowadays, I’d call it a roleplaying game but I didn’t know the terminology then.) We had ponies on the bridge of the Enterprise, and ponies going camping on the very conveniently green-carpeted stairs in my house, and ponies ponies ponies.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic promo image showing the main characters

So when I heard that the new series was being spearheaded by the woman who brought us Powerpuff Girls, I was intrigued. And then I started hearing stuff about how it was really good. In fact, it was so good that it was garnering adult fans, including men who were really not in the target demographic at all. “Bronies.”

But I was busy, so I held off ’till after my first big academic job talk when finally the juxtaposition between this latest transition to adulthood and my inner child was too funny to pass up. I loaded up a couple of episodes on youtube from my room at the bed and breakfast where I was staying. They were fun! So then, through the gruelling months of finishing my thesis, I’d use ponies as a treat for finishing a round of revisions. By now, I’ve almost learned all the words to the song in my favourite episode. I learned that Brony could mean any adult fan, not just the boys. I learned that the brown pony with the hourglass “cutie mark” on his butt had been fan-named “Dr. Whooves” for his resemblance to a certain timelord. I found myself hitting up Equestria Daily for a daily dose of cute fanart. I started making a pony crochet pattern while my internet was slow. I am most definitely hooked. (*groan* … crochet pun.)

Young Dash by Arcum89

Young Dash by Arcum89

Creator Lauren Faust says, “I used to say that my own inner eight-year-old was my personal focus group.” and she’s certainly channelled the sorts of adventures that my little ponies were having too. Most importantly, it doesn’t rely on the offensive “girly” stereotypes that irk me so much as an adult woman. Consider the “mane” six: Geeky Twilight Sparkle loves books and learning and isn’t afraid to show it. Honest Applejack is self-reliant even to a fault! Rainbow Dash is competitive (the way people keep telling us women aren’t supposed to be). Fluttershy is the timid animal lover, but with a core of strength especially when it comes to protecting her friends. Even Rarity, the most stereotypically girly debutante pony and fashion designer, is also a dedicated small-business owner. And Pinkie Pie is just soooo random. These gals aren’t always breaking into tears when life gets hard: they’re trying novel solutions and finding a lot of inner strength.

There’s an excellent interview with Lauren Faust up at Equestria Daily which I think will appeal to many geek feminists, even if you’re not fans of the show. Here’s a quote (edited slightly for ableist language):

My specific dreams are still to make great entertainment for girls. I just don’t think there’s enough truly good stuff out there for them, but I also have kind of selfish reasons. When I think of something I want to say or an experience I want to share, my ideas are usually innately feminine because I’m female – and I refuse to believe that something being feminine by nature automatically means it isn’t worthwhile. If I can put the tiniest dent in the perception that “girly” equals “[bad]” or “for girls” equals “crappy,” I’ll be very satisfied.

I think Friendship is Magic has really got something special going here. Not only does it show the kind of role models I wish I’d had on TV as a little girl, but it’s also show that flies in the face of the common wisdom that boys (and even full-grown men) won’t watch anything where women or girls are the primary characters. You know, maybe the problem was just that we needed more good stuff for girls? So here we are with the bronies, eagerly anticipating the second season (which starts tomorrow!), planning meetups, and buying toys. Maybe, just maybe, this breakaway success will cause publishers to realize that if you make great TV for girls, it’s going to attract more than a narrow audience. This could be the beginning of evolution in girls’ programming. Heck, it could be the beginning of a change in the entire entertainment industry! But I know you’re going to tell me all I’m dreaming.

It’s okay, I’m willing to believe in rainbow-coloured ponies who can talk; I can imagine anything.

25 thoughts on “OMG, Ponies! (Or… my love affair with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic)

  1. Terri

    Just a note: Please try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, since I imagine many readers here haven’t been watching MLP: FiM yet.

    That goes double for season two spoilers after the episode comes out! (I, for one, don’t have cable yet and will have to wait ’till some kind soul shares it!)

  2. Laughingrat

    Oh my goodness, between the part about the awesome girl-friendly entertainment and letting one’s inner eight-year-old be one’s focus group, I kind of want to watch this now.

  3. Kat

    Thanks for this, you’ve captured exactly how I feel about it. My 2 year old son loves it too btw.

  4. Sam

    There are a lot of things I like about this show as a woman – but as a First Nations woman, I am really not a fan of the ugliness that is episode 21. This may be a show for some girls, but episode 21 it made it clear that it is not a show for Native girls. A more detailed write-up by someone else can be found here:

    1. Terri

      Yeah, I think it’s even more frustrating where it fails (as it clearly does there) because it does so many other things well. :/

    2. Sasta Koogrr

      One author was responsible for two episodes that generate mixed feelings, those being ep21: Over a Barrel and ep15: Feeling Pinkie Keen. FPK had a very bad handling of the science vs religion debate. In both episodes the mane6 seem slightly off character, 80% themselves and 20% something else. My understanding of OAB is they wanted to fit a train robbery in somehow.

  5. oldfeminist

    Each of the “mane six” is, at different times, someone I can identify with. This is just so much better than what I remember from my youth of the usual female role models, where “I can kind of stand only one of these and that only when she’s not getting her soul crushed by stupid femmy expectations” was the norm.

    1. Terri

      Yeah, sadly it occasionally falls prey to fantasy’s penchant for problematic stereotype-borrowing to build worlds. (See the “elves are racist” discussions for more on that.) It’s not any more forgivable for being a common flaw, although I admit I personally find the (ab)use of stereotypes to build fantasy somewhat interesting, perhaps because they often blend them willy-nilly and as a person of mixed heritage, that fascinates me more than it offends. That’s probably just me, though, so I don’t expect that others will react anything like that!

      So yes, definitely something to watch for, but not enough to completely ruin episodes for me. For one, despite the serious problems in the buffalo episode, the picture it paints of how leaders impact the decision to go to war, the one-sided no-compromise arguments and how inane the thing that sparks a final decision might be… they’re actually pretty deep for a kids show. So if you’re watching with a younger kid, it might be worth pre-watching and considering potential talking points about the problematic stuff rather than rejecting episodes outright.

      1. Terri

        Oh, and a related note regarding stereotypes… am I the only person who sees Gilda the Griffon as an American stereotype? The eagle colouration, the obsession with being the best at stuff, etc? She’s kinda like the Canadian perception of our American neighbours condensed into one big bird, and now that I’ve seen it I can’t unsee it!

        1. Viethra

          I was going to jump in here but you hit the nail on the head. What were dealing with here isn’t racism, but the problematic nature of inserting an ethnic group into a fictional world where the “people” inhabiting it consist of more than one species.

        2. Lord of the Wrongs

          I think you are. :)
          She’s only a stereotype if you choose to see it that way. I’d chalk it up more to ignorance than malice — most North Americans are really only familiar with only one bird of prey.
          (TVTropes: Somewhere, an Ornithologist is Crying)

        3. Terri

          *grin* I was being facetious about Gilda. Although a lot of the team seems to be Canadian, so an argument could be made… but no, I was just poking fun.

          Also… that is one great trope name!

          Edit: Also, I took your advice on fixing the syntax of the quote. That was basically a typo on my part; good catch.

    2. Dagan Bronstein

      [Editor’s note: I removed the first sentence because it pushed the boundaries of our comment guidelines as well as the Brony community’s own Love and Tolerance, but I think the rest of it provides an interesting point-by-point alternative view of the problematic parts of the episode that does add to the discussion.]

      They failed to note that the Buffalo wanted peace and the settlers wanted only war. (Settlers didn’t give a crap, Buffalo chieftain admitted that the settlers are taking their land and they have to stop them.) The settlers are -expanding-, something the Buffalo could not afford.

      “Their leader is a bore”. To -you-. The fellow never heard of objectivity.
      “The ponies will die.” Incorrect, in the episode Applejack notes that “the settlers need it to live.” The settlers can either go back where they came from, or stay here. Without the apple trees, they will be unable to survive there. The word “die,” “death”, “passing away”, anything even relating to death is not once mentioned in Generation 4. (Friendship is Magic)

      The buffalo’s reasons are that the settlers are taking over their land. See when Spike or was it Rainbow Dash tells the chieftain that he doesn’t want to do it. “But they’ve taken over our land.”

      The buffalo are stampeding like the equines they are. Problem?

      “Buffalos are violent.” Quite frankly every species and races out there are violent when unwelcomed visitors start taking their land. No exceptions.

      So you’re comparing Spike to Bochica? They “totally respect Dragons.” Dragons, Buffalos, and such, are species, not races. Get racism out of your head.

      The somepony part was, actually, confirmed as an error. You can hear Twilight saying, “Why can’t anyone be rationable and reasonable?!” Or something like that. This was meant to be the case for the rest, but this was a voice acting error. The error was thought that Twilight Sparkle was meant to say “anypony,” but instead she was meant to say “anyone” in her other lines when referring to the Buffalo.

      The buffalos are being civil with each other. The ponies are asshats to each other. See how each and every argument can be turned in upon itself?

      “Why would they be running their times by railroad time?” Because 3-year-olds probably won’t understand that the sun being at the top of the hour is high noon? This is a kids show for crying out louds.

      The most irritating thing is that the ponies are asshats and never apologized, never tried to be diplomatic, never tried to do jack, and the Buffalo were the only ones who ever thought to stop themselves, hesitated in attacks, and such. See?

      This can be done to every single racism argument out there about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. The only episode I am actually angry at is episode 15, called Feeling Pinkie Keen, where I greatly feel there’s a brohoof to religion. I celebrate religional holidays, I praise the lord on Fridays, but really. This is taking it too far.

      God, letting all that off my chest felt good. My most sincere apologies if I was rude.

    3. Henry O'Lool

      “Very racist stuff”
      Both of those articles greatly exaggerate things and should NOT be used to judge the series. They only serve to provoke anger and distaste.

      Imagine a fantasy world where humans didn’t move out of Africa during their early history. And other animals gained intelligence and dominated in other continents at the same rate. Dragons, bears, things like that. This is basically what MLP is, not “Africans equal Zebras, Native Americans equal Buffalo and Equestria is an Earth-based country”.

      And about the “Zecora gets a cutie mark but the buffalo don’t” thing: Zecora is a Zebra, a type of horse native to Africa. The buffalo are, well…. American buffalo. Buffalo aren’t horses and so don’t share some of the characteristics that the in-show horses do (i.e. cutie marks). Dragons don’t get them. Griffons don’t get them. Even Zecora’s doesn’t match the style of the regular ponies, but MLP doesn’t show her (or any other species) as anything less. Anyone saying that they should all have the same characteristics instead of accepting the varieties is much closer to being racist than anything MLP has to offer.

      Chief Thunderhooves the buffalo felt as though he didn’t have a choice other than to defend his land (if the mechanics aren’t fully justified, that’s poor storytelling – not racism), and Zecora was portrayed like any other pony except with her own customs and being misjudged by the majority of the other ponies before she got to know them. Gilda was a victim of her own personality, and not of anything to do with her interpreted “race” or “nationality”.

      To me, those links are akin to the “Pokemon supports Devil Worshipers and Cock Fighting” rants that everyone disregards and laugh at, considering that those types of people neglect to mention the point of it (to befriend and look after your monsters).

      And one last thing. They complained that the buffalo look the same. A LOT of work go into these episodes and it makes sense that they look similar. The show has 1 Griffon, 1 Zebra, 3 dragons and a ton of ponies, so it makes sense that they’d have more spare pony sprites hanging about. And there are many scenes where the same pony sprite is used multiple times. It is due to time constraints, not racism (see the Equestria Daily interview linked in the article).

      Racism is a strong word and, in my experience, the people accusing others of it in such a violent manner are usually the ones being racist themselves.

      1. Terri

        I think you’ve got some great insight into the better subtleties of the episode and the world-building efforts therein, but I want to point out that the fact that it may be more a result of bad storytelling does *not* preclude it from being racism. Racism may be a strong word, but it can work in very subtle ways. Storytelling shortcuts often showcase completely unintentional, unthinking biases that highlight things like racism, sexism, anti-Semitic feelings, etc.

        What’s worth highlighting is that these are things we see all the time, because, as the stupid Avenue Q song goes, everyone’s a little bit racist. Research shows that we *all* have unconscious biases. I do not think that anyone on the My Little Pony team was intentionally being hurtful, and I think it’s clear some work put into those episodes to try to limit the hurt, but … People *are* hurt when you butt up against stuff like this, despite the storytellers’ best intentions, and those posts though maybe harsh, highlight issues that matter. They may provoke anger, but also provoke deeper thought into the tropes used and they may also warn people about stereotypical depictions that will hurt them significantly, and as such they’re very valuable especially to those who care passionately about these issues and to people like you who are willing to react by thinking more deeply about what these stereotypes mean.

  6. PharaohKatt

    I am most definitely a Brony. Like you, I had a huge pony collection when I was younger, mostly from op-shops and garage sales (the rare New Pony was a coverted gift, and treasured the few times I got one). I admit I was skeptical when I heard about the new series (I didn’t know who was heading it) but it has not let me down.
    I also think it’s amazing and incredible that a female creator of a female-aimed show has such a strong following with boys and men. Woo!

  7. GaruuSpike

    You got linked to Equestria Daily by a brony general.

    Prepare for incoming bronies.

    …….Anyway, I love this show. :) It actually is one of my favorite cartoons of all time, and I’m sixteen and have a job at a small IT company. And I’m a dude. No, seriously, this show isn’t just for girls (THERE IS A TON OF SUBTLE ADULT HUMOR, and they have recently been packing on a dark mood and a little violence); it dares to go where no other kid’s show dares to go. It ain’t all bubbles and candy in Equestria. And the sky isn’t pink. This is why people like it!

  8. Headless Unicorn Guy

    Something else about the Mane Six: Applejack runs her family farm, Rarity owns her own business, Rainbow Dash is in charge of weather control for the town, Pinkie Pie works in a bakery, and Fluttershy’s apparently the unofficial veterenarian. The only one who’s not self-supporting is Twilight Sparkle, and she’s pretty much a grad student on an internship. (And the first season includes only two tea parties (the bane of Girly programming) — one’s a reception for a visiting VIP and the other’s a request from a shy pegasus who wants something quiet.)
    Plus, MLP:FIM has spawned an incredible amount of fanart, fanfic, and fan comics — a massive outpouring of Brony creativity.

  9. John Smith

    Are you seriously saying that “lame” is an offensive word?

    Or is this just a clever joke to get more people to post comments?

    1. Terri

      Yes, actually. The short version I usually tell people is that I have a friend who has limited mobility, and she finds it very hurtful to have her physical condition used as a synonym for “bad” or “undesirable.”

      The longer version, of course, is that it’s not really just *one* friend. I grew up with a neighbour who walked with a limp due to childhood polio and was a fixture of the neighbourhood on her tricycle. My mother broke her foot last summer kayaking and spend months hobbling around. And, most to the point, I *know* we have readers here who find the term hurtful for various personal reasons.

      In the spirit of “loving and tolerating the shit out of you,” we just try to avoid language that we know will hurt our readers! (Note: swearing is fine, but unthinkingly being cruel is not cool.)

      If you want to channel your inner Fluttershy, here’s some more reading on the subject of the word lame.

  10. Lindsey Kuper

    Not only does it show the kind of role models I wish I’d had on TV as a little girl, but it’s also show that flies in the face of the common wisdom that boys (and even full-grown men) won’t watch anything where women or girls are the primary characters. You know, maybe the problem was just that we needed more good stuff for girls?

    This, except I’d use the word “about” instead of “for”.

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