As fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, it’s easy to get caught up in the self-sustaining fun of it all—of being part of a cultural phenomenon that was more or less dropped, gift-wrapped, in our laps.
We’re nearly through three seasons’ worth of the crazy, breakneck development both of the show’s canon and the fandom’s vibrant extended world, and for many fans the heady days of the show’s first season, when we fought to justify to ourselves that we were watching a little girls’ cartoon and loving it, are dimly remembered artifacts of the past. By now the Pony show is a juggernaut: the engine of worldwide conventions and fan gatherings, of gape-mouthed media attention, of an underground fanwork economy, of dozens of Internet personalities emerging from obscurity to find their unique voices against a backdrop of colorful toy horses. Every day we wake up to new fanfictions, new PMVs, new revelations of fantastic developments in the canon of the show to come. It’s an exciting time to be a fan, as a show like this enters its phase of comfortable maturity and proves itself capable of sustaining its quality over the long term. We’ve got a lot to be thankful for, and a lot to look forward to.
But in the process of getting to this point it seems as though we’ve forgotten something. Something important. Something so important that I hesitate to hide it behind the cut.
Shooting Wide of the Target Audience
When creative VIPs turn up at conventions, fans scoop up tickets by the armload. Why? Well, there’s the obvious reason: wanting to hear those VIPs speak, to ask them questions, to humanize the forces behind the show we all love. But when we stand in line for hours, our autograph money paid, it’s often with the hope of earning a few precious moments to speak to our heroes one-on-one, to introduce ourselves… and to thank them.
It’s perfectly natural, perfectly understandable. We fans have a natural impulse to express our gratitude to the people who created the show for giving us something we’ve all come to enjoy so much, that has contributed so much and so tangibly to the levels of happiness in our lives. Perhaps most visibly, The Brony Thank You Project succeeded in its goal two months ago of airing a TV spot thanking the show’s staff and the Hub for creating My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. An eye-opening, perhaps unprecedented move, to be sure, but we can all relate to the motivation behind it. I’m hardly immune; at last summer’s BronyCon, I slipped through the crowd and behind a divider to catch Lauren Faust’s attention, just before she began her first autograph session—to introduce myself, to shake her hand and offer my own expression of appreciation. It wouldn’t at all surprise me if she doesn’t remember the brief conversation we had, if it blurred together with thousands of other indistinguishable fleeting one-minute human character portraits—but to me, as to every fan who had waited since 2010 for the chance, it will have been a true highlight of the year, a brush with greatness to be treasured.
And yet there’s something that’s going unsaid, through all these encounters, all these convention appearances, all these interviews and tweets and DVD commentaries that give us an ever richer picture of how the show came to be. There’s an undercurrent beneath all the giddy joy we feel during our cherished interactions with the show’s creators, something we seem to keep forgetting about.
If you talk to the people in charge — the people looking to invest in these things and, unfortunately, the people who usually tell you no — they’ll tell you that girl things just don’t get the numbers. It’s a business and you need to make money. The girl books don’t get the ratings, the girl books don’t get the sales. Unfortunately, a lot of people will tell you that this is because girls aren’t interested in cartoons or girls aren’t interested in comic books.
I don’t think that’s true. I think the reason that might be is because most of the stuff for girls isn’t hitting them in the right place. All too often, “for girls” means “for little girls.” They won’t target an 8-year-old or a 10-year-old. An 8-year-old isn’t going to be interested in something that’s aimed for a 5-year-old. And, when they do gear stuff for 8-year-olds, it’s all about combing your hair and clothes. I don’t think girls are interested in that kind of stuff. I think they’re interested, but I don’t think that they’re interested in stories about it or characters whose lives revolve around it. I just don’t think that enough people have made stuff that was good enough or compelling enough to bring the girls in.
Girls’ stuff doesn’t get the same kind of budget that the boys’ stuff gets. It’s usually lower quality and kids can tell that stuff. Instead of blaming it on the quality, they’ll blame it on the gender. They’ll say the stories are for girls. That’s what’s making it not work, where I feel that it’s the quality and the content that’s making it not work. I’m hoping for people to put a little more faith in girls. Too much stuff for girls is about tea parties and holding hands and skipping down the lane.
Here’s my worry: Has the phenomenon of the bronies eclipsed the power that My Little Pony had to make a real difference in the world?
Was it a once-in-a-lifetime shot that Lauren won, to show the world that it’s possible to make a wonderful animated show for girls whose quality and coolness became the envy of boys, rather than the other way around? And has the newsworthiness of thousands of adult men dressing up in pony costumes and flooding YouTube with music videos stolen the spotlight from the chance girls had of having something special that was just for them?
Seeing Lauren on stage at BronyCon, getting misty-eyed and choking up as she faced down four thousand adoring fans plying her with gifts such as a compilation book of sincere and heartfelt letters of thanks, was an intense moment of clarity for me, as someone who looks for the bittersweet subtext of moments like these. How can she respond to such sentiments, so earnestly expressed? How can she remind her legions of fans, without seeming ungrateful, what the show was supposed to be all about?
We’ve heard Lauren express thoughts like the above quote any number of times since she first broke her creator’s silence back in the early days of Season 1. The entire purpose of the show, as she’s reminded us via interviewer after interviewer, was to de-ghettoize girls’ entertainment and to make the word girly no longer be a slur in and of itself. “Saying something is ‘for girls’ or ‘girly’ is usually equated with being not worthwhile, being stupid,” she reminded us last summer. Clearly our cultural vocabulary could stand to grow up a little bit, and girls deserve to know they’re not afterthoughts—not to the makers of cartoons, and not to anyone else either.
The parallels to other fronts in the broad, slow-moving war of social equality are clear: Polite adult company doesn’t use gay as a derogatory term anymore. Nor are words like retarded or bitchy considered welcome adjectives outside of the dialogue of deliberately retrograde fictional characters. It’s thanks to the efforts of brave people cut from the same cloth as Lauren that these small victories exist; and whenever there arises an opportunity to make some headway, as when Hasbro showed willingness to fund a show like Friendship is Magic, it’s up to people like Lauren Faust to seize the chance and drive as deep downfield as possible before anyone can catch her.
As gratifying as it must be for Lauren to stand behind her panel table and gaze down into a sea of adoring adult faces, it must also be terribly disheartening—to think that this is what the show is famous for. To think that as much as these fans love the show, they seem to love it for the wrong reasons.
I’ve seen it happen. Even thoughtful, well-intentioned bronies will talk about how they came to appreciate the show despite its girliness, rather than because of it. They’ll talk about the exciting and funny episodes they love, but admit to hesitating over or even skipping other episodes because they looked too girly. To this day new fans appear in the fold justifying to themselves, ironically or not, that watching ponies is really manly—as though behaving in a “manly” way is inherently, self-evidently good and desirable.
Lauren once weighed in with a tongue-in-cheek quote that bronies have often taken and run with: “Only the MANLIEST of Manly Men can watch it! Only wussies fear its girliness!” I can hardly help but hear that same echo of wistfulness in Lauren’s words that I’ve been picking up in subtext all over since then. Since when do we need to make excuses for watching this show because it’s girly? Since when is its girliness a liability? Why do we have to act as though being so essentially feminine is something separable from the show’s merits, an obstacle to be overcome by discriminating potential viewers, rather than a fundamental part of what makes it unique and good? Isn’t that just about the exact opposite of the result Lauren was trying to achieve in society?
There are times that I feel quite guilty for being part of the fandom, as much as I love all the wonderful things it has created and continues to produce. It feels as though I’m hijacking something that wasn’t for me to begin with—taking empowerment out of the hands of the girls it was really meant for.
The show could have changed the world. But now, thanks to bronies, it may have missed its chance—and it’s just going to end up as another cult curiosity.
The Acetate Ceiling
I really had hoped to interview Lauren for this piece, but the stars didn’t align in time. I hope I’m not overstepping the bounds of rationality with the speculating I’m doing here, and I really don’t mean to put words in Lauren’s mouth. But I do know that if I were in her shoes, I would be experiencing some pretty severe cognitive dissonance as I watch the fandom grow and grow—drawing strength from itself and its own critical mass, based on a show that with every new episode becomes less and less “mine”.
Last month, Lauren tweeted a response to a fan asking her whether she follows the current seasons of the show:
I just can’t do it. It’s too sad for me. And I want to remember it the way I had it in my head.
I can hardly blame her. (I honestly don’t know which I’d rather be able to tell her: that the show has retained every bit of its quality and charm to the present day, or that it nose-dived as soon as she left.) And yet this sentiment paints a even more vivid picture of the effort it must take for her to engage with her fans so readily, to show up at conventions and sign autographs, to answer the same questions over and over again, being necessarily diplomatic and evasive on touchy subjects, and yet remaining as positive and inspiring as the fans expect her to be. The turmoil in her mind must be intense—and her ability to keep it masked so well, even to the point of being actively involved in the newly released documentary Bronies: The extremely unexpected adult fans of My Little Pony, speaks to a remarkable strength of character. It’s a balancing act that few people in her position could be expected to handle at all, let alone with grace and aplomb.
I’m looking forward to seeing her lengthy interview on the documentary’s Blu-ray release in February, since it’s bound to be full of those insights into Lauren’s relationship with the show—back when she was working on it as well as today—that have been so tantalizingly elusive to me ever since the very first episode I saw. I’d very much like to know whether, as much as she professes to love her adult male fans, she might feel that things have played out in a way that rather undermines the hopes she had for the show she created.
The news media has, predictably, had a field day with the bronies, covering conventions and fans’ obsessiveness with the same vocabulary that they had previously used for Trekkies and furries. The sitcom Hot in Cleveland recently featured a brony—not especially flatteringly—in an episode subplot. These occasions where Pony surfaces in pop culture all seem to have something in common: it’s about the weirdness of adults liking the show, not about the excellence of the show itself. When was the last time you saw a story on bronies that put any significant critical emphasis on how the show has earned its following? When was the last time a piece on the show explained who Twilight Sparkle or Rainbow Dash is, or what makes Friendship is Magic different from the iteration of the show that aired in the 1980s?
Even the Bronies documentary itself focuses far more on the fandom than on the show, leaving the uniqueness of the thing everyone loves so much a curiously unexplained mystery. The closest anyone has come to engaging pop culture with the show on its own merits might be the MadTV spoofs, which is a strange state of affairs to say the least.
Every day that the show gains more exposure for its surprise fan base is another day of missed opportunity. It’s another day the show didn’t earn kudos primarily for its objective quality and for the transformative nature it might have had toward the standards of entertainment for girls, another day that the status quo has not been challenged head-on because the eyes of the media have been turned toward the much more newsworthy freak-show of the fandom.
It’s a real shame, because that status quo really does need to be challenged. And more urgently than the world needs to be made aware of the diversions of nerdy animation fans.
There’s always been a vicious circle in the entertainment business when it comes to making content for girls. It runs something like this:
- Entertainment for girls is vapid crap; just look at all these examples!
- But it sells, so girls obviously don’t have discriminating taste.
- Therefore girls don’t deserve anything good anyway, so don’t bother making anything but vapid crap.
Lauren was trying to break that circle, and in so doing she found that instead of the usual slate of stock cartoon story ideas, there were storylines and episode concepts available to her that were plenty entertaining and fresh but had just never been given the time of day before—because the people in charge always shrugged and said “Eh, it’s for girls”. Hence episodes like “Suited For Success” and “Green Isn’t Your Color”, which are often cited by fans as the very girliest of concepts, and the hardest kind of episodes for new viewers to work up the courage to watch. The fact that those episodes often turn out to be among the best in the show, speaking critically, may have a great deal to do with the fact that such story ideas have simply never been explored before, because they couldn’t have been done in traditional boys’ cartoons—the only ones that would have been given the budget and the creative free rein to do them justice. There are tons of boy-centric or neutral stock cartoon plots that have been done to death in show after show, honed until they can be executed wonderfully well (if predictably) in some new milieu that chooses to use them; but girl-centric concepts like fashion shows and modeling haven’t ever really had anyone take them seriously enough to demonstrate how much good entertainment value there is in them.
Actress Geena Davis’s Institute on Gender in Media, otherwise known as See Jane, an activist group that seems tailor-made to have had Lauren Faust as a charter member and Friendship is Magic as a flagship endorsement, seeks to highlight the fact that gender imbalance in popular media remains a pernicious element in today’s society. Sure, we’ve come a long way since Snow White and June Cleaver and “One of these days—Bang! Zoom! Straight to the moon!” But just because modern Disney movies are full of “strong woman” protagonists and most kids’ cartoons these days have a token girl in them doesn’t mean girls’ entertainment has gotten any healthier.
Davis’ group points out that there’s a ratio of three male characters to every female one in typical family films and TV shows—and in shows with relatively small casts, that generally means a core group of key characters (all male, with disparate and well-distinguished personalities) and one girl whose job is to be their counterpoint, their “other”. It doesn’t matter what her personality is; it’s overshadowed by the fact that she’s, above all else, female—as though that in itself is what makes her exotic enough to include in the diverse and dynamic cast. As though being female is a character archetype. You know how it goes: The leader. The jock. The nerd. The jerk. The clown. The girl.
It’s a phenomenon that’s evident in the vast bulk of popular entertainment, including the most highly rated properties around. Phineas & Ferb. Invader Zim. South Park. The notorious sausage-fests that are J.R.R. Tolkien’s timeless books. The avowedly mold-breaking Venture Bros. Even Gravity Falls, one of the most acclaimed and entertaining shows with the most cross-gender appeal to come along in ages, has precious few female characters (other than Mabel) who do more than exist on the periphery of predominantly male ensembles. Each of these properties has a girl or two lurking somewhere in its main cast, to be sure… but her purpose is almost invariably to provide a single, alien perspective against which the male protagonists and their point-of-view portrayals can play.
It might seem to the suits in charge of greenlighting all these shows that such tokenism is solving the problem of girls’ lack of visibility in modern entertainment—that one girl on-screen is better than none. But really all they’re doing is perpetuating the kind of schoolyard politics that have played cruel games with kids’ minds for generations, manifesting years later in life as unhealthy cross-gender attitudes. Let’s face it: we all derive a lot of our behaviors in life from the media we consume; we’re taught to do so from the earliest of ages, by imitating what we see on television. And when boys on the playground fantasize that they’re Transformers or Jedi Knights or Pokémon trainers, they’re drawing inevitably on fictional universes that depict being male as the default condition, the “cool” thing to be. Girls are a curiosity at best, or worse, something to be shunned and excluded—and, once adolescence strikes, turned into sexual trophies. Certainly there’s little in the traditional entertainment landscape to prod boys into treating the girls who share their classrooms as equals, to be brought into the same circles of fantasy adventures that the boys in their cliques share and guard so jealously. I don’t think it’s too much to think that it’s only a short hop from such ingrained “othering” of the opposite sex in youth that leads to insidious memes like Ladder Theory and the Friend Zone and the plight of the forever-spurned, resentful “nice guy“.
Before I get too far down this social-justice rabbit-hole, let me say that I’m not one to demand fiat changes in entertainment in service of some do-gooding, moralizing ideal. I don’t, for instance, want two of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to be changed into girls, as though that would feel any less artificial than flagrant single-character tokenism. It was the damaging busybodies of the 1980s that neutered kids’ cartoons by stripping them of any subject matter dealing with violence, conflict, or even minor disagreement, and gave us a decade or more of the kind of bland pap that, well, the last couple of generations of My Little Pony so exemplified. Cartoon writer Mark Evanier in 1997 wrote on his blog about his experience on the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon series:
[Television watchgroups] all seek to make kidvid more enriching and redeeming, at least by their definitions, and at the time, they had enough clout to cause the networks to yield. Consultants were brought in and we, the folks who were writing cartoons, were ordered to include certain “pro-social” morals in our shows. At the time, the dominant “pro-social” moral was as follows: The group is always right…the complainer is always wrong.
This was the message of way too many eighties’ cartoon shows. If all your friends want to go get pizza and you want a burger, you should bow to the will of the majority and go get pizza with them. There was even a show for one season on CBS called The Get-Along Gang, which was dedicated unabashedly to this principle. Each week, whichever member of the gang didn’t get along with the others learned the error of his or her ways….
…I don’t believe you should always go along with the group. What about thinking for yourself? What about developing your own personality and viewpoint? What about doing things because you decide they’re the right thing to do, not because the majority ruled and you got outvoted?
We weren’t allowed to teach any of that. We had to teach kids to join gangs. And then to do whatever the rest of the gang wanted to do.
What a stupid thing to teach children.
So in this spirit I’m no fan of social engineering through changing perfectly good fictional universes to uphold some hypothetical ideal, shoehorning in characters or shuffling them around to meet quotas. I’m not quite on board with Geena Davis’ assertion that “For a well-balanced adventure, just add girls.” That is, to my way of thinking, solving one problem by introducing another. It’s just setting us up for another upheaval down the line, a backlash against some kind of rigidly orthodox equality of screentime for the genders. We saw this once already when the Political Correctness of the 1990s wore out its welcome, and I don’t relish going through that process all over again.
What I do love to see, though, is a show that turns the tables on the established reality, by being unabashedly for an audience that has traditionally been sidelined and given only the scraps from the table—and, through sheer force of will, managing to be cooler and more desirable than anything the other side of the aisle has going for it at the time. That’s what Pony does. It’s not about “balance”; it’s not trying to appeal to everybody equally. Rather, it’s leveling the playing field. It’s exclusively girl-centric and it’s good enough to be the envy of its masculine counterparts. It proudly makes its primary cast all-female, with richly developed and widely divergent personalities, and Spike is “the boy”—turnabout tokenism that won’t be lost even on the little girls in the target audience who have, after all, seen its converse innumerable times in boys’ programming. It makes the boys, with their Transformers and their Ninja Turtles reboots, look enviously back across the room for once. It’s good for them. And it’s even better for girls, to be the ones being looked up to, to have something the boys don’t have. That they can’t have. That the girls don’t have to share.
Girls have envied the things in boys’ domain since time immemorial—and because of that they probably understand boys a lot better, by the time they reach adulthood, than boys understand them. A lot of this is likely the result of their watching boys’ shows just because it’s the only good stuff on TV. It’s tempting to wonder what the world would be like if boys had a reason to find something good and worthwhile in entertainment that isn’t aimed at them—to wonder what they were missing out on.
What kind of future might we enjoy, if boys and girls are allowed to envy each other while they’re developing those all-important playground social skills? How much more respect might the genders have for one another by the time they reach puberty—instead of treating each other like inscrutable alien species, with females in males’ eyes exemplified by “the girl” from some dimly-remembered boys’ cartoon, being able rather to relate them to deeply humanized and well-contrasted examples like Fluttershy or Rarity, Twilight Sparkle or Rainbow Dash? How much more mature might we all be toward each other as adults, if we’re taught to be inquisitive from an early age about the good things both sides of the divide have to offer?
And that’s why I’m lukewarm on the idea of the bronies “claiming” the historical noteworthiness of Friendship is Magic for themselves, no matter how effusively thankful they might be toward Lauren Faust for “giving” it to them. That was never her intent. She wasn’t giving it to us. She was giving it to that young version of herself, the girl who always thought giant transforming robots and terrorist-fighting paramilitary warriors were way cooler than what she considered those lame cartoons that pretended to be about the pony toys sitting on her shelf. She was giving today’s girls the chance to see something on television made just for them, not for anyone else, and so damn good and so damn fun that they never had to feel like they were missing out by not being boys.
Girls can and do still appreciate Friendship is Magic the way it was intended. I just hate to think how they’ll feel once they learn that the bronies got there first.
A Price Worth Paying?
And so I’ve come to approach the creators of the show—Faust in particular—more with contrition than with gratitude lately. She knows full well by this point how much the adult fans love the show and appreciate her hard work. What she doesn’t hear enough from them is a clear-eyed statement that they recognize what she was trying to accomplish—along with a pledge to allow the show to fulfill its mission as much as it can under the circumstances.
After all, there might be hundreds of thousands of bronies by this point—but that number is dwarfed by the tens of millions of young kids for whom My Little Pony remains a touchstone of pop culture, in toy form as much as in cartoon form. Just because we Internet dwellers find it so easy to find one another in our online communities doesn’t mean our numbers are as vast as the self-affirming phenomenon of online tribalism would suggest to us. On our own forums, anecdotal evidence keeps surfacing that reminds us of the rather small role we actually play in defining what the property is really about, and the importance of these ponies to the kids they were actually designed for. Forums poster Korriban writes:
So today I went out to eat breakfast at this nice little cozy restuarant with some family. Blah blah blah, ordered some food, blah blah blah, and then there was this little girl who sat at table behind my mother with two older women. She was all cute for the waitress and stuff and I’m surprised the whole room didn’t go D’awwwww.. well anyway I finished eating and she got out some toys. Ponies. Pinkie Pie, Shining Armor, Twilight, and Rainbow Dash. The woman who I guess was her aunt asked about their names. So the little girl said “This is Twilight Sparkle,” as she held up the purple plastic pony, and then introduced Rainbow Dash. Then she said, “And this is Pinkie Pie,” and went “WOOOOOOO!”
“But um, I don’t know which one this is.” concerning Shining Armor.
Just because kids don’t follow the episodes in obsessive detail the way we do doesn’t mean they don’t love the show too. They’re learning plenty from it, not least about what it means to be a good friend and a good person—and that being a girl is no impediment to having a wonderful time in life. Nor is it any reason to expect one’s cartoons to be second-rate dreck that doesn’t respect its audience. The kids watching the show right now are among the first generation, really, to be getting that message at all.
The show could have struck a killing blow against that vicious circle that exists in entertainment, that perpetuates lackluster, cynical, perfunctory gestures toward half of the world’s nascent population. And let’s be hopeful—it still might. It’s just going to have a much tougher time of it that it might otherwise have.
Now, lest I get too self-flagellating about all this, I have another thought.
Suppose that the bronies as a phenomenon actually are a crucial and necessary part of what has made the show a success. Suppose that without the adult fan response, Hasbro and the Hub might never have seen the immediate uptake from audiences and toy buyers that would have told them the show was worth the money they’d spent on it. Suppose that Friendship is Magic, languishing in obscurity and playing only to kids on a backwater cable channel, never achieved even the level of media attention that it’s earned by having convention halls full of fans dressing up in pony costumes and lining up for autographs from John de Lancie and Tara Strong.
Season 3 is fast drawing to a close—a half-season, thirteen episodes long, because that number brings the show to the magic total of 65 episodes: enough to qualify it for profitable syndication. Now, granted, that’s a plenty respectable number, and historically a show doesn’t even need to exceed it in order to achieve cultural breakout; Pony has just about matched the episode count of the original Star Trek, perhaps the archetype of the fandom-spawning TV show. And longevity is no guarantee of a show’s lasting appeal; I daresay that the fan bases of The Simpsons and South Park have lost just about all their steam due to both shows stretching into their third decades of existence. “Always leave them wanting more,” goes the showbiz adage—advice that the creators of Futurama probably should have heeded, considering the high note on which that show’s original run ended, and the dull and scattershot second incarnation it’s had on Comedy Central. It’s with these instructive examples in mind that we shouldn’t be dead set on Pony lasting forever. Even if it were to abruptly end tomorrow, it will still have given us more memorable material, and more lasting inspiration, than we expect from even the best of modern shows. Even at a “mere” 65 episodes, it’s more than fulfilled its promise of breathing new life into the toy franchise it sells and re-establishing the My Little Pony brand for a new generation of kids.
But it’s thanks to the enthusiasm of the bronies that the show is shaping up to continue on into a fourth season and beyond. Evidence suggests that Hasbro was waiting to see how the show would be received before committing resources to it beyond the truncated third season that fulfills its minimum syndication requirement—and it’s because of the grass-roots support and the media exposure that the bronies have given it that Hasbro has retained confidence in the show’s viability as a long-term investment. By this point they know they’ve got lightning in a bottle, something they can capitalize on in a way that would not have been possible if it had remained merely an obscure kids’s show. It means the show now has a chance to last long enough and to gain the kind of traction it needs in order to have the cultural impact Lauren was hoping for. It might even make the crucial leap from “cult hit”—as the media currently likes to label it—to “beloved classic”.
And perhaps that’s the price of the show’s success: it had to have support from an unlikely source in order to guarantee its survival. Even if that support compromised the purity and the power of its vision.
As much as I might regret that girls won’t be able to see the show as “their own”, the way it was intended, I think that’s still a better outcome than if the show were to peter out and languish unnoticed by anyone but obsessive animation students. Far better to have a show that appears to be dedicated to more than one beneficiary than one on which the spotlight never shone at all—whose lavish production values and uncompromising creative vision and execution came to be seen as little more than wasted effort by the sponsoring corporation who writes off such effort as a bad bet, going right back to the tired old vicious circle of girls’ entertainment. Ultimately, perhaps that’s the (forgive me) Faustian bargain at the heart of the show: in order to break out of the cycle, to show the world that girls’ programming doesn’t have to be tripe and that quality will pay dividends for the risk-taker who wants to back it, you’ve got to allow the clarity of your vision to be compromised.
Just a little. Enough to get the word out. Enough to draw the attention of the world.
If the purpose the bronies serve in the long run is to create exposure for the show and its mission as Lauren originally intended—if the show wouldn’t have become a breakout hit without the bronies’ enthusiastic contribution to its momentum—then I think it’s worth it. It’s a tradeoff, to be sure. There are definite downsides. But ultimately, Lauren’s vision will live on in very much the same form as it took at the outset; once the phenomenon of the bronies has ceased to make headlines, girls will still have a wonderful cartoon show to enjoy, to love, to have grown up with. And it will span several more seasons, its quality upheld by a staff who continues to share that vision that drove Lauren to pour her very heart and soul into flouting the sullen warnings of history and making the show the very best thing it could be—better than anyone had thought possible.
We still ought to tread lightly, though. We have to recognize that the role we play in the show’s meta-story is a supporting one. We have to be conscious, more so than I think we generally are, of the consequences of our actions as fans, acting as though by our influence we should expect to see the show cater to our tastes instead of its primary mission.
We have to remind ourselves whose house this is.
We might all love visiting; it’s the most warm, welcoming place we’ve ever been to, even to the point that for many of us it feels like home. But we have to remember: we’re guests here. And that’s the way it ought to be. ■