» I’m a Brony, and… I’m Sorry

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?

As much as she loves her fans, somehow I don’t think this is the kind of acclaim Lauren was really hoping for.

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.

taking candy from a baby Yeah, it does kinda feel like this.

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? Let alone how and for whom it was conceived and developed in the first place? 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:

  1. Entertainment for girls is vapid crap; just look at all these examples!
  2. But it sells, so girls obviously don’t have discriminating taste.
  3. 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.

Riiiiight.

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.

So happy together! Many episodes of the show would work just fine if recast with a group of boys. But it’s the heart and physicality of moments like this that remind us that girls have a particular brand of friendship that would be lost in a show that aimed for neutrality or “balance”.

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.

Perhaps better the devil known…

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. 

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  1. Great article. You might also like this piece that ran on Sociological Images, because of the lively comment section hitting similar themes. Here’s a comment that kicks it off (the whole thread is worth a read but some branches go a little off the rails):

    “Maybe they’d be challenging masculinity, y’know, if they didn’t intentionally pick a masculine name for themselves and build up a subculture wall around themselves. If they were challenging gender roles, then they’d just be guys who like this show and if people challenged them they’d said ‘whatever, I’ll like what I like.’”

    http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2012/11/16/are-bronies-changing-our-definitions-of-masculinity/

  2. A well-written article and a reminder that it is the show that brought us all here. In fact, my biggest beef with the documentary is the relative lack of focus on the show itself. It never truly asked why or how this show is popular among adults.

    I’m personally not sure about the show “changing the world,” but there are an endless supply of stories of how it has changed people’s lives for the better. That’s something we shouldn’t feel sorry for.

    I still wish Lauren could view some the Season Two or Three episodes if only to show her that she left the show in great hands and they are sticking to her vision as much as possible. It’s amazing what they have done given the restrictions of its setup and that of the “acetate ceiling.”

    I do agree with you that it is important to remember that we are all fans and guests in this world. It’s fine if they do a fan shout-out once in awhile, but not at the expense of altering the dynamic of the show.

  3. The first generation of My Little Pony wasn’t anywhere near as “tea party” heavy as this article or even Lauren Faust make it out to be. G1 actually had some serious talent behind it, like Amazing Spider-Man writer Gerry Conway, who wrote the seminal death of Gwen Stacy arc and the introduction of the Punisher(?!), or voice acting god Frank Welker as a disgusting octopus trying to destroy the world. And My Little Pony Tales wasn’t that far removed from Doug.

    >>It’s not about “balance”; it’s not trying to appeal to everybody equally. Rather, it’s leveling the playing field.<>We had to teach kids to join gangs. And then to do whatever the rest of the gang wanted to do.<<

    Of course, because that was Ronald Reagan's America. You did what the moral majority demanded you do. "You don't like what we're doing in Nicaragua?" Reagan would ask. "Then move to Russia, you unpatriotic, freedom-hating communist." Remember, the success of Star Wars taught megaconglomerates that making movies and TV could rake in the big bucks, and during the 80s pretty much all the entertainment studios were bought out by said corporations. Since Corporate America and Reaganism went hand-in-hand, it's only natural the entertainment industry would reflect his moral majority politics.

    • Re: your first paragraph, I certainly agree. ‘Swhy I specifically called out “the last couple of generations” as being bland pap, i.e. G3 and G3.5 (the cotton candy castle era).

      G1 itself looked and sounded crude by modern standards (the pilot Rescue at Midnight Castle excluded, which actually is quite pretty, especially if you see a good sharp print of it), but it had its fair share of decent action/adventure stuff mixed in with a lot of goofy ideas that were at least creative if not particularly coherent. And MLP Tales was a perfectly serviceable “suburban teen” show, even if the characters being ponies was more or less incidental.

      G3 does have good animation and voice acting, especially early on. It’s the infantilized premise that turns most adults off, though. It’s like they grudgingly granted the audience a modicum of production budget, but in exchange took away any of the drama and fun that would have made them want to watch it in the first place. It took its new cast of talented actresses (many of whom we know in FiM) and gave them lines that amounted to little more than “cutchie cutchie coo”.

      It would be fascinating to know what trends and social phenomena they thought they were addressing with each of these series, and how.

      • I kind of liked a bit of G3, honestly. Whenever they acknowledged that the characters were kind of idiots, especially Minty, it was kind of funny. A little. If anything turned me off of G1, it was the fact that I watched the *second*episode*ever* (excluding the two specials), and when it was nearing the ten minute mark, I realized something was missing: ponies. Yes, in a show called My Little Pony, the titular ponies don’t appear for nine of the show’s eleven minutes.

        Also, I derped up the HTML when I was quoting something on my first post, as you can probably tell, and the reply/correction I added doesn’t seem to have registered or however it is your commenting system works. There should have been a paragraph in the middle (which was my whole reason for posting in the first place) where I said that the issue with cartoons isn’t dividing them up into a false dichotomy gender territoriality of “boys like this; girls like that”, but rather proving to both genders that good stories are good stories, period. I see no reason why fashion is inherently girly; after all, many men are obsessed with wearing stylish clothes and sharp suits.

  4. The most disappointing thing about speculating on how the impact of Bronies versus the impact of the show itself will shape the way for girls’ entertainment, is that there’s no real way to gauge it for at least a decade from now. There may be a slew of cartoons appearing in the near future that attempt to create their own spin on “girl entertainment for all” (already suggested tongue-in-cheek by the Care Bears “Belly bros” joke last May), but that would only be a smaller part of Faust’s goal for FiM. Goals that other companies would have additional, ulterior motives for undertaking (mostly business and marketing goals than societal goals). But once the original target demographic of FiM comes of age and enter the workforce, when female animators/producers begin to head shows of a similar vein and proudly say “FiM was for me; that was my childhood; that’s the kind of show I want to make,” only then can there be any definitive answer to whether Faust’s original aims for FiM were successful, or whether they were eclipsed by the influence of the Brony movement.

    And it sucks knowing that all most of us can do until then is sit on our thumbs and try not to drown out the voice of the target demographic.

  5. Wow.”Dear Princess Celestia: Today I learned that being a little girl must be a lot harder than I ever thought.” No, but seriously, I’ve thought about the excessively negative connotations of “girly” and what Lauren Faust must have intended. The prejudice for girls’ entertainment is hard to miss when you’re a brony. It’s as if it’s required to be of lower quality when compared to boys’. I never, however, looked at the world through this lens, one in which you see half the population growing up and learning to be themselves, and the other half, in even the best conditions, growing up feeling a bit lost in a world where there is nothing that feels as if it’s been made for them. It broke my heart. And having my own view of the world thus shifted, it’s not hard to believe that even a nudge from a show about ponies, under the right circumstances, might’ve changed for the better a generation of adults that are in the process of growing up watching it or watching their sisters watch it. So I’m a little bit sorry too.

  6. Y’know, I agree with a lot of what you say in the piece (very well written, by the way), but I also feel that you’ve missed out on one other key bit: this new adult male audience is going to be far more willing to introduce this show and others like it to their eventual female progeny.

    Speaking as a man, I can say that any daughter of mine would not have been encouraged to watch girl-oriented cartoons before this show came out. Now I am much more willing to at least give girl-oriented shows a chance. Additionally, it will give us something to share and bond over, something that I think was missing in girls’ cartoons of generations past. I doubt that Lauren’s father watched My Little Pony with her, but I’ll watch her My Little Pony with my daughter any day. Really, I think that is what is going to have the most lasting impact.

  7. This subject has been on my mind since I saw the “Lauren Faust” panel at Equestria LA on Youtube. While watching the panel, I had the feeling Faust didn’t want to be there. Her expression seemed stoic to me, and most of her answers didn’t seem to be what the audience had expected.

    Fast forward to the release of BronyDoc. I also noticed that the doc didn’t really talk much about the original conception of the show — a show girls can watch that had the same quality as any boy’s show.

    Fast Forward again to the recent news of Twilicorn. A [hopefully] small part of the fandom is up in arms over this; claiming Hasbro is taking over the show in their money-grubbing way. They think Hasbro is ignoring the fandom’s cries. That’s just entitlement, and it’s been bothering me so much. FiM was never meant for us in the first place, therefore, bronies should calm down, and let the show take it’s path. Twilicorn isn’t the only issue surrounded by entitlement. I don’t think it’s necessary to list any, but I’m sure you can.

    The last few paragraphs in this article are the most important thing a brony can remember, and I wish this article would be posted on Equestria Daily to remind them. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a good chance of that happening because of the subject matter. Thanks for writing this article as it put exactly what I’ve been thinking into words. I’ll be sure to pass this article along to the next brony.

    • My sentiments aren’t entirely negative though. I’d like to add that even though I say the last few paragraphs are important, I want to say that the “guests” claim isn’t entirely true. We’re all fans, men and women, regardless if it was intended. We just happen to be much more vocal and noticeable than little girls. We need to give little girls their day to shine, though. There are far more little girls who like the show than us, and we need to stop being entitled. That is what I was talking about in my “Twilicorn” paragraph in my previous post. ^^^

      • Considering that Lauren Faust herself hates Twilicorn I don’t think using this article to accuse dislikers of Twilicorn of thinking they are entitled is proper.

  8. So when can we expect your resignation from this web site? You know, one that’s helped cause many of these self-identified problems you claim the fandom has?

    Screw your logic:
    > Shows for girls are crap
    > Set out to change and make a girls’ show that’s good
    > Show garners acclaim for being good
    > You’ve failed because your girls’ show isn’t crappy enough
    > 50Goto10

    Glad to see rhetoric still has more pull than rational thought here on the internet. Most of us just like a good show, no need to make us feel guilty about it, you mule.

    • An excellent job of misreading the entire article, sir. Fifty points to your house of choice.

    • I’m so sorry to hear that you’re illiterate and can’t understand the issue of media coverage of a small part of the fandom and the appropriation of entertainment that was intended for everyone. You have my condolences.

    • You’re right, this tiny fansite that started as an offshoot of Something Awful on IRC and only typically gets like 15-20 people browsing at any time is clearly a major player amongst the likes of EQD, derpibooru, and /mlp/ and furthermore reading comprehension is for losers

      • The front page gets over 1,000 unique visitors per day on slow days (around 2,000 hits) and it’s the #3 news site in the fandom. I wouldn’t say we’re nobodies.

  9. Excellent article! I look forward more to the character-centric “girly” episodes rather than the action-driven ones.

    I cannot agree more with your hopeful point that MLP may lead the next generation of boys to think of girls with the same depth the show portrays them as. They’re no longer just the mysterious female on the pedestal, but a real, whole person with strengths, aspirations, fears, and faults of their own. I hope this is the takeaway lesson children get from FiM.

  10. I respectfully disagree. This is not Lauren’s “house” and we are not “guests.” Though Lauren and others may have created this art we are not obligated to interpret it in a certain way. If we get a different message from the show than was intended by the author that doesn’t make our interpretation any less valid. In the same way that one might objectively value the merits of a movie or other piece of artwork, but disagree with its message, bronies are not at fault for taking the fandom in a different direction than the author intended. I think Lauren’s intentions were noble, but I don’t think I’m as passionate about them as her and I don’t feel guilty for enjoying the show for other reasons. The show may be Lauren’s, but what the show means to us is ours. It’s not fair to expect us to interpret your show exactly the way you wanted us to. Bronies have not hi-jacked Lauren’s message, we have just created our own messages which are equally as valid. If anything Lauren’s just failed to catch on, though I would argue that isn’t entirely the case. As far as the fandom goes, this is definitely our “house” and we shouldn’t let the aspirations of some artist (however noble-intentioned and talented she may have been) get in the way of enjoying art for our own reasons.

    • Reading fail. The house belongs to the little girls the show was made for, not to Lauren Faust.

      • I don’t know about that.

        Hasbro paid for a show that little girls would want to watch (so they watch the ads and buy the toys) that parents wouldn’t want to turn off. Oh, and Rarity has to be into fashion. So they hired some heavy talent going in. [they also wanted the press buzz for launching a new network with new content, etc.]

        But to the show creators, they translated that requirement to:
        Make a good cartoon with a mostly-female cast with bright colors and no cussing. They didn’t forget who the show was supposed to be marketed towards, but they didn’t let that shape their ideas about what that should even mean, precisely because Faust was adamantly against that sort of thinking because that is the reason why “shows for girls” (or kids really) are condescending and shitty.

        So then does the house still “belong” to little girls then if the strategy is to not exclude them and make it seem girl-friendly (i.e. pink) based on pre-existing stereotypes, but only superficially?

  11. Femininity, masculinity, and social groups like Bronies are just meaningless concepts. You might look at one gender or age group and see diversity because some people are different from what you’d expect. Because you rely on culture to define what is normal for each gender and age group, you see the world as black and white, a narrow view of what it really is.

    MLP is successful because its creators did not see things in black and white. But you cannot dismiss the notions of what little girls like while also trying to appeal to little girls specifically, which is why MLP appeals to everyone. To say that it is strange for adults to like MLP, or to say that they are not part of the normal fan-base, is to deny the show’s broad appeal and its reason for success, and again to think in black and white.

    In ten years, no one will care about who liked MLP. People will remember the show long after they remember the fans, and while I understand your concern in this article, I do not think there is any need for concern.

  12. Articles like this are why I come here. My God, I wish I could write an opinion piece like what I just read. Every day spent suffering under Naval bureaucracy and ass-kissing while simultaneously wondering why I didn’t just be an English major (or something involving the mastery of using the language) is another day of self-inflicted torture; reading the kinds of pieces I wish I could be authoring simply pushes my own cognitive dissonance (to borrow your keenly-used terminology) even further into overdrive. God only knows what Lauren’s really thinking these days.

    Actually weighing in on the matter, I’ve been feeling similar shades of guilt for months now. It’s a feeling that’s magnified when I try to attend brony gatherings, mixed in with some of the other major problems myself and many others often identify with the fandom. “Entitlement” is a really excellent summation in that regard; all these issues that the fandom undoubtedly has can be easily traced from that one concept. “Oh, we’re so special and good, and we’ve made this show better by being fans, and look at all the stuff we make to support our obsession; it’s all that and a bag of chips, and it means everyone should agree with us on life, ponies, and everything.” It may be a tad superior-sounding to faux-quote the ideology like that, but it’s really easy to see this mentality in the fandom using hardly anything beyond a cursory glance. Detractors willing to go beyond more customary condemnations frequently pull this card on bronies, too, with the whole “how can you feel good about appropriating this show from the target audience the way you do” argument being tough to turn around. And man, Lauren…she’s achieved this strange pseudo-celebrity status that she can’t even properly embrace because of the way the real point is being completely obscured by…us. I have so many questions that she’d never be able to answer due to the potential negative backlash following certain answers, but damn do I want to know the truth.

    Y’know though, I can totally make this concept relevant to a philosophy I’ve been developing and sounding out amongst the community (to little percieved interest, but whatever) of late. Bronies enjoy being able to attach the universally-well-recieved kindness and charity concepts emerging from the fandom to everything about the fandom, but really these things are beginning to strike me as separate entities altogether. There’s the entertainment side to bronydom, which while important cannot be said to be truly game-changing to the fabric of society, and then there’s the humanitarianism, the importance of which can never be overstated in my eyes. Granted, these values garner far more results when pulled from mainstream efforts, but it’s more the ideals I’m concerned with here and less the current force of impact. Why is it that we can’t separate the brony concept from that of show obsession? Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to take the “lessons” and whatnot that the community seems to cherish and actually start truly focusing on them and less idolatry of the ponies that inspired said ideals? This would even serve a two-fold purpose: it would allow bronies to evolve and exist beyond the show into something truly adult, truly sincere, and truly special on its own while simultaneously returning the show itself to the spotlight of acclaim and letting it spread the “girly can and is good when done right” mentality in exactly the way the creator intended.

    • Sadly, much as your “heady wave of uncertainty and possibilities” found itself way tempered after the continuation of pony through seasons 2 and 3, my hopes for what bronies could become are frequently dashed as I observe the reality around me. I’ve been to two major meetups and one small-scale one, both observing and being a part of interactions within the group as well as group interactions with the non-brony public. I can safely say that what I’ve seen frequently:

      - heavily contradicts the popular community self-perception
      - delegitimizes the notion of bronies as a “mature” fanbase
      - perpetuates mainstream stereotypes on how bronies act

      I really hate saying it because I don/t want to bash this fandom that I have such an investment in and such high hopes for, but I will not deny the things I’ve witnessed. We do NOT know how to be individual ambassadors for ourselves. Should it really need pointing out that when two non-brony guests, who are pretty much CLUELESS to everything about bronies, are invited to an event by their brony friend, every brony in the room should want to tone things down and make a more easy-going, newcomer-friendly environment? No, apparently it means we should continue to be obnoxious, spastic, and insulting (with the old ever-present standby of “that’s gay” still in full effect), and if none of that’s enough, we can knock over water cups and have the people who caused (and are fully aware of) the mess not care at all while one onlooker (one guess as to who that was) struggles to get people to help him mop up the mess so as to at least TRY to look good in the eyes of both the new peeps and the establisment.

      I know I must sound like I think I’m so much better than other bronies. I do NOT want to sound that way, because I am NOT, and actively avoid trying to act that way in person, but it’s hard not to feel this kind of moral outrage given everything we claim ourselves to be on a near-daily basis online. Those people will undoubtedly return to their peers with negative first-hand impressions

      • Seriously, men obsessed with a girls’ cartoon using gay as a derogatory term? Seriously? Rarity would slap their uncouth asses into next week.

  13. *Stands on desk*
    Oh Headless my Headless!

    Yet again, you provide an article that doesn’t need to be agreed upon by everyone, but it provokes thought and provides points that we so rarely hear because we seem too busy patting ourselves on the back for liking this show. Considering how defensive I’ve seen a fair amount of people get whenever any aspect of the fandom is criticized, I’m glad to see there are still people out there willing to try and bring some of the entitled people back to their senses with this high level of writing. Bravo sir.

  14. As always, very well considered, well presented, and thoughtful. However, I am going to have to disagree with you on some fundamentals here.

    It comes down to this: does “separate-but-equal” really result in “equal”? I’m going to posit that we, as society, answered that question a couple of generations ago.

    It seems that there is a longing for a show that is great for girls, empowering, smart, and lasting, but which is only for girls. If we were to reverse the genders… propose a show that is inarguably fantastic for boys but for which female interest is a distraction… would that be okay? I think we can all agree that it’s not.

    However.

    Two wrongs do not make a right. Revenge does not put a grievance to rest. If it is bad for shows to be “for boys” and therefore by definition and requirement NOT “for girls”, then the reverse is equally bad. Stretching the analogy (but by less than you might think), would the “right thing” in Selma’s bus system have been a requirement that white people must ride in the back of the bus? Or was the right thing to do to say “colorblind society means exactly what that implies” and eliminate the distinction altogether?

    In the case of racial civil rights, as in gender value, I think we can agree that the goal should be “it doesn’t matter”. Why not then simply proceed on that assumption? If we took the course of “equal revenge” in civil rights, i.e. treat whites with the same contempt that blacks had been treated with, racial rifts would never heal and we’d be locked into an endless cycle of retaliation. Ratcheting it down a few notches, creating a show that is inclusive to girls but exclusionary to boys as some sort of unvocalized retaliation for shows that appeal to boys but are hostile to girls isn’t the right thing to do. It just deepens and justifies the barriers.

    Digging a trench between boys and girls then ensuring each side has an equal number of cool toys the other isn’t allowed to have just makes it worse. Let’s not do it, because we know it’s counterproductive and just plain wrong.

    Okay, let’s bring this back to the target demographic: eight year old girls. How many eight year old girls have even heard of a brony, much less care? How does our enjoyment of My Little Pony detract from theirs? Answer: it doesn’t. This isn’t a zero-sum game; for bronies to win it does not require than small girls lose. No girl who loves what she’s seeing on the Hub and therefore buying what she sees at Toys’R'Us is going to stop doing so because you and I are watching too and then shopping for pony merch at Hot Topic. And that’s a great thing.

    It may have incited a weird topspin on MLP in specific, but I guarantee you that the next time someone creates a show intended primarily for girls but which gets some interested boys too, it’s going to be not nearly as big of a deal. That motion toward a more inclusive Saturday morning (and society) will be standing squarely on the shoulders of MLP:FIM and Lauren Faust. And thirty years hence, just as we now look aghast at greying bitter racists (of all races) with the question “you actually believed that blacks and whites shouldn’t be allowed the same things?” our children will ask the same of us about gender roles and gender isolationism. They will (rightfully) come to the conclusion that there was something seriously wrong with our moral compasses.

    It is no bad thing to allow MLP:FIM to make that transition, that growth, a little smoother and easier for us all.

    Now, I have no idea whether any of this has anything to do with Lauren’s thoughts on the matter. Speculation… If anything, I would hypothesize that MLP:FIM took a greater stride than anticipated, and that her hurt was in finding out the hard way that MLP:FIM never truly belonged to her; it is Hasbro’s, and they get the final say. They didn’t simply cut her loose with a budget and a schedule. Looking at her filmography I think this was the first time she was dealing with someone else’s long-established commercial intellectual property, and she learned what commercial artists must all learn and internalize eventually: the one with the checkbook calls the shots. She wanted to tell her stories; Hasbro wanted to sell ponies (thus enabling them to pay Lauren to tell her stories); the shock of trying to reconcile that struck deeper than she had anticipated. Even Michaelangelo had to deal with that.

    I could also speculate that there is a subconscious disappointment that the show did as well as it did without her; that as absolutely essential she was to the show’s creation, it wasn’t all her. This isn’t a claim of egotism, merely an acknowledgement that we all want to be missed when we are gone. To be unnecessarily morbid, we want people to cry at our funerals, because if they don’t it says something bad about our own value to others. As she said in the documentary, it was a bittersweet thing to see the show go on without her. But she also very firmly said that the tone and foundation of the show was, and remains, HERS. And because that is true, I thank her and admire her to the very depth of my heart.

    But even the alienation she sometimes seems to feel has a silver lining. While MLP:FIM didn’t become what Lauren had wanted (regardless of how awesome it DID turn out, largely due to her), the fact is that now Lauren can go where she wants with the great success of MLP:FIM as ammunition, and do what she really wants. The fact is that if she wants full control, she can’t do it with someone else’s intellectual property. She’s going to have to do it with her own original property. If she says “I can make an awesome, successful show that will make you glad you invested”, people will believe her because the proof is there before their eyes. I believe that she has everything that it takes, including the credibility and the experience, to make it happen. If she decided to do the executive-level equivalent of a Kickstarter, “help me raise five million to get MY series done”, she’d get the money to make it happen, and this time because of her track record, she’d also get the control.

    It wouldn’t be ponies, but it would rock. This is simply a specific case of the adage “To create a perfect painting, become perfect. Then paint.” To make an awesome show, become Lauren Faust. Then make a show.

    See you on Saturday mornings.

    • Interesting thought; to me, though, it feels a bit… reductio-ad-Godwin’s-Law.

      It would be one thing if this were about legal rights, or public services, or the material appurtenances of life. But it isn’t. This is entertainment we’re talking about. Culture. Entertainment has every right to target itself toward certain subgroups at the expense of others, and that right is key to what makes entertainment fun.

      What you suggest seems to have as its logical conclusion an idea that all entertainment should be equally accessible by all groups, regardless of race, color, creed, sex, nationality, or anything else. And while that sounds nice, I think it would ultimately just impoverish everyone. There’s plenty of entertainment that literally anyone can enjoy, true; but lots of movies and TV shows and comedy routines only get to express themselves fully and connect with their audiences when they’re able to forge a connection with a small group at the exclusion of the population as a whole. I don’t mean like Pollack jokes (though that’s the logical extreme of this point); I mean like hip-hop music, Star Trek, The View. They all appeal to certain demographics more than others. It’s part of their identity. And what’s more, if they were consciously altered in order to be more broadly appealing to everybody, they’d just become less interesting and less appealing to what they had identified as their target audiences. Pony, for example. If it were retooled and de-gendered such that nobody thought to call it “girly” anymore, I think it would be far less special.

      Entertainment is culture. Different expressions of entertainment appeal to different cultural groups all the time. And I think that’s fine. I don’t think even the most ardent social-equality warriors have ever suggested that all cultures should be merged together into one big homogeneous mass.

      • If my position can be distilled to two questions/thesis statements, it would be these:

        1. Are cultural value and personal improvement in character to be derived more from inclusion than exclusion (and if not, does that weaken arguments promoting inclusion)? In my opinion, inclusive actions have far greater positive impact than exclusive actions, and the arguments presented do not add up sufficiently to be an exception.

        2. In the case of issues affecting two populations seen as in conflict, the thought experiment of reversing which population is in which role (in humor, in characterization and in privilege) reveals a great deal. If it is wrong for A to exclude B, why is it okay for B to exclude A? Is the cure for exclusion more exclusion? In my opinion, no, and the arguments presented are insufficient to qualify as an exception to this either.

        You’ve also drawn the wrong conclusion about my statements. I am not proposing that there should an explicit requirement of equal applicability; I am merely positing that an explicit requirement of inapplicability does more harm than good, and that resorting to the intent of exclusion doesn’t advance the discourse. As C.S. Lewis said in his essay “On Three Ways of Writing For Children” (well-analyzed here), good stories transcend age, while deliberately restricting your demographic guarantees mediocrity at best. I will claim that the same argument applies to gender, and therefor to the combination of the two.

        To use Lewis’ own words, from the aforementioned essay:

        Critics who treat “adult” as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be “adult” themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

        and

        The modern view seems to me to involve a false conception of growth. They accuse us of arrested development because we have not lost a taste we had in childhood. But surely arrested development consists not in refusing to lose old things but in failing to add new things?

        I do see where you are coming from, but I think you are (probably unintentionally) magnifying the negatives of the existence of bronies upon the original demographic, and that is misinforming your conclusions.

  15. Unnecessarily long wall of text. Go be pretentious somewhere else, no one cares about your shitty opinions candy-coated in fancy words.

    • Everyone has a right to an opinion no matter how much you may disagree with them and at least it’s a well fleshed out opinion unlike your little tirade here. Chill out dude.

    • Whoa. Bro, calm down. I, for one, care about the article. And Headless Horse is an editor on this site, a news site, where he writes editorials. He’s not just someone being disruptive by clogging up someone else’s forum. If you want to refute the article, that’s cool. But doing it by implying he doesn’t have the right to post it, or post anything at all, HERE of all places, simply because you didn’t agree with the content, begs the question of who DOES have that right. Not trying to call you out or anything, but I thought I should tell you I didn’t feel that the article was expressly trying to cause any offense, and I thought you came off as being unnecessarily hostile. You know: love and tolerate?

  16. Great article, but I gotta say it’s a downer for some reason. You’re making an argument along the lines of “I exist, and therefore I am part of the problem.” for the most part. Don’t you think that’s a little harsh? Especially since you seem to be painting the fanbase with some pretty broad brushstrokes. And while I realize people like you’re describing exist, I don’t think they speak for the entire fanbase.

    I mean, if the only way to solve the problem is to cease being a fan, then I’m sorry, but I will happily remain part of the problem. Though I also disagree with directing guilt at ourselves over it. The media was going to make us pariahs, no matter how well behaved the fanbase is.

    Finally, I agree with an above comment, in ten years, the show will be remembered, rather than the fans.

    • You don’t have to cease being a fan. Being a fan itself isn’t a problem. But you should definitely celebrate the core purpose for the show’s existence, and let Lauren (or others) know that you got what they were going for.

      • Oh, that should be a given. No one should lose sight of the show’s message or purpose. I’m kinda surprised that people who completely miss the point even exist. I don’t know though, I just got the message from the article the same message that came along with MLP discussion banned in several venues, albeit with a different intent. “This show is not for you.” when I respectfully disagree that the show can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of age, gender or sexuality.

        And I think Lauren saw the good number of people who did “get it.”

        • It’s funny, I think “this show is not for you” hits the mark pretty well, but in a way that works in your favor.

          It’s not used in the same way one would say “this medicine is not for you,” where it’s assigned to only one delegate and nobody else should partake in it. Rather, it’s used in a similar fashion as “this wedding cake is not for you.” It’s something that’s clearly designed to celebrate someone else, but it’s meant to be shared with many others. It’s OK to not care how delicate the trimming is as long as it tastes good; conversely there’s no need to be shouting about how tasty the cake is despite how much frosting is on it.

  17. I read the articular and it is good to see someone putting though into an point of view and backing it up. But I hate to say it buut you shouldn’t complain when a demographic than was a show was meant for takes up the fandom. Truly, when you create something and put it for the world to see, you have no control to who likes and who does not. SO if Lauren for this to revolutionize TV entertainment for girls and the fan base that picks it up and helps support the show is not the intended audience then tough. We should not, and have no reason, to feel bad because the show took the pro-verbal left turn instead of a right, that’s not our fault. Matter of fact, its no ones truly. Odds of anyone truly reading my response at this point is moot, Ill admit this. I think its selfish if anyone who created this awesome show is upset that it did something different, very selfish buut we are all allowed our opinions.

  18. Very nice article, I kind of felt bad reading it, but then I realized that one of the reasons I liked the show was because it was the first non-crappy “girly” thing I have ever seen, and I found it really cool that finally there’s “little girl cartoon” that isn’t total garbage.

    So I suppose I found the show cool not in spite of it being girly, but because of it being girly, and simultaneously not stiff boring and drowned in pink as we have grown accustomed to. And this comes from a guy who resents girly things, in boys and girls alike.

    However, with regards to your remarks that bronies are “just guests”, I have to disagree. Similarly I have to disagree with Ms. Faust’s or anyone else’s concept of “girls’ cartoons” and “boys’ cartoons”. I would go as far as to say that I’m slightly disgusted by your remarks that MLP:FiM is something “the girls” now have that “the boys” can be jealous of. Why? Why would the male sex be “jealous” of anything? Are they not equally entitled and capable of watching and enjoying the show as anyone else? You even demonstrated that fact to be true in the inverse scenario, with girls watching The Transformers and the like. Why is the fandom of MLP:FiM supposed to function like a women’s washroom? Why do we need to bloody gender-segregate entertainment like that?
    Isn’t the whole brony thing living evidence that the whole “boys’ show, girls’ show” concept is bull? That a good show can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of sex? From someone who seems to be very much for social equality, it is baffling that you would entertain the concept of “the girls” and “the boys” having different things. We’re human beings, why do we need to split ourselves into factions with different values and possessions, in entertainment or anywhere else?

    That said, I’m not very fond of the term “brony”, either. Why should there be a difference between bronies and other fans of the show? The term, I think, only serves to segregate fans, and to highlight the stigma that we are some sort of freakshow stepping out of their league.

    Excuse me, but I will have to sternly refuse your last remark in your article. I am a human being, I am a full-fledged fan of the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic just like anyone else, and I am no less a fan, nor am I a mere “guest” in the fandom just because I’m 18 years old and don’t have any lady parts, and neither is anyone else.
    Nobody has to be apologetic about being part of this great fandom because we “stole” it from “the girls” to whom the show belonged. Wrong. It belongs to everyone who enjoys it, not to just some arbitrary demographic of age and gender. Big or small, short or tall, boy, girl, something in between, gay, straight, black, white, orange or green, we all belong to the same fandom.
    I am a fan of this show and I am not apologizing for it.

    • And this comes from a guy who resents girly things, in boys and girls alike.

      Why do you resent girly things? Why not accept them, like you do with this show? What is wrong with being girly?

      Why would the male sex be “jealous” of anything?

      It’s a “the shoe is now on the other foot” situation. For too long girls have been sidelined while the boys get the run of the yard… so to speak. Males normally don’t have to be jealous of those things because they are automatically catered to by default.

      Isn’t the whole brony thing living evidence that the whole “boys’ show, girls’ show” concept is bull? That a good show can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of sex? From someone who seems to be very much for social equality, it is baffling that you would entertain the concept of “the girls” and “the boys” having different things. We’re human beings, why do we need to split ourselves into factions with different values and possessions, in entertainment or anywhere else?

      The reality is that the entertainment industry is dominated by men and producing things largely by men targeted primarily towards men (and boys), leaving things targeted towards girls in a ghetto that is underserved. The fact that Lauren had to fight tooth and nail to get even what we know today is a prime example. Hasbro cut the checks at the end of the day, but to say that she just walked in and made this show would be a gross misunderstanding of the circumstances and events that led FiM to exist in the first place.

      Boys and girls are not the same, though they may enjoy the same things at times, and to treat them both as “the same” does a disservice to two groups that may have different challenges in our society.

      Nobody has to be apologetic about being part of this great fandom because we “stole” it from “the girls” to whom the show belonged.

      That’s not what he was saying at all. Rather that the sideshow of bronies is distracting people from the real problems and challenges presented in our entertainment that is largely produced, written, and targeted towards men and their tastes.

      There’s nothing wrong with liking the show or being a fan on an individual level. You’re not stealing the show from somebody, but with the fandom at large making it about themselves, it distracts people from the real goals of the show.

      I enjoy the show, but I’ve become more cognizant of these issues over time because I’m older than when I first started getting involved in fandoms and I now have skin in the game, with my niece who is square in the target demographic. I hadn’t really thought about how media was targeting people until I actually went outside of my comfort zone and started watching TV, seeing movies, and reading books with her. I would say playing video games too, but she’s not much of a gamer. Video games themselves have a much more hyper-focused version of this same problem, by the way.

      • Thank you for this, kefkafloyd. Perfect rebuttal to the people not getting the point of this editorial. Especially this, “Males normally don’t have to be jealous of those things because they are automatically catered to by default.” It’s everything I’ve been wanting to say here but couldn’t find the words for.


      • Um, nothing? I just don’t like them. Accept and tolerate their existence I do, but I don’t have to like them. You want to act or look girly, or make/manufacture things that do, go ahead. No objections from me, God bless.

        By the way, I do not “accept” the show as you suggested by your semantics there. I bloody adore it.

        Of course there are things that cater heavily towards one gender, abominations Justin Bieber and Fifty Shades of Grey come to mind, former exploiting the raging hormones of largely heterosexual teenage girls but a truly good piece of media can be enjoyed by all, in my opinion. My point is that we don’t need to separate people into clans warring over who has the most stuff geared towards them, quality will win over all demographics. Lauren Faust tried to make a “for girls” show that is high quality, and in the latter part, she succeeded, but by doing so she automatically failed the former.
        That said I have no problem targeting certain demographics with media, it obviously works, otherwise it would have gone out of practice long ago, but to slap a label on it and say it’s “for girls” is just dumb.

        Different challenges that are imposed by the very society they live in. Again, nothing wrong with gearing towards a certain demographic with content, but to slap a label like “this is for girls” is an artificial way to do that.


        Exactly what I’ve been saying. “Bronies” are not distracting from the fact that MLP:FiM is for girls, they’re proving it wrong. It turns out, as much as Ms. Faust wanted to create a quality show for girls, by making it a decent show for girls, she ultimately ended up creating a decent show for everyone. And that’s what the show is. A show about ponies intended to be for little girls that turned out to be a show about ponies for everyone.

        You may know better than me though, as I don’t consume any popular media like TV to be ticked off by anything like that. But I do know that a good story and execution knows no gender boundaries, so I don’t think the solution to the dominance of male-oriented programming is more female-oriented programming, instead it would be the abolition of such concepts overall. I don’t see what stops one from enjoying a good piece of media just because they are of a specific gender.
        Things like Fifty Shades of Grey exploit the physical differences of male and female brains, where the female brain has a more natural tendency to visualize descriptions, that’s how it manages to acclaim such a gender-specific audience. I admit, it does do a good job at proving that women are just as much horny perverted beasts as men are(a fact that the book’s sales depend on), though.


        No argument there, as a guy who plans to get into the industry I can definitely confirm this. I actually feel that all the ‘manly’ games are more shallow than those aimed at a wider audience. The sexism of gamer culture also does a good job of keeping women out of the scene and “in the kitchen” as I facepalm to hear all too often.
        We definitely have to do something about that, and as someone who will hopefully work on video games in the future, I hope to remedy this problem.
        But it won’t be by making more girl games to balance out all the boy games, it will be by making good ones that everyone can enjoy.

  19. this article makes me feel proud to be a brony and guilty at the same time.
    whatchoo up to, Headless?? (I mean that as a compliment)

  20. Wow this is such an excellent article; very well articulated and thoughtful, I really enjoyed reading it.
    My two cents on the matter is that I guess we can just hope that in years time when the novelty of adult men enjoying a show about cartoon ponies has died down, people will eventually want to explore why so many people loved it, looking to the original intentions of the creators and in particular Faust’s, and learn that such a beloved show sprung from ideals that should be encouraged in other shows and media.

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  23. A superb article.

    I’ve only been familiar with the show once the 2nd season finished airing and went to Netflix. I feel fortunate that I could watch the episodes unfettered and at my own pace; I had yet to “join” the fandom at this point. I wasn’t being influenced by Twitter commentary, spoilers, the fandom itself, etc. I could make up my own mind. And I loved what I saw.

    As you said, many of the episodes would work with an all-male cast. And I agree that a female cast brings something special, something that a male cast just couldn’t pull off with the same effect. I’m certain I would not be this attached to the show if it had been more male-oriented. I barely notice gender in the show. I see ponies (and the odd baby dragon), not males/females. Maybe that’s the best compliment I could pay Lauren.

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  25. Great article, not so great title. Be proud of who you are, and if you are a brony, then thate is awesome. I’m a brony and I’m proud to admit it.

  26. I was watching this show i thought the show was boring but i said it looks alright after seeing what it had to offer i just came attached to it i can’t believe how amazing it was i found friends and others who like and hate bronies i am a normal guy but by watching this show it has changed me in a way i like what it has done to me i always put others feelings before myself. i have never done that this article has left me thinking what am i going to tell guys that like the shows in the article i mean i liked transformers the animated series because it was the only one there that made me feel happy. i know for a fact that Lauren Faust tried to make the show great but the first generations didn’t go as long as this has when i watch the show it takes everything that is in today’s time away and makes me do what the show tells me in a different way. love the article i hope this helps everyone see what the show can do

  27. I have not once called myself “Manly” for liking My Little Pony. I enjoy it because of its childishness. It does childishness right. It does not make me want to puke like Telletubbies, it is not covered in pink like Barbie, it is not mushy…well, the second episode of season was kinda mushy, but not the annoying kind of mushy like a lot of kids shows these days. And it does not make me want to rip out my hair from insanity like Adventure Time. My Little Pony is the perfect children’s show, because it does not dumb things down. Most kids shows treat kids like they are not smart enough to understand anything besides, “that is pretty”. So, given that this article does not apply to me, I had the desire to say something in this comment that would, if it were on public television, would be beeped out so much that it would sound like Morse code. But, I decided against it, because that would kinda cancel out the point I am trying to make.

    Not sorry for being a brony, what I am sorry for is that close minded people group me with the people that SHOULD be sorry.