Tuesday, 2 June 2015

When Life Needs 20% More Awesome

I've been in a bit of a bad mood lately. It's too cold, and despite hard searching, I am still unemployed, that's why I've been posting less frequently. It's really disheartening, and I feel like I'm in a slump. But, I don't want to be in a bad mood, I want to be in a good mood. So, today, I'm going to talk about something that makes me happy.
The Word of the Day is: 'BRONY'.
Brony /brōnee/ Slang A (usually major) fan of the animated television series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, typically an adult male. See also, pegasister.
I do not consider myself a "brony", because I don't really consider myself a "fanatic" when it comes to anything. But, yes, I watch and enjoy My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. This is not an April Fools Post, a parody or a joke and I am not being disingenuous, I genuinely enjoy this cartoon which was made for little girls and I'm not ashamed by it, I'm not particularly proud of this enjoyment either, rather I'm ambivalent about it. The only reason I never wrote a post about it before is just because it felt self-indulgent. I don't know how many of my readers like this show, but I want to change that.
So, today, let me tell you why I watch My Little Pony.

It started as nothing more than idle curiosity. I heard about all these twenty-something or older males that had watched and enjoyed it, seen videos of people geeking out about it and I was wondering what this phenomenon was.
To be perfectly honest, I thought that it was nothing more than a joke. Like a Rickroll, I thought people were encouraging others to watch the show, only to laugh if they actually did, like "Haha, I got you to watch a terrible show for young girls", and considering firstly that bronyism subculture seems to have become popular within the cesspool that is 4chan and secondly that shows targeted at little girls includes the likes of Winx Club, Tinkerbell and of course the original Generation 1 My Little Pony, the prospect of this being some horrible joke became just that much more likely.
But I decided that I was going to watch it, because I was genuinely curious. Either this was a terrible show, and I could use that information to write an exposé about the stupid joke on this blog, or it would be a good show, and I could learn something about writing for a female audience. Obviously, that exposé didn't happen because the show didn't suck . . .
I didn't go in expecting to hate the show, or like the show. I was just trying to absorb the experience, but nonetheless I entered this with a critical eye, and I watched the two-parter pilot episode "Friendship is Magic". I was absolutely blown away by how good it was. With everything that happened, I was trying to find something wrong, and I really couldn't. The animation was great, the characters were well-established, the dialogue was natural, the magic-system was consistent and the story was good and actually kind of epic.
Ever since, I've been watching and enjoying the show, genuinely interested in the characters and their story arch.

So, do you want to know what makes My Little Pony so great? Well, as much as I wish I could just say "it's awesome" twenty times, the truth is a little harder to grasp, since it's so basic. For example, let's look at "Friendship is Magic Part 1":
The story introduces us to the world of Equestria, and the history of its rule, with foreshadowing as to the upcoming conflict and its resolution. But after that, the episode lets conflict take a backseat, and instead shows us what's at stake and why we should care about anything at all, the first half of this pilot focuses on the characters. It introduces us to Twilight Sparkle, a bookish unicorn who has no friends; as well as her assistant Spike, a baby dragon that serves as her secretary. She then heads to Ponyville where she meets Applejack, a strong, rural apple-farmer; Rainbow Dash, a fast, adventurous pegasus; Rarity, a glamorous, unicorn fashionista; Fluttershy, a timid pegasus with love for animals great and small & Pinkie Pie, a goofy party-pony with a silly sense of humour.
Then a dark and cruel pony comes to Ponyville, disturbing the Summer Sun ceremony to enshroud all of Equestria in eternal night.

I won't reveal the whole plot, it's worth seeing for yourself [it's available on Netflix!], but each main character is so distinct, with her flaws and strengths all made obvious, it means that from the get-go we understand the stage as well as the players, and "Friendship is Magic Part 2" is entirely about the adventure and the resolution of this conflict.
Simply said, this does what a story is supposed to do: It gives us something to care about, then puts that in peril.

My Little Pony isn't good because it does something new, it's just doing something old properly - telling a coherent, intelligent story. My Little Pony introduces us to the characters, who have strengths, flaws and motivations within a well-established world that has an established history, society and a magic system which is surprisingly consistent. Simply put, it establishes characters, allows us to invest in them, then puts them up against a conflict, or in even simpler terms, it is a good story. There's not many other ways to say it, this is just how you structure good narrative.
But then, if the show is just "done properly", then what makes it so popular? Why are so many guys attracted to it? Why is it so popular that it's now approaching its fourth season after two movies?
Well, part of it is because we haven't really seen something like this before . . .

I have heard good things about Powerpuff Girls, and although I've not seen it, it looks rather funny. But beyond that, there's no real "good" shows for girls. And I don't know why. Back in the day, the ponies, fashion, pretty colours and "girl stuff" is all girls could get out of these girl shows. I don't really know why, presumably because of male domination in the industry, but they just didn't know how to make girl's shows. My leading theory is that when you went to an animation production team and mentioned "girls", they all collapsed on the floor, flailing and frothing at the mouth. So rather than think about what a girl is, they just pulled words like "rainbows", "ponies" & "love" out of a hat and tried to turn it into a show.
But I don't understand why it was difficult for them, it's not hard to write a show for girls, you do the same thing you would to make a good show for boys (character, conflict, motivations & flaws), just about stuff little girls might like; because that's what a girl is, before puberty, a girl is just a child that tends to wear dresses. This is why I never understood the idea that maybe these "bronies" were just gay or perverted for liking girly stuff; stereotyping aside it just doesn't make sense. Young boys didn't become fans of Pokémon because they liked animal abuse, or Yu-Gi-Oh! because they liked children's card games, so why would anyone become a fan of My Little Pony just for the ponies and bright colours? I don't know if I speak for everyone, but I liked shows which had good story, not just cool concepts, that's why I liked Yu-Gi-Oh!, but hated Dragonball, fighting and superhero powers just aren't enough.

But My Little Pony does that, it has a good story, not just because they have a good structure, but because the stories actually have a point. I don't believe in shows designed to just "distract you" like Teletubbies or Adventure Time, like some kind of cheap babysitter [I genuinely think if Adventure Time as Teletubbies for Twenty-somethings]. If you're making a show for kids, you need to engage their minds and get them to think. And My Little Pony does that with its message.
So, what's the show about? Exactly what it says on the tin: "Friendship is Magic". After watching a few shows, I started to think critically about My Little Pony, and I discovered that the purpose of this show is to teach girls about honesty, kindness, generosity, loyalty & fun; but also, it's about forgiveness, patience, trust and . . . well, every episode covers something different, but it's about methods of maintaining and troubleshooting friendship during times of crisis or conflict, it's about the value of friendship.
In my experience with girls, especially those of schooling age, their relationships can be quite volatile and transient, with friends and enemies coming and going and making for a very convoluted social web. While this is not true of all women, it's true of enough that it's an appropriate stereotype, so I think it's cool that this show focuses on identifying interpersonal conflicts, puts them in a fantastical setting, then explores ways to resolve them; it's basically teaching girls to be nicer to their friends and one another; and even if you're not a catty social pariah/queen bee, it's still about teaching everyone to be a nicer person. If I ever have a daughter I would insist on introducing her to the show, because the lessons to be learned are important for young kids learning about how to make and keep friends. But it's not pandering or patronizing, it shows these issues with a sense of humour, as well as a sense of perspective, such that it doesn't feel like an educational show, even though it is.

And finally, I think that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is so liked by its male audience because, well, it's so different to what guys are used to watching. The main characters of this show are six girls; the rulers of the land are two sisters; many of the villains are women & the recurring side-characters, the Cutie Mark Crusaders, are a trio of female, school-aged fillies. This means that we're seeing stories that we wouldn't necessarily have seen before, or which - if we had seen before - were made poorly, with more focus on character design than characterization, and more effort put into the style than the story.
And the show is designed for families, just like Disney and Pixar before it, Hasbro's show makes a show that can be enjoyed by more ages, with some jokes and references more esoteric, which grown audiences will find easier to decipher, and even the parts of the show that are just for the kids aren't mediocre, it never talks down to the audience, even though the audience is mainly young girls.
So, bronies aren't stupid, or intelligent, or brave or any of that crap for liking the show. So, I like it because it's well-made, funny and has a purpose. Sure, it's a lot more precious and adorable than what I'm used to watching, but it's still just as funny, intelligent and/or awesome as the shows we watched as kids . . . it just happens to be about magical, colourful ponies.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and this has actually cheered me up a little bit. If you like the show, drop me a line, and if I find enough readers that actually like this show as much as I do, I might even right future posts about it . . . maybe even fanfiction, but no promises.
Until next time, I hope everypony is ready for a milestone, because next post we'll be trotting into post #200!

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