WELCOME TO THE HERD
What’s this? An overly complex analysis of a weirdly popular kids show that absolutely nobody will read but was written and posted anyway in the vague hope to convince the author that he still has some kind of intellectual and humorous standing amongst his friends? I SMELL A SITCOM!
Anyway…. I’ve always found psychology to be particularly fascinating. Finding out what makes people tick holds a certain appeal to me, akin to taking the form of an aloof puppet master who controls the emotions of feeble mortals by using his superior awareness of the minds inner workings as the strings that make his toys dance and flail. But like Jeffry Dahmers backyard, that territory gets weirder the deeper you dig, and you tend to hit the particularly unsettling nuggets when you reach the “Internet” layer. Such is the case with what I’m about to discuss.
The existence of internet memes is nothing new. From Trollface to Double Rainbow to Over 9000….there are literally thousands of funny little fixations the online community take endless pleasure in wallowing in. I know firsthand how appealing something like the liberal use of Trollface can be (a full biography on Trollface can be found here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EK2tWVj6lXw) and have been avidly keeping up to date with the newest trends for at least 5 years now. But recently, something has popped up that has spread through the internet like herpes in a whorehouse. Ok that MIGHT be overdoing it a little, but it has already grown far beyond the boundaries of traditional memedom, and firmly taken root in the hearts (and scorn) of people everywhere. It’s strange, it’s infectious, and it will confound you.
I talk of course, about THIS.
Oh yes. It’s My Little Pony.
Chances are, upon seeing that video, the puzzlement has caused your face to become more scrunched up than someone drinking a glass of vinegar in a brightly lit room. But before you dismiss it offhand, scroll down and check out a few of the comments.
“Hi everyone. I’m a 24 year old male and I love ponies. Specifically magical sparkle ponies.
Not saying I have a problem or anything. It’s fricking awesome!”
Moonpony 1 week ago
Not exactly the sort of thing you often hear outside the cosy confines of Arkham Asylum is it?
This show, aimed specifically at 5-10 year old girls, has garnered an impressive following amongst males and females commonly aged between 18 and 30 years old. They follow the episodes, create fanart and fanfiction, design their own characters, and relish the chance to talk pony with like minded individuals. This meme hasn’t just spawned a sub-GENRE; it’s spawned an entire sub-CULTURE! Complete with all its own in-jokes and spinoffs.
But why? Why Ponies? Why these Ponies? What is it about this show that has created this perplexing fan base? And are these people likely to shank me in the kidney and wear my skin as a mask while they run naked and screaming into the night?
Well that’s what I wanted to find out. Sub-cultures have cropped up occasionally before, but they all had an immediate appeal I could understand. This one doesn’t, and I wanted to understand. But in order to do so, I had to tread the dreaded bog marsh of online forums, and knowingly subject myself to a show so sugar coated it makes honey and ice-cream look like wasabi and dog poo by comparison. “Well,” I thought. “If there’s a chance I might understand my fellow man better after this, then I guess it’s worth it. How bad can it be? And it’s not like I have anything important to do anyway, there has to be SOMETHING to all this” So into the monkey cage I plunged, to see how far I could take this whole ‘knowledge of psychology’ thing before feeling the need to stop just so I can throw myself into the gnashing jaws of an industrial woodchipper. Oh wait I already feel that need. Thanks modern music industry.
The first place I went was to www.knowyourmeme.com, an extremely handy website that chronicles any and all internet fads you care to think of. I first learnt simple generalities like the shows airtime and creators. The shows full name is “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”. It is developed by Lauren Faust, creator of the ‘Powerpuff Girls’ and ‘Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends’ in association with Studio B and Hasbro. It airs exclusively on the American kids channel “The Hub” and has been running since October 2010. As of today, the first 20 episodes are all available online. This means the only way I got my greasy hands on it is via YouTube and fan sites, which the creators openly condone due to the shows limited reach. I also got my first taste of the rationalisations people use to justify watching a magical toy pony have a slumber party with her friends. There seems to be two definitive camps on either side of the craze: Those die-hard fans called “Bronies” who have been swept up in all the guffaw, and ‘Neighsayers’ (see what they did there) who are either baffled or repulsed by grown men watching a children’s cartoon. And yes I know there is always another camp stuck somewhere in the middle of these arguments that consist of peace loving good Samaritans channelling the spirit of Ghandi. But they are often motivationally uninspiring so for the sake of settling a petty dispute with third person perspectives, the middle group won’t get much attention here.
CAMP A: The Bronies.
Not to be confused with a ‘Jabroni’, who never seemed to be able to smell what The Rock was cooking, the Bronies have spread far and wide, and have dozens of cute little terms and phrases. “Welcome to the Herd” is a Brony saying for greeting people who are new to the whole craze and have just recently been hooked on the show. They replace words like “everybody” with “everypony” as the shows characters do, and they even have “Confound these ponies” which expresses a playful hatred of their pony addiction. The reason Bronies often get people offside is that they give no consideration to outsiders as to just how strange it can look to someone who has no idea what is going on. The general motto and creed of a Brony is “to forgive and forget” a parody of the creed of the notorious online group “Anonymous”. Forgiving and forgetting, tolerance and love…these things make it extremely hard for anyone to anger a Brony, because when met with hate, they will respond with love. The Bronies arguments for loving the show can be narrowed down to four things. 1: The animation is good. 2: The story is great. 3: It’s unexpectedly funny. 4: It was developed by Lauren Faust.
Alright then, they all seem like valid reasons. I’m still not quite getting why the show deserves its own armada of followers but we are making baby steps here, let’s see what else I can find out before I actually watch the show.
I then opened the gates of Mordor and entered the online forums, specifically….4Chan. I actually learned the most about the two opposing sides from browsing forums. But as a consequence, I was also exposed to immense stupidity, inexcusable ignorance and downright idiocy. Why I’m even surprised anymore is a complete mystery…I mean…have you SEEN that new Rebecca Black ‘Fried Egg’ musical abortion? Bleh.
4Chan is responsible for a great deal of the memes and fads that get spread around the internet. Not only does the community tend to actually generate most of them, but once they do, the fad spreads like a plague. When I first heard of the fixation on my hub site of The Escapist, I instinctively blamed 4Chan for its popularity (as most would). But in actuality, the pony fixation didn’t stay isolated to 4Chan for long. Users who created endless pony threads with no apparent purpose were told to “go start their own pony forum”. So that’s exactly what they did.
CAMP B: “The Neighsayers”
The “Neighsayers” as the Bronies have dubbed them, are much more scattered than those who have joined the herd, mainly because Neighsayers consist almost entirely of people who have taken one look at the show and its fanbase, then drawn the following conclusion.
The tragic part is, they are right about a small percentage. But that percentage is generally shunned even by the Bronies themselves.
Neighsayers would often flood pony threads with images of gay porn and gore out of spite for what they saw as something childish and stupid, but this didn’t deter the fans, who have since created their own tumblr pages, forums, and websites.
Amongst all this, I wondered if the show’s creator, Lauren Faust, had any idea about the whirlwind she had created. As it turns out, she does and couldn’t be happier. She and the staff often comment on forums and YouTube videos made by adult fans. She is also displeased by people who state that it’s scary for a bunch of sexually repressed manchildren to like a show made for little girls. She addressed this by commenting…..
“Honestly? I think people who call them that are ignorant a-holes. I didn’t make this show for little girls. I made this show for little girls and their parents, including male parents. It only stands to reason that adult animation fans without children may enjoy it too.”
“Well” I thought. “I think it’s about damn time I started watching this show. I’ll finally get to see what it’s like.”
Let me transcribe my thought process as I watched the show itself.
“Hmm, ok wow yeah, the animation is really slick and distinctive, nice to look at, nice to listen to and very well done.”
“Ha-ha that was a clever little Easter egg for the parents watching…good stuff”
“Oh this is so adorable…this show could get by on cute value alone”
“Well it’s about time to go to sleep now, I’ll just download and watch the thirteenth episode and then I’ll…….wait….wait what? How did I get here?”
It’s official now. This show is addictive. DAMN addictive. I had ploughed through at least ten episodes in one night and not even noticed because I was so entertained. But….but the show is saturated in pink and flowers and moral lessons and….and……just one more episode. My hands turned to hooves, my hair grew into a mane, and I started snacking on hay. I had become one of them, and I didn’t even realise it.
I had been suckered in faster than a fat gut when the hot secretary walks by. But how? How can a show aimed solely at little girls possibly appeal to a 20 year old male who thinks Robot Chicken is comedy gold? Well there are dozens of reasons, but for the sake of practicality I’ll try to outline the main ones…
My first impression was because the show was so saturated in sugar and pink and happiness and friendship, that it had completely transcended all legitimate attempts at appealing to young girls by pandering and just become a totally self-aware parody. Another big part of its appeal seems to be just that it provides a drastic escape from the norm, a subject where anyone can immerse themselves in some light hearted, harmless immaturity…complete with silly ponies, unicorns, pegasi, dragons, hydras and manticores.. But the more I watched, the more I realised that there was more to it than that.
The comedic timing in this show, is absolutely pitch perfect. Way more than it needs to be for a show about ponies for little girls. It switches effortlessly between goofy slapstick, sneaky sarcasm, irony and parody. Most modern children’s programs are content with basic one-note characters that fall down occasionally and never progress or butt heads with recognisable personality traits just as the children watching would do in the real world. But MLP goes the extra mile to craft clever characters that actually conflict with eachother and resolve their differences sensibly.
The episodes keep not just kids entertained, but the adults watching with them. The in-jokes for the parents are everywhere. Episodes directly parody Benny Hill, The A-Team, Lord of the Rings and even go so far as to get topical on atheism and religion. At one point, Twilight literally gets up on a soapbox and bluntly proclaims that she won’t believe in anything she can’t explain. These kinds of symbols and references are common. The characters face dangers, bullies, and petty squabbles.
You might wonder to yourself…”Well, so what? There are loads of animated/fictitious shows out there that use the same story mechanics as this. Why should this be any more interesting or hit any closer to home than say Futurama? Or Family Guy?” Well thats because the entire point of MLP is educational, social interaction, rather than humorous social commentary. The shows success hinges on it’s ability to communicate friendship and understanding, not on constant laughs.
The extremities of personality conflict are helped greatly by the fact that the characters are relatable, diverse, and reflect the extremes of personal traits very well. They all have diverse and instantly recognisable characteristics of their own which makes it easy to relate to any one of them. And again, these characters are fleshed out MUCH more than they need to be for the purposes of a kids show. The six main ponies are as follows:
Twilight Sparkle: Putting aside the fact that her name just bleeds irony, Twilight is the team’s de-facto leader and the character who you relate to most. She is very booksmart and intelligent, but often can be judgmental and critical. At the end of every episode she has a “Mork calling Orson” moment where she writes to the princess about what she has learned about friendship. She is assisted by her young dragon friend, Spike.
Applejack: Honest and reliable, Applejack represents the good natured, hard working person we all wish we could be. Although sometimes stubborn and bites off more than she can chew to prove her value, she always goes above and beyond when needed.
Rarity: On the surface, extremely vain and shallow. But it’s pretty obvious that if you go a little deeper, you’ll find insecurity, and the feeling of pressure to always be the perfect person. The same is true of almost any vain person you care to mention.
Rainbow Dash: My personal favourite, Dash is responsible for spawning the two most popular phrases used by fans (“20% cooler”…and…”Ten seconds flat”). She is brave, headstrong, and tomboyish. Her rainbow mane and boisterousness stereotypically make her a lesbian in the eyes of fans, which has become a running joke when making art, images or reaction faces of her. Dash represents the “leap before you look” aspect of personality, and is one of the most entertaining characters in the show. Her “Sonic Rainboom” has made her very popular.
Fluttershy: The sweetest, most demure, and kindest creature ever to grace a television, Fluttershy is literally scared of her own shadow. The show does well when it uses her as a subject to help promote finding your own courage while still sticking to your good nature.
Pinky Pie: The living embodiment of a sugar rush, Pinky Pie is like a Looney Tune who wandered away from the group one day while chasing a balloon. Her mouth moves as fast as Rainbow Dash can fly (and Dash can break the sound barrier). As the joke character, Pinkie is the one most likely to appeal to the target demographic. But even though she is often the subject of the shows most childish moments, the creators have really gone out of their way to make her one of the cutest and downright funniest characters.
Other notable characters include a background pony, fan-named “Derpy Hooves”, for her unintentionally cross-eyed appearance, DJ-PON-3 the disco pony, and Dr. Whooves, named after Dr. Who because he keeps inexplicably appearing in the background multiple times in the same shot. March 1st has even been declared “Derpy Day”. Ways to celebrate include wearing grey, making derp eyes whenever a picture of you is taken, and eating muffins.
The important part about all of them is that you can see a piece of yourself in each one. Whether its vanity, stubbornness, or just plain stupidity, it’s hard not to relate and personalize one some level.
It also goes without saying that the animation is dynamic, inventive, and gorgeous. It’s easy to make comparisons to Pixar. Not for baffling CG quality, but for sleek, smart animation used to personalize each character and their emotions in the best way possible. Another similarity to Pixar is the ability to spot exactly how the episode will end, yet still taking enjoyment in watching.
Speaking of things coming to an end, it’s about time I wrapped this up.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic….is a children’s show that feels like it belongs in the halcyon cartoon days of the 80’s and 90’s alongside shows such as Angry Beavers, Rocko’s Modern Life, Dexter’s Lab and CatDog. It’s slick animation, fantastic comedic value, and genuinely valuable life lessons that young people can really take to heart and learn from make it a shockingly good kids program that is in seriously short supply these days.
And just like the cartoons of the 90’s, the show goes out of its way to deliver quality production value and great character originality, keeping the adults who have to watch it in consideration.
It’s loveable characters are so endearing that they have clopped their way into the hearts of thousands, and are now used to convey some of the most accurate and funny reaction faces, phrases, and attitudes on the web. The show is smart, funny, adorable, and a refreshing change that has earned my appreciation and respect, even though it was made for adolescent girls. A rare thing indeed.
But of course, it might not be your thing, and that’s understandable. But before you immediately dismiss it and claim that all fans over the age of 10 are a bunch of lonely web-trollers sweating themselves to death in their mother’s basement…give the show a chance, because it might just surprise you and convince you that it can be good to give new or strange things a chance, just as it convinced me.
At the end of the day, you have to apply the same rules to the Ponies that you would to anything else. I’m not a religious person in the slightest, but if believing in something has enriched your life for the better and you aren’t hurting anyone, then good for you. Perhaps this can best be summarised by Twilight Sparkle herself when she said….
“There are some things in this world you just can’t explain. But that doesn’t necessarily make them any less true. It just means you have to CHOOSE to believe in them. And sometimes, it takes a friend to show you the way.”
Sometimes it’s good to re-learn as an adult, what you were taught as a kid.
Some clips and musical mashups from the show:
—Part one of the first episode—
—A very cute moment with Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy—
—A mashup between clips of Pinky Pie and Twilight Sparkle….and the Pinky and the Brain theme—-
—The Lord of the Ponies—
The Elder Scrolls VI: Equestria
Episodes, art, and community:
As long as you’re on Tumblr…..
(I take no credit for any of these video’s, pictures or of course, My Little Pony. But be honest would you have believed me if I said I was the one who made it? Doubtful.)
Feedback is most welcome! Tolerance and love to all!
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