Ok, sorry this is later than planned. This weekend was INSANELY busy here. Daddy got invited to a housewarming for a coworker (or former coworker), and it was something like an hour drive out of the way. Then yesterday, we were out a lot doing the shopping, plus painting the front deck, and yeah, busy. In addition to that, I hadn’t yet decided which thing to start with, so I decided to go with one that’s a little less controversial to start this thread going. Today, I’ll be talking about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
I know I said that these would be my guilty pleasures, but there is no guilt in my pleasure over this show. Yeah, a lot of people think it’s weird that a 30 year old likes it, but screw them. This show is awesome. And yes, there has been controversy over it from the feminist sector, such as this post on the Ms. Magazine blog. However, a great thing happened. Lauren Faust, creator of the new MLP series, came across that post, read it over, and then responded with her own post on the Ms. Magazine site, discussing her intentions behind the series.
In short, she said up front that she was sick of shows marketed toward girls where it’s hard to tell the female characters apart, because they were all basically just palette swapped versions of each other. She was also sick of how the monster of the week was defeated every time by the girls either being friendly to it or by crying and causing it to feel guilty and turn over a new leaf. She tried for years to get others interested in a show that was more realistic in regards to the diversity of what it means to be a girl or a woman. Finally, she got her chance with MLP.
First off, in the world of Equestria (the land where the show takes place), there is no such thing as matriarchy. Characters are largely treated by others based on how they act, not based on their sex. Additionally, the land is ruled by a pair of women who are sisters, one who rules over day, and the other over night. Within this structure, they show that while the princesses rule, and have very important jobs, they are still capable of learning from their subjects just as they can teach and rule them, and that it is important to care about their subjects.
On top of this, each of the six main characters, often called the Mane Six by fans, has her own unique personality. Yes, we do have the extremely fashionable, girly character in the form of Rarity, but rather than being a shopaholic who is fashion obsessed, she’s a fashion designer, and thus for her, it is both her art and her appreciation of the art of others. Another character who resembles the more stereotypical feminine image is Fluttershy, who as her name says, is shy, quiet, and demure. Additionally, she’s the caregiver of the Mane Six, always looking after woodland creatures. We also have a pair of athletic tomboys, but different forms of athletic as well. In Apple Jack, we have the country cowgirl, capable of running, herding, farming, and all things associated with being a cowgirl. Her counterpart is the jock, Rainbow Dash, with her brash, adventurous spirit. Finally, we have two other character types: the socially awkward bookworm who is finally discovering the joys of friendship (Twilight Sparkle), and the fun loving, sweet toothed party girl (Pinky Pie).
This isn’t to say that the characters don’t have their faults, advantages, and growth. For example, Fluttershy, the timid (scared of her own shadow), quiet (only speaks in a whisper when we first meet her, and still speaks softly throughout the series), and unassertive girl gets quite a few moments to shine. Early in the first season, one episode has the Mane Six tasked with saving the kingdom from the smoke of a sleeping dragon. Fluttershy is brought along for her knowledge of animals, only for it to turn out that she’s terrified of full grown dragons, even though she’s ok with baby dragons (something pointed out in the episode). Her friends try to wake the dragon and convince it to move somewhere else for its nap in their own ways, but finally, the dragon starts rampaging and attacking them. This sets Fluttershy off, and she gets a burst of assertiveness, shouting at the dragon to not be a bully.
Another episode in the second season shows her struggling with assertiveness in day-to-day situations, to the point that others take advantage of her. So after failing to follow the advice of her friends, she attends a self-help seminar, taught by a minotaur who is a walking parody of all assertiveness seminar speakers. Fluttershy takes the messages a bit too literally, becoming a bully, only to finally learn that she needs to find a healthy medium, that it’s ok to say no without being aggressive. In the fourth season, she has an episode where she learns that sometimes the kindest thing you can do for someone is to not coddle them, but instead to be firm and insist they learn to grow and care for themselves. All of the girls have such growth stories, episode where they learn to overcome their faults while remaining true to themselves and their strengths.
Another issue the show deals with in interesting an creative ways is race. Rather than the color they are, the ponies are divided into races based on actual physical capabilities. Three races exist: the magical unicorns, the flying pegasi, and earth ponies. Throughout the show, we see them living in a time where all three races of ponies live together and interact with one another equally. Various towns and cities have their own culture, based on the type of pony that founded that place, but by and large all are treated equally. An example of these differences comes in the episode dedicated to the start of spring, where we find out that the royal city of Canterlot where Twilight grew up, founded by unicorns, uses magic to bring about the change of the seasons, whereas her new home of Ponyville, founded by earth ponies, does it via the more industrious and mundane way, manually removing the snow, planting seeds, etc.
Taking this further, there are actually a few episodes where the issue of racism is brought up and showed to be the terrible thing it is. In an early episode, we are introduced to Zacora, who is a zebra from a far off land. The people of Ponyville are all terrified of her, thinking her to be some kind of evil enchantress, which Twilight initially scoffs at, trying to explain to them that she’s just a person from a different land. Eventually, she falls to peer pressure and starts believing the rumors might be true, just in time to learn that she was right at the start. Another great episode which also includes the issues of classism, imperialism, and religion is the “Christmas” episode. I put hat in quotes, because in Equestria, their winter holiday isn’t one of religion or spiritualism or anything like that, but is instead a celebration of their history, specifically of them overcoming ancient racism.
In this episode, the Mane Six are putting on a holiday play telling the story of a time when the three groups were divided rather than unified, and each girl plays either the leader or the adviser of her respective race. Classism comes in in the form of how these groups are divided: the unicorns are royalty, the pegasi are a military civilization, and the earth ponies are humble farmers lead by a chancellor. The three factions are fighting among each other over food during what is essentially an ice age. Eventually, all three factions decide to move away, finding a beautiful land that they claim for their people, except all three claimed the same area. This leads to the leaders of the three groups fighting amongst each other, which inevitably causes the cold to come again, brought about by magical creatures who fight on anger and hate. The leaders are frozen solid by their arguing and fighting, leaving the advisers trapped with them, where they admit to each other that they don’t actually hate one another, and discussing their commonalities. This leads to the beginnings of friendship and respect, which puts an end to the storm, freeing the leaders.
This is not to say that the show is without its faults. As Faust mentioned in her post, there aren’t as many male characters as there could be, a problem of executive meddling. Additionally, not only are males relegated to the roles of support characters, they are often shown to be actively incompetent, just there for comic relief or to push the plot forward by causing a major problem that needs addressing. While not inherently a bad thing in and of itself (many shows reverse this with women in supporting, comic relief, or villainous roles), it can lead to a lot of cries of reverse sexism and misandry. By definition, neither of those can exist, because women are not the gender in power in our society, but it can turn away a lot of people who buy into societal misogyny. This includes the parents of girls growing up who could get positive messages from this show.