I got a refreshing change in the SEB Mailbag the other day. In place of the usual poorly worded, barely coherent ranting I usually find there was a bit of fan mail that contained a Question of Utmost Importance! This is such an unusual occurrence that I thought I should go ahead and answer it here.
So here it is:
Hi SEB, I’m here to be a pointless distraction.
I’ve been a fan of your blog for a while, as I’ve always enjoyed the well-worded approach of telling people to go fuck themselves. I’m not just sending this to shower you with praise, however.
Being a person of reasonable knowledge of things happening on the internet, you’re probably aware of the sudden and unexpected fanbase of the newest “My Little Pony” show. This being sort of an interesting topic nowadays, and because I’ve got nothing better to do, I thought I’d ask you what your opinion was on the whole thing. I noticed you didn’t mention it on your blog, so you probably don’t feel too strongly about it, but I figured I’d ask anyways. That is all.
– Your pointlessly inquisitive reader,
Hiya Kripto! I’m always happy to be showered with praise as I was a middle child growing up and was starved of attention. Which probably explains why I’ve been blogging for so long. If someone gives me the slightest bit of attention I can’t help but soak it up as much as I can.
Anyway, yes! I am very aware of the huge fan base the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic show has garnered outside of its target demographic of young girls and tweens. I am also completely baffled by it.
You see, I’m old enough to remember when the original MLP toys were introduced some 30 years ago in 1981 when I was a mere 14-years-old. Like most toy companies back then, the first thing Hasbro did was hire someone to turn it into a 30 minute
advertisement cartoon series. Well, that’s not entirely true. They started with prime-time specials in ’84 and ’85, had a feature length film in ’86 (voiced by relatively big name stars like Danny DeVito no less!), and that was followed by the 30 minute ads TV series that same year. As I recall, the toy line was a huge success for Hasbro and the commercials were near impossible to escape if you were watching anything remotely kid-oriented.
Here’s an example from 1986:
I almost went into diabetic shock watching that clip. Also, why the hell are there so many people uploading vintage 1980 toy commercials to YouTube? This was just one of a ridiculous number of 80’s toy ads I was able to find, many of which were for My Little Pony.
Anyway, the original cartoon series wasn’t quite as successful as the toys and was canceled in 1987 after two seasons. There was an attempt to revive the series in 1992 with My Little Pony Tales, but it didn’t catch on and died a mercifully quick death. Sometime in the 2000’s they revived the toy line and did a number of direct-to-video animated shows that I have no idea how successful they were. You can read all about the original series and the toys over at TV Tropes if you really want to know more about it. I’ve managed to remain blissfully unaware of most of MLP’s history since the 80’s faded from view, but apparently someone couldn’t let sleeping dogs stay dead (or however the hell the expression goes) and decided it was time to revive its rotting corpse once more in October of 2010.
According to the folks at TV Tropes, it was Lauren Faust who took on the challenge of bringing it back. In the past she’s worked on other cartoon series such as The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. This probably goes a long way to explaining why the show has attracted fans outside of its target audience as both of those shows tended to do the same. It probably doesn’t hurt that the show’s creators interact with fans on the Internet and often make references to things the fan base has come up with in the show itself.
I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point after the debut of Cartoon Network there was a trend toward making cartoons that adults could watch with their kids without feeling like they were losing IQ points in the process. Many of which were good enough that some adults watched them regardless of whether their kids were fans. I know a lot of adults who are huge fans of Spongebob Squarepants and the aforementioned The Powerpuff Girls. I have been quite fond of shows such as Courage the Cowardly Dog and Invader Zim in the past and today I’m a huge fan of Adventure Time and The Amazing Adventures of Gumball. It seems that the folks behind MLP:FiM have taken that same approach with the revival.
Again, from the folks at TV Tropes:
The first season was helmed by Lauren Faust, a highly accomplished, Emmy Award-nominated animator — for example, she was the writer and director of The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. Friendship is Magic is her attempt to rescue the genre of girls’ cartoons by presenting a clever show with a strong and diverse cast of female characters who aren’t pre-occupied with fashion and boys. Her goal was to create an intelligent show for girls that boys and grown-ups could also watch without wanting to shoot themselves. By all accounts, she has done an admirable job of reaching that goal. Following the end of the first season, Faust stepped down as the show’s executive producer, but she will continue to work with the show as a consulting producer through production of the second season.
The show proved an overnight sensation on the internet, and even before the first season was over, it had spawned image macros and countless forum threads full of speculation and discussion; it also led to lots of males having existential crises about enjoying a “girl’s cartoon” so much. It also provides one of the best examples of Troper Critical Mass in action: one season of a show ostensibly for little girls contains hundreds upon hundreds of tropes, a Characters page, fanfics, and legitimate fanbases for every character under the sun.
So, after all of that, let’s get to your question of what I think about all of this: Personally, I’m deeply amused by it.
I’ve not watched the new show myself for two reasons. First, I’m still deeply scarred by the endless 80’s commercials and the horrible original show. I don’t recall why I ever saw the original show, but somewhere along the way I was exposed to it and it’s probably a huge factor in why I’m so cynical today. It was exactly the kind of mindless pablum put together by a committee that had no other goal than to maximize toy sales without spawning any kind of controversy that might negatively impact the brand that I think is partially responsible for most of the FOX News fans of today. To be fair, shows like He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and Transformers were pretty much the same except aimed at boys.
The second reason is because I don’t want to risk becoming a fan. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that someone took one of the worst shows aimed at young girls in the 80’s and turned it into something that’s not only intelligent, but has garnered a following well beyond the group it was created for. Nor is it a concern over it being a challenge to my masculinity — I’ve been known to paint my toenails on occasion. I’m just worried my head would explode from trying to reconcile my deep cynicism over the original show with how good the new one is.
However, the fact that it’s blown up into a huge meme is what I’m deeply amused by. There’s a certain amount of incongruity with, say, seeing a MLP image macro applied to a discussion thread on Fark or some other forum that I find funny. The fact that it’s gotten big enough to get a shout out from no less than Stephen Colbert is also highly amusing. Overall I’m supportive of the meme for no reason other than I appreciate the non-conformity of it and the general weirdness it promotes. Plus it has generated a lot of fun sub-memes such as the unofficial character known as “Derpy Hooves”.
If you’d like to read more about the spread of the meme you’ll find the MLP:FiM entry at Know Your Meme right up your alley.