Sunday, 8 July 2012

My Little Pony - Puns and Bronies

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has been a steadily increasing blip on my radar. Strangely not due to the quality of the show itself - although having viewed episodes from the first season released in Australia last month by Madman entertainment I can attest to just how much fun MLP is - but it was the passion it has inspired in fans, commonly known as Bronies that really caught my attention. In fact there was one mystery in particular that I was curious about - which Caitlin Major and Matthew Hoddy from online comic Space Pyrates were kind enough to solve for me -

Momus: So why are they called Bronies anyway?

MH: It stands for Bro's + Ponies.

Momus: Aha!

Course that would make this a short article, so I turned to two friends of mine Adam Crocker and Charles, confirmed Bronies both, to explain the ins and outs of this new fandom. 

 My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic began as a flash animation series that reinvented the 80's Hasbro cartoon under the aegis of Power Puff Girls artist Lauren Faust. Much like that other show it inverts expectations of 'girly' themes by instead ending the adventures of these multicoloured ponies with a positive moral that manages to not be condescending. Protagonist Twilight Sparkle arrives in Ponyville and befriends five other ponies who break her out of her sheltered ways. Each episode ends with Sparkle writing a missive to her mentor Princess Celestia explaining what she has learned about friendship through her interactions with Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Apple Jack and Fluttershy. It's a format that manages to lie somewhere between Mork and Mindy and Sex In The City, but surprisingly it works thanks to Faust's introduction of self-aware humour into the proceedings.

I asked the two lads to explain how they had happened upon the show -

Charles: I initially watched an episode after seeing a guy raving about it on a Transformers message board. I then had another look because a friend (Adam) kept telling me how great it was and I'd love it. This time I watched two episodes, and that was it for me....

Nerdy people I know in real life are aware of the show, but not all are fans - my girlfriend was aghast at the idea of me being a fan, then she watched some, and now she's also a massive fan. Lots of people I know mainly online are aware of the show and are usually fans or think it's alright; I'm not a major contributor to the fandom but I do hang around the edges, hoovering up fan material and doing the odd fic.

Adam Crocker: Well I had some friends who were talking about it, including one who has been a chum since highschool. I had always trusted her opinion on animation and decided to give the show a try after her and another friend brought it up at my big 3-0 Birthday bash. It was on YouTube and it was essentially me just indulging myself. I was simply not prepared for how much I enjoyed it.

I think a little background is called for here. I'm not a typical geek. I stopped following Trek in University and missed most of the major geek high points in film and television of the past ten years or so having not followed B5, Buffy, BSG, etc. I had become more of a politics and music nerd who appreciated comics for the mechanics of the art form, whose tastes could range from John Shirley to John Zorn at the drop of a hat.|

And here I was completely getting into this show about colourful, cartoon ponies.

I suppose part of what hit me is how the show completely went against any expectations of what I might have had about it. Growing up with Transformers and G.I. Joe, it was impossible for me to not be aware of My Little Pony, which I always regarded with trepidation and disdain being a boy who grew up on laser guns and sanitized violence.

Then again maybe because it was I had spent so long in the "serious business zone" of geekdom while simultaneously having moved away from my stereotypical masculine upbringing (as well as most of my friends in my adult life being women) that the ground work had been subtly laid for me accepting pony. My mindset was more "feminine" and I probably needed something lighter in life. It cannot be a coincidence that my Bronyhood coincided with me seriously investigating the work of Carl Barks.
Fan Parody The Maretrix

Adam also lists a number of fan sites that exist online offering up proof of just how popular this little show that could is, including Deviant Art,, or the MLP specific sites FiM and Equestria Daily as popular destinations for Brony fan-works.

My own understanding of the phenomenon was that there was no possible way such a mix of fans - notably young male fans - could embrace this revamp of a glorified toy advert without there being a subversive aspect to the proceedings. Both Adam and Charles were quick to correct my misconception of this though.

Adam Crocker: I haven't heard anything of the sort, though it's commonly agreed upon that the show does a nice job of subverting women's gender roles, especially in entertainment for girls.

And it seems that one unintended result, due to the large male peripheral demographic is that the show may arguably even subvert male gender roles. My own theory as to the surprising peripheral demographic of the show is that you have a generation of young men ready to cast off stereotyped masculinity. In that sense MLP: FiM serves a purpose not far removed from the Twee Pop of 80s indie music.
Charles: That depends on your view of what's subversive. As Adam says, the main thing it does is subvert traditional gender roles in kiddie fiction simply by having such a diverse cast of female characters who get to do everything, but that's pretty overt by Faust.

The main subversive thing for me is Rarity: a fashion-obsessed character with snobby tastes. In many shows, she'd be shallow, dumb, bitchy to people, or all three. Instead, Rarity's a businesswoman (businessmare?) and her fashion is presented as art that takes skill to produce, and her Element of Harmony is Generosity. That subverts a lot of tired tropes in cartoons and kiddie-fic.

Applejack is also presented as a businesswoman, and episodes revolve around both characters trying to make a profit or satisfy customers or expand their business - which I guess is subversive in our society because it tells girls they can own and run businesses.

It should also be emphasised that the show has an immense sense of fun, from the curiously adorable mania of Pinkie Pie to Fluttershy's painful, well, shyness, and the emphasis on punning throughout - the insertion of 'pony' as a suffix into most words such as 'everypony' leads to the inevitable mirroring of actual place names, such as Phillydelphia. Much like Roger Langridge's excellent series Snarked the show confounds the contemporary insistence on irony, instead serving up good humoured and clever adventures.

Princess Celestia: So Momus, did you learn anything about friendship from this experience?

Momus: I did Princess. I learned that I have awesome friends who will happily contribute to an article for my website at a pinch. Firstly Charles,  who ended up with six plastic ponies on his desk, watching him, despite having only meant to get one. And Adam Crocker who tries very hard at high-falootin' snobbery while being enamoured with cartoon ponies. He occasionally updates his blog I am Kicking Television

1 comment:

  1. As a self confessed bronie I cannot understand why I love this show. But I do. It's bright and just good natured. I also love shoot-em up games about zombies. Maybe it's all about balance.


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