Confound These Ponies


[EDIT: Six months after writing this post, I wrote a follow-up about how my views on MLP:FiM have changed since I first saw the pilot episodes and wrote this article back in February of 2011.  Click here to read Confound These Ponies 2 (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Ponies).]

The other day, I was browsing Know Your Meme, a favorite site of mine.  Basically, it’s a collection of articles on internet fads, phenomenons, and inside jokes, and as I looked through the list of trending articles I found this entry about a new My Little Pony cartoon.  Curious as to how that could possibly be considered a meme, I opened the article and read the unusual tale of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.

The cast, clockwise from top left: Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Celestia, Applejack, Fluttershy, Rarity, Spike (the dragon), and Twilight Sparkle

As it turns out, MLP:FiM (as it’s come to be abbreviated) was created by veteran cartoonist Lauren Faust as a reboot of the popular cartoon series based on the equally popular line of children’s toys.  Apparently, Lauren was looking to create a wholesome cartoon for young girls that boys and adults could enjoy watching as well, but I don’t think she was expecting to meet with quite so much success on that last part.  The show’s popularity exploded in the young adult male demographic as male fans of the show, calling themselves “bronies”, spread MLP-based memes on image boards and forums and encouraged their friends to check out the show on YouTube.  Suddenly, Lauren Faust’s deviantArt page filled up with comments from males who had become hooked on the show and wanted to thank her for making the cartoon.  YouTube videos of the show also exhibited massive numbers of comments from this group, many wondering why in the world they enjoy the show so much and jokingly exclaiming, “Confound those ponies!”

Naturally, I, too, was gripped with curiosity as to what was going on, so I did what any good researcher would do and watched the first episode.

Confound those ponies!

As it happens, the first episode is a two-parter, and I found myself actually interested in watching more.  As I did, I started wracking my brain for answers as to what gives a girls’ cartoon based around cheerful horses such a bizarrely universal appeal.  I think there are a lot of answers to that question, many of which fans have already addressed.  They discuss how the show doesn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence, how the artwork is carefully detailed and engaging, how the voice acting and writing are well-done, or how the characters are unique and fun to watch.  Granted, all of those factors apply here, and they will give any TV show a level of mass appeal, but I think there’s something deeper at work here, something fundamental to what it means to be a man.

I know, that last sentence sounds really weird, but bear with me.  Obviously, the widespread popularity of a show called “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” among guys raises questions about why any man would enjoy something so clearly non-masculine.  A common comment on YouTube videos of the show is, “I’m a 19 year old guy and I enjoy this show… what’s wrong with me?”  At first glance, that seems like a valid question, but I’d like to suggest that there’s nothing wrong with this situation at all.  Instead, it points to something very right that we’re all missing here: treasuring innocence.

One of the defining qualities of MLP:FiM is its unbridled (pardon the pun) innocence.  In a stunning contrast to just about everything in popular culture, Friendship is Magic contains no vulgar humor or hidden double meanings.  Instead, the show centers around six cute, innocent characters and how much they genuinely care about each other.  They may not be perfect, but they always come around, own up to their mistakes, and reconcile their differences.  Every one of their adventures ends with a lesson learned, and in another departure from the norm, those lessons are consistently morally sound.  Suddenly, the idea that there could be something wrong with appreciating that seems less reasonable.  I believe that men were made by God to have a deep, heartfelt response to innocence and purity.  Picture the father, holding his newborn daughter in his hands.  He wants nothing more than to protect her, to preserve her, to keep her this perfectly innocent forever.  It’s the same sort of thing on a lesser scale, I think, with MLP:FiM.  In the dirty world around us, we are drawn to something so clean and adorable and unspoiled because as men we are made to treasure innocence.  While we are wired to be providers, defenders, and heroes, how can we fulfill that role with nothing to defend?  And why would we defend anything if we didn’t value it first?  We are called to guard the feminine and the innocent around us, so why should we be surprised when we find that we can identify with something that celebrates those same values?

Obviously, there are a lot of interesting anthropological and spiritual arguments that could be made about this strange turn of events, but I don’t have the time or space to address them all here.  All I have to say is, men should never be ashamed to recognize and applaud something that celebrates purity, innocence, and friendship.  Just don’t forget that how you promote those same values in your life is what truly matters, because you’re the one who can really make a difference in defending and promoting the beauty of innocence.

What do you think about the brony phenomenon?  I’m absolutely sure that I missed several dozen angles to the questions raised here, so please add your perspective to the discussion, I think there’s  a lot that we can glean from it.

Oh, and here’s a link to a YouTube channel with all of the episodes if anyone is interested.

The featured image for this post is the property of Hasbro and Lauren Faust.

EDIT:  My heartfelt thanks go out to Myke Greywolf and Choppasmith for your encouragement and for posting a link to this post over on Neogaf.com.  Thanks to you two my little blog has received a record number of hits on March 1st and over twice that many the next day.  It’s nice to see other people appreciate the show for its goodness instead of passing it up because the title sounds too cheesy.

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21 Comments

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21 responses to “Confound These Ponies

  1. Hiya. I found this post via a Google search for “Confound these ponies,” and I’ll try to respond to your points as best I can.

    First, background: I’m not a prominent contributor to the “brony” phenomenon, but I am a 26-year-old male who has been a dedicated fan of Friendship is Magic since it debuted. My brother and a few friends of mine have also become fans ever since I suggested it to them.

    Second, perspective: I agree that the writing, characterization, animation, music direction, and so on are all standout aspects of this show, particularly considering the general decline in cartoons I’ve observed over the past several years. It has been a few years since I’ve liked a cartoon enough to keep up with it like I do FiM, and it has been *several* years since I’ve adored a cartoon this much. I love all six of the main cast and quite a few background characters besides.

    Third, response: This innocence you’re describing, which I’d also agree is a significant contributor to the show’s appeal, appears to me to stem from a remarkable lack of basic malice. Scores of cartoon “heroes” and other starring characters have shown themselves to be abruptly malicious depending on the situation and/or intended humor. Brats, whiners, jerks, snobs, backstabbers, vipers – all these and more pop up in seemingly every media creation. FiM’s ponies display definite character flaws, but only a scant few of them have ever been exceedingly malicious. The weakest episodes, in my view, have featured ill-fitting vicious behavior from either episodic support characters or (disappointingly) select members of the core six. The best episodes, on the other hand, have featured viable dilemmas and tension without dissolving into outright nastiness. (Most of the top-tier episodes have also featured strong interaction between all six of the main cast, but that’s a topic for another discussion.)

    As usual, I’ve typed more than is necessary. Ack. Anyhow, I’m all for the continued success of Friendship is Magic and the proliferation of bronies. I commend and thank Lauren Faust & her team for supplying us with such an excellent show. In the spirit of Rarity, fabulosity marches on!

    • Thanks for the comment, and for adding some great points to the discussion – especially your point about the lack of malice in Friendship is Magic. It’s always so refreshing to see someone like Lauren Faust and her team strive to make something great in a genre that is in steady decline, and it’s especially amazing to see everyone responding to it so positively. Thanks again for an excellent comment, Tekaramity!

      • You’re welcome. This show has certainly captured a positive spirit and is propagating it with admirable success. (Confound these ponies, they drive me to comment!)

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  4. Aimee

    Got here through a “confound these ponies” search.

    I think it’s AWESOME that guys are into My Little Pony these days.

    I’m a rather tomboyish girl (I go camping, canoeing and generally get completely filthy and gross, all while wearing pretty vintage dresses). People for YEARS, through middle school, high school college and beyond just automatically assumed I was a lesbian (I’m not, but so what if I was?) because I have always generally liked “guy things”, more than conforming to their stupid as to how I was expected to act. I’ve read X-men since 1988, know more about Masters of the Universe, Star Wars and Nintendo than most guys I know.

    I am also a cynic to an excessive degree and had always classically hated anything aimed at my demographic as a child (mostly because I could see through it, trying to make me behave a certain way), but I loved My Little Pony. Not the cartoon, mind you. I hated the cartoon and wanted it to explode in a fiery mess in 1986. I felt it was an affront to my ponies who often stomped my brothers toys to death while still being cute. And even though I still have my collection of ponies, any kind of marketing and media surrounding them annoyed the crap out of me (don’t get me started on the Princess Promenade). Because shows aimed at girls generally put very little thought into actual characterization other than saccharine + one character flaw arbitrarily drawn out of a hat. Or there is no realistic interactions, characters are just so exactly alike that there is

    And I try. I have a deep nostalgia and love for these stupid horse-things with unnatural coloring because they came to me in a time in my life when I was very sad. I’ve tried every single time they have released a cartoon based on them since 1986. And every time I want to stab my eyes (and ears) out and just further mourn the young girls of today who are subjected to the crap that is marketed towards them at those impressionable ages. I would not expect guys to like these other incarnations of My Little Pony because I would not expect anyone in their right MINDS to get into it unless they had serious gender-role conditioning to the point where they felt there was “something wrong with them” if they didn’t watch them. Which, unfortunately seems to be the case with a lot of these girl’s shows. At least the shows aimed at boys tend to have more character dynamics.

    I walked into Friendship is Magic with a bitterness and determination to loathe it. The ONLY reason I even tried was because they brought back Applejack, who was my favorite as a child.

    And CONFOUND THESE PONIES! I am hooked. It’s a glimpse into a utopia of how people SHOULD be treating each other, even when those people are the exact opposite of perfect. The characters as well-rounded and you can actually for a change see bits and pieces of yourself in each of them. It’s hard to pick a favorite even!

    If it was a sitcom and not starring rainbow unicorns and pegasi (which we have all been gender programmed to think = for girls, but really, everyone can appreciate a rainbow and mythical horses, the ancient Greeks and Romans did, so why not combine them! Ronnie James Dio would have LOVED FiM) I doubt that anyone would be questioning it.

    • Thanks for your great comment, Aimee! You really nailed a lot of the things that make this show great for people of all genders, ages, and walks of life, and it’s always exciting to hear from different people what it is about the show that grabbed their attention. It’s also always cool to hear people say, “I think it’s AWESOME that guys are into My Little Pony these days.” This show is a game-changer in all the right ways; Faust and her crew actually set out to make a quality MLP cartoon and succeeded, and now everyone’s realizing that it’s not about whether the show features robots and soldiers or rainbow unicorns and pegasi that makes it “okay for guys” or “okay for girls”. A truly terrible show is terrible for everyone (here’s lookin’ at you, other MLP cartoons) and a truly great show is great for everyone, and Friendship is Magic is a great show. Thanks again for speaking up, Aimee; it’s always good to hear from someone else who got surprised by those confounded ponies.

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  6. Spanelli

    I don’t understand what could you possibly be confounded about. This “phenomenon” is very old, and the Japanese have been exploiting it for a long time now.

    Watch something like “Manabi Straight” and you will find the same themes: a group of girls with different personalities who work together and enjoy their friendship and harmless fun, with a notable disinterest in boys and sexual matters. That last part is what really tells you what was the primary target demographic of a show: if there are love affairs and the main character has a crush, then it’s aimed at girls and will air in the morning. If everything is innocent and sugary, but it’s not written for toddlers, then it was made for men and will air at ridiculous hours, like 26:00 or 27:00 (2 or 3 AM).

  7. Lilly

    I think you make a good point, but I think its deeper than that. I think men want to BE innocent too. And why shouldn’t they? God created all of mankind to be innocent. We ruined it, but the desire for it is still there, the desire to please God and to be holy like he is holy. And yes, men feel it too, not just women.

    I am a woman, and I love this show just as much as you do. I don’t believe gender has anything to do with it, and I don’t see why it should have anything to do with it.

    After all, we all know its perfectly alright for a woman to like football or watching racing on tv, or to take part in these professions, so why should it be wrong for a man to like a show that would normally be for women if the opposite is perfectly fine? God looks at the intentions of your heart, after all.

    • I agree completely, Lilly. After all, we are called to “be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (Romans 16:19). We know that the world is broken and we want to fix it, to have things as they were meant to be, and whenever we see that ideal presented it attracts and inspires us.
      Also, you’re right – neither age nor gender is really a factor in this show’s appeal. People love it because it’s an all-around great show, and I think the fact that men enjoy it as well as women is not only perfectly fine, but pretty awesome. No one should have to feel like they can’t approve of something wholesome and well made because they’re a man. Real men recognize and applaud that sort of thing wherever they find it. Plus, the show’s just ridiculously entertaining. 😀

  8. Avojaifnot

    Errmmm…
    the correct phrase is: Confound “those” ponies!

  9. atanok

    >I believe that men were made by God
    The article was awesome up until that point.

  10. roid

    The internet imageboards that made the show popular are well known for being socially liberal, sexually progressive (abiet some would sum it ALL up as sexually deviant).

    It challenges a lot of people’s gender norms for males to be watching this show, which is part of the point of why it’s so popular amongst that crowd. But this movement is hardly new, society has been continually shifting to de-emphasize traditional male and female gender roles for decades now. Cheers to that!
    *brohoof*

  11. OR

    Good that you wrote this article. The phenomenon of the brony community is so exceptional and widespread that it needed to be looked at from sociopsychological point of view. However, i don’t agree with the assumption you make.

    Lets put aside the overall quality of Friendshipis Magic and older generations, and focus on the qualities you suggest to have drawn adult males to the show. Take a look at one of the 3rd generation episodes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZpurerF2HM . Characters are like 5 years old girls, pure and innocent. This is what you describe as the magnet for bronies. Now, think of Frienship is Magic. Lauren Faust herself has said
    “To look at the quality of most girls’ cartoons, […] the female characters have been so homogenized with old-fashioned “niceness” that they have no flaws and are unrelatable. They are so pretty, polite and perfect; there is no legitimate conflict and nothing exciting ever happens. In short, animated shows for little girls come across as boring. Stupid. Lame.
    This perception, more than anything, is what I am trying to change with My Little Pony.”
    She didn’t want to portray ponies as mawkish little girls, “pure and innocent”, and she did not do it. Conflict in FiM is an inseparable element of characters creation. Ponies are grown women with many flaws, who often find it hard to get along with differences. Yes, this is what i said: grown women. Ponnville is an adult community, based on the real world and main 6 characters have jobs. This and their behaviour suggest they’re most likely in their early 20s.

    If the ground of the brony phenomenon was the “daddy mentality”, we would be all into earlier generations, not into Friendship is Magic.

    Also, portraying a father holding his newborn child contradicts the fans demographics, as the brony community consists of young adults, who don’t have and don’t plan having children yet. A need to “preserve innocence”, as you put it, may awake in a few years, when we start to have families, but for now our world – bronies’ world – is a world of a young adult. Didn’t i say before that FiM ponies are young adults? “Friendship is Magic” resembles a popular TV show “Friends” a lot. Both are comedies showing lives of a group of young people, being also a group friends. The only major difference is that FiM is diguised under what we associate with little girls.

    Now, let me end with kind of a bold statement. This image pretty much speaks for what i want to say: http://i.qkme.me/136b.jpg We are romantically attracted to the ponies 🙂 They seem to be just in our age and have characters of girls we would very much like to date.

    Sorry for all language lapses, english isn’t my native tongue.

    • I agree with a lot of the points that you brought up here, actually. It’s been almost five months since I originally wrote this post, way back when I’d only seen my first episode two days ago and I still wasn’t sure what it was that drew me to the show. I think I’ll write a new post soon dealing with some of the things I’ve learned and realized since then, because there really is much more to the appeal of MLP:FiM than I had originally assumed. Thanks for your detailed and insightful comment (your English is quite solid, by the way), I always like to read other people’s opinions and perspectives.

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  13. fealow

    What you said about the mane six’s age got me thinking. Never before did I actually consider how old they were, it never even occurred to me that it mattered. Obviously if you take the facts into account yes, they are either teenagers or young adults. But at first all I thought was “I wish I had friends like that”. I guess I just kind of assumed they were my age naturally (I’m a 22 male by the way) because they had my ideals.

    About the romantic attraction, I believe there is some truth there. We would probably not consciously think about it, but I have found myself torn between a favourite Pony quite frequently and this is most likely due to the fact of the underlying attraction to the characters and there personality’s, much like how a “harem” works.

    I do disagree however that your part on “innocence” is a little biased due to the supposed general facts of adolescent males. Like I said before, I’m 22 and I often find myself welling up at the happy and cute moments in MLP:FIM (and proud of it!) and I would quite rightly think this is down to the sheer innocence of the program that allows me to actually feel emotion without having to suppress it for gender or cultural reasons. 90% of the time when watching MLP I have a smile on my face and it is going to stay that way! BRO-HOOF! Bronies… FOOOOOORRRREEEEVEEEEER!!!

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  15. AmtrakDesertWindrider

    Pondering the demographic here…adolescent-and-young adult males watching a show about innocuous, anthropomorphic characters representing…adolescents and young adults?

    I’ll have to test this out. I see the same demeanor in Bronies as I see from myself, a Miyazaki aficianado. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking Fluttershy or Nausicaä, it’s the same dynamic.

    The point I make here is simple: Men of this age are pursuing innocence and purity at an age when they are bombarded with sex symbols. It doesn’t matter what background, what matters is the end result.

    ADW – Rule 34 is just an act of jealousy, I may add…

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