[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.
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.