General Buck Turgidson: Doctor, you mentioned the ratio of ten women to each man. Now wouldn't that necessitate the abandonment of the so-called monogamous sexual relationship? I mean, as far as men were concerned?
Dr. Strangelove: Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race.
George C. Scott and Peter Sellers; "Dr. Strangelove: or how I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb."
Well, in case the title of this particular journal wasn't enough of a tipoff, it's pretty obvious this is going to be a journal featuring my two cents visa vi the rebooted Hasbro franchise, now at the official level of internet subculture; "My little pony: friendship is magic."
For those of you not familiar, (which I know is none of you, but I'm going to give a brief description anyway,) this is the 4th official incarnation of the "My Little Pony" series which began in 1981 as a line of toys, eventually becoming an ongoing animated series in 1983.
However, the intention of this journal is not a detailed history of the franchise, but to examine it's current incarnation, and therefore the franchise over the last 30 odd years has no bearing, except in so much as how it has determined the perception and image of the series in the eyes of the public.
However, for those of you who are interested in a more detailed history of the series, the prodigiously talented and surpassingly brilliant
has done his own retrospective for his channel on "Thatguywiththeglasses," which you can watch, right here.
The current incarnation was developed for television by Lauren Faust
, a noted storyboard artist of "The Powerpuff Girls" and "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends." The series premiered in 2010, and has since become a huge hit.
However, in a odd and perhaps unexpected twist of fate, the seemingly greatest notoriety the series has attained since it's premier has not, in fact, been the substance or even the success of the show, but the fan base it has attracted.
Deliberately made for, marketed to and intended to cater to little girls and young women, the show has inexplicably captured the minds of an older, male audience.
Evidently, there is a fanbase of males in their 20's to 40's, known colloquially as "Bronies," who make up the majority of the members of threads, chartrooms and other internet MLP communities.
Not unexpectedly, once the news of the Brony community reached the wider world, there was a degree of blowback once Mr. and Miss America and all the ships at sea learned there were legions of grown men watching cartoons made for little girls. To say that condescension was the rule upon discovery of the Brony community would be engaging in sad and impotent understatement.
So now we have the trifecta of the forces creating, driving and financing the show, the Brony community and associated fans who support it and the haters who revile the show and it's fans, all coming together to create a great, unstoppable, superconducting loop of contemporary culture.
So why am I even writing this to point it all out, and where do I stand in the battle over Equestria?
Well, as for me, I stopped watching regular television some time ago to to better focus my efforts on photography and my ambition to become a professional novelist. But being an active member of the DA community, I, of course, haven't been immune from the show's influence.
In fact, two of my longest-standing and dearest (not to mention most talented) DA friends are huge fans of the show:
And to be honest, I hadn't even heard that there was a new incarnation of the show until April of this year, when =KabukiKatze
posted this piece of fanart:
Of course, at that time I was a little preoccupied with moving out from the house I was sharing with my best friend and his wife and into my own apartment, so the amount of attention I could devote to cartoons was practically nil.
But while I was waiting for Comcast to hook up my internet, I managed to watch a few episodes of the series I'd saved on iTunes, and as it stands I've seen about six episodes.
So how do I think the show stacked up?
Well I just think it's odd that the show's created such a schism in the internet community over those who adore their show with every sinew of their mortal flesh and those who abhor it with a nuclear vengeance.
I thought it was okay. Not something I would want to become engrossed in, but entertaining and fun for the little kids nonetheless. So I don't really like it, but I certainly don't dislike it either.
I suppose in the three-fronted MLP conflagration, I guess I'm the representative of the neutral faction. So think of me as the President of the Swiss Pony Federation, with our chocolate and our watches and our kinky leather pants.
Of course, my neutrality wasn't the only thing I took away from the show. My impression of the overall breadth of the series, based on what little I saw, was also heavily influenced by the book I was reading at the time I watched my limited allotment.
The book was "Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality," by Christopher Ryan, PhD and Cacilda Jethá, MD. And it was the engrossment I had in said text that informed the impression I took away from the series, and perhaps enlightened me as to one of the reasons why the show has such a broad-range fanbase. This gave me a rare, perhaps even unique opinion visa vi the popularity of the show.
(by the way, I should point out right here that the book is unspeakably, unimaginably brilliant, and that you, yes YOU, must go out, buy/download and read the book... today.)
So what was the impression the book left on me that constructed the prism with which I viewed the series through? More on that in a minute.
First though, I should address the first and most obvious complaint I'm bound to get for having the audacity to write a journal such as this:
"What the hell are you doing over-analyzing a cartoon for little girls?!"
Well, I'm glad you brought that up, hypothetical, random internet person!
I'd say with the status the show has attained merits analysis of it's content, and if I can bring my full intellectual guns to bear on the matter, so be it.
And naturally, the subject of sexuality is bound to come up with a subject so closely relating to gender, gender politics and gender issues. This is an inevitable necessity, and to those of you who might disagree with me, all I can do is shrug and perhaps recommend you vent your ire elsewhere. Between all the disquieting and frankly disturbing "Rule 34"-inspired material that has already sprung up around the show, I think it's far, far too late to remove this show from a sexual context in the minds of some of it's older fans.
And for those of you who still think it's inappropriate to bring higher anthropological, philosophical and psychological principals to bear on children's entertainment, I can only imagine that you've already written a stream of angry letters to Mr. Richard Dawkins for using the poetry of A. A. Milne to make a point visa vi human consciousness and the inner-workings of the human mind in "The God Delusion."
If a Fellow of the Royal Society, member of the Royal Society of Literature, Oxford Professor, best-selling author of 11 books and the inventor of the word "Meme" can use Pooh Bear to question whether or not there really is a spiritually-enhanced authority figure with a big beard pulling the strings in the clouds, I don't see why an unpublished, aspiring author can't explore the history of human culture and gender relations with "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" as a reference point.
So, to really begin my treatise, I ask the question; why the backlash against the fanbase?
Obviously the rabid, pathologically-obsessed fans who forsake any kind of real life over the show or who create graphic and repulsive material inspired by the show should be reprehensible in the eyes of any well-rounded adult. But these fans and Bronies make up a fringe minority of the fanbase. So why is there a blowback against the older fans to begin with?
Clearly, even though the advertising and demographics of the show are skewed toward a younger audience, age is not the reason for the backlash.
If you need further proof that this is the case, I suggest you look at the audience demographic for the body of work produced by Pixar studios in the last decade or so.
We all know full well that Disney subsidiary Pixar creates and markets it's film for children. However, they live and operate under the philosophy that simply because they make films for children, that shouldn't mean they should make the rest of the audience feel alienated. This creative philosophy has not only garnered consistently warm critical reception, but has paid considerable, financial dividends.
Yet, in spite of all of this, the films of Pixar remain irrevocably and inescapably children's movies.
In the summer of 2010, audiences across America were brought to tears by an imaginary, plastic toy cowboy and an equally imaginary plastic, toy spaceman nearly being burned (alive?) in a landfill furnace. Now, I'm not a betting man, but I'm willing to wager that more than a few of the teary-eyed moviegoers who were moved by the near loss of Woody and Buzz and Andy eventually giving up his toys and going off to college have expressed their anger at the older fans of the My Little Pony fanbase.
(Incidentally, I hated "Toy Story 3")
Hell, I've been a relatively active member of the fan community of "Avatar: The Last Airbender" for years, and I've barely seen any backlash against teenagers and grown people being fans of this series aimed at little kids. The obvious reason for this was that the protagonist of the series was male. A twelve-year-old, but male nonetheless.
The backlash against the MLP:FIM fanbase, from it's calm, collected Bronies to it's rabid fringe has NEVER been about age. It's about GENDER.
Perhaps the best way I can encapsulate the perception that it's somehow wrong for men to be engrossed in media intended for females, and young females at that, would be to invoke "The Smurfette Principal."
The Smurfette Principal was first proposed by the incisive, brilliant (and gorgeous) Lindsay Ellis, better known as "The Nostalgia Chick."
Basically, the observation boils down to the fact that Smufette of the Smurfs encapsulates perfectly the idea that, in most media for children and beyond, the male gender is considered the default and female a variation of the default. It's been a convention perpetuated in more animated kids shows than you can shake a stick at. It's also the driving force behind the precept that men, on the whole, are capable of writing books, TV shows and media that general audiences can enjoy in addition to wholly macho fodder, whereas women can only write and create media for other women.
I'm really not doing Lindsay's thesis justice, and you really should watch the whole thing yourself.
But just for the sake of this journal, I'm going to quote the thesis statement of Lindsay's Vlog/Essay verbatim.
"Since 1991, Nickelodeon has produced thirty three "Nicktoons." Of that, there have been three with female main characters. Sounds about right. Unless you count "Kablam," and then it's like three-and-a-half. You could go on and on with this, and I know what a lot of people would say; "Big fucking deal!" Right? Well, then we go into the media that's not for children. Is it really that different? The more formulaic something is, the more it falls into these niches. Whatever works works, but it doesn't do much for those of us trying to get out of those niches. And nobody seems to think that these niches particularly benefit anybody. Now, some people might ask what's the point of me pointing this out? Well, I would ask; why is it so easy to relate to male main characters and yet to female main characters, not so much, unless you yourself are female? What does this say about us? And might this not be something we're interested in exploring? And if the answer is "No," I can't say that's anything new."
So, with the obvious question of what role gender politics plays in popular media, and media aimed at children, we come back to the question of why something that's supposedly intended for little girls, and only little girls, could garner the attention of grown men.
No, here's where I delve into my theory of why FIM is so dern popular, as inspired by "Sex at Dawn."
This particular theory is something of a bastard hybrid of both Freudian and Jungian theory, with a little Thomas Hobbes and Arthur Schopenhauer sprinkled on top for flavor.
One of the main arguments and primary thrusts of "Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality," is that mankind is still trapped, physiologically, in the mentality of our forebears, meaning those of our ancestors who lived a hunter-gatherer lifestyle before the dawn of agriculture. Which is another way of saying well over 90% of the time our species has spent on a planet.
Compared with the whole of our existence as "homo sapien," we've only been cultivating the fruits of the earth on a scale great enough to sustain large populations for a tiny fraction of our history. Thus, the cultural holdovers from our time as nomads still linger stubbornly in our minds and psyches, and there are few places where the clash of our modern sensibilities and hundreds of thousands of years of instinct are in sharper contrast with matters sexual.
It seems, at times, men and women were designed to make each other miserable, but was this always the case? Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá argue with a resounding; "NO!"
They argue that prehistoric culture was marked by a profound egalitarianism and a distinct lack of warfare and conflict between the first humans. With a nomadic lifestyle and no more possessions than what you can carry, what's there to fight over?
"But wait!" I may hear you ask. "How in gods name can we know what prehistoric culture was even like?! No one alive today was around to see it?"
While that is a valid argument, it's a query that's easily answered.
There are a number of anatomical clues present in human beings that indicate our ancestors were much more like the libidinous bonobos (our closest genetic relative) than the low-IQ, tree-dwelling gibbon, a monogamous ape that may never have sex more than ten or twelve times in it's entire life.
Beyond that, there is the observable and documented evidence based on the extant cultures who's origins predate the dawn of recorded history.
From the Kyapo tribe of the Amazon rainforest, to the Duwa bushmen of South Africa, from the Mosuo people of the Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces in China, to the Australian Aborigines, we see again and again the recurring, cultural constants of: egalitarianism, fair and equal rights granted to women and, yes, a freer and more open attitude toward sex for both men and women.
And for those of you ladies out there who are shaking your heads at the idea of greater sexual autonomy being a good thing, perhaps our good friend Sam can persuede you otherwise...
"Now there you have a sample of man's "reasoning powers," as he calls them. He observes certain facts. For instance, that in all his life he never sees the day that he can satisfy one woman; also, that no woman ever sees the day that she can't overwork, and defeat, and put out of commission any ten masculine plants that can be put to bed to her. He puts those strikingly suggestive and luminous facts together, and from them draws this astonishing conclusion: The Creator intended the woman to be restricted to one man."
What does all of this have to do with "My Little Pony?"
Quite a lot, actually.
One of the most defining attributes of the show and perhaps the one thing that most neophytes introduced to the show point out is the distinct lack of male characters. Little more than background pieces (apparently until you delve deep enough into the series, be cause they are, evidently there, but not that I've seen.) So as a consequence, we see female ponies with high social standing, unrestrained by any gender-based system of repression, thriving and holding their own happily in the land of Equestria.
It's my theory that the "Bronies" recognize, if perhaps on an unconscious level, an egalitarian culture where women have the same rights and standing, if not more of a social standing, by virtue of the singularly feminine figurehead of leadership, as males.
It's well-documented by anthropologists that cultures where females are given full and unreserved opportunity for status, property and social standing, sexual opportunities for men increase drastically.
There is a common misconception both in academic circles and in the wider world that a matriarchy would simply be the mirror image of a patriarchy, with men stuck as subservient drones under the high-heeled shoes of the ruling women. But case after case of anthropologic study shows this not to be the case. In the few cultures identified as matriarchies, such as some tribes in the Sumatran rainforest for example, we see that matriarchal rule has made life freer, happier and more pleasurable for all concerned, and not just the ruling gender.
In point of fact, when historians analyzed the careers of women who attained great power, such as Queen Elizabeth l, they found not only did they do just as good a job as their male counterparts, but on the whole they were slightly better at their jobs of keeping nations out of war and growing their countries infrastructure. So while the statement; "If women ruled the world, there would be no war," isn't entirely true, it's not a hyperbolic statement either.
So with a god-empress (or princess, as her title designates Although I think the Nostalgia Critic has the right attitude toward female leaders calling themselves Princesses when they're clearly not.
) as the leader of a society with empowered, confident women, we could see Equestria as a sort of analogue of ancient Egypt, a society which was notable for giving equal rights for acquiring property, earning equal wages and filing for divorce, just to name a few, to women.
So, those were the rose-colored glasses I viewed the series through. Learning about the history of prehistoric human egalitarianism, I watched my little allotment of FIM, and I saw reflected the heart of societal female empowerment. And it's still my theory that a small part of the success the series has had toward an older, male demographic is the unconscious recognition of the greater social and cultural justice available for all in such a culture.
Suffice it to say if Dr. Strangelove were alive... and not fictitious, his utopian vision would likely resemble some variation of Equestria.
So I think we can safely designate the good Doctor, and honorary Brony.
Mein Celestia! I can walk!
So, is my theory correct?
I freely admit that as wild and desperate a theory as this is probably wrong, but I think the contributing factors that lead me to these conclusions might be a little more than coincidence.
But having said all that, that still doesn't adequately address the issue of why this show has such a broad male fanbase and why there's been such a backlash against the Brony community.
Why would a male even be so attracted to something as cutsey and as blatantly intended for girls as FIM? Well, to answer that question, lets turn back to our good friend Carl Jung.
Jung famously proposed the precept of "The Anima and the Animus."
This psychological concept is simple enough to wrap your head around: the Animus is the immaterial embodiment of masculine energy that inhabits the psyche of every male. The Anima is the logical opposite, the female energy that inhabits every woman. Jung proposed further that in the spirit of complementing opposites, the male instinctively seeks out the complementing balance of Anima spirit to juxtapose his own masculinity in a life partner, and vice versa for the female. Jung further proposed that contained within every male, within the shell of his Animus is a bit of the Anima, and vice versa for the female. Although divided by the schism of the gender gap by virtue of uncountable generations of natural and sexual selection, men and women remain inexorably human, at once apart from our opposite gender and at one with them. And, of course, Jung proposed that no two males have the exact same representation of the Anima within them. Each possesses his shard of the feminine spirit to a different degree.
Our personalities are forged individually and distinctly, and while all you dudes out there reading this are, in fact dudes, you also fall into the bell curve of the gender. No one definition of masculinity can be applied to all men, and no one rubric can encapsulate the desires and proclivities of all men, no matter how strong outside, acting cultural influences might be.
Like the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said; "Mensch kann tun was er will; er kann aber nicht wollen was er will."
(Man can choose what to do; but not what to want.)
So, naturally there are going to be people who will be predisposed to like this show, no matter what their gender might be. There's a large contingent of women who abhor FIM just as there's a Brony community to stand in contrast with them.
But can we simply accept the explanation that the program has tapped into the collective Anima of it's male viewership?
Obviously no. The success of the show, in my humble opinion can be boiled down to one element: the characters.
Do you remember eight years ago this month when you went to the movie theater and you sat down to see "Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl?" Fuck yeah you do!
ANd if you were anything like me, the recurring thought in your head throughout most of the movie was emphatically NOT;
"God I hope Keira Knightley and Legolas end up together so they can get married and do it on the beach at the end of the third movie like two squirrels in a sock!"
No. If you were anything like me, you were thinking;
"HOLY SHIT! CAPTAIN JACK SPARROW IS AWESOME!"
One stellar actor ambling around, dressed up in a stunning approximation of a cachalot stomach pump and doing a Keith Richards impression took one of the biggest "Hollywood Doom Predictions" of the 00's and turned it into a billion dollar franchise.
And I've certainly watched enough episodes of the show to know and recognize that the distinct personalities and well-written antics of the main six characters make for good, ongoing chemistry over the course of the series.
With a creative team that's not only not asleep at the wheel but with higher creative ambitions than the traditional tropes of animated children's shows, it is any surprise that they've created entertainment of a caliber that it can entertain a sizable adult fanbase?
So, now that we've explored the issue of why there's even a Brony community to begin with, we explore the issue of the haters.
I think a large part of the backlash comes from the misconception over which series is, in fact, being exhausted.
As seen in this rather somewhat infamous clip from Fox News' "RedEye"
we can see they offer the incorrect visual reference for the modern spin on MLP.
Sad to say, that's what 30 years of presence in the public consciousness will get you. If you're synonymous with a line of little plastic toys for little girls, and you do nothing significant to alter that image until nearly three decades after the fact, it's inevitable that people will associate your My Little Pony obsession with nothing more intellectually worthwhile or mentally stimulating than three-year-old girl tea party games.
This doesn't surprise me. And it shouldn't surprise you, dear reader, either.
I mean, ask yourself; Do you even know the cause of the Sunni and Shiite schism in the Muslim community?
No. Of course you don't.
Yeah, the schism that's rocked the foundation of the second largest religion on earth, the basis of morality for over one third of your fellow human creatures for nearly fourteen hundred years, and you can't even be bothered to learn the cause of division and strife since the 7th century AD.
If you can't be bothered to learn the difference, why should the casual observer on the street who learns of grown men who watch MLP and dismisses them as "Fags" be bothered to learn that there's a new series up and running of a much higher quality than the one he's thinking of and basing his hateful, dismissive conclusion off of?
But even if we ignore the people who aren't even aware there's a new series, why is there a blowback against the Bronies to begin with?
Well, obviously for the reason that it's grown men watching a little girls show. In this culture where context and nuance are always in short supply, what more reason do you need?
But is this really the best way to respond to this growing, cultural phenomenon?
My father, in addition to being a fully-licensed marriage counselor is a practicing psychologist who keeps his office open to any new client who might want to take him on.
Now, based on the psychology I've studied and my knowledge of psychoanalysis, if a grown man were to walk into my dad's office and were to tell him he had was habitually watching "Friendship is Magic," the exact WRONG reaction for my dad to have would be; "Well you're a sick faggot who should be beaten! Stop watching little girls cartoons!"
First of all, my dad would never use guttural vocabulary like that, and he's certainly smart enough not to be so openly hostile to a paying customer. Instead he would ask the client if watching the show was interfering with his life in any significant way, or if it was simply a way to kill some free time. If the answer is the former, my pops would try and work out some way to ween the hypothetical client off of the habit that's interfering with his ability to lead a normal life, and if the latter, the subject is dropped.
If watching the show or being a part of the online communities is no more than an occasional pastime, there's absolutely nothing inherently or objectively wrong with it. But to hear the haters who either don't like the show or the community describe it, you'd think being a Brony was some kind of transgressive sin against nature.
It all comes down to the precept that an adult male choosing to watch a show for little girls is not "Manly." This is the cultural perception that we're stuck with as far as Bronies are concerned.
Well, I've got news for you when it comes to cultural perception: cultural perception is not BASED on any kind of reality. Cultural perception CREATES reality.
What am I talking about? I'll pick an example... almost at random.
The age of consent in Iran is nine.
... Im going to repeat that.
The age at which a grown man can legally marry a girl in Iran, is NINE!
Now, in all likelihood, you're either reminded of this fact or just learned about it and are saying; "A grown man marrying a nine-year-old, well that shit is wack!" or something similar. And pretty much EVERY qualified Pediatrician on the PLANET would agree with you.
But, that's the law of the land in Iran. And since the cultural perceptions of Iran decree that such damaging relations are perfectly acceptable, this outright cruel practice becomes cool, based on laws and cultural perceptions.
It's unhealthful and wrong fro grown men to marry nine-year-old girls. But the cultural perceptions of Iran say it's okay.
There isn't a thing wrong with grown men watching My Little Pony. But cultural perceptions make it perfectly all right to marginalize, chastise and ridicule any grown man who chooses to do so.
Once again, cultural perception is not BASED on any kind of reality. Cultural perception CREATES reality.
In our culture, we have a rigid and unbending interpretation of masculinity. It's a garment that all men are expected to wear, and of course the one-size-fits-all doesn't fit all, and woe-betide you if you're a man and it doesn't fit perfectly.
There seems to be a long, cultural tradition in the west of ignoring the emotional needs of men. While it's safe to make the broad, general statement that men are the dominant sex, the aggressors. And while this may be largely true, it ignores the nuance that is manhood on the whole.
I found a study recently conducted at the University of California Davis to be particularly telling: While we clearly see that women are, more often than not, drawn to the traditional assertive, masculine male, there may be greater nuance in male character than may have been previously supposed. The study showed that, of the group surveyed, it was not men but women who were more likely to terminate romanic relationships, either marriage or more casual affairs. The study also showed that men were more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression and loneliness after the secession of romantic ties than were women.
Now, am I making the argument that all men are secretly hiding some sensitive, poet's soul? No. Clearly I'm not. But I think this telling study shows us that the emotional needs of men, perhaps a greater percentage of man than we as a culture are inclined to believe, can be comparable to that of women.
If men are more likely to experience loneliness and pain after a breakup than women, doesn't that just serve as further evidence that, though we may be divided by gender, we still share an unbreakable thread of humanity?
Hell, I don't know.
Well, bottom line, the show "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic," is, undeniably a positive influence for the little girls it was intended for. We should be glad it exists.
(... Please don't kill me, Lauren Faust.
As for the backlash, both against the show and the fanbase, well, the old adage still holds true and always will, probably: "Haters gonna hate."
And what about the Bronies? Well, they have a community for mutual support. I think they'll be okay.
Faust herself once famously opined; "There's more than one way to be a girl." And the Brony community has clearly proved, for better or worse, there's more than one way to be a man.
As for the show It'self, well, it was announced recently that Lauren Faust has stepped down as the developer to pursue other projects, but still operates in the capacity of a creative consultant.
With a cash cow like FIM still a going concern, I don't think we need to worry about it going anywhere. And a sudden ending is very unlikely.
... Although in the stratospheric unlikelihood that Lauren Faust ever reads this long, rambling, incoherent journal, might I make a humble suggestion as to an element that will make the show even more awesome?
(Lyrics copyright Ian Anderson)
There was a warm wind with the high tide
On the south of the hill.
When a young girl went a-walking
And I followed with a will.
``good day to you, my fine young lady
With your lips so sweetly full.
May I help you comb your long hair ---
Sweep it from that brow so cool? ''
Up, ride with the kelpie.
I'll steal your soul to the deep.
If you don't ride with me while the devil's free
I'll ride with somebody else.
Well I'm a man when I'm feeling
The urge to step ashore.
So I may charm you --- not alarm you.
Tell you all fine things, and more.
Up, ride with the kelpie.
I'll steal your soul to the deep.
If you don't ride with me while the devil's free
I'll ride with somebody else.
Say goodbye to all your dear kin ---
For they hate to see you go
In your young prime, to this place of mine
In the still loch far below.
Up, ride with the kelpie.
I'll steal your soul to the deep.
If you don't ride with me while the devil's free
I'll ride with somebody else.
(holy crap, 5666 words... This might be my longest damn journal ever!