Mom & Pop Culture: When (My Little Pony) Remakes Get it Right

After my last post, I felt a little bad. Could I really not think of a remake that did justice to the original, or improved upon it in some way? I thought hard (but all I could think about was the rumored possible remake of Carmen Sandiego with Jennifer Lopez), and still came up blank.

Then I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal talking about the revamped version of the toy-turned-cartoon classic My Little Pony. The original My Little Pony toys debuted in 1982, with the cartoon show following ten years later. I had a couple of ponies growing up and still remember them fondly. I'd brush their manes and tails and have them romp around the room, all while enjoying their vaguely vanilla-esque scent.

As far as toys and cartoons went, My Little Pony was pretty benign. Since they were horses, they didn't have the same unrealistic body image concerns that plague Barbie, and their story lines on the TV show were filled with mostly friendly, mild plots that ended in lots of smiles and whinnying.

The show, and toys, were certainly intended for and marketed to young girls, and they did exceptionally well. When Hasbro and animator Lauren Faust decided to bring back the ponies in 2010, the concept was the same: a TV show, supported by branding and heavy marketing, to draw in the 5-10 year old female market. The ponies got a little style update (although nothing like Strawberry Shortcake's!), but overall, everything stayed relatively the same...except for the fan base.

When My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic debuted in October of 2010, it started amassing a group of fans that nobody intended on: guys. Male fans of the show, or "bronies" as they call themselves, steadily grew in numbers and fandom—even getting together to watch it, trade/sell toys, write pony fanfiction, and talk all things pony.

Bronies say their hobby has nothing to do with their sexuality or gender. "I don't care about showing to the world that I am masculine," says Jason Subhani, a 19-year-old college student in Astoria, N.Y. A Pony poster on his bedroom wall mingles with images of heavy-metal icons. - WSJ

This is why the remake of My Little Pony is so fabulous. It's not the actual show, but that there doen't need to be such strict gender stereotypes surrounding things like toys, TV shows, etc...

Whenever a little boy likes a show or character intended for girls, there's always a raising of an eyebrow, a concerned look or shaking of the head. But why? What negative effect would it have for a young boy to watch a show about princesses, or in this case, ponies? Perhaps seeing male fans like the "bronies" will help remind people that it's okay to like things based on their actual preferences rather than their gender.

I spoke with Seth from Equestria Daily, a brony website. I asked him a bit about how he got into the show and his thoughts on how he, as a male fan, fits in to the My Little Pony world.

Seth from Equestria Daily & his My Little Pony "When I gave it a shot, I actually turned it off and didn't try again until a week later," said Seth. "It has a pretty massive barrier of entry, but once you get past the initial stigma, the show rewards you with something that is really tough to match from an animation perspective."

Seth told me he hasn't really had any issues with people finding his love for My Little Pony all that strange, but admits to hanging with less conservative people, which might be a reason for the easy acceptance of his brony status.

"I think it's primarily how you present it to people. All of my friends know I like weird cartoons anyway, so this wasn't that big a surprise. I know some people that really struggle letting people know they like it. Different situations call for different approaches I suppose!"

While My Little Pony's resurrection may not be changing the world, its fan base is at least helping to break down gender stereotypes...one pony at a time.

Previously: Mom & Pop Culture: Remakes - Why Do They Have To Ruin Everything?

Comments

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Racism

Ugh, this is a sad topic. I thought that "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" was bad-ass and good for women until I saw the episode "Bridle Gossip." The show, as it turns out, is white. For white girls. And not only that, but it's incredibly racist. Behold: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5ehlZEroYU And be disappointed. :(

That is just ridiculous.

That is just ridiculous. Calling the show racist because the ponies were afraid of a zebra, really? The whole point of that episode is to teach kids not to judge others on their appearance. I think you REALLY missed the point.

Word. Ahem... " Dear

Word.

Ahem...

" Dear Princess Celestia,

My friends and I all learned an important lesson this week: Never judge a book by its cover. Someone may look unusual, or funny, or scary. But you have to look past that and learn who they are inside. Real friends don't care what your "cover" is; It's the contents of a pony that count. And a good friend, like a good book, is something that will last forever.

Your faithful student,

Twilight Sparkle."

I don't get why everyone

I don't get why everyone assumes the lesson only applies to race, either. When I started high school, I had been homeschooled my whole life before. When I got there, I noticed, in our class of 250, 248 of us had long hair, and I wasn't among them. The school was also predominantly one religion, which I wasn't able to join in, either. Essentially, I stood out like the only zebra in a town full of ponies. But the people I've made friends with have looked past that, and the people who won't, well... maybe they should watch some My Little Pony?

Anyway, my point is that the creators probably weren't just going, "Hey, we need a 'black' character." They just wanted to teach a lesson that it's okay to be different, and just because you already have friends that are a certain way, doesn't mean you can't make any new friends.

One more note on race in the show: most of the fans tend to portray and think of Twilight, and sometimes Rarity, as African-Equestrian/American. I think the good thing about ponies is that they really aren't assigned any sort of canon race, people just add it in when they translate pony characters to human characters. I'm pretty sure race isn't really supposed to exist in the pony world, part of why I don't think Zecora is supposed to be African as much as just different-looking.

You mean how the zebra is a

You mean how the zebra is a stereotype of an African person? That has mystical healing powers? And that she's extremely different from the 'normal' ponies? Or how there are absolutely no other "other" horse types?

Yeah, that's pretty fucking racist. It doesn't really matter what the point is - it reinforces the racism. "You're weird and freaking and different, but that's okay because you have magical healing powers that can help us and when we have problems you will solve them for us!" If any point was missed with that episode, it was "how to be anti-racist".

zebras are from africa

So it's racist for an animal from Africa to speak with an accent and have african masks and jewelry? It's not like the animal was in black face, saying "yes-um master" and eating watermelon.

zebras are from africa

Oh and she didn't have "mystical healing powers" she had knowledge. The same knowledge the ponies had but weren't using because they were afraid of someone they didn't understand. And of course she's different from all the ponies, SHE'S A ZEBRA.

After watching the episode, I

After watching the episode, I don't think it was racist but stereotypical. It had a good meaning but don't you think all the other ponies are a bit sheltered? If the zebra is a representation of another race or cultural, how come the never saw or heard of her before? It's the equivalent of saying that you didn't know what an African american was or who a Mexican is or where the come from. Sure, she could be from some remote African tribe but they have never seen her "strips" before. I don't know, I'm not an avid fan but all the ponies don't seem to be a PoC. Not saying that a pony needs to talk ghetto and love rap music or whatever other stereotype, but a cute little pony girl with a nice thick afro or some cornrows would be nice. Better than nothing right?

And anyway, Zecora has shown

And anyway, Zecora has shown up several times since and is now a valued member of the pony community with great knowledge that the other ponies don't have, and has saved the day twice (at the end of Bridle Gossip, when she cured them from Poison Joke, and at the end of the most recent episode, Cutie Pox, when there was a disease scare in town).

I'll agree that both the

I'll agree that both the handling of Zecora and (far more so) the handling of the Native American bison in Over a Barrel definitely made me a bit uncomfortable. I think, however, that the authors' intentions were coming from a good place, particularly when the morals of the episodes are considered, and that both of these cases are pretty clearly a natural outgrowth of the same thinking that gives the cows (who come off far worse than either) Wisconsonite accents or Rarity's parents upper midwestern accents. They wanted to use other species that can talk, and they decided to give them differentiating speech patterns. I suppose the safest thing would be to give each species a mix of different speech types.I should mention, since you stopped at episode 9, that there are in fact ponies with identifiable African-American accents (e.g. Sapphire Shores), but admittedly nobody on the main cast. Perhaps I'm getting a bit far off topic here, but I do wonder how it would go over if it included the main cast, as basically every pony on the show has major issues and shows significant weaknesses at times. It's also worth noting that many fans in their fanart perceive Twilight Sparkle as non-white in human form because they don't classify her off of an accent. Finally, I want to point out that Zecora doesn't really stay two dimensional. We get plenty of additional development out of her character in episodes this season.

TL;DR, this is a legitimate issue to flag, but I think it's pretty clear where the writers were coming from and to call the show "incredibly racist" is patently ridiculous.

I haven't watched more than

I haven't watched more than 10 mins of the show before this. I started noticing it's popularity on art websites and was like WTF? When did My Little Ponies get so important. My old art teacher explained it was because of the new show, which was really good. I haven't checked it out fully because I want to start from the beginning.

Anyway, Twilight is asian only because she reminds me of one of my best friends who is asian american. When I see pictures of Twilight, I automatically think of her.

It just pegged me as weird about their reactions to her 'strips'/

A Rebuttal to Your Claim of Racism

While I respect your opinion, and I certainly won't say MLP is 100% perfect, I must disagree with your assessment that Bridal Gossip is racist. That whole episode is supposed to be about not making assumptions about another person (or Zebra in this case) just because they may come from a different place in the world. When all her friends are panicking, Twilight can't see what the big deal is (even pointing out that they're all "freaking out for no good reason.")

Also, Zecora (the Zebra shaman) became so popular, that she's reappeared on many occasions.

In the end, the characters all learn not to judge somepony before getting to know them.

So it's far from perfect, but in regards to that particular episode being racist... I don't see it.

I love the "brony" movement

I love the "brony" movement and camaraderie that comes along with the fandom. I've been an avid pony fan since I was little and continuing through college. But when the revamp happened I was surprised to find many male friends actively posting on forums, drawing artwork, etc. It made me happy we could all be talking about the predominately female-centered cast and not even think twice we were talking about cute magical ponies aimed at a very young demographic. And even the fact that the "mane" six ponies are all girls, to them it didn't matter. They still fought over which of the ponies was their favorite, which ones they "shipped" together, etc. It's pretty awesome.

My mum runs a home preschool/daycare, and ponies have been a very popular toy. The boys seem to have no problem playing with them alongside the girls, which we encourage. We also encourage the girls to play alongside the boys in traditionally 'boy' toys like trucks, trains, etc. The boys also love Barbies, and we always tell parents what the kids played with that day. I love actively helping young kids (and parents, too) discover that there shouldn't be a designated "girl's toy" or "boy's toy" and I thank my mum for raising me to think like that.

Show is Cool, Community is Meh

I recently subjected myself to season one of this show marathon style and really enjoyed it. All the regular television tropes are there but the range of personalities on the show make it somewhat unique. It's nice to see female characters that are quirky but not ditzy, athletic but not jock-y, and cripplingly shy but not outcast.

After watching the series and getting more or less obsessed though, the responses to the characters in the fan communities just did not rub me the right way. A lot of sexuality is assigned to the characters, mostly to fit orientation-based stereotypes. I'm not sure if I'm right on this one but if the characters were actually glbtq it'd be one thing, maybe a cool chance for young viewers to understand the different kinds of people and relationships there are. But the stereotypes take it a bit too far. Not cool, bronies.

Rule 34 happens in every fandom, so...

just avoid the fanfic.

I admit I find the shipping and whatnot weird because they're ponies and it's a kid show, but #1. not all bronies are into that and #2, every fandom everywhere has that branch. You really shouldn't judge the entire fandom on it.

Love and tolerance! :)

It's a natural outgrowth of

It's a natural outgrowth of any geeky internet fan community, unfortunately. You wouldn't believe the Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Star Trek fanfiction and fanart I've seen. Well, you probably would. Suffice it to say it's just as bad. I've wound up doing most of my posting and image viewing at the forum Ponygoons and associated image repository Bronibooru because they are specifically geared towards keeping creepy stuff out.

Dat Plot

Of course a lot of sexuality is assigned to the show by the teen/twenties fans. Personally, I love the fact that male fans are doing to MLP what female fans have long done to Trek, Potter, et al.

What about how the reboot of

What about how the reboot of the ponies changed their appearance. They definitely look more mature than the originals. I read an article in Bitch a few years ago criticizing the posing of the ponies, raised hindquarters, larger doe like eyes, thinner frame, etc. The hypersexualization movement didn't skip these girls either--sorry but it is just like what happened to the newest Strawberry Shortcake... I appreciate the appeal to a larger audience but still dislike the different look. Why do ponies need to look more sexy?

I really think this is a

I really think this is a natural outgrowth of creator Lauren Faust's personal style, which is on display in previous shows she's worked on like Powerpuff Girls. That show also has anime-style large eyes with small to non-existent mouths and noses, enlargement of the distal segments of limbs, and athletic looking bodies. It makes for really flexible, easy to read reaction expressions and good slapstick physical comedy. I don't think the G1 or G3 models could pull off half of what Studio B is doing with the animation in this show.

And maybe I'm just not picking up on it since I'm a guy and haven't watched a ton of it, but I don't see much sexualization in *any* version of Strawberry Shortcake, just a following of current trends moving the characters to 3d and introducing anime facial styling. Perhaps you could point out some examples.

For the reference to

For the reference to Strawberry Shortcake see prior post by this author:
http://bitchmagazine.org/post/mom-pop-culture-remakes-why-do-they-have-t...

As for the new ponies--this is specifically about criticism of the toys--see this site for the differences in style since the initial creation of the ponies.

http://www.strawberryreef.com/

Again, it is great that the show has a more demographically diverse audience, but stylistic decisions about how they toys actually look seem to be in line with other toy transformations.

Geeky point of accuracy

"The original My Little Pony toys debuted in 1982, with the cartoon show following ten years later."

Actually, the original cartoon tv show started in 1986. But there was a cartoon special in 1984.

Thank you

I have been reading that stupid sentence everywhere I look it seems and I'm like "No, the cartoons started a couple of years after the toys came out." My first pony was Cotton Candy and they were my world in the 80's. I had the Dream Castle, the Show Stable, the Paradise Estate, among others and over 50 ponies by the time I got to adulthood. I've been looking around the internet about the original ponies because I've found myself missing all those good times.