Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Talking About Ponies

Hi, my name is Jason, I’m 37, I’m male and I’m a passionate fan of a show targeted at pre-teen girls. About two years ago, friends of mine, told me that I really needed to watch the cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I was, skeptical at first, but they were insistent and I decided I should at least give it a try. Within a month I had joined the growing tribe of the Bronies (a portmanteau of bro and pony).

To give background, My Little Pony is a range of toy ponies made by Hasbro Toys. They first appeared in the 1980s and have since gone through four major incarnations (known as “generations” by the fans.) The cartoons which accompanied the third generation ponies have been widely derided as essentially just extended infomercials for the toys with boring stories and nothing resembling character development (the one gen three episode I could bring myself to watch certainly supported this conclusion.) When, in 2010, Hasbro released the fourth generation of ponies, they took the radical step of hiring people, most notably Lauren Faust, of Power Puff Girls fame, with actual experience making quality children’s television. The result has been a show which not only charmed its target audience but won for its self a wide number of fans of all ages and given rise to talk to “the Brony Phenomenon.”

Season Three Spoiler Warning. All of this is background to this article by blogger Amanda Duncil. Ms. Duncil criticizes the conclusion to season three as well as the soon to be released Equestria Girls spin-off movie and related toy line.

Concerning the conclusion to season three, in which mane (misspelling intentional per fan convention) character Twilight Sparkles becomes a Princess, Ms. Duncil writes:

I didn't know that the ultimate end goal of learning was to suddenly become royalty. I'm still somewhat concerned that it sends mixed messages to little girls. Implying that all girls want to grow up to become princesses is destructive… I was under the impression that My Little Pony wanted to shake gender barriers, not reinforce them.

I can see where she is coming from, but I think her concern here is a bit misplaced. Twilight doesn’t become a Princess through the standard means of marrying a Prince (actually, that trope is reversed; her brother becomes a Prince by marrying a princess who earned her royal title.) nor by the other fairytale means of discovering that she is a king’s long lost daughter. Twilight’s royal title is bestowed up on, not by any pony laws but by reality itself. Actually, for someone unfamiliar with the show, the term “princess” is misleading. In Equestria, royalty is apparently not a matter of blood or even of purely political authority. When a Pony reaches a sufficient level of virtue and magical ability she transformed into an alicorn, a pony with pegasus wings, a unicorn horn and enhanced mystical control over reality. The Princesses of Equestria are not merely political rulers; they are responsible for such tasks as ensuring the sun and moon rise and set. What happened to Twilight, while it is called “becoming a princess” would more accurately be described as a sort of quasi-deification. (So, Jason, how do you, as a Catholic, feel about such obviously pagan themes in children’s entertainment? I’m fine with them, but that’s another post.)

I feel much more sympathy with the concerns which Ms. Duncil raises over the upcoming Equestria Girls movie. I’m looking forward to the movie and expect it to be fun, but I think it’s reasonable to feel uneasy about the images of the mane characters which we have seen thus far. I’m particularly unhappy about the look of Rainbow Dash. For those unfamiliar with the show, Rainbow is a tom-boy, indeed, the ultimate tomboy. Take a look at the Equestria Girls picture linked on Ms. Duncil’s page, I’m not seeing anything remotely suggestive of the personality I’ve come to know and love.

I’m still hopeful the movie will be worth watching, but I agree this raises cause for concern.


  1. I liked that Twilight BECAME a princess through hard work and diligence.

    I am horrified if Dashie has lost her tom-boyishness!!! That is one of the reasons for Dashie being my Monster's favourite!! (and mine)

    Nice post by the way :)

  2. I disagree that one can classify Rainbow Dash as a tomboy. The only reason why society views Rainbow Dash as a tomboy is because we expect that any girl who likes sports is behaving like a boy. She quite enjoys the thought of dressing up in, you know, dresses for the Gala, for example.

    My point essentially is that anything she does is feminine, because she's female-identifying. In Equestria, there ARE no gender roles, so assigning human gender roles to characters in My Little Pony is disingenuous.

  3. Kitten,

    Thanks or the comments. I see your point about Dashie, perhaps it would be better to say that she has characteristics which, in a human, would be considered tomboyish.