On Your Little Pony

I am told that there may be as many as twelve million adult males who watch the animated children’s show “My Little Pony.”

Really?

My first reaction to this news was not, I fear, a charitable one so let me help those cursed with similar feelings out. I could rush to judgment, but too many people are engaged in the activity to be so quickly dismissive. It is charitable to try to understand.

First, adults create animation and it is an art form so there is nothing odd about an interest in “children’s” animation by adults. If a thing is done, then adults must study it to learn to do it well.

Second, just as some animated programming is geared for boys, but attracts both male and female viewers, it is possible for a girl’s show to attract male viewers interested in animation.

Third, some “children’s” programming, think the old Bugs Bunny cartoons or anything made by Pixar, can exist at several intellectual levels. Surely I am not the only one to watch the old Adam West Batman in reruns first as a kid who took them seriously and then as a teen who enjoyed the campy fun.

We do not have to be film snobs about animation allowing only Snow White and best anime such as Spirited Away attention. Chuck Jones and Walt Disney both knew how to entertain the entire family and I have learned a great deal about United States history, art, and culture by studying their work. A bonus is that the best of the Looney Tunes or classic Disney is entertaining as well: edutainment.

Most of us are fans of something and what looks like harmless fun to one group looks downright weird to someone else. My feelings of weirdness are no measure of the worth of an entertainment, though perhaps My Little Pony fans should remember that being different for the sake of difference can go too far.

If weird is no vice, it is certainly no virtue and may not promote sanity if taken to excess.

But I can think of no justification of My Little Pony viewing that works. If it is o.k. to be weird, and acceptable to do something harmless in itself, then surely there needs to be something more to it for an adult?

Many activities are harmless and weird, but most of us shouldn’t waste our time doing them. The standard good reasons an adult might show interest in a kid’s show don’t apply to My Little Pony and yet adults by the millions are watching it.

My Little Pony has, at best, mediocre animation, poor writing, and little depth. There is no “second level” to the features, or at least a very small one, as there often is in better animated film. Like wretched rip offs such as Cinderella II or the Piglet Movie, a loving parent might endure My Little Pony for the sake of loving his children, but I fail to see any other reason to watch the show.

The animation style may remind twenty somethings or thirty somethings of the flat, lousy animation of their childhoods, but shouldn’t we outgrow junk food as adults? Even if we want to sample a little junk food for the sake of nostalgia, the equivalent of the Christmas treat of a Hostess Twinkie, why not just watch a rerun on Netflix of the real thing?

My Little Pony is mediocre animation (at best) from a studio that knows how to do it better by artists who could do better work.

I am told that it is the innocence and lack of irony in the show that makes the jaded happy. It is restful to our weary post-modern minds. A character can be named Spike or Twilight Sparkle on My Little Pony with no trace of a sneer from the animators. And yet while little will put most adults to sleep faster than watching two or three My Little Pony episodes, surely there are more worthy objects of attention.

Is it acceptable to like something that is not all that great? I suppose so. After all, I enjoy the original Star Trek and the writing there borrows only titles and not quality from the Bard. Yet My Little Pony makes the worst Trek episode (Spock’s Brain?) feel deep by comparison.

If one were to think about My Little Pony, and a person probably should not think about My Little Pony, then one might see a comparison between the Land of Equestria and Plato’s city in Republic. There is a philosopher Princess, a guardian class of ponies with discrete jobs, and a herd of regular ponies who do most of the work. The guardian ponies have “cutie marks” that show their special skills and each pony works within that skill set. Twilight Sparkle has the master skill of magic and is plainly a Princess (the Philosopher Queen-Pony) in training.

O.K.

But once you see the show’s rules then episodes get highly predictable and I am confident that the average adult viewer should “get it” in a few episodes. The writing is lazy enough that  the shows adds “powers” to the main characters or pony/animal/monster groups at a whim. Each episode teaches a lesson (sharing, tolerance) so innocuous and uncontroversial that it is impossible to be offended, except at the thought that adults might find the cartoonish morality which makes friendship the highest good interesting.

If a person attempted to live out the My Little Pony creed, he or she would be nicer, but also nearly impotent against evil. Nor is it obvious that most Americans would want to live in a world where everyone was a Pony as the sacrifices for excellence are sometimes hinted at, but never at the cost of friendship.

This is all well and good in a show written for six year olds, but shouldn’t adults start rolling their eyes?

Shouldn’t we soon crave adult fare? Growing up is hard to do, avoiding it too easy, and I cannot see how My Little Pony helps.

If a man or woman over the age of eight is entertained consistently by My Little Pony, and I have smart friends who are, then I wonder about the use of their time. Many things could entertain me. I could see value in My Little Pony if I worked at it, because it is after all the product of souls created in God’s image. But why bother? I have not learned to laugh at all of Shakespeare yet or even watched enough anime for my son to consider me worthy to comment on it.

And couldn’t I use the time to create instead of consuming mediocre animation?

There are certainly worse ways to spend ones free time and excess devotion to any entertainment should also be challenged. If a man or woman consumes a product in order to regress to childhood, then there is something wrong. A person can appreciate the virtues of childhood and retain some of them without returning to childishness. There might even be something unwholesome, Peter Pan-ish, about trying to recapture childhood in some strong sense.

Michael Jackson couldn’t and we probably shouldn’t try either.

Syrians are killing each other and we are about to go to war. Surely there are bigger worries than the Brony culture (as male My Little Pony fans are called), but one wonders if (unlike Golden Age science fiction) a steady diet of My Little Pony is a wholesome retreat from the adult world. Can’t a man or woman retreat too far from reality or vacate too much on vacation from thought? There was wisdom in the old Toy Land song that pointed out that once you left toys and childhood behind you could never return.

I hope someday (not so far away!) to be a grandfather. When I take my grandkids to Disneyland, it will be for me a place where “age relives fond memories of the past,”* but I will be a grandfather recollecting.

They can never be my little ponies, because I have grown up.

*Walt Disney


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