My Little MLP Adventure: Prologue

My Little Pony has become a visible part of the furry community in the last few years. Since 2010, when the TV series was rebooted by Hasbro and Lauren Faust, ponies are everywhere. It’s not just that they’re easy to draw (although I’m sure that helps), they are popular to the point of ubiquitousness online and at conventions. They have become an important feature of furry’s cultural wallpaper. And they are, of course, anthropomorphic too.

And yet MLP is clearly a children’s cartoon.

So why is it loved by so many intelligent and thoughtful furries? Why has MLP joined the likes of The Lion King as a furry touchstone?

I’m going to try to find out.

Fortunately I am friends with one of the great furry pony-lovers, a UK furry called Artax. Artax is one of the founders and an administrator of a popular MLP forum at www.canterlot.com (4,900 members, 286,000 posts), as well as being a longtime pony geek. I asked him how a pony-sceptic should make a virgin approach to all thing M, L, and equine.

Artax is my Dr Pony, and he has prescribed me an MLP marathon: we’re going to sit down and watch as much MLP as I can stand, starting with Season One Episode One.

I am filled with curiosity and terror.

The ponies, you see, are a bit personal for me. As a horse furry, I identify with my equine self as a source of quiet personal strength, physical and mental. The horse is the foundation of my identity; it’s what makes me a furry. Popular perception of the ponies undermines the formerly staid horse archetype. People find out that I’m a horse and they don’t think I’m an impressive equine: they ask about my cutie mark.

Now you might find this all to be hilarious. But it’s taken some adjustment on my part. It’s as if I met a dragon furry, and I went on to imagine a pastel Baby Yoshi. This would be at odds with the intimidating expression of outsiderhood presumably intended by my fantastical friend.

Even before the new series of MLP starting taking over my world, furry friends would poke fun at me by harking back to the ponies of the 1980s. They did so because they, correctly, sensed that it contradicted my relationship with the horse. And, in the manner of friends sensing a good-natured but genuine weakness, proceeded to satirize me as a pony at every opportunity. I had no choice but to grin and bear it.

My tormentor-in-chief has predictably become a modern-day pony-lover. She was all too happy to draw JM as a pony for this article (you can see more of Rainbird’s pony art here):

Ponified JM
Pony JM. According to Rainbird, Ponified JM stands for ‘Juicy Mac’, a bizarre moniker inspired either by a type of apple or the fact that I was an early iPod adopter. I do not endorse this name.

MLP is a children’s TV show, and I rarely choose to consume media created for children.

My cultural interests generally veer towards the highbrow: I subscribe to literary magazines; I read good quality fiction; I sometimes watch ponderous European cinema. And I know that this can make me seem hopelessly pretentious.

But I’m not snobbish about it. I don’t think less of people who prefer their media to be lowbrow, be that Harry Potter or Transformers. If anything, I’m worried about being subject to a kind of reverse snobbery, where I might be made to feel ashamed for my interests. To quote Thomas Pynchon: “Except for maybe Brainy Smurf, it’s hard to imagine anybody these days wanting to be called a literary intellectual.

I’m not going to apologise for choosing to consume media created for adults. I’m equally won’t suggest that there is anything wrong with consumption of media created for children. My preference is personal, and I don’t think that people who love the lowbrow are any lesser in intelligence, or any other supposed measure of the value of a human being.

I don’t have any specific objection to animation or children’s TV, except to say that I often find it, well, childish. There is a scene in Life Of Pi (the novel, I haven’t seen the film) where our castaway, in desperate hunger, tries to eat his own faeces. His plight is such that he doesn’t register the taste, he simply learns that it contains no sustenance. I feel much the same way about children’s TV, from Barney the Dinosaur through to Family Guy.

And so the prospect of a day dedicated to My Little Pony fills me with terror. I understand that the show is set in a pony-only universe, and that the characters (who have names like Rainbow Dash) go about and have adventures. Everything is going to be colourful and high-contrast and jolly, which sounds to me like a kind of longform Nyan Cat.

Fear.

But I am curious too, and that curiosity comes from the rather amazing culture that has sprung up around MLP. Artax, like many of my pony-loving friends, is an intelligent and grounded guy. I trust that his love for the show must come from something more worthwhile and nuanced than its physical aesthetics.

Perhaps there is an undercurrent of Ghibli-style magic, where an emotional thread lurks below the fantastical creations? Maybe there is a clue in the show’s subtitle, and that the show explores how friendship creates something special, magical about life? (Please, please please please, don’t tell me that actual friendship in the pony universe is actually magic. Please please.) I’m all for well-told morality tales that reinforce the value of friendship, one of life’s true joys.

There are some obviously positive sides to the show too. It’s rather excellent that the main characters are exclusively female (or close to it), and that they are embraced by a diverse audience. It makes for a refreshing change, especially given that popular cartoon shows among furries are often contemptible bro-fests, where women are treated as if they are an alien species (sometimes literally). MLP is a breath of fresh air among the likes of Adventure Time, Regular Show, Spongebob Squarepants, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Phineas & Ferb, et al ad nauseum.

Also, I love the pony fandom’s embrace of the so-bad-it’s-good neologism ‘brony’. Brony is a great term, enthusiastically ludicrous, and neatly co-opts a masculine word base to become at least partly gender-neutral. It’s a miracle born of the unlikely coupling of 4chan-style snarkiness and political correctness.

When I ask my brony friends about MLP, I get a range of responses. Some feel that it’s genuinely great TV, some seem to enjoy it as a guilty pleasure, others have referred to it as audio-visual valium. This makes it sound vaguely like the glacial Koyaanisqatsi, a film that—at least in concept—seems like the artistic polar opposite of MLP (except perhaps in the ‘stoner classic’ category). Whatever the truth, such descriptions have piqued my curiosity.

So I’m approaching my ponyfest with an open mind, without setting my expectations too high. Artax has suggested that I prepare by bringing a stuffed animal and a very large quantity of vodka. So I should end up with a warm glow one way or the other. I’ve even infused my vodka with beetroot to give it an appropriately pink hue.

Wish me luck. I shall report my results next week.

About JM

JM is a horse-of-all-trades who was introduced to furry in his native Australia by the excellent group known collectively as the Perthfurs. JM now helps run [adjective][species] from London, where he is most commonly spotted holding a pint and talking nonsense.

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14 thoughts on “My Little MLP Adventure: Prologue

  1. Well, good luck to you.

    I’m actually a serious fan of animation art and a good part of children’s literature, yet I am unable to understand what the bronies see in MLP:FIM. I’ve watched several episodes and come away feeling that they are quite devoid of content. To me the show seems to be largely a vehicle for the promotion of peripheral merchandise, as so many children’s television programs have become.

    It doesn’t bother me that I “don’t get it” because, frankly, I can’t even see these characters as equine, despite what they call themselves.

    1. Hi Altivo, thanks for the comment. I think that yours might be an unusual reaction. Like Masonpony below, there seem to be a lot of people who find themselves loving—or at least enjoying—the show after giving it a chance. I haven’t spoken to any people who are ambivalent, although I admit that my sample space doesn’t extend much beyond hardcore pony-lovers plus a few idle queries among the Londonfurs. Certainly, a big subset of furries are engaged with the show.

      1. It is entirely possible that age is a factor here as well. While I know of one or two exceptions, most of the MLP/brony set seem to fit the furry demographic that leans heavily toward teens and twenties. A lot (most?) of them also are fans of dubstep, trance, and related musical genres that have no appeal for me. I’ll stick with my classical music and classic literature.

          1. To me the name Octavia first brings to mind the sister of Augustus Caesar, but yes, I’m aware of the MLP character. Her existence doesn’t seem particularly relevant, though. Please elucidate.

          2. Octavia is the representative of classical music in the Brony Fandom. Whereas Vinyl Scratch ( or DJ Pon3) represents the dubstep and trance.

  2. I’m glad to see someone giving the show a … mostly … unbiased chance. If you had told me a couple of years ago I’d be enthusiastically watching My Little Pony, I’d probably have suggested your mother drank turpentine while pregant with you, so I can understand your trepidation. But once I got into it, I was hooked.

    I seem to have the opposite approach to media as the author, however. Adult media seems almost entirely a cesspool of lowbrow content centered around crude humor and the unapologetic promotion of sex and pointless ideologies while content aimed at children tends to strip away all the baggage of adulthood and concentrate on promoting positive relationships, simple pleasures, the pursuit of knowledge and, yes, friendship. Before you jump on me and say, “But is nothing like that!” you may rest assured that I’m aware there are exceptions to the rules. I’m speaking in generalities here. I certainly wouldn’t promote Southpark as positive entertainment and I’m rather appalled the author considers Family Guy to be for children. For me, the revamped MLP is the pinacle of such programming and I hope it sparks a new generation of intelligent television for children.

    I’ll be watching for the results of this experiment with hesitant optimism.

    1. Hi Mason, thanks for the kind words. I am doing my best to come into this with an open mind, and ignoring the polarizing effect the show seems to have on the furry community.

      I’m completely with you about ‘adult’ media, by the way. It’s cheap, often nasty, and a subject as important and complex as sex is typically reduced to a sniggering punchline. That’s how I see Family Guy, and why I’ve categorized it as ‘childish’. I think similarly about Southpark.

      There is not a huge amount of media designed for adults on network TV or in mainstream movies. When I say ‘adult’, I’m referring to television like House of Cards or The West Wing, or movies like those directed by Wes Anderson or David Fincher. There are some well-made juvenile TV shows out there—Doctor Who comes to mind—which I appreciate but are not my personal cup of tea.

      MLP is clearly something different. It’s aimed at a younger audience, it’s positive, and it’s won a huge fanbase. I don’t expect that I’ll come out of this as a fan, but I am hoping to understand why it’s special.

  3. I watched the very first episode, and I just said, I can’t do it. It’s just a bit sweet for my taste. Yet, I have such respect for Lauren Faust. She has such a great grasp on retro style. Rumors are circulating in animation circles that she is being removed off the creative staff for the show.

    1. I think I’m right in saying that Faust doesn’t have anything to do with the show after the first season. At least, that’s what Artax told me, so I’m blaming him if I’m wrong. Her name does appear at the front of each episode as the executive producer regardless.

      Having watched the show now (my article is published tomorrow), I don’t think that Faust’s continued involvement (or not) will have much effect. The show’s template has been well and truly set; it’s not much more than writing stories that fit that template, a bit like a Bond film or Columbo episode.

  4. Really interested to see what your thoughts are on this :)

    Also… perhaps it’s just me but I would be unlikely to misunderstand your furry identity being a horse as being a MLP, if you mentioned that your identity /was/ as a MLP, that’d be a different story. (They seem incredibly separate to me as a MLP fan).

    I love MLP, it’s fluffy and happy and I adore beyond measure that it’s centred in the female gaze, that the characters are predominantly female and they’re all just living life together and exploring their stories and journeys.

    I especially love that the range of ponies – being mostly female, are diverse in their characters, interests and focuses.

    I love even more that the lessons that they learn about friendship and relationships are often the kind of lessons that I want more adult people to learn and appreciate more. That’s perhaps related to my thoughts around the importance of communication and how generally we suck at teaching it, but expect people to have extremely strong skills in it.

    I do hope you enjoy MLP, even as just a once off, ‘not for me’ kind of thing that was worth a look.

    1. I’ve watched the show and completed the article by now, so I won’t comment beyond mentioning that it’ll be published tomorrow. Makyo and I decided on a Tuesday publication date rather than Monday like normal, because if people saw us post a long essay on MLP on 1 April, they might incorrectly assume it’s a joke. (It’s not.) I’m looking forward to your thoughts once it goes up.

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