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Ponies overachieving, from feminism to 4chan

Published: Thursday, March 10, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 17:06

Ponies.We'll get back to that, but first you must create a PowerPoint presentation (10-15 minutes) on the distribution of immaterial resources in 14th century Scandinavia. Be sure to include a section on the taxation processes of each respective nation.

Were this a class assignment, you could probably count on the presenters to stage productions involving a heavy use of charts, bullet points and perhaps a painting of old king Albrecht. Like the nutrition label on a bag of jelly beans, there are certain preconceptions about the presentation of such rote information.

But essays, speeches and PowerPoint productions don't have to be nutrition labels; with effort, they can be "My Little Pony."

Believe it or not, that is a compliment that makes sense. It means even the most mundane thing that one would naturally expect to be boring, can in fact turn out to be something that exceeds expectations - be it an essay, class speech or children's television program. To prove my theory and cut right to the sparkly, pink heart of the matter, the new "My Little Pony" show is fantastic.

Developer Lauren Faust, an animator whose credits include "The Powerpuff Girls" and "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends," has done something amazing with this much-maligned property. Since its inception, the "My Little Pony" franchise has, to most anyone outside of the little-girl demographic, been looked at as something dreadful - and they were right.

The toys themselves were the epitome of pandering to the young-female stereotype, and the television show created to showcase the line was - dreadful. I recall hearing that the Joker, after viewing an episode of the series, once commented ". And I thought that my jokes were bad."

In late 2010, this punch line of feminine merchandising began its latest animated series, a Canadian/American production with a title that gives you cavities just thinking about it - "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic." As disturbingly saccharine as this title is, it's what happened after the October premiere that really demands attention.

The blog "Cartoon Brew" wrote a post condemning the existence of the toy-driven show. Members of popular forum "4chan's comic and cartoon board (/co/)," quickly criticized and poked fun at the alarmist tone of the piece.

Several members, curious about the subject matter, actually watched the first episode of the new series and found it absolutely unlike anything they were expecting. The news quickly spread across the Internet and more viewers tuned in to see what the fuss was about.

As recorded by internet-phenomenon tracker knowyourmeme.com, members of /co/ ".loved the series because of the artwork and animation," while fans on "/b/" (the main 4chan board) ".seemed to enjoy the plot and characters more." All this coming from the site responsible for popularizing "Rickrolling" and "Pedobear," and described by Encyclopedia Dramatica as "the a-hole of the Internet," was only a hint of the cute and cuddly show's ability to entertain people outside its intended demographic.

Yet even as "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" began spreading across the web like a spilled jar of jelly beans, critics arose to lodge the usual complaints about the franchise. On the Ms. Magazine blog, a column was posted decrying the show as yet another dumb addition to the stereotypically girly franchise. Atypically for any television show, series creator Lauren Faust actually responded to the criticism on the Ms. Magazine blog, saying:

"I have been a lifelong feminist, and as an artist working in the animation industry for more than 16 years, I have striven to do right by women and girls in the animated projects I have been part of." She described her years-long struggle to pitch an animated show to studios that focused on girls, but found no success until being offered the chance to produce the newest "My Little Pony" television series.

"I was extremely skeptical at first about taking the job. Shows based on girls' toys always left a bad taste in my mouth, even when I was a child. On TV, I couldn't tell one girl character from another and they just had endless tea parties, giggled over nothing and defeated villains by either sharing with them or crying - which miraculously inspired the villain to turn nice. In short, animated shows for little girls come across as boring. Stupid. Lame.

"This perception, more than anything, is what I am trying to change with 'My Little Pony.'"

Now 18 or so episodes in, has she succeeded? Well, yeah. A lot. Back in the mystical land of 4chan, as the show's popularity grew, fans on the site began referring to themselves as "/b/ronies" (the /b/ referring to the board) or simply "Bronies" (indicating male fans of the series). Pony-related threads quickly saturated the site, with fans posting quotes and image macros.

Assisting the show's spread was the easy availability of episodes due to the fact that Hasbro makes far more of a profit through merchandise than actual viewership, giving them little reason to pull episodes offline.

The statistics on YouTube are particularly telling concerning the "girly" show's appeal. Take, for example, an episode entitled "Feeling Pinkie Keen." According to the site, this video is most popular with "males 13-17, males 18-24, males 25-34." Quite a ways from Hasbro's target demographic, isn't it?

Browsing any given episode's comments is equally educational. According to one commenter, "Clearly this show is for men only. Now excuse me while I wrestle a bear as I sky dive without a parachute."

Given such success, you're surely wondering how the fandom has grown and responded to the new series. In a question that only months ago would've come off as purely hypothetical, what happens when traditional, male gamers and geeks sincerely embrace a subject like "My Little Pony"? Would there be mash-ups? Music videos? In-depth analysis of pony politics and social psychology?

Read part two tomorrow to find out.

Scott Dennis is a senior in fine art. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily represent those of the Daily Barometer staff. Dennis can be reached at forum@dailybarometer.com.

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