This is a guest post written by Alex Stump:
My two little brothers have been watching My Little Pony for a long time now. I watched a couple episodes (and also the unholy spin-off series Equestria Girls) and I’ll be 100% honest…My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is a really good show. But don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not coming out as a Brony. I, as an 18-year-old man have better things to do then obsessing over a show made for seven year olds. Which really fascinates me, what is it about this kid’s series that attracts so many young adults? It’s a question that has been going around since the show premiered and the most widely accepted questions/theories I’ve seen are:
And D) People watch MLP because they’re mentally handicapped.
These answers have some truth to them but I find them to be mostly flawed…So how about I give you my own answer to the question.
Sure, everyone has his or her own reason for watching, but I think there’s a unifying reason why. You see I believe the reason why MLP is so popular and why it stands out in the entertainment industry is because the show has a “thing”.
What is this “thing” you ask? Well, this “thing” is very important to fiction. It goes all the way back to ancient times. It was prevalent in the 20th century but sadly is being abused and forgotten in the 21st century. Let me give you some examples:
The Adventures of Robin Hood is a 1938 film staring Errol Flynn and tells the tale of Robin Hood and his merry men. This movie has great action scenes,
good acting, amazing sets, and is quite possibly the happiest go lucky movie I’ve ever seen. Seriously, this film is so happy I dare you to watch it without smiling. Robin and his merry men are tons of fun to watch. They’re funny, smart and most of all virtuous. The women are great too, they’re modest, beautiful and don’t complain about the traditional family structure. Just about every character in the film has an enjoyable personality. We see medieval society portrayed in a mostly positive light, which is nice to see. Even religion gets a good light and in the end everyone lives happily ever after.
The movie’s really good; it’s a beloved classic for a reason. (Seriously, this movie’s good. If you haven’t watched it already, WATCH IT!!!)
Now let’s talk about the 2010 Robin Hood movie directed by Ridley Scott. This film isn’t what you’ll call happy. Robin Hood is not a righteous nobleman but a lying criminal who desserts the holy crusade and fights the evil stereotypical French. The women are awful, the church and medieval society are both portrayed in a negative light and the rest of the movie is just dark, gritty and forgettable. Guess what? The movie wasn’t well received, with critics like Roger Ebert calling the movie “innocence and joy draining away from movies.” Now there’s a new Robin Hood movie coming out this year and apparently it’s yet another dark and gritty take on the Robin Hood story. Just what the masses wanted, am I right?
Superman! Who doesn’t know the man of steel? He is the most well known superhero in the DCU. His origin story’s an all-time classic; he is a common role model for kids and adults, his sidekicks and super villains are good. Most importantly, he saves kittens stuck on trees. Even if you don’t like Superman, nobody can deny the cultural significance he has all over the world. He is more then just a superhero, he is the superhero…In the new Superman movies however, and he is anything but a superhero. In the DC cinematic multiverse, Superman’s a nihilist, he fails to save people, kills his enemies, and lets his emotions get the better of him. He treats his life as a superhero not as a duty, but a curse. When Superman (spoiler alert!) dies in Batman v Superman nobody gives an anti-life equation, because that guy on screen is not the man who has everything. What happened to the Superman?
Star Wars is one of the greatest space operas ever made. A movie with amazing characters, a classic story and groundbreaking special effects. They’re movies that pay homage to Akira Kurosawa and the serials from the 30s and 40s. A story that borrows from East Asian philosophy and the archetypes of Joseph Campbell. A story with a great amount of historical symbolism, ranging from WW2, the French Revolution and the Roman Empire. Yet with all of the complexity and metaphor, the original Star Wars trilogy (and to some extent the prequels) is nothing more than simple kids movies…the new films by Disney I wouldn’t call simple. The new movies lazily rehash the plots from the original films but without the symbolism and archetypes. The new heroes are either too perfect or too flawed, there’s pretty obvious political messages floating around and all the original characters we know and love have forgotten everything they learned from Jedi and they all die. Don’t complain though, because filmmaker JJ Abrams will call you sexist for not liking the movies. (It makes you wonder what goes on behind the scenes.)
So, what exactly is this “thing” that My Little Pony, Star Wars, Robin Hood, and Superman have in common that their modern day remakes and sequels lack?
Heroism. No, really. Heroism or just simply, the heroic character is the most common archetype in storytelling and the most important. People naturally draw themselves towards heroes because they represent some kind of greater good, whether it be, faith, bravery, hope, charity and yes…friendship. When done correctly, the heroic character becomes a timeless icon. I mean look at my examples again. Superman is good not because of his superpowers but because of his character. Superman’s an immigrant, a stranger who uses his alien powers to help others. He stands for truth, justice, and the American way. No matter how bad the situation is, he never kills people. (For more on this subject, watch the animated movie Superman vs. the Elite or read the comic book it’s based on.)
Robin Hood (from The Adventures of Robin Hood) is a great character not just for his romantic, charismatic personality but also for what he’s fighting for. He fights an illegitimate authority and wants to return King Richard back to the throne of England. He believes him to be the rightful king, and he will sacrifice everything in order to get him back. Robin Hood knows he’ll bring a good, just government to England.
And Star Wars is a classic tale of good defeating evil, growing up into adulthood, redemption, and a tale of low-lifes becoming great heroes. Let’s look at Han Solo for a minute. Sure people talk about how cool Han Solo is like how he shot-first but in my opinion that’s not what makes him an amazing character. In the beginning of A New Hope, he’s a jerk to Luke. He doesn’t believe in the Force. He’s not a man of honor and only cares about money. However he slowly starts to care about Luke and Leia and discovers faith in the Force and after going through so much trouble and getting everything he wanted. He comes backs to save Luke, allowing him to destroy the Death Star. Despite not being a man of the book he is still a hero inside. Which if you really think about the real hero in the original trilogy it is Han, not Luke.
People look up to these heroes because they inspire us. Not to put on capes, overwears and conduct vigilantism, no, but to never give up hope, to always take up virtue and to know that good always triumphs…which really lacks in modern day entertainment. A lot of modern storytellers don’t understand heroism and don’t know why it’s so important to many classics. The new Superman movies suck because they don’t have any of Superman’s trademark heroism. Like I said, he kills the bad guys, he fails to save people and loses control of his emotions. That’s not a hero. The new Star Wars movies suck because all of the new characters are these god-like Neanderthals who have no reliability that made the original characters great. No all of them are sad old people who don’t learn anything. In fact, many remakes and sequels of classic stories are sad in tone when their originals were not-why is this? Well we all know why, it’s all because of the postmodern viewpoint that heroism is a fantasy and in real life everything that makes a hero doesn’t exist. Such a worldview is really bad and it shows in many original stories today. I mean look around you, fiction’s so dark it’s become commonplace for a piece of entertainment to take place in a post-apocalyptic world or dystopia where all authority is bad, all hope is lost, God doesn’t exist and the only thing that’s metaphysical is politics. There aren’t any heroes, only cynical, morally ambiguous, deeply flawed characters with little to no sympathy. When the day is saved and the bad guy is defeated it usually ends on a very bitter note like nothing was every achieved. Does that sound entertaining to you?
Plus, when you get right down to it, a lot of these stories are shockingly bad. Many fields of entertainment aren’t being made by talented people but by executives who only care about money. Their writing is lazy, quality over substance, completely mindless with characters that are either one dimensional to two-dimensional, which writers try to hide it by making them inherently flawed. Now an inherently flawed characters is perfectly normal as long is there’s some sort of payoff or balance, However tons of writers today fail on both, causing audiences to feel alienated from the protagonist because the story literally gave them reasons not care about his or her struggles. Mix that all up with a problematic imagination and an unsubtle political agenda and you get a match made in limbo. Again, a lot of these problems come from this false interpretation of heroes not being real. Of course heroes are real. Anyone can be a hero. We enjoy fictional heroes because they remind us that good exist; If there is no hero, then there’s no value, if there’s no value then people don’t care and if people don’t care then the story is forgotten and then lost in time. I know every story can be different In form but the most popular formula is about heroes saving the day which is being desecrated in the modern era…
However-and I can’t believe I’m about to say this (or write this) My Little Pony is the exception. In the show, heroism isn’t ignored or perverse but accepted. The characters do heroic acts and they’re celebrated for it. Almost every character is nice, trustworthy and never cynical or morally ambiguous. The world they inhabit isn’t nasty, but a beautiful place, one that’ll make you wish you lived there. The show promotes many positive messages with a huge focus on friendship being the best ever, and no matter how dark the show gets (and believe me the show can get surprisingly dark at times) none of the heroes give up hope and they all lives happily ever after.
Plus, the show is well made. It’s not created by greedy executives but by talented people who’ve been working on cartoons for decades. The dialogue is funny, most of the episodes are smart, the characters are well-developed, the music and animation is surprisingly great and the show’s smart enough to not go P.C. Compare this to other television shows like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Big Bang Theory, The Handmaids Tale and every show on the CW, MLP is one of the few TV shows that’s actually good. Wouldn’t you agree?
I think the reason why so many young adults watch MLP is because many of them are so tired and fed up with how much fiction has merged with postmodernism and choose to watch this simple kids show, Not only for being smart and entertaining, but also celebrating something many of them haven’t seen in a long time…and that’s a story of good people doing good things…But hey, that’s just a theory! A game-wait a minute?
What’d you guys think? Was my theory on the brony phenomenon absolutely right, absolutely wrong or was it missing a couple of points?