It was one lonely Christmas eve that I found myself surfing the internet, looking for stuff to do in between cleaning up cat vomit and saying "humbug" a lot, when I suddenly remembered an internet phenomena that had been puzzling me for the longest time: the adoption of My Little Pony as an object of fandom among grown men. I had heard talk of bronies, i.e. male fans of My Little Pony, and the new My Little Pony TV-series, subtitled Friendship is Magic, before, but had not delved very deeply into the subject matter to form an opinion. Simply put, I was puzzled by the fact that a show aimed at girls and about traditionally girly stuff (oh how wrong I was in thinking that) could become such a huge hit among adult males. So, that night I decided to cast off my prejudices and give the show a shot, if only to find out what all the fuss was about.
At the end of the first season I realized that I had a problem.
The Beginning: From Traditional Girl's Show to a Show with an Agenda
The theme of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is, unsurprisingly, friendship. While not an alien concept to children's TV, especially shows aimed at girls, the treatment the new series gives to the theme is nearly unprecedented. The show, conceived by Lauren Faust of Powerpuff Girls fame, focuses on the exploits and everyday lives of six ponies, whom TV Tropes refers to as the "mane cast:" (Thank you for that horrible pun, TV Tropes.) the bookish Twilight Sparkle, the down-to-earth Applejack, the kind but apprehensive Fluttershy, the brash Rainbow Dash, the cheerful and eccentric Pinkie Pie and the stylish and classy Rarity. An important part of the show's dynamic is the wildly varied and occasionally conflicting personalities of the six ponies, who yet remain the bestest of friends through thick and thin.
The heterogenous natures of the mane cast (I'm never going to stop using that expression, ever.) only emphasizes another key theme of the show: the show's creator, Lauren Faust, an unashamed feminist with an agenda, has gone on record to say that the wildly varied and sometimes nontraditionally girly personalities of the ponies (i.e. Rainbow Dash is extremely competitive, a feature that is not traditionally seen as feminine and Applejack is a hard worker who doesn't mind getting her hooves dirty; even the most traditionally effemate of the ponies, Rarity, a follower of fashion, is portrayed as an artisan and not a shopaholic) are part of an agenda to demonstrate to girls that there is more than one way of being a girl and that not all girls have to be the same. In a time when most kids' shows still get by with having a token girl character who is characterized mainly by the fact that she is a girl, My Little Pony's variety of female role models is breath-takingly huge.
My Little Pony: Testosterone is Magic
So, what is it about Friendship is Magic that has managed to attract such a wide audience, consisting even of grown-up men? Again, most of it is a result of Lauren Faust's own take on the girl's show. A common criticism of shows aimed at girls in earlier decades has been easily summed up as follows: shows aimed at girls have very little conflict, whereas shows aimed at boys are almost entirely built around conflict. In recent years this assumption has been broken time and time again, with KimPossible deserving a special mention for being an animated show about a girl who doesn't shy away from action.
Similarly, each episode of Friendship is Magic usually revolves around some larger conflict, because Lauren Faust has realized that girls enjoy action and scary exciting stuff just as much as boys do. This leads to a show where the storylines are often in line with the tropes of traditional heroic fantasy, with the mane cast occasionally having to deal with supernatural threats to their community, but in line with the show's theme of friendship said conflict isn't overcome with swords and sorcery, but the solution usually lies in the ponies working together as friends to resolve the conflict.
An equally important point is that the show is simply well-written: I know it's a dead horse trope at this point, but the writing of the show implies that the writers understand that shows like this are occasionally watched by adults (usually the parents of the children the shows are aimed at) and the writers have taken the approach of writing in the occasional obtuse joke that will fly over the heads of the children. A similar approach was taken by the similarly legendary Animaniacs, which was actually extremely raunchy at times. (Not that I ever got the dirty bits of the jokes as a kid.) Similarly to Animaniacs, a lot of the show's humor relies on good dialogue, sight gags and the occasional bit of physical comedy, as well as the reality-defying and occasionally fourth-wall breaking nature of the animation medium. (The most obvious example of this is the character of Pinkie Pie, to whom the laws of physics and the existence of the fourth wall seem to be merely suggestions.)
The show's appeal to grown men is simply a reflection of the fact that while being primarily marketed towards girls the show does not suffer from the same pitfalls as previous attempts at making TV shows for girls, but the show's themes are also universal regardless of one's gender and age. The good writing and humour is just gravy.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a well-written and thoughtful kids show. While mainly written for girls, the show's themes and humour have a lot of appeal to people regardless of age and gender, as long as one is willing to look past the fact that they are watching a kids' show about talking technicolor equines. I heartily recommend the show to everyone who can appreciate good humour and feels in touch with the little girl inside of them.
I myself remain committed to watching the show and appreciating it as a landmark for what a girls' show is allowed to be. I also remain committed to proudly displaying my figurines of the mane cast proudly on my bookshelf.
Why? Fuck you, that's why.