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When Twilight Sparkle, the charismatic lead character of "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic," went from being a unicorn to an alicorn during the third season finale, I cried real, adult woman tears.
Not mom tears brought on by my four-year-old daughter’s similarly ecstatic reaction to the episode, but tears shed because I was just that moved. In a jubilant scene rivaling only the “Yub Nub” Ewok dance at the end of Return of the Jedi, Princess Celestia crowns Twilight Sparkle the newest princess of Equestria.
I thought I couldn’t get any more worked up over those obnoxiously cute ponies, but then I saw that Applejack was wearing an especially festive cow-filly hat for the occasion and my fate as a My Little Pony fan was sealed.
The latest reboot of the My Little Pony franchise began airing on The Hub in 2010 and the first three seasons are available on Netflix, which is where my kids found the show.
As the mother of two preschoolers I watch -- or rather, overhear -- a lot of children’s television and most of it is repugnant. The only kids TV that I have soft spots for are "Sesame Street" and "Yo Gabba Gabba," but I’d never watch them on my own time. And yet, I recently changed my computer’s desktop wallpaper to an image of Rainbow Dash with her mane flowing insouciantly in the wind. So that happened.
I have no interest in reliving my 80s childhood by watching CareBears or Strawberry Shortcake and I approached My Little Pony with the same indifference. But then I’d catch something here and there -- Twilight Sparking racing with a number 42 jersey (42 being the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), or a pony who looks oddly similar to Anna Wintour -- but then I’d look away, because my kids only watch TV so I can do something else.
I tried not to get sucked in, but I failed, then my husband failed, and now the whole house has a bad case of pony fever. My two-and-a-half-year-old son pushes pony-driven trucks around our house towards Duplo-fashioned stables. My daughter prances about our living room pretending to be Princess Celestia, commanding the rest of us to bow before her horsey magic.
And then once the kids go to bed, my husband and I debate who is gayer: Rainbow Dash or Applejack. (Rainbow Dash, but never Google anything having to do with Rainbow Dash and lesbianism if you know what’s good for you.)
Our house is a nonstop, four-person My Little Pony fan convention, but it’s not just us. Actually, we’re late to the pony game. Adult male fans of the show, known as “bronies,” have already created heaps of Internet resources, including fan-created art, videos, merchandise guides and a wiki with 674 pages full of pony factoids. We’re so behind the times that there’s already been a documentary on the bronies.
Now that I’m familiar with the show, I’m not surprised at all that there’s an adult fan base. Lauren Faust, the creator of "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic," conjured a lush and detailed universe for her ponies to gallop about in. Like "Harry Potter" or "Star Trek," there are facts to memorize, rituals to learn, and jargon that “every-pony” can parrot.
Some of the finer elements of the show go over my kids’ heads, like the way that Hoity Toity looks like Karl Lagerfeld, Canterlot Castle resembles Minas Tirith from "The Lord of the Rings" by way of Mary Blair, or the fantasy sequences laden with pop culture references ranging from Indiana Jones to anime, and that’s their loss.
But the best thing about My "Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" is that it is overtly feminist. From Mayor Mare to Zecora, all the power players are mares and fillies. (The colts of Equestria are not subordinate, but they’re side players, except perhaps for Spike, the R2D2 to Twilight Sparkle’s Luke Skywalker.)
In the pony’s universe, kindness and individualism are valued above all else and gender is flexible. For every bit that Rainbow Dash eschews traditional femininity, Rarity embraces it, and neither is presented as better than the other. It is 100% girl positive. Basically, it’s "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" for the juice box set.
I faintly recall about a year ago when a woman told me that there were “pathetic” men on the Internet who were into My Little Pony. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I finally know what I should have said to her: deriding bronies is founded upon the idea that media for little girls is lower than other forms of entertainment. Adult women fans of Transformers would never be mocked to the same extent as the bronies and that’s some straight up hegemonic bullshit.
Everyone responds to quality narratives, and My Little Pony tells some great stories. I’m happy to have found a show that not only appeals equally to my son and daughter, but to my husband and me. We are eager to share "Star Wars" and "Anne of Green Gables: with our kids, but they won’t be ready for a long time. Until then, we can all share our affection for Pinkie Pie (who is basically Shoshanna from "Girls" in pony form).
Last night, while trolling Toys ‘R’ Us’s website for good ponies for the Easter Bunny to hide in eggs, my husband and I paused on an adult-sized trucker hats emblazoned with the bronies’ unofficial mascot, the fan-named DJ PON-3, and wondered if we were going to go that far.
We ultimately passed, but mostly because it was a trucker hat.