My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic contains all sorts of wonderful lessons, lessons which I try to take to heart. I realized recently, however, that the lessons do not end when the credits roll. A few weeks ago I wrote an article explaining the importance of My Little Pony to the cause of feminism. And that, I thought, was that. But, to my surprise, the article exploded (well, relatively speaking, anyway) onto the internet. I never expected such a strong response to the article.
Out of that response came a number of lessons. Now, in the spirit of the show, I want to share them with you. To do that, I want to go beyond the show itself to the culture, the responses, and the relevance of ponies to my own experience.
This is Metaponies.
People Believe In Ponies
Really. People pay attention to the message of the show and take it to heart. I've been around The Internet enough to know that it is not exactly a hospitable place, especially for feminists, ESPECIALLY for feminists of a geek persuasion. I actually sent the article in to Equestria Daily with some trepidation. After all, I had no way of knowing what reaction I might get.
The response blew me away. It was overwhelmingly positive. Or at least, overwhelmingly positive in the sense that people started sharing the article around and for the most part commented on it constructively. The comments I received on the blog itself were all quite supportive, ranging from longer responses to simple short "great article" type remarks.
I point all this out not just to brag. (Well, at least, that isn't the only reason I point it out.) I point it out because there was a remarkable difference between the response I got from people within the My Little Pony fan community compared to the response from people largely outside the community. In fact, the only nonconstructive or outright negative comments I received came from places like the CAD forums (where there seems to be some confusion over the appeal of the show--apparently people there were assuming we watch ponies solely as an ironic pleasure) or Reddit boards associated with more general geek culture. (Interestingly, I also got a lot of very positive responses from feminist sources, despite the totally over the top way I started that article. For the most part, it seems that people recognized that as what it was--an attention grabber--rather than taking it as a totally straightfaced declaration).
What this says to me is that people are taking the show's positive message to heart. Bronies and Pegasisters largely seem to be living out the lessons of acceptance that the show relays. There is a willingness to be open minded about new ideas that I haven't seen nearly as strongly in other web communities.
What's more, a lot of the comments were genuinely concerned with the Brony/Pegasister community itself. There is a reflexivity to the comments that I find fascinating, with many people discussing how supportive of women and feminist causes the community at large is. I have noted the knee-jerk reaction to feminist and queer criticism in the comics and video game community, and seeing this community already reflexively considering its own role in creating safe spaces and a feeling of belonging is heartening. And perhaps the community as a whole is less perfect than I am making them out to be, but there still remains that contrast between these fans and the rest of the internet.
Knowing that for every comment that hurt ("Leave it to a man to marginalize all of feminism in favor of his own experience" was my personal favorite--part of me was just insulted that the point of the article was missed so completely, and the rest of me was actually deeply hurt to be written off simply due to my gender) there were 20 or 30 comments on the other side of the spectrum. It showed me that people really do believe in the ideals, even if there are some elements that still retain the tired "Evil Feminazis!" attitudes of wider culture.
My Princess, I learned that people really do believe in Ponies, unironically, genuinely. And, what's more, I learned that I can brush off the insults and cruelties of people if I only remember that I am not alone, even online.
If You Give Someone Toys, They Will Play With Them
This is what happened with The Pony Wheel, at least among my friends. People seem to genuinely be fascinated by new intellectual toys, and when presented with a simple concept that can be applied in different ways they will run with it. A number of conversations in real life about ponies have at some point included the phrase "Well, it's like how on the Pony Wheel..." or some variation.
|The Pony Wheel, in case you forgot|
In fact, much of the reaction to the article stands as an excellent rebuttal to the concept of the TL;DR culture. By TL;DR Culture, I mean the culture that looks at long or challenging material and responds with the phrase "Too long; didn't read." In fairness, it is a phrase common on the internet; it was not invented by outside commentators. That said, I think it is a phrase emblematic of the common criticism leveled at our generation: that we are a generation without an attention span or desire to engage the media we eagerly consume.
And that, my dear Princess, is bullshit.
The people reading my article did not respond TL;DR. Far from it: they responded critically and thoughtfully, often suggesting ways of looking at the material and the central conceit of the essay that had not occurred to me. The best comments were those that challenged my ideas in a way that made me pause and consider my argument in more depth. Over the exciting days after the article hit Equestria Daily and Reddit I watched as numerous people dug into the article--into the analytical toys I had presented--and started to play. Nothing could possibly be more gratifying.
I learned, through those comments, not only that The Internet was, in fact, full of quite intelligent people with reasonably long attention spans but also that I could post my long, analytical, somewhat pretentious articles and still attract readers. I did not have to be afraid to explore my strange ideas.
Friendship Really Is Magic
My two biggest sources of traffic (I keep tabs on this stuff) were Reddit and Equestria Daily. So, in a way you could say that I owe the success of my article to those two sites. But I don't think that's really accurate. No, I think the success of that article comes from a quite different, far more powerful source:
See, the only reason my article got onto Reddit in the first place is because at least one of my friends put it up there. In fact, he went to the trouble of finding the Pony board and posting the article there so that it would get more attention. Most incredibly of all, he did all this for me when he doesn't even watch the show himself. Wow.
Similarly, the only reason I sent my article in to Equestria Daily is because another of my friends--someone I know from The Internet that I have never met in real life--urged me to do so. It honestly had not even occurred to me to submit the article until he suggested that it was a good idea, and I still might not have done it without him, and a few of my other Internet friends, persuading me that the article was, in fact, good enough to be seen by the public.
From Twitter to Tumblr to Reddit to Equestria Daily, my article spread around the Internet, shared by my friends. Although it has continued to spread around due to random people picking it up and passing it on, the only reason it made its way around the 'net in the first place is because my friends got it out there. Of my most popular articles, most of them owe their success to this sort of thing. Not pageranks, not search engine optimization, just my friends promoting my work.
This, dear Princess, is the greatest lesson from my article. My friends are who I turn to whenever I need help of some sort, and they often appear out of the blue to lend me a hand without me ever asking. Friendship, in that sense, is a kind of magic, working beyond our expectations, and sometimes outside of our awareness.
But, for all of my friends out there, I just want to take a moment to let you know that I am aware of all that you've done for me. Thank you. If it wasn't for you, none of this would have been possible.
But I suppose it shouldn't surprise me. After all, isn't this just what the show has been telling me all along?
Your faithful student,