An examination of the culture behind the MLPFiM fandom

Archive for the ‘Content’ Category

Coming to Conclusions

So, now that you know the elements of a good fanbase, can we use this for other shows? There probably aren’t many companies who would be willing to even try, as there is a lot of work that has gone into this, and in return Hasbro has so far only gotten less control over the fanbase and an uncertain monetary return. I don’t believe we’ll see another success of this magnitude by taking this approach, simply because by the time the final results are in, the rules will effectively have changed.

Still, even if other companies may not be willing to take such an approach with their communities, the fundamentals of characterization and music remain. Certainly merely duplicating the MLPFiM is not necessarily the best plan, but these are elements virtually any show will need if it wishes to become a classic.

Finding Fans – On Community

Luna flying by the light of the moon

Yes, there's plenty of fan art, too.

Most importantly for our purposes, the community is influenced by the passion which the fans put into various fanworks related to the show. For just about any medium, some fan has tried to create a pony-related work in it.

One example is the lengths to which fans are willing to go to customize their pony figures to better fit the image they have of the characters or to have figures of characters for which Hasbro does not yet create toys. Torres (2011) has created the most triumphant example of the former: she has produced a tutorial for taking a Princess Celestia figure (which, is for some reason, pink, despite the character being much closer to white in the show) and replacing the hair, adding accessories, and completely repainting the figure. There is a great deal of effort and skill involved, but to her—and, apparently, to other fans as well—it was worth it.

Another media absolutely full of MLPFiM fanworks is video. There is a nearly endless stream of fan videos, most of which take video from the show and set it to other audio, usually either music or audio from trailers for games or movies. One of the largest single examples of this type of video is “PONIES the Anthology” (ZephyrStar, Macchinainterna, Dr. Dinosaur, SilkAMV, ReggieSmalls, MeleeChampion, . . . Inthesto, 2011). It is an episode-length set of short scenes done in the above style, and due to its quality (good synchronization, custom animation, and generally excellent humor), is likely one of the most-viewed videos within the fanbase. (Movie trailer videos generally have many more views due to non-fans.)

However, as important as these fanworks are, without Hasbro’s condoning them, the community would still collapse. While Ponies the Anthology is an excellent example of a high-quality fan video, it’s also an excellent example of a fan video to which the actual target demographic of young girls shouldn’t be exposed due to explicit lyrics. Sabrina Dent (2011) addresses this idea in her presentation given at Dot Conf; she explicitly points out “The internet hates lawyers,” then points out the major reason for Hasbro’s noninterference. Hasbro is not making money off the airing of the episodes, but rather the sale of the toys. Therefore, anything that attracts additional people to the fandom and may cause them to buy merchandise is all to the good. Unfortunately, Torres (2011) and her custom Celestia figure point out the potential problem here: adult fans are much more likely to criticize the available toys. It remains to be seen whether Hasbro’s actions will pay off in the long run. In what may be viewed as an effort to placate older fans while figuring out what to do with their toy preferences, the Hub (2011) has actually taken to producing advertisements targeting these fans, such as the “Equestria Girls” video currently airing as a promotional spot on their network. It contains references only these fans are likely to understand, despite airing on a children’s network, and at least demonstrates they are aware of their expanded fanbase.

Making Melodies – On Music

Another aspect of the show that brings fans in is its music. Daniel Ingram puts a great deal of effort into the songs, including a 20-person choir for a song in the season finale (Tekaramity & Ingram, 2011), while Will Anderson creates wonderful atmosphere with an orchestral-style score with some more modern instruments (Tekaramity & Anderson, 2011). These combine and pair with the animation to vary the mood from an elegant ballet to the screaming and hollering of a sports competition. This approach to the show as art makes it a lot easier both to sit back and enjoy the show and also to drag new fans in: the creators are clearly treating it as serious business rather than just a vehicle for producing money.

“At the Gala”, the above-mentioned song from the season finale:

The episode “Dragonshy” present with the background music only:

Presenting Ponies – On Characterization

One of the major reasons any show can catch on is its depth of characters. Realistic characters, each with their own goals, strengths, and weaknesses, provide the opportunity for realistic plots. Fortunately for MLPFiM, the main cast does a very good job of demonstrating all of these.

Young Rarity at her sewing machineFirst, unlike many shows for girls, the characters demonstrate a wide variety of strengths. Even unlike earlier incarnations of My Little Pony, there are athletes, there are eggheads. The party pony and the shy one come into occasional conflict. This stems from one of Faust’s (2010) stated messages she wanted to convey with the show: “There are lots of different ways to be a girl.” The diversity among the characters ensures little girls will see something of themselves in at least one of the characters; however, this has also wound up applying to the older fans. Even the somewhat stereotyped characters are presented in a more positive light. For instance, the main cast does include a fashonista. However, rather than the typical shopaholic, Rarity is a designer and owns her own boutique. Her independence allows her to still present the beauty expected of such a character without the accompanying “objectifying restraint” (Moongazer, 2011, Meet the Ponies section, paragraph 3), and makes her a real character rather than a caricature.

Foreshadowing - All the ponies in this town are CRAZY!

However, the other half of why these characters work so well is their flaws. Moongazer (2011, Community, Diversity, and Pony Equality section, paragraph 1) claims that this is a crucial part of their characterization: “patriarchal media usually denies women the personhood that would enable us to be represented as flawed human beings and/or comical characters.” One of the best examples of this is Rainbow Dash. On the surface, she appears in many ways to be the stereotypical jock, with an overinflated ego and no concept that there might be something she can’t do. However, when examined more closely, it’s apparent that she is hugely afraid of failure: episode 16, “Sonic Rainboom” (Faust, 2011) does the most blatant job of showing Rainbow’s descent into neurosis when confronted with her own seeming inability (although of course this being a children’s show she succeeds in the end). In fact, all of the main cast have their own moments of feeling like their own talents have completely deserted them. Overcoming this loss of control provides a source of conflict that the “monster of the week” approach some shows take cannot match.

An introduction

My Little Pony Friendship is Magic (hereafter MLPFiM) is a reboot of Hasbro’s My Little Pony franchise, as envisioned by Lauren Faust. While its primary demographic remains young girls, it’s gained popularity as a show that their parents can also stand to watch (VanDerWerff, 2011) as well as, more confusingly, adult males without children. This fanbase of “bronies” have seemingly spread to every corner of the internet (Watercutter, 2011). However, while the history of the fanbase is well-documented by Watercutter, Dent (2011), and others, what is less clear is what, exactly, resulted in this phenomenon being a thing in the first place. I believe there is evidence for three distinct causes: the characterization, the music, and the community around the show.

Over the next few posts (what would be days were this a “real” blog; see the About page), I intend to examine each of these causes in some detail, while providing material for the interested reader to do additional looking.