We’re quite contentious, aren’t we?
I don’t wanna bug you with personal details. All you need to know about me for now is this: I am studying Engineering in Information Technology While most people today use the Internet as a tool for their jobs, hobbies, communication, basically and basically a significant amount of their daily routine, it’s basically my job (or at least someday it will be) to make sure that your computer, phone, whatever can use the Internet, among other things. Despite being what I feel is best for my life as a professional, there’s a certain guilt built up in me, knowing that sometime in the future, I may be helping some poor excuse of a productive member of society have access to his own little corner of social media where he can send all manner of unsolicited insults to anyone who dares cross his/her path. I don’t claim that I have some significant importance in the world of communication, but sometimes I like to imagine that the people running this thing could bring the whole thing down one day if they felt like it. Certainly, the world would never be the same place again. Maybe, that’s not too bad. Wait, where am I going with this?
So yeah, the great irony of being connected to the rest of the world through a digital portal is that, while for some, gives us the ability to be brought close to people one may otherwise never get the chance to meet in person. For others, it’s an excuse to engage in all manner of free expression. And that’s not inherently bad. Some of us (myself included) find it comfortable to express certain ideas online, things we might not otherwise get the chance to say anywhere else, and share them with people. It gives us a feeling of freedom, of community and, at the very least, acquaintance….
…and then there’s the people that use this as a get-out-of-jail-free card.
You know what I mean. The comment sections. The message boards. Tweet after tweet after hateful tweet. The worst side effect of Internet communication is that a wall has been built around the individual and the people he/she interacts with. Some choose to ignore this wall and treat the people on the other side with the same level of dignity a decent human being would use, but there’s no denying that there’s a widespread amount of folks who take advantage of this commodity and liberate themselves of social skills regardless of who is on the receiving end. From the most ordinary, harmless things you can find, to some of the most noticeable ongoing discussions in today’s culture, there’s always someone around the proverbial corner, ready to ruin many others’ day. Now, you could just dismiss this as just impulse behavior (it’s easier to harass someone else from the comfort of your living room rather than meeting them in public) or a lack of perspective (The other big irony of mass communication is that this has introduced people to millions of others who, just like them, think their worldview is definitive and any threat to it is cause for alarm), but even then, people should know better. Just because you can’t see the individual on the other side, doesn’t mean he/she isn’t real.
In the past, I have written a few small-time bits of editorial rooted in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and various kerfuffles within the brony fandom. You can probably figure out by yourself where I’m going with this…
I can see no other possible outcome.
As of this writing, the show’s fourth season has concluded its premiere run on The Hub Network. It took a while for us to settle in the dust of new villains, new toys, new places to live, new giant craters over the Ponyville skyline, and new surprise appearances by characters with names that rhyme with Slash Fentry. And it hasn’t been very pretty, to say the least. This isn’t anything knew, of course. After all, 4Chan is often credited as the birthplace of the brony fandom as we know it. As it got bigger, it began to attract a lot of passionate fans, some of which place that passion in the wrong places or express it in the wrong way. This isn’t rare for Internet-based fandoms in general (You bet your ass that George R.R. Martin has made himself quite a few “enemies”, for example), but, as I’ve most likely addressed before, there’s something about bronies that make us stand out even more, something that makes us look (as a whole fandom) relatively less well-behaved than others, to the point that non-bronies become very aware of our dramatic overreactions. For one thing, many of us have had a defensive position by default, due to the insecurity rooted in having others judge us because we watch a show for little girls. Some of us have made some rational arguments regarding what is it about the show that makes us have such a strong devotion to it, but there’s still plenty of overly excitable people willing to shove MLP down others’ throats when they don’t have any interest at all. Also, speaking only from personal experience, I’ve seen my fair share of people online that identify themselves openly with the “brony” label and have said plenty of ignorant things regarding a wide range of issues, from basic social skills to a lack of understanding of serious societal problems, particularly regarding race and gender politics.
So yeah, to say the least, we kinda have an image problem. And when we have to put up with bullshit ranging from some bronies making asses of themselves for the Internet to see (especially in front of non-fans of the show), to constantly bitching and moaning at the show creators because the show doesn’t line up with whatever headcannon, it doesn’t help matters.
Now, there’s not a lot an individual can do to fix this (obviously, this isn’t a problem exclusive to us) given how omnipresent the atmosphere of “angry people online” is in modern pop culture, but that doesn’t mean one can’t weigh in with his own grain of sand (I make no apologies for cheesy analogies XP).
I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t considered at some point to jump in the Brony Analysis bandwagon. Like most other fans, I feel like I have a valid opinion regarding the virtues of MLP and I want to share it with others. However, due to limited amounts of time (my studies and other time-consuming hobbies), this is simply too much for me to take on. Also, while we already had a few reviewers (Why can’t they just call themselves that?) for a while, it seems that sometime between the end of Season 3 and the beginning of Season 4, this so-called community began to reach critical mass. There’s plenty of fans out there right now that are already scrutinizing anything and everything about FiM on Youtube, Tumblr, etc. At some point, they were practically coming out of the woodwork, until all of it became a clusterfuck of pretense, headbutting, and posturing. Make no mistake, I love this show (it’s why I’m writing this) and I understand that discussion and criticism can play an essential role in the betterment of art. However, for whatever intentions people are doing this, it’s just getting ridiculous. I know we want the show to be as best as it can possibly be, but let’s be honest: our stakes in what makes MLP good or makes it matter in the big picture barely has anything to do with us. So far, the biggest dent that bronies have had in the structure of the show is in the presence of small-time characters turned into fandom icons that stick to the background for the most part and occasionally the foreground (Vinyl Scratch, Derpy, etc.). Yes, there was a time in which Derpy spoke (which is its own story, already told many times over), but even then, she was, at worst, a footnote in her episode, and at best, a cameo. Since then, while the show has continued to throw us a bone from time to time (other cameos and references), when it comes to the direction of the series as a whole and the role that the main characters get to take, we are not calling any shots. Yes, the staff generally likes bronies, talking to bronies, and going to brony conventions. That doesn’t mean that our overall reactions to the show are what determines what does or doesn’t happen with it or the franchise as a whole.
If that were the case, THIS wouldn’t be getting a sequel.
Also, most of the time, it feels like most brony analysts live in a bubble, where it’s perfectly valid to claim that their opinions and demands from the show deserve to be taken with outmost sincerity by everyone, particularly the staff. Keep in mind that here are people that can claim to make sensical comparisons between topics as particular as Nietzschian philosophy, racism, and this show. Sure, all this could be done in the name of good fun, but it’s a little hard to buy when the default stance of so many of this people is either confrontational or flippant.This may just be me tooting my own horn, but MLP is not that complicated. In fact, it’s pretty damn easy to figure out. It doesn’t require you to think profoundly on it. Just about every episode ends with the characters addressing its thesis. The motivations and personalities of its main characters are easily identifiable. However, contrary to the Internet’s belief, being simple (and while we’re at it, also girly) is not the same as being stupid. The show may not be asking us to feel or think something more profound than “We can be good friends and become better people because of that”, but that doesn’t mean that the show can’t be provocative or affective in its own way. Yes, even if most episodes wrap up with a character summing up what just happened, that doesn’t mean there are other large themes present in the episode. However, you don’t have to make an ambitious overreach to discuss what’s going on. It can be as straightforward as discussing the basic building blocks of storytelling and how they’re used within the show to accomplish a certain objective (What’s the characters’ motivation? Is there an overarching theme? How well do all the parts come together? Things like that). Some of the plots and themes may be very corny, but the show generally throws itself into these with such gusto and little to no irony, that you can’t help but feel swept off your feet by it all. There’s something quietly defiant about an animated series aimed at a broad audience in the 21st century in which friendship is the literal magic that saves the world. Still, some people don’t think this is enough.
That being said…..yes, there isn’t anything wrong about reading deep into things. Again, unlike what the ramblings of random angry strangers on the Internet may tell you, there’s more than one way to enjoy a movie, book, tv show, etc. Do you honestly believe that a show about little talking horses says something that can be paralleled with the works of Kafka? Fine. Do you think that a movie’s terribleness is what makes it enjoyable? That’s not wrong. Do you call yourself a fan of an ongoing series, even if you only like one aspect of it? Go ahead. No problem.
What IS a problem is that there are so many people doing this and a lot of them have just plain shitty attitudes.
Whether it’s under the façade of a character/persona or directly addressing a camera, microphone or keyboard, the default mode of operation of the majority of brony analysts (and to be fair, fan reviewers/commentators of many other fandoms) involves scrutiny, cynical detachment, and condemnation of subjectivity. When it isn’t that, it can border on the obnoxiously fanboy-ish side of discussion, where personal preference turns into an absolute necessity, which turns into demands that the show is expected to comply with. Some of this is a side effect of the “Internet reviewer” culture that the James Rolfes and the Doug Walkers of the world have built. Unfortunately, it seems lost on many people that the characters they created are, to a certain extent, a joke. Yes, nerds and geeks like movies, TV, video games, etc., but these are nerds and geeks that repeatedly torture themselves by engaging in BAD movies, TV, video games, etc. Since then, many have attempted to copy this style and develop a similar clout of followers and influence, and while a few have succeeded, the majority end up going nowhere or rendering themselves strictly as part of a niche (maybe even a niche inside of another niche). Simply put, the Internet has far too many angry nerds. Not many people are open to the idea of simply stating their opinion without feeling like they need to be as over-the-top as possible, whether there being sincere or ironic. In fact, it’s what’s come to be normally expected.
Picture is relevant.
But here’s the thing: acting like a jackass, taking whatever random segment of whatever random piece of media, and work it into a way where you can point at it, say that it’s faulty, and feel righteously justified just because you’re mad is so easy to do, one can do it, or even make a pastiche of it, by mere instinct.
There’s no challenge in it. Allow me to demonstrate:
“Oh, great fucking idea, Twilight! You’re carrying all the magic power that’s left in Equestria and you’re charging against the one guy who can suck it out of you! You know what? You deserve to lose your house! Why would you go back to Ponyville in the middle of a fight?! You could’ve killed innocent ponies! Fucking think, you shitty excuse of merchandising!”
“Oh yeah, how’s THAT for stupid writing?! It JUST SO HAPPENS that Marcellus Wallace was crossing the street when Butch was at the stoplight! What contrived bullshit is this?! Hey, maybe Butch wouldn’t have run into him if he didn’t stop for some fucking Pop Tarts in his apartment! Literally, if he had left just a minute before, he would’ve gotten away scott free! Why does no one act like an actual human being in this movie?!”
“This movie makes no sense! Who the fuck wears a fedora and a leather jacket in the middle of the jungle or the fucking desert?! It’s like a hundred degrees in there! Indy should be soaking in sweat or dying of dehydration by now! How stupid does this movie think I am?!”
Obviously, this is all (poor) exaggeration for effect, but I hope that the message is clear: it can be impulsive, vulgar, and even dismissive of things like suspension of disbelief, theming, or the rules of good story structure, as long as it’s loud an attention-grabbing. Sadly, this is the kind of thing that makes for some of the most popular content in the “review as entertainment” genre online, especially for people who are just still trying to take their series somewhere.
I feel dirty now.
On a more positive note, there are forces at work looking to cover a much broader panorama of tastes and abilities beyond punditry. Websites like That Guy With The Glasses are massive communities that, while founded by a man known for a character with very over-the-top angry outbursts, also features a large variety of contributors from many walks of life and with different interests. While some still fall on the “angry nerd reviewer” category, there have been instances of some contributors wanting to do more than just that. In fact, let’s just talk about Doug Walker for a moment.
Since the return of the Nostalgia Critic in 2013, he has been pushing to do more with this character than just talk about shitty movies. As of right now, half the videos he makes for that series are discussions ranging from current trends to the very nature of why certain elements in entertainment, such as moviemaking, work. The other half, while still just reviews of bad movies, have evolved into something more meaningful. Walker has been pushing to not just nitpick and poke fun of movies, but really get down to the fundamentals of why a movie fails. For example, his reviews for both The Lorax and The Cat in the Hat have featured monologues in which the critic explains why the work of Dr. Seuss matters and why the movies fail to capture what makes them special. They’re very poignant moments in which he speaks not with anger (not entirely, anyway), but with heart and sincerity. He brings a good point across without feeling pretentious or overly dramatic. When he reviewed Man of Steel with “Angry” Joe Vargas, while coming down harshly on the movie, he acknowledges that Joe made some very solid points, and while they don’t agree on the film’s quality, both points of view can be valid. Seriously, have you heard of literally anyone in a similar position as him to come out and say something like that? Now, one could say that the only reason why he gets away with this sort of thing is because of his massive following, but that would be giving the man too little credit: he really is that good.
OK, let’s see if I can bring this full circle. The Internet is a mine field of hate, bigotry, and just general asinine behavior when it comes to disagreeing about the things we are passionate about, no matter how small or harmless they may actually be, and even things we don’t quite understand. Some bronies have unfortunately fallen into this trap. If these people’s behavior were to escalate to a point where someone gets hurt (make no mistake: words DO hurt), they should be exposed for their bad behavior and given appropriate consequences. However, they shouldn’t be an excuse for others to engage in similar behavior. To borrow a tip from a certain episode of MLP Season 4, we’re always going to run into unpleasant people, who can hurt us and feel no remorse over it. That doesn’t mean we should debase ourselves of our good nature and step down to their level. Instead, we should try to uphold our values for all to see and make them stand out all the more.
…Yeah, that does it.
This work was originally intended to be a short announcement regarding a different project, yet it continued to grow and get life of its own. Before I knew it, I found myself with a 6 page essay about bronies and their place in Internet culture. What this longwinded discussion was originally intended for was to announce that, for the sake of offering my own opinion and my own constructive look at MLP, in a small effort to counter-balance the less than friendly reactions of many others, I will be writing an overview of the show’s fourth season. This will be divided into two parts. Part 1 will cover everything from where it was before it began, its overarching themes, writing, music, the brand’s current position as a presence in pop culture, etc. The 2nd part will be a list of my top 10 favorite episodes of the season.