Pony Thought of the Day: Postmodernism, Post-Postmodernism, and New Sincerity

Is Friendship Is Magic actually postmodernist? It depends largely on how you define the term. Specifically, it depends on where you feel the New Sincerity movement lies, because Friendship Is Magic is clearly a part of it.

The New Sincerity movement can be summed up as a rejection of cynicism and detachment and an embrace of intensity of feeling, exaggeration, and overt sentimentality. Some examples of works that embrace a New Sincerity aesthetic (other than Friendship Is Magic, of course) include Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, post-2005 Doctor Who, and Captain America (the recent movie). They reach directly for a pure emotional response while being completely open about doing so, aware that that the audience can see what they’re doing. It is impossible to watch Gurren Lagann without realizing that it wants you to think it’s awesome, but it’s so much more enjoyable if you just let go and feel how it wants you to feel, instead of trying to retain a sense of ironic detachment. Likewise, Friendship Is Magic is openly trying to create warm fuzzies. There’s no subtlety to it at all. But if you let it make you feel warm and fuzzy, the experience is simply wonderful.

And that’s where the dilemma comes in. If you define postmodernism as being about ironic detachment, then obviously the New Sincerity is a rejection of it. But if you define postmodernism (as I do) as being about conscious awareness of the construction of meaning, then the New Sincerity is all about that; it relies on the audience recognizing what the work is trying to do and agreeing to participate.

So I stand by the assertion that Friendship Is Magic is postmodernist, mostly because I think metamodernism, post-postmodernism, and New Sincerity (which are more or less different words for the same thing) are actually offshoots of postmodernism, not rejections of it.

4 thoughts on “Pony Thought of the Day: Postmodernism, Post-Postmodernism, and New Sincerity

  1. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is not about “conscious awareness of the construction of meaning,” and every work of art ever made relies upon “the audience recognizing what the work is trying to do and agreeing to participate.” You are stretching the meaning of “post-modernism” past its breaking point.

    Irony and cynical detachment are fundamental principles of neither modernism nor post-modernism, and the “new sincerity,” by rejecting them, is not embracing either one. If anything, it would appear to be a form of neo-traditionalism, which is opposed to both post-modernism and its predecessor.

    Finally, I am not aware of any tendency toward cynical detachment in children's entertainment for MLP:FIM to be reacting against. In fact, cynical detachment and irony is one of the things the show tried out, found didn't work for it, and hasn't gone back to. I bet you can guess which episode I'm referring to. 🙂

  2. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is not about “conscious awareness of the construction of meaning,”

    That was sloppily wording on my part, I apologize. What I should have said is that postmodern art is about encouraging conscious awareness of how meaning is constructed–which I'd argue FIM does do at many points and on many levels, from something as simple as Pinkie Pie calling attention to the frame by hanging off it, to making an entire episode about a character panicking over not having a moral to end the episode with, and that's not even getting into all the ways in which it rejects (and thereby implicitly critiques) much of how the media construct gender.

    Irony and cynical detachment are fundamental principles of neither modernism nor post-modernism, and the “new sincerity,” by rejecting them, is not embracing either one. If anything, it would appear to be a form of neo-traditionalism, which is opposed to both post-modernism and its predecessor.

    I agree with you entirely that irony and cynicism are not fundamental to modernism or postmodernism. Not everyone does, however, which is why some theorists regard movements like the New Sincerity as a rejection of postmodernism where I see it as a continuation of it.

    I'd disagree that it's neo-traditionalist, however. The way in which it employs irony in its rejection of irony, which in the case of FIM is particularly visible in fanworks such as Friendship Is Witchcraft, and its embrace of spectacle and camp recall nothing for me so much as the glam aesthetic of the early 1970s, which was unquestionably postmodern.

    I am not aware of any tendency toward cynical detachment in children's entertainment for MLP:FIM to be reacting against.

    Cynical detachment is vital for slapstick and sarcasm, which are the main forms of humor employed in both the classic WB cartoons and the WB/Amblin renaissance of the late 1980s/early 1990s.

    In more recent times, cynical detachment is a specialty of Cartoon Network, being key to the humor of shows such as Flapjack and Regular Show; they simply wouldn't work if the viewer cared at all about how the characters feel. Adventure Time has been moving away from that and toward treating its characters as people, however.

    I bet you can guess which episode I'm referring to.

    I'm not entirely sure, actually.

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