My Little Po-Mo vol. 3 Book Launch!

My Little Po-Mo vol. 3 coverMy Little Po-Mo: Unauthorized Critical Essays on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Season Three and Derivative Works is now available for purchase!
Like them or hate them, the fans of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic have created a plethora of derivative works, from the typical fanfiction and fanart to long-running comics, audio dramas, video games, songs, and even animation! Not to be outdone, licensed derivative works have proliferated as well in the years since the series began. But is this a natural and healthy expression of fandom? Or appropriation by adult men of one of the few quality works not created with them in mind?
This third volume of essays adapted from the blog My Little Po-Mo combines a critical study of the third season of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic with analysis of both licensed derivative works and a selection of fanworks to explore these questions and the show which inspired them.
This volume includes:

  • Critical essays on every episode of the third season.
  • Additional essays on licensed works such as the IDW comics series and the Equestria Girls spin-off movies.
  • Analysis of more than a dozen fanworks, including Friendship Is Witchcraft, Ask Jappleack, “Rainbow Factory,” and Mega Pony!
  • A case study of Doctor Whooves as an instance of fan influence on the show.

And more!
You can buy it as an ebook on Smashwords (preferred–you get it in your choice of DRM-free formats, and I get more royalties than the other sites), the Kindle store, Barnes & Noble, or the iTunes iBook store!
Or if you prefer, get it in print on CreateSpace (preferred–this site pays the author more royalties) or Amazon–other stores to follow!
ETA: And if you’re interested in the first two books in the series, or my other books, you can find them here!

I just realized a major upside to the end of My Little Po-Mo

Namely, I can skip Rainbow Rocks if I want to, without feeling the least bit guilty about it.

This isn’t to say that I necessarily will skip it, just that I can feel free to wait and see what other people think of it. If the divide of people who did and didn’t like it is more or less the same as for Equestria Girls, then I skip it.

Gak (Equestria Girls)

If you average their expressions, you’ll basically
get what I looked like while watching this movie.

It’s June 16, 2013.The top song is the controversial “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke featuring T.I. and Pharrell, and the top movie is the dour Superman-as-kaiju flick Man of Steel. In the news, Edward Snowden is revealed as the source of the NSA leaks in the U.S. and defects to Hong Kong (he will ultimately end up living in Russia); Russia bans positive depictions of homosexuality; and it comes out that the Syrian government is using chemical weapons against its own citizens in the ongoing civil war there.

Meanwhile, the Friendship Is Magic movie Equestria Girls, written by Meghan McCarthy opens to a limited run of 200 screens. So let’s start with the obvious: This movie isn’t very good. The animation is not as much better than the show as one would expect for a theatrical release, the story is redolent with high-school drama cliches, and the songs are (deliberately, according to composer Daniel Ingram) modeled on contemporary girl-group pop, which is to say simplistic, autotuned to oblivion, and lacking in variety.

So let’s take that as a given, set it aside, and try to find something more interesting to say, because somewhere underneath the “new girl transgresses established high school factions, becomes darling of all” is the potential for a good movie about more interesting topics.

Consider the intense contrast between settings. Ponyville is practically defined by a lack of cliques or classes. Government officials of wildly differing rank, farmers, artists, artisans, and the apparently unemployed are fast and easy friends in this world, while different races of pony live together and interact harmoniously. Certainly there are circles of friends–the Mane Six themselves form one–but they are not as insular or exclusive enough to be cliques. Most of the Mane Six have friendships outside and distinct from the rest of the group, most obviously Pinkie Pie, but in addition Rarity has her friends in high society, Twilight has Cadence and arguably the other princesses as well, and Rainbow Dash’s interactions with the other pegasi in Ponyville are at least readable as implying friendship. The closest things to cliques in the show are, unsurprisingly, among the schoolchildren: the Cutie Mark Crusaders are very nearly one, with the exception that, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, we can assume Apple Bloom and Twist are still friends. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon, on the other hand, are definitely a clique.

By contrast, one of the first things Twilight Sparkle learns about Canterlot High is that it is defined by cliques, which operate as independent factions. Fluttershy outright states this (“Maybe it was different at your old school, but at C.H.S., everybody sticks to their own kind,”) and lists off several such cliques, including “the athletes, the fashionistas, the dramas, the eco-kids, the techies, the rockers…” and notes that Sunset Shimmer dominates over all of them. This is the familiar world of high-school cafeteria politics, but something interesting is very subtly implied later in the movie, when we learn this world’s versions of Fluttershy, Applejack, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie were friends early in high school, before Sunset Shimmer split them up.

Look at that list of cliques again. Athletes? That’s Rainbow Dash. Rarity is definitely a fashionista, and Fluttershy would doubtless fit right in among the eco-kids. Fluttershy’s list doesn’t have a clique for every member of the Mane Five, but it’s not likely to be a complete list of cliques, either; what it does do is establish a pattern. Applejack and Pinkie Pie don’t really fit into any of the cliques she mentioned; it’s possible that they could be in some kind of baking-centric clique together, but the interactions of the Mane Five throughout the film suggest that they haven’t seen each other much in the years since Sunset Shimmer targeted them. More likely is that each of the five are in separate cliques (indeed, Pinkie Pie’s party-planning committee may be one)–which means that they initially had a strong, cross-clique friendship.

The existence of that friendship, in turn, implies that the school’s cliques were much less isolated prior to Sunset Shimmer’s arrival; more like the friendship circles typical of Ponyville, in other words, than the rigid and frequently hostile cliques of high school cliche. It is an outside force, a manipulator seeking control, who drove the Mane Six apart; it seems likely that she has done the same to the school, dividing and conquering.

The cliques, in other words, are artificial. They are constructs created specifically to divide the students, to prevent them from accomplishing what they could if they were united. This exploitation of the instinct for tribalism to divide people against their own interests resonates with many phenomena throughout our culture, particularly in the political arena, but let us follow the movie in keeping the focus on high school: where do cliques come from? They cannot be an instinctive and inevitable part of adolescence, though they are often depicted or implied as such–there’s little trace of such behavior being a particular and peculiar feature of youth in media before the 1950s or so, for instance. This is a recent cliche, which is to say a recent cultural phenomenon.

And as a cultural phenomenon, it is necessarily constructed by its participants. Cliques come from the students within those cliques, from the ways in which they choose to act on their attitudes and biases. For all that the “Help Twilight Win the Crown” sequence seems impossibly utopian even by Friendship Is Magic standards, the film has been quietly building an argument for it throughout: cliques are not inevitable. Students create and enforce them, and can choose to relax them if they wish.

Notably, it is Twilight who persuades–leads–them to do so. The film makes rather a point of contrasting Twilight’s initial discomfort with her wings to the necessity of adapting to bipedal locomotion and hands, with Twilight noting near the end of the film that adjusting to her wings should be much easier now. But those wings are simply a visual marker of her ascension to political authority, and her discomfort with them an echo of her uncertainty about her new role, a major theme of the coming Season Four. Likewise, her assumption of human form is a visual marker of the alien environment into which she is thrust in this film, high school. If she could climb to a leadership role there, and do a good job of uniting the students behind her in pursuit of a positive end, surely she can do it in the more familiar and convivial environment of Equestria.

Next Week: Season Four begins. And as I sometimes like to do, we’ll start with the ending–which is in itself a reflection of the past…

Welp. Equestria Girls 2 trailer

Sorry this is up so late. Blogger error.

Based on my intensive, in-depth analysis (i.e., watching it once), it appears that the new film once again contains a bunch of girls with identical body types, because if there’s one thing Friendship Is Magic is about, it’s that there’s only one way for a girl to be. Also it contains at least one generic High School Musical-style crowd pop song. Clearly this trailer has left me just tremendously psyched, and also hyped. I expect that the new movie will underwhelm me just as much as the first–and if we’re very lucky, it may also result in fifth season being short and uneven just like the first movie did to third season.

Pony Thought of the Day: I Have Acquired Equestria Girls, Time for Some Planning

The Kickstarter has only 2 days left! You guys have been amazing, but due to a backer reducing their pledge I am now just $10 shy of the stretch goal where I do TWO reaction videos, one to a Gen 3 ep and one to a Gen 3.5 ep. Will I have to suffer through the horrors of “Over Two Rainbows?” Or will I escape that fate by the skin of my teeth? It’s up to all of you to decide!

It’s gauche to ask, I know, but if any of you have a platform from which you can spread the Kickstarter–a blog, Twitter, actual meatspace interaction with human-type peoples, now is the last chance to tell any of them about this drive. Although we passed the initial goal a while back, that was based on my editor’s initial quote before he saw the book–it’s actually requiring more editing than he expected, and therefore costing more. As it stands now, the Kickstarter is just shy of covering my actual costs–which I can cover, the book will definitely still happen, but it’d be nice to say I broke even.
So, I picked up the DVD of Equestria Girls at BronyCon this weekend. Still haven’t watched it and my spoiler-avoidance has been mostly successful, so at this point my knowledge of it consists of the two trailers, the titles of a couple of the musical numbers, and that it has a character named Sunset Shimmer whom people don’t like? Except the people who do? Also several people telling me it’s less bad than they expected. So, now that the DVD is out, it’s time for the promised liveblog! The liveblog will occur this Saturday, August 10. At noon EST a placeholder post will go up on this blog, where people can comment as they please (but NO SPOILERS). At 3 p.m. EST everyone will hit play on their DVDs simultaneously, and we can all start watching together and commenting on what we’re seeing as the movie plays. Let me reiterate: NO SPOILERS. On this post, on past posts–anywhere on the site between now and the end of the liveblog. I normally don’t care because I can almost always predict the plot of something within a few minutes of starting it, but the whole point of this exercise is for me (and anyone else who chooses to join in) to give a moment-by-moment reaction to first encountering the movie, in contrast to the usual planned, thought-out analyses of things I’ve seen multiple times before I start writing. Anyway, I’m looking forward to this. I think it’ll be fun, and in a different way than the blog usually is.

Pony Thought of the Day: Liveblog?

Would there be any interest in an Equestria Girls liveblog? My thinking is, somewhere in the week following the DVD release, I make a PoTD thread that exists solely for us to all start watching Equestria Girls at a predetermined time and comment with our thoughts as we watch.

Yes, I am now ripping off Mark Watches as well as TARDIS Eruditorum.

Pony Thought of the Day: Are we appropriating MLP?

Two things before the actual PTOD: First, I finally broke down and got a bloody Twitter account. If you’d like to follow me, I’m @Froborr.

Second, please note, I’m linking here to an article by Amanda Marcotte, a writer and activist I greatly admire. The article in question is not her best work and makes some assumptions about bronies that I think most of us would regard as incorrect. Please don’t prove her right with your response; if you comment on the article or message her, do so with the love and tolerance that are the motto of our community.

As I discussed in my Pony Thoughts of the Day on implied viewers, I think the show does offer a space for adult geek viewers of either gender, though the original intent was most likely to make a space for the show’s creators. At the same time, there are a plethora of shows for adult geeks, but as far as I know this is the only currently airing show for small kids that depicts women as full, equal human beings, each of who is an individual. The kids need this show, so much as I love it, if it ever came to a conflict between being good for the kids and good for the geeks, I have to say that the kids should win.

Which makes Amanda Marcotte’s Slate article on Equestria Girls deeply unsettling for me, because she has an explanation for perhaps the biggest question about Equestria Girls: Why?

Turning the ponies into human girls does seem like a baffling choice on its surface. There are plenty of teenage girl dolls for little girls to buy, from the aforementioned Bratz to the ever-popular Barbie, but the Ponies were really holding down the market by appealing to the apparently genetic affinity little girls have for all things equestrian that dates back at least to National Velvet. But what if the change wasn’t about little girls at all? What if there was another audience—an older, male, and kind of off-putting audience—that also loves the Ponies and wants nothing more than imagery of them as humans to appeal to their less-than-innocent fantasies about really getting personal with their favorite toys? If there was such an audience, they have a little bit more disposable income than little girls, and selling to them, even if you alienate parents of little girls, might end up being quite profitable indeed.

If true, and it seems plausible enough, then bronies are crossing a line from enjoying Friendship Is Magic to appropriating it. If we are exerting influence on major creative decisions, then something is deeply wrong and we need to find a way to stop it.

That said, I’m not convinced this is actually true. Marcotte makes the erroneous assumption that bronies are watching the show out of a prurient interest. While it’s true that Friendship Is Magic porn exists, it’s unsurprising that a search with the word “porn” in it turned up porn. A better test would be googling a character name with SafeSearch off (I do not recommend actually attempting this); entering a female character from Avatar the Last Airbender or Pokemon produces porn much higher in the results than a Friendship Is Magic character. There’s more than there was a year ago, admittedly, but clop is still controversial—is there any other fandom where porn is debated, rather than an accepted fact?

It’s also a stretch to refer to the Equestria Girls designs as “sexy.” Yes, they all wear skirts (a decision I’ve criticized before), but otherwise there isn’t anything particularly sexualized in their presentations. They are neither realistic depictions of young women nor overtly sexualized; they look, as the mother quoted in the article says, like Bratz dolls. I find it hard to believe, and hard to believe that Hasbro believes, that “people who want to have sex with Bratz dolls” are a lucrative potential market, let alone the subset of that group that are also bronies.

No, I suspect a much more likely culprit is that, after three years, the original members of the target demographic are starting to age out of the show, and Hasbro is trying to find a way to squeeze a few more dollars out of them. They did something similar before, with My Little Pony Tales in 1992, long before bronies. Admittedly those characters were still ponies, but more anthropomorphized than the first incarnation.

So, this probably isn’t an attempt to appeal to bronies. But if it is, or if at some future point Hasbro and DHX start making major creative decisions in an attempt to appeal to bronies instead of little girls, then as I said we’ll know we’ve crossed the line from appreciation to appropriation. At that point, I believe we in the brony community would have a collective responsibility to try to find a way to encourage the show to return to being the best thing on television for little girls.

Pony Thought of the Day: Equestria Girls Trailer #2

Remember how I said the first trailer clearly wasn’t for me? It’s that implied viewer thing; the implied viewer of the first trailer was definitely little girls. The implied viewer for this one, I think, is bronies: more story, more humor, Photo Finish, Vinyl Scratch, confirmation that Spike goes with her…

*yawn*

The song still sucks. I’m going to watch this–I’m considering liveblogging it when I do–but this doesn’t leave me with any desire to actually pay the ridiculous cost of a movie ticket for it. Especially since the distributors have hit on this brilliant strategy of only showing the movie in places where no one lives.

So yeah, still not enthused, still cautiously pessimistic, but this trailer was definitely about showing the bits they thought someone like me would be interested in, so they’re clearly trying.