Thursday, 9 January 2014

The problem with introducing newcomers

Now, here I am talking very specifically about people who have expressed at least some interest in finding out what My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is all about. We all know how annoying bronies can be when they won't take no for an answer, or decide that everywhere is a suitable place to bring out their inner pony. All of us have had something similar done to us by fans of other things, I'm sure. Being pestered about Pony is no better than being pestered about Doctor Who or Breaking Bad or Call of Duty or... well, you get the idea.

With that out of the way: the problem is that many bronies will try to get potential newcomers (PNs from here on in) interested by telling them about the pop culture references, the interaction between show staff and fans, the PG (or above) rated fanworks, etc. In other words, they'll try as hard as possible to avoid the thing that they think will put off PNs: the dreaded girlyness. And when the PNs watch the Season 1 premiere, they'll make sure they talk up the scariness of Nightmare Moon, the manticore and the Shadowbolts and make it seem as though MLP:FiM is some sort of thrillfest.

This is not a good idea. At all. This cartoon is obviously targeted at little girls, and rightly so. We, the bronies, are not the target audience – and we shouldn't ever be. Consider this season: "Power Ponies" felt like fanservice, frankly, and it's no surprise that in my review here, I rated it the weakest episode thus far in S4. Contrast that with "Rarity Takes Manehattan", which I thought was excellent. That episode is essentially a character study of Rarity, a pony whose life revolves around fashion. Yes, she's also a successful businessmare, but her choice of career is absolutely there for the little-girl audience.

Going back to S1, though: if you claim to PNs that the show is full of action and adventure, and back that up with "Dragonshy" (one of my favourite eps, don't get me wrong) then they're going to hit the ground with a bump when the very next story turns out to be "Look Before You Sleep", perhaps the most stereotypically girly episode the show has ever put out and not a classic in any case. It's maybe the biggest speed bump of all for a PN: you know and I know that once they get that far, the quality of the series is about to improve out of sight, but they don't.

The rest of S1 is possibly the most consistently excellent period the show has ever enjoyed, and "Bridle Gossip" is the place the new era starts. The next third-season contains "Winter Wrap Up" and "Art of the Dress", the debut of the CMCs, the clever lesson of "Fall Weather Friends" and the sonic rainboom. If your PNs are ever going to join the herd they will have done by that point. But you have to get them past those first eight episodes first – and you're not going to do that if you're not honest with them about what they're going to see.

It's a cartoon for little girls. The fact that it's absolutely that and very, very good is what makes MLP: FiM so remarkable. That is Lauren Faust's lasting achievement. If you only present half the story, you're doing both her and the show a grave injustice.

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