“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” is a show that gets most of its press regarding the large and diverse fandom which has grown up around it. The surprise comes from a sizeable community of fans of the Little Ponies newest incarnation being a substantial, vociferous, and creative following who trend towards men of about 20 to 30 years of age (there also exist quite a few female adult fans of this age group, as well, but the Male Section of this fandom, going by the moniker “Bronies”, has caused the most stir).
“My Little Pony: Friendship is magic” is a fresh reboot of an old series which has had four versions up to this point and gained some notoriety from the dedicated adult following of this “Fourth Generation” (that is the fourth adaptation of the series) of the Little Ponies animated Television Series. The newest reboot premiered in 2010 and was created by award-winning animator Lauren Faust, who has previously has worked on such shows as “The Powerpuff girls”. Faust, after creating the new reboot, worked with the show for two seasons (there are four seasons out now), and has said this about the working with MPL: FIM: “When I took the job, I braced myself for criticism, expecting many people — without even watching the show — to instantly label it girly, stupid, cheap, for babies or an evil corporate commercial. I encourage skeptics like this to watch My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic with an open mind. If I’m doing my job right, I think you’ll be surprised.”
After watching the documentary “Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans Of My Little Pony” (an excellent film, by the way) I decided to fill out my knowledge by viewing the initial two part pilot of the New Little Ponies series. Much to my surprise, found the show (other than obviously charming) exceptionally humorous, teasingly contemplative and manifesting some of the best character studies on TV right now. One of the best show-cases for the strengths of the series is found in the second season’s fourth episode, “Luna Eclipsed” and it´s intriguing character study of Princess Luna.
The show takes place in a fictional pony-ruled world named Equestria, which is “ruled” by a Pony named Princess Celestia. This ruling, however, mostly is manifested in her duty of daily raising the sun. Her younger sister, Princess Luna, is in charge of the raising the moon. In the shows pilot, Luna was originally positioned as the villain (she was driven to evil by jealousy and bitterness towards her sister, who was adored and worshipped, while Luna was forgotten and ignored). Luna, moved by her angry resentment, created an eternal night, but, after being thwarted in her scheme, was banished to the moon for a thousand years. Upon returning from her banishment (and seemingly not learning her lesson) she again tried to inaugurate a darkness of the eternal night. However the bookworm protagonist Twilight Sparkle and her friends were able to defeat Luna and, following this second defeat, Luna has subsequently attempted to redeem herself. In “Luna Eclipsed” she re-appears during a fictional holiday based on Halloween, “Nightmare night”, where the ponies go around trick’o’treating and playing games all the while recounting spooky tales of Luna´s former evil persona (Nightmare Moon). Luna sees the night as a chance to appease her past crimes and integrate with the others, due to this being one of the few nights the ponies forgo sleep for a night of revelry. However when she arrives, her social cues are completely off. She talks in a loud, intimidating voice, while using a bombastic body language. The ponies, confronted with this aggressive facade, run away in screaming terror.
After the shock her personality creates, the episode follows Luna trying to find her place amongst others and society, asking Twilight Sparkle to help her fit in. She tries to adjust her speaking tone, she tries to play games, but nothing seems to work. Luna in frustration loses her temper, while the other ponies, in an ill-advised attempt to play games with Luna, once again are terrified into fleeing Luna’s hostile presence. The episode has a distinct melancholic tone where Luna comes to believe she will never belong and must always be the lone outcast. Twilight doesn´t want Luna to give up, but she does. Despite this being a children’s show, there is no sugar coating when it comes to portraying Luna´s despair and the question of the irreparability of some outcomes.
Every culture has its own codes and unwritten rules, which seem innate to the integrated cultural individual of the culture/society, but which makes integration tricky for those find these rules applied later in life. Confronting a new set of rules, and ones which seem “natural” by the dominate culture/people, can be frustrating and depressing for the immigrant imbued with a divergent set of rules (both implicit and explicit, and which being “brought up in” these valuations, seem “natural” to them). Trying to understand another culture and feelings, the immigrant will continually fail to “get it” as the rules which seem obvious to the ingrained members of a society will always be felt (at some level) as imposed, accidental and arbitrary to the integrating other (and, of course, the reverse as well). Watching Luna try her best to speak properly and learn how to act around the other ponies is heartbreakingly familiar for those who have attempted to integrate into new worlds. Luna´s attempts to be accepted are actually an eerie experience to watch, especially since she keeps failing to get others to accept her, which is how many immigrants feel.
When Luna seeks from Twilights kindhearted friend Fluttershy tips on how to speak with a normal tone, it rings true of the struggle the immigrant faces to get over ones culture shock. With the term “culture shock”, I´m referring to unwritten social rules which everybody takes for granted inside certain societies and cultures, and which the outsider to such cultures doesn´t necessarily understand or find as common thought. This causes a feeling of disjointedness for the immigrant/outsider, and makes the insider think that the immigrant seems disconnected from reality because the rule is obvious and natural to them. Twilight first has to explain how Lunas loud voice is intimidating to others, which Luna at first strenuously protests against: “But this is the traditional Canterlot voice!” Luna is used to operating through the way of how things worked a thousand years previously before her banishment and this is reflected as the metaphor of immigrants being socially, and individually, imbued with the way things operate, and are accepted as the “natural way”, within their home country, but are now asked to reject and interject a new set of “natural rules”. As the saying goes; “The Past is a Foreign Country” and Luna encapsulates the metaphor of the immigrant other, par excellent, here. When Fluttershy states that Luna in fact has learned the proper way to speak, Luna is so overjoyed that she picks Fluttershy up and shakes her, while singing thanks. Fluttershy though is paralyzed with fear by this physical joy, something Luna fails to notice within the confines of her otherness. Later Luna gets angered and frustrated over not understanding a commonly played game. All these scenarios ring familiar to those who grow frustrated for not understanding, not “getting it”, always doing something wrong. It also rings true to those who in their enthusiasm don´t notice that others are uncomfortable.
Inside of the show, Luna´s misadventures in fitting in are explained by her past mistakes. However, her struggle to understand and to integrate can also be comforting for anyone who has ever felt that they never really fit in. Luna laments to Twilight that the other ponies have “never liked me, and they never shall”. Often, this refrain is voiced by many outsider groups within a society. Whether it´s immigrants that face prejudice and confusion for not being like others in the society, or other groups which deviate (even ever so slightly) from what is considered the “norm” of a cultural position or social expression within a defining cultural group (nation, ideology, ethnicity or action). Being different, an outsider, is perfectly captured in Luna. But her outsider status seems to stream from being from a different time, a different “world”. Any immigrant, or any outsider, excluded class will find a core concern within Luna’s struggle.
This being said (and without a recourse to simplify answers to how the other is to find a place within the networks of nation and cultural thought) this was also a hopeful episode. The episode goes on to present that both individuals embedded or excluded within a culture must struggle to find the chance of a new inclusion, a new way of being “together” as a society. This inclusion will become an engine to transform differences and weaknesses of exclusions into the social strengths of the open possibilities which a society can strive towards and attain.
Luna in the end is able to turn her scariness into something fun; despite not coming to a full understanding and a complete integration, one can always find ones place in a strange new world.