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Saturday, February 15, 2014

My Little Pony - Friendship is Magic

I'm going to preface this blog entry by stating that I have absolutely no experience with today's topic at all.  I never did get into this particular toy - which later became an insanely popular cartoon series - when I was a child, and I certainly don't consider myself to be a fan of this particular topic presently.  I really had to do a lot of research on this show because I knew absolutely nothing about it, so I hope that I do it justice.

And, I suppose the reason why I opted to do this blog entry on something that I know very little about is because I was inspired to do so after reading a story that made the news recently...and this story is one that made me very sad.

Now, everybody knows that there are a variety of cartoon shows that have aired over the last six or seven decades.  And, most of them are designed for kids of all ages.  But, of course there were some shows that were designed specifically for target audiences.  And yes, sometimes those target audiences are gender specific.

When I was growing up, one of my favourite cartoon shows to watch was "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles", and to be honest, you could tell that it was a show that was meant for pre-teen and teenage boys to watch - though I did know quite a few girls who liked it as well.  Come to think of it, when I was growing up there were quite a few television shows that were catered to those of a male audience.  "G.I. Joe", "Transformers", "Samurai Pizza Cats".  Quite a lot, now that I'm thinking of it.

Similarly, there were also lots of shows and toys that were catered towards the female demographic.  "Barbie", "Care Bears", "Jem and the Holograms", "Strawberry Shortcake", and "Rainbow Brite", just to name a few.

So, what happens when the gender lines become blurred?

Well, in a perfect world, absolutely nothing.  If a girl wants to watch "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers", then I see nothing wrong with it.  Similarly, I'll be the first one to confess that the very first movie I ever saw in theatres was the 1985 film "The Care Bears Movie".  And, there's nothing wrong with that either.

But, unfortunately, society seems to have drilled it into people's minds that liking something that is catered to the opposite sex is grounds for being made fun of or bullied.  And, that's not okay.  Sometimes I look at society and think to myself...are we really that screwed up?

Case in point.  That story that I read in the news that I want to share with you.  I don't know if you've kept up with recent headlines, but there was a tragic event that took place in the state of North Carolina, all because a little boy was bullied for being a fan of "My Little Pony".

The name of the boy is Michael Morones.  He's eleven years old, and he has been a fan of the "My Little Pony" toys and television series for as long as his parents could remember.  And, these days, it's not really all that uncommon for males to enjoy "My Little Pony".  In some social circles, these male fans are known as "bronies" - a term that I myself had never heard of before I started reading this article. 

But anyway, the constant bullying and teasing that this little boy had to endure at the hands of some classmates was too much for him.  And, just a few days ago, he tried to hang himself in his own bedroom.

Thankfully, his parents managed to stop the attempt from happening, but the extent of the damage is not yet known, as the suicide attempt did leave him with some brain damage. 

Now, if you've been following along with this blog over the last few years, you know that I have absolutely no tolerance for bullies of any sort.  And, what happened with Michael Morones should never have happened in the first place.  And, for what?  All because he was shamed by a few kids who lacked the maturity or empathy to realize that guys could be fans of "My Little Pony" too?  It's just such a sad story that makes me angry and sad all at the same time.  Angry that a little boy should have to feel shame instead of pride for something that he loved, and sad that he felt the only way to escape the pain of being bullied was attempting to end it all.  There's just no need for that.

So, I made the decision to do this blog on "My Little Pony".  I wanted to do it to show support to Michael and his family.  And, after doing a lot of research on "My Little Pony", I'm starting to understand why both girls and boys love the show.  While I can't say that I'll be buying the toys or DVD's anytime soon...I can say that I did learn a lot about the franchise just by reading up on it for a few hours.  And, what I learned is that it's a great toy and series for kids of any age and gender to watch.

Okay, so many people know of the current incarnation of the "My Little Pony" series, which is entitled "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic".  But the actual "My Little Pony" line started up long before that series debuted.  Truth be told, "My Little Pony" is actually as old as I am!

Debuting in 1982, the "My Little Pony" toy line was created by a trio of toy designers - Bonnie Zacherle, Charles Muenchinger, and Steve D'Aguanno.  Zacherle came up with the idea during the summer of 1981 when she was trying to create an ornamental design for a toy animal.  Who knew that when the first models of "My Little Pony" toys began appearing on store shelves in 1982 that it would grow to be the phenomenon that it currently is today.

Mind you, the "My Little Pony" toys of the early 1980s were far different than the "My Little Pony" toys of 2014.  In fact, I managed to find a commercial from the 1980s which featured "My Little Pony" dolls.  I bet some of the girls I went to elementary school will likely remember playing with these toys, and will maybe even remember this commercial themselves!

Yeah, when "My Little Pony" was first coming out, there were several different sub-categories of ponies within the main line.  They started out with "Earth Ponies" in 1982, and were subsequently followed by "Pegasus Ponies", "Unicorn Ponies", "Flutter Ponies", and "Sea Ponies".  Some ponies were even offered only through mail order, meaning that some varieties of "My Little Pony" figures were rarer than others.

This line of toys also inspired the original cartoon series of "My Little Pony", which ran during the 1986/1987 season.  Have a look at the old generation "My Little Pony" cartoon intro, if you like.  It's not like the "My Little Pony" you all enjoy today.

Now, just to give you an indication as to how successful the original line was, it debuted in 1983, and it lasted well into the mid-1990s.  It's estimated that millions of "My Little Pony" dolls were manufactured and sold at the peak of its popularity.  Mind you, they never quite became as popular as the Cabbage Patch Kid - which also debuted the same year that "My Little Pony" began to appear on store shelves - but it certainly could be considered one of the success stories of 1980s toy world.

But here's where the story gets interesting.  This toy line could be one of the very few in which its reboot became much more successful than the parent one.

Of course, I'm talking about the "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic" line, which debuted in 2010.

Now, as far as target demographics go, not much really changed.  Marketing campaigns still targeted girls between the ages of 2-12.  The difference is that instead of there being generic ponies that didn't really have much in the way of personalities, there were a core group of ponies that shared a lot of good times together and had some interesting adventures.

And, for those of you who happen to be fans of "My Little Pony", these ponies really need no introduction.  For people like myself who have absolutely no idea who any of these characters are, here's a guide.  First, a picture of the six main characters of the new series.

Okay, so going from the top left and going clockwise, we have Pinkie Pie, Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rarity.  There are other ponies in the world of "Equestria" that appear on a recurring basis, but these six are more than likely to appear in more episodes than any of the other ones.  And, each of the characters in "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic" all share something special with each other.

The magic of friendship.  Hence the sub-title, "Friendship Is Magic".

So, obviously, in preparation for this blog entry, I had to actually watch an episode of "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic".  And, true to my word, I did.  The episode I watched was the fourth season episode "Pinkie Pride", in which Pinkie Pie throws a party in Ponyville for Rainbow Dash's 'birthaversary', but nearly has her plans spoiled by party planner "Cheese Sandwich".

I'm not lying either.  That's actually the characters name.

But here's the interesting story.  It turns out that "Cheese Sandwich" only became inspired to be a party planner because he was invited to one of the greatest parties that he ever attended was one that Pinkie Pie threw...and once both of them realized that they worked better as a team, they ended up throwing Rainbow Dash one killer birthaversary party.

Now, keep in mind, that was just one episode.  It wasn't really enough to convert me into being a 'brony' (a man between the ages of 15-40 who is obsessed with 'My Little Pony').  But, I will also state that after watching the episode in full, I didn't hate it.  Sure, I could have done without all the singing...but looking at the big picture, it's a good show for kids to watch.  It teaches morals, it has great dialogue, and it also emphasizes co-operation, teamwork, and friendship - all things that make for a happier life.

And, you know what?  I think it's a really good show for kids of all ages - and genders - to watch.  Seriously, I think gender lines are meant to be blurred.  After all, some of the greatest cooks in the world are men.  And some of the greatest mechanics are women.  I don't think there's any shame in boys playing with dolls or learning how to play store, and I don't think that there's any shame in girls playing with Tonka trucks or Iron Man action figures.

As long as the child is happy with what they are doing, what business is it of anyone else's what they do with their personal time, or what hobbies they like.

You know, I actually had a family member actually tell me that I should downplay my love of comic books because it would make me a bigger target for bullies.  Boy, am I glad I didn't listen to them.  Oh, sure, I used to get picked on for liking the adventures of Betty and Veronica...but I always saw it as them being jealous that they didn't have the amount of comics that I had.  Whether or not that was actually the truth, I can't say.  But if people choose not to like me because I like something they don't, that's their loss.

And, I should also note that since Michael Morones tried to kill himself a few days ago because he was bullied over his love of "My Little Pony", online communities have set up support pages for him, and I even read somewhere that a group of men who consider themselves true blue 'bronies' have all gone to tattoo parlours to get images of Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie tattooed on their bodies to show support for Michael, and to show him and everyone else in the world that it's okay to love whatever you want.

This is a post by Matthew Turcotte - a person who probably won't become a brony - but has mad props and respect for those who are.

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