Fox News, Like Any Cartoon Villain, Threatened By Pastel Ponies And Friendship
Fox News has once again gallumphed into the Culture Wars, this time with a story fretting that the newest iteration of Hasbro's My Little Pony TV and toy franchise might be tainted with "wokeness," making it utterly unfit entertainment for the grandchildren of Fox News viewers. You see, after the previous 2010 to 2019 run of "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic," which brought the world Bronies and a whole bunch of puzzling illustrations on Wonkette, Hasbro has rebooted the pony line a fifth time, this time with a computer-animated movie on Netflix called "My Little Pony: A New Generation," to be followed sometime next year with a TV series featuring the characters from the 90-minute movie.
What makes it "woke"? The ponies in the movie, like characters in a lot of kidvid, overcome their initial distrust and learn to work together, and even more horrifyingly, they refuse to trust in the paranoid rants of a xenophobic populist who pursues power for his own sake.
OK, gosh, if you look at it that way, maybe Fox News is right to be upset.
The plot is fairly standard animation-fantasy stuff, and yes, I suppose this may contain spoilers if you think a by-the-numbers kid show can be spoiled: A thousand years after the events of "Friendship Is Magic," ponykind is scattered and tribal. Unicorn ponies have lost their magic, pegasus ponies can no longer fly, and earth ponies are actually doing OK because they didn't do a lot of magic to start with. The action centers on earth pony Sunny, voiced by Vanessa Hudgens, who thanks to historical research by her dad (voiced by friend o' Wonkette Michael McKean) is the only earth pony who knows that all ponies ought to be friends, not enemies.
But since the three types of ponies no longer live together, they fear each other. There are silly rumors and paranoia, but a plucky group of ponies from each of the separated communities find each other, realize they're all just ponies deep down, and become friends. While that's going on, a nobody pony named Sprout, the son of the richest pony in town (Jane Krakowski), worms his way into power by exploiting ponies' fears and promising he will keep them safe from whatever scares them.
Do the new friends reenergize magic through their friendship and save the day from the meanie, putting him in his place? There is a fair chance they do!
Also, an adult can hear the songs without too much cringing. The "Angry Mob" song that montages Sprout's rise to power is a lot of fun.
So where's all the wokeness? Honestly, it's partly the fault of New York Times, which published a review last week suggesting that the Netflix movie had taken the franchise in a "political" direction by including themes of "tolerance, prejudice, even fascism," along with all the songs and friendship and not-too-scary adventure. Which, sure, although fans of "Friendship Is Magic" were quick to point out that the previous series frequently touched on similar themes, too.
Maybe it's just terribly politically biased to suggest angry mobs are a bad thing, too.
The Fox News piece, by entertainment reporter Melissa Roberto, draws heavily on the Times review for its evidence that the ponies of "New Generation" are stuffed to the withers with wokeness. As best I can tell, Roberto seems not to have watched the movie at all, instead picking out snippets from the Times review, a Netflix press release, and a local-TV interview with several of the voice actors. Yr Wonkette emailed Roberto to ask if she had actually watched the movie or not, but did not get a reply.
From the Times, Roberto gleans that the new little ponies are a bunch of "progressives," and that the story is about learning to "make peace with outsiders from other communities," which certainly sounds like some dangerous liberal propaganda. Hudgens says, ominously, that the movie "really reflects the times" and that her character "believes in inclusion and friendship," which might sound nice enough, but a clever terrified Fox News reader in the comments wasn't about to be fooled by that:
Progressives throw nice sounding words, like inclusion, out there. But their objective is intolerance, silencing, and hate for those who have a different opinion. Innocent cartoons are no longer innocent. Indoctrination of pre schoolers is the objective.
There were LOTS of comments along those lines, along with calls to not let kids watch TV at all, and fond memories of the apolitical cartoons of the good old days, when it was OK to use a lot of racist stereotypes because nobody who mattered made a big deal out of it. Just good clean fun for the whole family with no politics, no worries about political correctness, and why can't they show "Coal Black and De Sebben Dwarfs" on TV anymore?
Ms. Roberto recycles one of the weirder lines in the Times review to suggest that the movie actively disparages the military, oh my!
At one point, Sunny leads a charge against a demonstration led by a defensive weapons manufacturer, per one review from the New York Times.
My god, these libs don't even support defensive arms, or peaceful demonstrations? What are they telling kids nowadays? There's a little bit of a miscommunication here: Roberto, who again, seems uncontaminated by any actual viewing of the movie, seems to suggest the Woke Pony Mob attacks a political protest by patriots. But the "defensive weapons manufacturer" is a company demonstrating its line of goofy devices to "defend" against nonexistent threats, like literal tinfoil hats that will keep unicorns from reading earth ponies' minds or frying their brains with death rays, which unicorns don't actually do. You could certainly find a parallel there to paranoia about vaccines, although at least little ponies have a legitimate use for horse paste.
Also too, Fox is pretty angry that the bad guy who gets his comeuppance has a blond mane, and bears a passing resemblance to Donald Trump, as the couch remainders of "Fox & Friends" complained Saturday:
(don't be surprised if Fox gets this taken down) youtu.be
That brief segment, as Mediaite points out, got weird very quickly, too. After the ritual denunciation of all the wokeness, cohost Will Cain joked with confirmed non-handwasher Pete Hegseth, "Will this news jeopardize your status as a brony?"
Hegseth replied he wasn't aware he had that status, but added that if a "brony" is a "man into My Little Ponies," then sure, he guessed he's a brony.
The third host, Carley Shimkus, quickly replied, "No, no, you don't want to be!" which left Hegseth even more confused than usual. We'll just go with Mediaite's summary of the rest of the strangeness:
"Is it more than what I actually assumed?" Cain asked. "I thought bronies were just dudes who were into My Little Pony. Is it more than that?"
Shimkus told them, "There's a sexual element involved."
"Oh, there is?" Cain asked.
"Well, I retract everything I said," Hegseth remarked.
"I thought it was just dudes into My Little Pony," Cain said.
Just to be clear, there is not a "sexual element" to bronydom, at least no more than being a Trekkie means you have to read Kirk/Spock slashfic. Yeesh, these people have no appreciation of culture.
But wait, is My Little Pony "woke"? Only insofar as the idea that you try to get along with other people is "woke," although one of my own favorite episodes is very much about how sometimes, people are just jerks, and after you've given them the chance to be a friend, you don't have to continue letting them be mean to you.
Mind you, while rightwingers are often terrible at pop culture in general, it's also true that "Friendship Is Magic" was very much intended to have a feminist message. FIM creator Lauren Faust wrote over a decade ago that the show was all about breaking out of the "generic girl" mold — what Katha Pollitt called "the Smurfette Principle" — in kids' entertainment, with a show in which female characters were all sorts of people, and not always cloyingly perfect all the time, either. Her goal, she said, was to make a kids' show whose message was
There are lots of different ways to be a girl. You can be sweet and shy, or bold and physical. You can be silly and friendly, or reserved and studious. You can be strong and hard working, or artistic and beautiful. This show is wonderfully free of "token girl" syndrome, so there is no pressure to shove all the ideals of what we want our daughters to be into one package. There is a diversity of personalities, ambitions, talents, strengths and even flaws in our characters–it's not an army of cookie-cutter nice-girls or cookie-cutter beauty queens like you see in most shows for girls.
And yes, also that you can "be friends with people who are vastly different from you," and that disagreements don't have to end friendships.
If that's "woke," then hooray for wokeness.
And this is your OPEN THREAD, everypony!
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.