Ponyville Confidential: The History and Culture of My Little Pony – review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Ponyville Confidential: The History and Culture of My Little Pony, 1981-2016, by Sherilyn Connelly
Jefferson, NC, McFarland & Co., March 2017, trade paperback $18.99 (x + 254 pages), Kindle $8.99.
Order at McFarland’s Website – order line 800-253-2187
Ponyville Confidential doesn’t contain any artwork. That’s a tipoff that this book has not been authorized or approved by Hasbro, the copyright holder of the My Little Pony franchise.
Connelly emphasizes and re-emphasizes in her Introduction that although she is a fan of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic TV program and the My Little Pony: Equestria Girls movies, she is not a My Little Pony (note the lack of italics) fan. As a child in the 1980s, she hated being talked down to, particularly as a girl-child, and this included all of the girls’ TV cartoons of the time; Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake and especially My Little Pony ‘n’ Friends. She didn’t watch it. She didn’t start watching My Little Pony until Friendship Is Magic in mid-2011 (after Season 1 had finished its initial broadcast), when friends had told her, “Hey, it’s a girl’s toy commercial, but there’s something here.” By then Connelly was a film critic for The Village Voice and SF Weekly (an alternate newspaper for the San Francisco Bay Region, not science-fiction), so she was prepared to study the entire My Little Pony phenomenon, including the Bronies, as both a professional outsider and as a fan – of the post-2010 MLP:FIM, anyhow.
“This book is divided into five parts. Part 1, ‘Family Appreciation Day,’ looks at the history of the franchise from the release of Generation 1 in the early 1980s through the late 1990s, showing how long after both the toys and cartoons had ceased production, My Little Pony continued to be criticized in the media as the worst of children’s entertainment in a way that similar brands marketed toward boys were not.” (p. 4)
Hasbro must have not liked that part alone. It begins with “Ponies: Grosser by the Gross”, about Hasbro’s attempts to merchandize as many ponies as possible, and to cram them all into TV cartoons to maximize their tenuous individualities.
1981 was when Hasbro began the Pony concept with My Pretty Pony toys for girls. They were larger and harder dolls, in realistic horse colors, without combable manes or accessories. The marketing decision was made to redesign them as smaller, softer fantasy toys including unicorns and pegasi in bright colors with combable manes, and a TV cartoon series to promote them as individuals – collect ‘em all. The first TV cartoon, as a 22-minute TV special with 8 minutes of commercials, wasn’t until 1984.
Part 2, ‘The Lost Generations (1998-2010)’, covers the attempts to re-launch the My Little Pony franchise between 1998 and 2010. They were lampooned by the media as attempting to breathe new life into a corpse, but Hasbro ignored these on the grounds that little girls didn’t follow media editorials. There were both toys and other merchandising such as music CDs for new little girls, and events for older fans like the first International My Little Pony Collectors’ Convention in Morecambe, Lancashire, England on November 27, 2004. They were successful as individual events, but they didn’t work as reinvigorating the franchise until Lauren Frost was brought on board.
Part 3, ‘Twilight’s Kingdom’, is a reference guide to Seasons 1 through 5 of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic TV series and the three Equestria Games movies; everything to date. It presents the Season and Episode number, title, writer, date first broadcast, a one-line summary, and Connelly’s grade (mostly A+ to B-, though there is one D-).
Part 4, ‘The Foal Free Press (2010-2015)’ covers the media coverage of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and the movies, from the first notices and reviews that dismissed it as just the 1980s TV cartoons revived – or bewailed it as the return of disguised toy merchandising – to the confusion over just what it was (does it promote feminism? does it promote gender diversity?) and “Look at all the Bronies; ha, ha!”, to the reviews and analyses that took it seriously. Connelly talks about the initial reactions of her acquaintances who assumed that her book would be a condescending putdown of the Bronies and any other adults who enjoyed a cartoon little girls’ toy commercial.
“Sure, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is about fucking cartoon ponies, and the Equestria Girls movies are just about teenage girls, but by that same logic, all that needed to be said about the critically acclaimed Battlestar Galactica reboot – which Time had frequently listed as one of the best shows of the given year – was that it was about sexy killer robots in space. See? Being reductive is never wrong.” (p. 4)
Part 5, ‘Battles of the Brand (2012-2016)’ focuses on both the program’s non-Brony fans, and on the Bronies:
“…many of whom are less interested in Friendship Is Magic as a series of 22-minute character-driven stories with a beginning, middle, and end than with the trappings of the fandom – the fan art, the remixes, the social aspect, and a cult that grew around a certain gray mare.” (p. 125)
It describes how the TV program’s producers have listened to the fans and molded the characters’ personalities and story events on fan reaction, and on the copyright and trademark battles between Hasbro and those (mostly Bronies) who make their own My Little Pony merchandise, much of it off-model if not NSFW and all of it unauthorized.
Connelly points out at the beginning of her book:
“It should also be noted that the words ‘Brony’ and ‘fan’ are not used as synonyms.” (p. 1)
Furry fandom is mixed all through Parts 4 and 5. Connelly explains the difference, but notes the often dubious implication or explicit misidentification that furry fandom and My Little Pony fandom and/or Bronydom are the same thing.
“On March 3, 2011, the eve of the mainstream media becoming aware of Bronies, transgender activist Kate Bornstein was interviewed by Steve Scher on the talk show Weekday on KUOW 94.9FM in Puget Sound. Despite her best efforts, the conversation kept returning to Bornstein’s BDSM activities160; Scher asked her to explain the concept of “ownership” in a master/slave relationship, and mostly keeping her exasperation in check, she replied, ‘Well, like I was saying, sexual orientation doesn’t necessarily depend on the gender of your partner. It can depend more on, what is it you like to do? For example, furries. Do you know…oh, good!’161 Bornstein paused, and if you listen to the podcast, and you can all but hear her eyes widening in feigned delight. ‘Steve, you’re a closet furry! Oh, look at your bushy tail!’162” (p. 113)
Ponyville Confidential (cover by InHaSemiankova/iStock) is an excellent history of My Little Pony from both a business and a fan aspect, from the beginning of Hasbro’s toy line in 1981, not just of Friendship Is Magic in 2010. The confusion and differences between MLP:FIM fandom, Bronydom, and furry fandom are clarified. Even if some may not agree with those distinctions, they are good arguments. Even furry fans who are not interested in MLP:FIM should find this worth reading. There are extensive chapter notes, an 18-page bibliography, and an index.
Connelly may not have been able to include any illustrations because of lack of permission from Hasbro, but this review is not similarly constrained.
- Order at McFarland’s Website – order line 800-253-2187
To support writing by furries, for furries, please visit Dogpatch Press on Patreon. You can access exclusive stuff for just $1, and support all of the team’s news and reviews.