Saturday, 16 October 2010

My Little Duck/Bimbo/Brat

For Jon, it was Transformers. For me, Christmas and birthday joy was brought about by My Little Pony. A bit too sweet and imbued with a sense of saccharine caring-defeats-those-not-exactly-threatening-bad-guys (if you're satisfied with bumbling comedy witches and purple goo that makes you grumpy), but they were brightly coloured, looked a bit like real horses and had fun tattoos on their arses. With the relaunch of MLP, which began a few years ago, something disturbing started happening.

Firstly, I acknowledge that MLP, in retrospect, sucked. But among the myriad girl-targeted franchises from my youth, it was in fairly sucky company. I never owned a Barbie and Care Bears were only on the the peripheries of my cultural knowledge. I was obsessed with MLP. They were cheap, so I was allowed to collect quite a few through gifts and pocket money, they were blank canvases, so the stories you placed your toys into could be as creative as you liked, and my brother managed to shut me up for hours on one occasion by cunningly suggesting I write down every single pony's name that I could remember. It's been hard to admit, but when you look back and compare the franchise to parallel boy-targeted ones, such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Thundercats, Bravestarr etc., it was the fluffiest, most docile and unchallenging idea to sell to girls. I romanticised the first full-length movie for years until I rewatched it and realised that, with the best will and rosiest goggles in the world, it's utter drivel.

However drippy, though, there was chunky charm in the toys I played with, which would have been early-80s G1 ponies. This was my first one, Cherries Jubilee:

I want you to take a good look at the body shape and general look of the pony. Solid, in proportion, fairly equine. Little rump symbol to reflect their name. Slightly Disney-big eyes but, I think, displaying a kindly, almost comradely, sisterly or mentor-like expression. This toy says "let's run about Dream Valley and have magical adventures and maybe battle a couple lame foes. Sure, plait my mane if you like. Unlike a real horse I won't kick you in the face. We look out for each other here."

Names were fairly sweet, innocent fayre, but at least interesting, adding a splash of individuality to each pony. Early pony names included Twilight, Moondancer, Apple Jack, Glory, Firefly, Medley, Sunbeam, Butterscotch, and of course, the queen, Majesty.

On to the relaunch that kicked off around about 2003 (thanks to Dream Valley). Started promisingly enough.

Look! Similar bodies! Fun names! Great - now kids today can enjoy the same silly, psychedelic quests I enjoyed. Also, a great alternative to Bratz (an aggressive, Chucky-like tribe of pouty, optically monstrous mini-bitches who aim make-up, fashion, pretentious names and snootiness at pre-teens as a template for life. Gak).

But nay. Some team of marketing types (the bogeymen I blame a great deal of terrible things on) decided in the latter days of the last decade to do THIS to the sweet, sisterly/mentorly ponies.

That's right. They made them into Bratz with hooves.
Not so much "Happy Hooves!" as "Like, OMGee!"

Exhibit Two, a pony in theory from the old skool, known as Gusty. We could only identify her by her rump mark, Sarge.

I mean, seriously. It's not just me, is it? They've been (there's no way to put this without looking a bit creepy, so here goes) both infantilised and sexualised. The legs have been made more cartoonishly shapely, the muzzle shortened and cutesified and the eyes, well, they're HUGE. It's a little bit JonBenet Ramsay.

Wiki has a good description:
"The ponies' bodies were shrunk, their heads became larger, and their eyes took on a more child-like appearance. The hair styles of these ponies were also changed ...The current line of My Little Pony is referred to by collectors as G3.5. They are called 3.5 as they are the same characters as the G3 ponies but are more distorted in appearance having almost human like faces ... Many customizers seem to feel that the G3.5 ponies make excellent custom bases for those wanting to create a custom of the Red Queen from Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland."

Frankly, I think they look more like overly made-up ducks with four legs than the Red Queen, but I see their point. Apparently many of the changes with the ponies were enacted in order to 'give them more personality'. The whole point of toys that don't have 10 batteries and loads of creativity-killing functions is that the owner works out their personality!

The range of ponies was recently reduced, as with Bratz, to a core group (ruining the illusion of an entire fantasy kingdom of cool magical horses), and were named Pinkie Pie (the pink pony above, nicknamed Smexiepie by G3.5-hating MLP fans), Rainbow Dash, Star Song, Sweetie Belle, Toola Roola, Cheerilee, and Scootaloo. Rainbow Dash and Star Song retain a bit of the mystery of the old names, but can you seriously tell me that any of the others would be out of place at a strip joint?

I'm not the best at structuring arguments, and there's plenty of room to tell me that I'm a) reading way too much into this, b) way behind - gender-biased toys have been available for decades and c) worrying way too much when kids will form their own, personalities, independent of their toys, but I'm creeped out by this general move towards a childlike-yet-adult aesthetic in girl-marketed playthings. It's not just that the proportions of MLP version 3.5 are ludicrous, or that their names are patronising, unambitious and utterly uncreative. It's about planting an idea about the importance of looking pretty and sexy in the minds of kids who should be thinking up daft stories and running around on imaginary quests in an escapist landscape. It just feels like 3.5 is about pacifying girls, making them overly aware of gender roles and the body through exaggeration and grotesque stereotyping.

I may be turning into my mum, but I hate seeing little girls in heels, just as I hate seeing a grown woman say "you do that tough task - you're the man".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Damn right!!! Although I can't believe how bad you dissed The Smooze ... I was flipping terrified!