I spend much of last weekend watching my friends' children while the two of them were out of town. One of the children I was babysitting was a third-grade girl; let's call her "Arya," because apparently that's what people name their daughters nowadays. Although, I suppose naming your kid after a fictional character is nothing new: my dad lobbied to name me after a minor character from The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, but my mom said no.
Anyway, Arya knew that I watch MLP, and she loves the show, so the one thing she demanded we do while I was keeping order in the house was to indulge in some "pony time." I've never watched the show, save alone. What would it be like, to watch this children's show-cum-internet phenomenon with a member of the target demographic?
Also, we read a fanfic.
Click below the break to delve into the psyche of a nine year old girl... if you dare.
"Pony time" was originally planned to be watching a few episodes of MLP on Netflix. Being the gracious sort of babysitter that I am, I told Arya we could watch whatever her favorite episodes were.
She chose "The Crystal Kingdom" and "Magical Mystery Cure."
Now, if you haven't read my comments on them, I was not really a fan of either of those episodes. The words I used to describe my feelings about them were "underwhelmed" and "extremely disappointed," respectively. But hey, if they're Arya's favorites, they're Arya's favorites, right? So we watched the episodes, talked about them a little bit, and when all was said and done, here's what I'd learned:
-Arya's favorite thing about MLP is the songs. I suppose that's not terribly surprising; lots of people really like the songs, after all. She specifically said that what she loved about MMC was how many songs it had (all of which she sang along with, which was at times pretty amusing since she didn't know the words to most of them). But, based on that, I suppose it's no surprise that she picked two multi-song episodes to watch.
-When I asked her who her favorite character was, she told me it was Cadence. Why? "Because she's a princess, and she's pink." Arya's big into princesses*. To be fair, her fantasies mostly involve wielding supreme executive power (which, I guess, is what princesses do nowadays) rather than marrying Prince Charming, but nevertheless she and the many little girls like her are the reason we have things like Cadence and alicornified Twilight.
-Since I was unhappy with (what I perceived as) the moral of MMC, I asked Arya what she thought the episode was trying to teach. She rolled her eyes at me, which is probably what a question like that deserves. But she did answer: "It's about how anyone who's smart and strong and knows a lot can become a princess." Assuming that we take "become a princess" figuratively, that's not a bad moral--but I think it's the one she wanted to hear. She also told me that the reason Sombra was evil was because he was married to Princess Luna, and "when Luna became evil then he became evil too and then he turned into shadow because there are shadows when the moon is out," all of which would be pretty nice if it wasn't completely at odds with what the episode had literally just told us, as we sat watching it together. I think that, like a lot of young children, Arya doesn't care what the show says nearly as much as we adults do, and I don't mean in the "she'll swallow anything they say" way. I mean that she, and lots of kids, will gleefully warp the show to suit their fancies. Honestly, that makes me feel a lot better about some of the episodes which I thought had really disconcerting morals. It doesn't make those morals any more palatable to me though; such are the perils of Chris and his ilk trying to watch a show written for Arya and hers.
-Not surprisingly, Twilight is her favorite main character, because she gets to be a princess and is the strongest. She was less impressed with Applejack, who was "boring," and who didn't have any "cool powers," examples of which include Pinkie's canon, Dash's Rainbooming, and Fluttershy's "pet bear army." No, I didn't know about that one, either.
After those two (three, whatever) episodes, TV time was up. I had thought that would be the only "pony time" we'd have, but that was not to be the case. She asked me to read her a bedtime story later, and when I asked what she wanted to read, she asked if there were any stories about Twilight. I don't think she knows about fanfiction yet (I, at least, wouldn't let my nine year old child into any of the parts of the internet which peddle in fanfiction--too easy to get to inappropriate content, intentionally or accidentally), but I did have a few fanfics on my e-reader. So, we read The Eulogy of Mr. Acorn, by the Coward Twilight Sparkle together.
I'd read it a couple of days before, and thought it was good but not great. I loved the light touch the author used in showing the ethics of dealing with death, and the use of a "mere" squirrel as the deceased (as opposed to something shown to be fully sapient in the show) kept the tone from getting too depressing for what was, ultimately, a slice-of-life fanfic. I also found the language clear and vivid, if occasionally a bit dense for the material. That said, the story gets off to a slow start, and has several obvious plot contrivances (like the fact that Twilight is expected to give this squirrel a eulogy in the first place). Also, the story doesn't have particularly good tonal balance--it seems like it doesn't want to be a "sad" story, but it also doesn't want to be a comedy, despite including a lot of elements of each genre, and as a result it comes off a bit muddled. Although it was a little advanced for Arya in terms of language, the story was perfectly appropriate content-wise, was Twilight-centric, and hey; kids learn words by seeing them used, right? So we gave it a read.
Language was indeed an issue on some occasions (starting with "eulogy"), but Arya's got good context skills for her age, and I was reading it with her and could explain anything she didn't understand anyway. Surprisingly, she picked up the nuances of the story's dilemma--that Fluttershy's upset that Twilight isn't respecting what Mr. Acorn would have wanted, and that by doing (what Fluttershy says) he would have wanted, Twilight is helping really helping Fluttershy--on her own.
I asked her what she thought of the story afterwards, and she told me that she thought it was "really good." She liked that it had Twilight and Luna (two princesses!), but didn't have a lot of specifics past that. To be fair, that was right before bed, and she was tired. I noticed that she laughed whenever the animals started grumbling, though, and seemed to genuinely enjoy a lot of the jokes--even ones that I thought would go over her head.
So, that was my weekend. Sorry if this post didn't change the way you view ponies forever, but to be fair, it did do that for me. Not much, admittedly, but sharing some of the show with someone of its target demographic was fun, and in some ways illuminating. And sharing a little bit of fanfiction with someone outside its target demographic was enjoyable--for both of us.
*Yes, Game of Thrones fans, I know I should have called her Sansa instead. Now quit being pedantic--pedanticism is my M.O.