My Little Pony: Discussion is Magic

By Casey Wilson

I’ve had the pleasure of teaching a number of different courses here at the University of Florida since I started here as a master’s student in 2009, and those classes have produced a number of interesting discussions – the attempts to censor Huckleberry Finn, the importance (or lack thereof) of learning cursive in an increasingly digital world, how we as a nation define heroism. But the most heated conversation in my short teaching career so far came a few weeks ago, as my students tried to come to terms with My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (MLP:FiM).

I first wrote about MLP:FiM early in this blog’s lifetime, explaining that for the kind of bright, sparkly, and young show it’s meant to be, it’s executed quite well. Well enough, in fact, that the show has gathered older, predominately male followers known as “bronies”. That was the question that I posed to my students as we watched a handful of episodes from the show’s first season: how could they reconcile this kids’ show with the interest older demographics have shown in it?

Admittedly, many (most? all?) of them could not. In fact, I sincerely doubt that the screening in class produced any new bronies. Although some of them had a higher tolerance than others, none of them were overjoyed by being forced to sit through a couple hours of Twilight Sparkle learning lessons about friendship. But the conversation – which began with near-universal confusion over the existence of bronies and a general dislike of the show – quickly took a turn when we began discussing the breaking of gender norms involved in males watching the show. Suddenly, some students were defending a show they didn’t even like, and the fans that they didn’t understand. I don’t know that we ultimately reached an answer, but the passion my students exhibited on the subject – positive and negative – helped to push them into a more nuanced stance on the issue than they had at the start of class that day.

And that’s what I find most rewarding about using children’s books and media to teach, even in composition classes. They often strike a good balance between offering rich opportunities for discussion while being approachable enough that the students aren’t intimidated at the prospect of critiquing and interacting with them.

All of which means that if I ever teach this course again, the ponies stay on the syllabus.

Casey is a PhD student teaching ENG1131: Writing Through Media this spring.

Categories: Critical Conversations, In the Media

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