What do Star Wars and My Little Pony have in common?
I could jump into a cultural commentary about how both have been at the center of recent attempts to un-gender fandoms and (more importantly) children’s toys and clothes. I could compare the writing between the various animated properties of the two. I could even talk about how both of them make excellent use of music, with specific examples. But I won’t. I’m going to go much more personal than that.
Star Wars and My Little Pony are both things that I love unequivocally. They are also both things that people have given me a lot of crap for loving.
As a 40-year-old man, I am not supposed to enjoy a cartoon that is marketed to very young girls. But I do. The writing, animation, voice-acting, and music (as mentioned) are all fantastic. I have long since accepted my ability to enjoy things that supposedly “for children,” and My Little Pony is very high quality. But the key is that it makes me happy. It’s funny, heartwarming, and meaningful in ways that so few shows are (let alone cartoons). I put it in the same category as Pixar and Miyazaki. It’s that good.
However, all of that is reason, not excuse. I do not excuse my love of MLP, because I should not have to. Even if it weren’t one of the best animated series currently being produced, I should still be allowed to love it for any reason that makes sense to me personally. That’s how taste works, right? Except apparently it isn’t. Many times over the past several years, people have subtly or overtly disdained my enjoyment of this series, either implying or stating outright not only that they do not like My Little Pony, but that I shouldn’t either.
These conversations almost never include polite inquiries about why the show appeals to me. Nor do they include mild commentary as to why the other person does not find it to their tastes. Instead, they are filled with absolutism and judgment about the show and its fans, including me. No attempt is made to engage in dialogue. The only discourse is mockery and dismissal.
As an adult, I can handle this. But when I was a teacher these kinds of responses were also directed at the boys in my class who admitted to liking My Little Pony. I defended them fiercely, because no one should tell a 6-year-old that he can’t like something because it’s “for girls.” When we see children engaging in such behavior, we call it bullying. But why, then, do we not point out that it is still bullying when adults do it?
I experience similar disdain when I talk about my love for Star Wars. This may seem surprising, since Star Wars is experiencing a massive renaissance at the moment, so let me be clear:
I’m talking about the prequels.
I love everything Star Wars, and that includes Episodes I-III. Among my friends, I have styled myself as “The Prequel Apologist,” and I will defend their worth to anyone who cares to discuss them. I won’t go into detail here, but feel free to ask me in person whenever you want to have a long conversation about it. (Short version: No, they’re not as good as IV and V, but they have value in the overall story, and there were some things they did very well.)
I don’t expect everyone to agree with me – hating the prequels is easy and popular – but again, what typically happens is not simply disagreement. My taste and judgment are questioned. People are sometimes even offended that I could enjoy something they consider so awful. (Side note – I will absolutely accept anyone who is bothered primarily by the racist and sexist undertones of Star Wars. The whole series has had a problem with that from the beginning.) There is no criticism and counterpoint in the academic sense, just utter denial of my opinions. But I shouldn’t have to defend my opinions even if the prequels really are complete dreck. Because my liking them does not require anyone else to change their minds. All that is really required is a basic respect for my human autonomy. But I don’t even get that.
As I said before, I can handle this. But how often do we see these effects in the world around us on people who can’t, people who capitulate and adjust their tastes to something more comfortable? How often are popular opinions formed through brute force, through the rejection of outliers? How often do we hear people talk about “guilty pleasures” or see ad hominem attacks on social media punishing someone for the terrible crime of liking the wrong thing?
We know that these responses are childish. They are among the worst of the experiences that both wounded us and shaped us from kindergarten to high school. Yet here we are, continuing to perpetrate them on fellow adults. Are we really so base? Is our culture really so narrow that we must have clear definitions of what is acceptable even in our simple entertainments?
I hope not. I hope that we can break out of our modern traps of irony and judgmentalism and embrace enthusiastic enjoyment. Just remember, whatever you like, you have the right to like it. Whether it’s bad movies, Carly Rae Jepsen, or an unpopular edition of Dungeons and Dragons, you are not wrong for liking it. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Celebrate your tastes as your own, and don’t ever change just because someone else tells you to.
And for everyone else, I will end with this reminder: