I spent last weekend at Bronycon, the world’s largest My Little Pony convention. I cosplayed a mermare, something that has yet to appear on the current TV show (Friendship is Magic), but which has been featured in a picture book and the comics. I got to walk around handing out lucky seashells, and it was awesome. Strangers took pictures of me and everything!
One woman I talked to over the weekend, who was there as an escort to her daughter, said something very accurate about an aspect of the con that astonished her: “Everyone here is themselves!” And of course we are — if there is one central moral to the My Little Pony universe it’s “Be yourself!” And if there’s a second moral, it’s “Let others be themselves! Unless being themselves means hurting people;hurting people isn’t cool. Teach them how to be themselves without hurting people.”
(Those two morals, by the way, are at the heart of all of my books.)
It’s a bit of culture shock to walk out of a place that honestly celebrates diversity into a world where people are shot for the color of their skin, bombed for their religion, harassed because of how they dress, and generally mistreated for being different from some imagined norm.
How can bronies, as My Little Pony fans are known, and mass shooters be part of the same reality? Many people would say they’re not, that my fellow bronies and I are living in an imaginary world. But what makes love and tolerance imaginary while hatred and intolerance are real?
I’ve heard people disregard swaths of fiction for being too idealistic. In the opinion of these people, if fiction isn’t gritty or harsh, it isn’t real. It’s an opinion I cannot embrace. While there is a place in fiction for the less pleasant aspects of our world, there must also be a place for the good things that exist. Because just as murder and drug addiction and rape are part of the world, so are friendship, romance, and compassion. And if it’s accepted as real to write only about death, is must also be acceptable to write only of love.
Some say the best approach for fiction is to involve both good and bad aspects of life. But I don’t want to see Ponyville deal with an armed robber shooting hostages at Sugar Cube Corner, or watch terrorists detonate bombs at the Grand Galloping Gala, or witness some shady stallion take sexual advantage of one of the young mares, or learn about how Apple Jack’s parents were brutally murdered. (Note: there are people who want to see such things. They create such things in their fanfic, and power to them. (Except maybe to the people writing about AJ’s parents; that’s been overdone, so people should probably stop.) But I don’t want to read such fanfic and I’m certainly not going to criticize Friendship is Magic for not being Game of Thrones. (Note on the Note: I saw someone pulling off a ponyized Daenerys Saturday. It was pretty wicked. Do not take my praise of happy fiction to mean I necessarily dislike darker elements in other works.))
Bad things can still happen in positive worlds, although maybe the bad things are less severe than in other worlds. Even if the reader/viewer knows for certain that things will end alright, a story can still seem tense and finding out how a desirable outcome will be achieved can still be compelling. On an episode of Friendship is Magic, it can be taken as a given that Equestria will not fall under the permanent control of evil. Nor will anypony be murdered, violated, or maimed by representatives of said evil. In fact, odds are that even the villain won’t die. That doesn’t mean no one will care how the threat is overcome.
In writing circles, people talk a lot about stakes. A lot of folks equate the need for something to be at stake with a need for a life, nation, or world to be threatened. But that’s silly. In one of the recent issues of the Friendship is Magic comics, the pegasus Rainbow Dash had a bad day, one I could relate to. It takes her forever to get out of the house, she flies straight into a wall that shouldn’t have been there, and the whole town beats her into line for the new release in her favorite book series. She’s upset and starts snapping at other ponies. Those ponies snap at others, and so on until the entire town is grouchy. Now, I knew for certain that something would change and everypony would be happy in the end. But what a consequence if they weren’t! Who wants to see a happy carefree world turn into a society of hateful grumps? Something had to be done and I read on eagerly to see how Rainbow Dash was going to fix everything.
Now, some people wouldn’t care if Equestria became a land of hurtful ponies, and they have no idea why I would read such a story, let alone be at all emotionally invested in it. That’s fair. And rather irrelevant, as the people who are actually of the fandom will care. It’s impossible to write to the entire world and have everyone appreciate it. Rather, one should write to one’s audience.
People in publishing spend a lot of energy trying to figure out who their audience is, getting caught up on the demographics. Is Friendship is Magic for little girls, twenty-year-old males, or forty-year-old women? Or maybe it’s for the octogenarian I saw dressed as Granny Smith? The answer, of course, is that it’s for everyone who enjoys it.
But I don’t merely enjoy Friendship is Magic. It has made a positive impact on my life, which is surely the highest compliment that I can pay a piece of fiction. It assists me in my struggle to keep my depression at bay, serves to remind me what’s important in life, and helps me be comfortable in my own skin. It doesn’t cure all my problems, but it helps me with them. Creator Lauren Faust has surely been one of the most influential creatives in my life, up there with Gene Roddenberry and Jane Austen.
My goal with my books is to make someone’s reading period a little better, a little happier. I’m never going to touch as many lives as those I idealize, or make as big an impact as them, but I strive to have a similar effect on a smaller scale. If Lauren Faust is a cybertech replacement hand, I’m a band-aid. And I’m OK with that, because the world needs band-aids.