Media & Technology

My Critical Thinking Little Pony

Ah. So nice to be able to let Rose veg out in front of the television and know that at least she is getting some positive critical thinking messaging at the same time.

Before this year, I had never watched My Little Pony but had always heard through the skeptic network that it came down firmly on the side of science. So when I was looking for things to watch with Rose, it seemed like a pretty good option.

It’s not that she doesn’t watch complete rubbish as well, but I do try to put things in her selection of choices* that are educational or inspiring or at least not detrimental to her development and well-being.

Today, while I was feeding the baby, Rose watched a new episode of My Little Pony (season 8, episode 20 “Leap of Faith”). I inadvertently listened in from the other room and was thrilled with what I heard.

In short: Granny Smith takes a tonic and it makes her feel miraculously young again. She sets about doing a range of exciting and dangerous stunts, wowing ponies everywhere. Apple Jack is suspicious and works out that the tonic is a fake and the advert promoting its effects is staged. At first he (she?)** accepts the tonic based on the good that it appears to be doing Granny, but as Granny’s activities become more and more dangerous s/he exposes the tonic for what it is, nothing but juice. Apple Jack’s pony mates raise the age-old question “what harm can it do” since it appears to be helping Granny. Apple Jack puts the woo firmly in its place: “Believing in something can help you do amazing things, but if that belief is based on a lie, eventually it’s going to lead to real trouble.”

In this day and age of aggressive and psychologically sneaky advertising, learning young not to take all things at face value is a great lesson. Having the “what harm can it do” justification debunked early is also extremely valuable. And understanding the placebo effect and how it can make us assign value to thinks that are basically neutral is yet another useful insight. All in all, not bad for a 20 minute kids’ show.

The rest of the season hasn’t wowed me with its science content or critical thinking, but as far as I am aware (and no, I have not watched all 20 episodes), there is nothing anti-science to worry about. What’s more, the values messages that inundate the shows have been in line with my own values and have resonated strongly with my little one. (The “elements of harmony” – friendship, loyalty, kindness, honesty — are now a key feature of her engagement with the world.)

My guilt about dumping my dumpling in front of the TV to cool her heels while I attend to her younger sister is somewhat assuaged. Now I can feel that while my grubby princess-pirate sprawls across the couch, filthy feet destroying my lovely beige upholstery, she is not only receiving a good refresher in values, but is also getting an educational primer in skepticism.

_________________________
* We call these child traps. They take the form of specific toys, games and TV programmes artfully left in plain view while others are packed away out of sight.

** I can never work out what gender some of the ponies are supposed to be. Not that it matters, except for my choice of pronoun. Rose always corrects me and then uses a mix of pronouns herself.

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Mombot

Mombot

The mother of two girls (Rose, 6, and Fynn, 11 months), Mombot is a feminist and human rights activist based in Cape Town, South Africa. She has a fairly laid back approach to parenting if you ignore the regular rants about the proliferation of the colour pink, the lack of diversity amongst "girls' " toys, the scarcity of good role models for girls in the media etc etc etc.

11 Comments

  1. May 15, 2014 at 5:34 pm —

    The only thing that is truly magical is friendship! 🙂 I freely admit that I’ll plop my 3-year-old in front of MLP at least twice a week. I’ll have to watch that episode with her. She had a wonderful MLP themed birthday party this year. I feel like I should buy stock in Hasbro.

  2. May 15, 2014 at 8:47 pm —

    https://www.fanfiction.net/s/5782108/64/Harry-Potter-and-the-Methods-of-Rationality

    My Little Pony: Friendship is Science! (Plus Yudkowski’s fanfic should be read by more skeptics)

  3. May 16, 2014 at 3:02 pm —

    I love My Little Pony FIM. It is an awesome cartoon for girls (and boys!) All the main pony’s are girls. Apple Jack is a girl and so is Rainbow Dash. I think the only major male ponies are Big Mac and Shining Armor.

    The only episode that may go against skepticism is Feeling Pinkie Keen. It wasn’t intended to come off this way according to the creator, but the message is is that some things just can’t be explained. (Bronies were pissed at this episode.)

    The documentary Bronies is a good watch.

  4. May 17, 2014 at 10:05 am —

    Apple Jack is a girl and so is Rainbow Dash 🙂 I’ve been wondering why this has been ambiguous to me. Is it the relatively deep voices, or their adventurousness which I have been conditioned to view as typically male …

  5. May 19, 2014 at 4:01 am —

    I stick my 5yr old Rose in front of it as well from time to time, she loves it and they are good examples that girls can act any way (Ponies obviously, but girl ponies!) … There is a range of personalities rather than the usual girly stereotypes. Hayao Miyazaki is good for that as well, Princess Nausicaa being her favourite princess still, over the Disney ones.

    • May 19, 2014 at 4:14 am —

      Good reminder! We’ve watched Howl’s Moving Castle, but I haven’t yet tried Princess Mononoke. I’m desperate for anything that isn’t the usual stereotyped animated nonsense but so few live action movies these days are suitable for kids. Rose LOVES anything with singing and dancing, so Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Singing in the Rain, the King and I, Mamma Mia and Hairspray (!) are all favourites.

      • May 19, 2014 at 12:51 pm —

        I wouldn’t recommend PRincess Mononoke for a young child. While it features several awesome women, there is some violence. I think there are two beheadings, someone losing their arms, and there is a bit of war in it. It is a great movie to check out for teens and adults, but not so much for young kids.

        Of Miyazaki’s films and Studio Ghibli films I would recommend are, Spirited Away, Arietti, Whispers of the Heart, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s delivery service, and this one isn’t my favorite, but Pompoko. Also, while Sheeta isn’t the strongest of Miyazaki’s girls, she has her moments and Castle In the Sky is a great movie. (And there is another awesome woman in the movie).

        While most anime does not have good female representation (and some is just down right awful) for an older kid (I’d say preteen) 12 Kingdoms is a fantastic series, probably the best I’ve ever seen in terms of female characters. The first arc is a little slow and the main character is a little annoying, but she eventually becomes awesome. Men and women are very equal in the world. If Beast Player Erin ever gets dubbed, it would be an excellent show too.

        • May 21, 2014 at 5:59 am —

          I had a similar concern, but came to the conclusion it’s nonsense. I’ve watched Princess Mononoke with my daughter several times since she turned 7 and there is nothing really problematic there – in fact I was more startled by the violence myself. Since Princess Mononoke operates within the context of trying to escape and prevent violence, violence as a last resort, I don’t think there’s any negative messaging in the film on this part. If children have to wait till their teens to consume culture which has war and death in it, they’re being pointlessly held back in choice.

          • May 21, 2014 at 8:33 am

            It’s been many years since I watched Princess Mononoke. I guess I’d better watch it myself before showing it to Rose.

  6. May 21, 2014 at 5:53 am —

    All the main ponies are female – it’s a telling positive that people can get this confused if they just watch a single show – because another wonderful thing MLP FiM does is it takes a chainsaw to gender stereotypes. Which is also why I think the existence of brony fandom is a great thing – men want to be able to identify with female characters as well, men also suffer from the gender stereotypes of our society. Whatever her gender, Rainbow Dash is still 20% cooler than any of us =).

    =8)-DX

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