• Editorial: Overthinking a Kid's Show


    If there's one phrase that is uttered between Bronies time and again over the Internet, it's the criticism that one is overthinking a kid's show.

    But how much thinking is overthinking and does a kid's show not deserve a closer inspection? I'm going to add my two cents here.

    Catch the full editorial after the break.

    I think we've all either witnessed or been a part of this scenario. A debate/argument online over an episode where one fan seems to be scrutinizing a single scene down to the pixels. Sooner or later, someone is going to put forth the argument, "You're overthinking it. This is a kids' show."

    Pinkie Pie upon learning she really is a fictional character.

    With a heavy sense of irony I am going to break down this argument into parts. Starting with the latter, most factual part.

    "A Kids' Show" – A Good Argument
    Back in Season 4 I remember talking with another reviewer who wanted to know the economic impact of Ponyville shutting down for a day to watch the Breezies. I tried to imagine how the show might cover that, with every pony from the Cakes to Quills & Sofas weighing in on the marketing revenue gained or lost due to the event. Then I tried to picture how the target audience might react to such an episode:

    I've had days like this.


    Yep. Though a legitimate question in our world, a young audience might not be taken in unless the idea were presented in a very, very creative way. This is an example of when I think we unconsciously bestow suspension of disbelief. The target audience is young and thus some ideas have to be simplified. Add to that the episodic format and we often witness hasty resolutions with few lingering consequences. 

    Brainwash your friends? No worries!
    Just enjoy the improbable fountain.

    Similar situations include the rapid order of events. Ponies seem to be able to accomplish more in a day that most active humans couldn't achieve in a week. This includes setting up a royal wedding in two days, rebuilding a barn in a few hours, and setting up a living history lesson along a pegasus' flight path. If someone were to point this out then we would all take note, but I think many would just shrug it off.


    Don't try to figure out how they set this up.
    Your head will explode.

    You want to know why I greet continuity with fireworks and a reverberating cheer? It's because I never expected it. Even in these more continuity-emphasized seasons, the episodes can still serve as a stand-alone story. Ideas are touched upon until the season finale highlights their significance. A child or teenager might catch the reference to some big force but needn't go away from the episode with any sense of dread or anxiety. Aside from two-parters, MLP episodes seem designed to release the audience at episode's end with a sense of completion and positivity. While this doesn't match events in the real world, I don't see harm in giving kids some entertainment without emotional baggage. Goodness knows real life will take care of that.

    "A Kids' Show" – A Bad Argument
    It's important to emphasize the difference between "simplified" and "unrealistic". Suspension of disbelief is not turning off one's mind. It's an invitation to accept a premise. In some cases it's that this world works on an accelerated timetable. Or that their culture might view things differently than our own. That last parts probably the hardest to accept, as we often view this show as a proxy for our own world.

    No gambling here! The Las Vegas of Equestria is a giant arcade.
    You have NO hope of winning that money back.

    Yet there are times when the chain of events is so alien that it defies our ability to accept it. The story asks too much and we can't give leeway. One of the most common instances is a lack of consequence. This can include Rainbow Dash's sabotage of Cloudsdale in Tanks for the Memories or Pinkie Pie's damage to property in Too Many Pinkie Pies. The boundary between suspension of disbelief and alienation varies between people yet we all have it. At some point, the show has asked us to accept a premise that we simply cannot.

    That looks says, "I am so arrested."
    Except she wasn't.

    So when the counter-argument "It's a kids' show" comes up, it holds no weight. It carries the unfortunate implication "It's a kids' show... and kids are stupid". Children might be learning about consequences, but that doesn't mean they are blank slates. If anything, I think the best children's entertainment realizes this and finds a way to respect the audience's intelligence while realizing that new information may have to be simplified at first. 

    Even with the earlier industrial sabotage, 
    I can't help but feel for Rainbow here.

    More than that, the argument that this is a kids' show doesn't address the criticism. In the vein of the ad hominem fallacy, the person making the argument is implying the criticism is invalid or shameful for being so harsh on a children's cartoon. It does nothing to address the argument and only succeeds in making the disagreement personal.

    Over-thinking
    So the latter part of that argument might one work one-way or another, but what about the first part? How much thinking is over-thinking? 

    Pinkie's version of the spiny beach-ball of death.


    For the longest time I thought this was an empty phrase as it was entirely subjective and only uttered by the person trying to silence criticism. But I had a funny coincidence while doing some reading on the Warrior archetype. One of the key aspects is that the warrior never overthinks to the point of inaction. 

    Twilight Sparkle. Poster pony for mental breakdowns.

    To be clear, inaction can be a choice. Yet when one is processing information over and over to the point of stagnation, then it's more an accident. If one is presented with a difficult choice and a limited timeframe, then there's only so much space to deliberate before the choice becomes moot. 

    Imagine if Twilight had deliberated here like in "Lesson Zero".

    But does this apply to talking about a cartoon? Surely we as fans could debate one aspect well beyond the point of people's patience. I'm sure we have many times. Yet this seems like action, even if it is simply to continue the argument. So scrutinizing a scene or character doesn't appear to be stagnation until one asks, "How did you like the rest of the episode?"

    I guess it works both ways. Chrysalis was so popular
    I wasn't sure people remembered any other part.

    I think this is the real hurdle to a person "over-thinking" a topic. Perhaps that thought has compelled them to speak out, but it's demanded so much attention that the rest of the episode goes unheeded. It's true that a bad ending can make an otherwise enjoyable experience feel wasted. On the other hand, it's possible to assign an event too much importance at the cost of an otherwise enjoyable presentation. 

    What's The Real Question?
    The funny thing is that though I originally set out to dismiss this argument, I think has some merit. The circumstances in which it hold weight are very limited and often it's misused as a shaming tactic. It might be that a person is letting a single event take up too much focus at the expense of the overall enjoyment, but that's their choice. Conscious or not, they're investing the energy and it's not your responsibility to dissuade them or invest your own. 

    The end result of most forums.
    There might be a different question: why is this so important? Often time I find that nitpicks all lead back to a more general issue. Something about the episode failed to get your investment. Likely it was a premise that was too far a stretch to be accepted. Without this foundation, every minor offense becomes more prominent. Enjoying an episode doesn't mean denying these flaws but often they can be a source of amusement. Take away that option and what's left?

    Pinkie Pie in an episode day without humor.

    Ultimately, no can forbid fans from making this counter-argument; just as the argument itself rarely silences criticism. We are a fandom that includes teenagers and adults, bringing our own experiences to a show designed for a young audience. Though not a bad situation, I think we sometimes lose track and have to remind ourselves that this is meant to be for fun. Sometimes the show stretches too far for that to be possible, but at the end of the day I think some of the more outlandish ideas are still part of its attraction.

    Somewhere, out there, a person is questioning the
    tensile strength of those vines.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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