A reconsideration

November 04, 2007

Is there a place in the world for cute? There is if you don't have to put up with too much of it.

The cuteness in question today is embodied in a toy called My Little Pony, which this year celebrates its 25th birthday, having now occupied a full generation's worth of girls' imaginations worldwide, while simultaneously alarming a generation of parents worried about excessive exposure to saccharine.

But is artificial sweetener really so dangerous?

Today's young women seem to have their heads screwed on straight - which is more than can be said for the Barbies they took up after leaving My Little Pony bereft and unwanted in the back of the closet.

My Little Ponies are sturdy and sort of squeezy and infinitely groomable thanks to manes and tails - and they don't raise all those scary self-image body-type busty-anorexic issues that make Barbie a perpetually edgy presence in the household. And you can't yank their heads off.

This week, the world will find out if My Little Pony has been voted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, N.Y. It's going up against 11 other nominees, and only two will get in, so you can imagine the tension on the shores of Lake Ontario.

My Little Pony, a Hasbro product, has spawned an entire ancillary culture, with twinkly cartoons and Halloween costumes and a traveling show called the World's Biggest Tea Party (yeccch!). Some might argue that My Little Pony is the first real wedge driven between a girl and her parents.

All that sweetness has the same effect on grown-ups that garlic does on vampires; it makes them think of something important to do in another room. That leaves the pony fancier free to play as she sees fit, unencumbered by parental interference.

Well, the way parents are these days, that might not be so bad.

But a more telling point has to do with how quickly the sugary essence of it dissolves. A parent may choke on the terminal cuteness of a little blue horse with a snub snout and a pink polymer mane, and on the gender imprinting that's undoubtedly going on even before the Barbie arrives - but it sure doesn't last long, in retrospect.

There's a homecoming dance and a driver's license and a college dorm just around the corner. My Little Pony - how did she get to be 25 so fast?

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