Welcome, one and all, to my second ever OWLS post! If you missed the last one, or you aren’t aware of the groups, OWLS stands for Otaku Warriors for Libery and Self-Respect. Basically, we are a group of otaku bloggers who promotes acceptance of all individuals regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability. We emphasize the importance of respect, kindness, and tolerance to every human being. Each month, we will look at a specific theme. If you want to know more, please do click on the logo in the side bar.
Now, the theme for March is ‘Squad’. But what do we mean by that? Let’s take a look.
Although some people may like to be alone at times, we all have that one special friend or a squad of friends who we kick it and have some good laughs and fun with. However, there are friendships that don’t last a lifetime and usually, they end due to a falling out or a misunderstanding. For this month’s topic, we will be exploring some of the best friendships in anime and pop culture as well as the friendships that ended suddenly. We will talk about what a true friendship means to us, what we learned about ourselves and others through broken friendships, and our definitions of a “good friend.”
So, this will be a bit of a random ramble. You see, as a kid, I watched a lot of kid’s shows. Nothing unusual there, right? As an adult though, I still do, thanks in a big way to my kids. The thing is, it’s not unusual to see some cross-over between the shows. Now, I don’t mean inter-series cameos here – though they are cool – what I mean is themes. There are plenty of shows that show the ‘zero to hero’ journey for example. Kid’s shows also deal with friendship a fair bit, with the general idea being to encourage kids to make friends. And herein lies the topic of today’s piece.
Most shows promote the idea that friends are good, with some even showing the bad guys as shunning friendship or giving the good guys the boost of being compassionate towards the villains and trying to forge links with them. But what happens when someone who isn’t a bad guy simply doesn’t like the protagonist? Well, I can think of two shows that dealt with this very issue. What surprised me is that they both dealt with it in a very different way.
I’m going to start with a show from my past here: Recess. Running from 1997 to 2001, Recess was a Walt Disney produced cartoon that dealt with a group of six elementary school children. These characters were the popular and confident Theodore Jasper “T.J.” Detweiler, athletic Vince LaSalle, tough girl Ashley Spinelli, gentle giant Mikey Blumberg, genius Gretchen Grundler, and shy new kid Gus Griswald. During recess periods, the kids have essentially created a mirror for traditional human society, complete with a class system, and unwritten laws. And so, the adventures begin.
Does that all sounds a bit cliché? Looking back at it, it was. In many ways, it follows a popular template though. We had six different kids that covered a mix of races and atypical interests. The set-up of the playground was undoubtedly designed to teach lessons to youngsters about how they’re expected to act in the wider world when their time comes to leave school and become adults too, albeit without delving into deeper moral issues to any great degree. Given that the target audience was around 7 – 12 year olds though, simplifying things in this manner was pretty common for the era, and helped make it all very age appropriate.
So, the episode I’m looking at is Nobody Doesn’t Like T.J. [S04E28]. The idea here is that the ever-popular T.J., beloved by his fellow students, discovers that a kid named Gordy doesn’t like him. While surprised by the revelation, T.J.’s core group of friends do try to help him out with the dilemma by pointing out that it would be impossible for every single person on the planet to like him or anyone else. Despite this, T.J. resides himself to the task of making Gordy like him.
First, he tries sharing toys, which leads to Gordy accepting a ball and going off to paly with someone that he does like. Next, T.J. gives Gordy a chocolate and nut brownie, only to discover that Gordy’s allergic to nuts, leading to Gordy thinking that T.J. is trying to poison him. Rejection leads to obsession and T.J. starts to ponder the possibility of getting tutored in science purely so that he can in turn tutor Gordy. As Ashley Spinelli says to him, it’s getting a bit weird. But that, of course, doesn’t stop T.J. After telling Gordy that he doesn’t like him either backfires, he takes drastic action: he intentionally gets Gordy in trouble so that they’ll have to spend detention together.
The whole point of this is so that T.J. can take Gordy on an adventure through his secret detention escape route. Here, the pair get to raid the kitchen for frozen treats, torment the principal, and hang out with the stereotyped geeky kids to play games and read comics, and all with time to spare to get back to detention before anyone notices that they’ve gone. Does it do the trick though? Does T.J. finally win over Gordy? Well … no. Finally snapping, T.J. demands to know why, even after all the fun they had in detention, Gordy doesn’t like him. His answer is pretty straight forward:
“No reason, I just don’t.”
The upshot of it all is that T.J. learns the lesson that, no matter what you do, not everyone is going to like you, and that is absolutely fine.
Jump forward to more recent times, and we find another show dealing with friendship; My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Starting in 2010 and still going today, the series follows Twilight Sparkle as she leaves her slightly anti-social life in Canterlot to move to Ponyville. Here the young unicorn – later an alicorn – learns the magic of friendship, and forges a bond with five friends. So, the key protagonists are: the bookish and socially awkward Twilight Sparkle, farmer and very straight-talking Applejack, fashion focussed Rarity, animal loving and sweet natured Fluttershy, hyperactive party-mad Pinkie Pie, and my favourite, the over-confident tomboy Rainbow Dash.
You’ll see here already that we have some similarities with the shows: six main characters, all focussed on one primary interest or trait, and a world setting that mimics adult human society. The ponies in the town work regular jobs, such as as bakers, or in the postal delivery services and so on, and there’s always a lesson about friendship at the end. While recent seasons have expanded the lore into something far bigger, the show’s beginnings were actually quite humble. The episodes were consistently charming, had some good-natured humour, and were plenty entertaining for the target audience of 4 – 12 year old girls. Of course, plenty of males enjoy the show too, hence Bronies, but girls were the originally intended audience, which is why the core cast is entirely female.
Now, the subject of someone not liking you came up in A Friend In Deed [S02E18]. Here, Pinkie Pie is the focus. You see, as she explains to Matilda the donkey, she knows plenty about everyone in Ponyville, because everyone is her friend. This sequence kick starts the Smile Song, and ends up with Pinkie coming face to face with a grumpy looking newcomer named Cranky Doodle Donkey. Pinkie essentially harasses him here, then proceeds to offend him by singing about his name. Needless to say, Cranky rejects her efforts to be friends, leaving Pinkie shocked. But that’s okay, because Pinkie is up for the challenge of befriending the curmudgeonly donkey.
Pinkie rolls out the literal welcome wagon and, after a song that leaves both she and Cranky covered in cake, reveals to the world that he’s wearing a wig. Seeing that he’s quite annoyed by it all, Pinkie tries to make amends by treating him to a trip to the spa and a new wig. He thanks her, but won’t even smile. Pinkie isn’t ready to give up yet though, and tracks down Cranky’s house. Getting weird? Yes, yes it is. During her house visit, Pinkie learns that Cranky has been searching Equestria for a special friend that he met a long time ago. Through various events, Pinkie manages to set fire to one of his prized possessions: his scrap book. Why did it matter so much? Because it was Cranky’s only remaining reminder of said special friend. That’s the final straw for Cranky, who kicks Pinkie out and declares that he will never be her friend.
Pinkie is advised by her friends that she should leave him alone, and she agrees … but only if he accepts her apology. Which leads to Pinkie chasing Cranky through the town. Oh dear. When this rather aggressive approach fails, Pinkie accepts defeat. But visits him again anyway, this time with Matilda in tow. As it happens, she realised that Matilda was the special friend, as she had the same mementos in her scrap book as Cranky did. Finally, Cranky smiles and accepts Pinkie’s friendship, but asks that she leave he and Matilda to a quiet evening. The friendship lesson is then revealed as:
“While some friends may enjoy playing and laughing together, some may just like to be left alone, which is fine too. Whatever the case, one of the best things about friendship is being able to make one’s friends smile.”
So, both shows tackle the same issue, and both come to a different conclusion at the end of it. What I found interesting about it all is that, after watching the MLP:FiM episode for the first time, it did spark some conversation in my house. The thing is, I remember really enjoying Recess as a kid. And now, I do enjoy MLP:FiM too. I’m a fan of the show, and have been a to a few Brony meets. In general, I think that it does a really good job with showing some positive messages. But the show can have the odd miss-step, and in my mind, this was one of them, at least to a degree.
Children learn from their environment, and this includes whatever media they happen to watch. So, when a show is focussed on friendship, it’s only natural for kids to take some lessons from that show into how they approach friendship in reality. The lessons here were very distinct in terms of how to approach the idea of rejection:
- Recess: Sometimes, people won’t like you. Even if you pursue them relentlessly, and give them everything you can think of, it won’t change that. Sometimes, they don’t even have a real reason to dislike you. But that’s okay.
- MLP: Sometimes, people won’t like you. But that’s okay, because if you make a big enough gesture, they’ll change their mind. Just be aware that not everyone likes doing the same stuff.
So, here’s where things get a little complicated. In general terms, I think that Recess nailed it here. The message is one that applies to both childhood and adulthood, and it does help prepare kids for the time when they do meet the person – or people – that simply don’t get on with them. Given the modern focus on popularity on social media, I really think that this is a message that would be useful, especially for the youngsters that are so desperate for everyone to like them.
However, that doesn’t mean that MLP:FiM was entirely wrong. For one, Pinkie’s harassment of Cranky was clearly played for laughs, and not really any less over the top than T.J.’s actions in Recess. There are circumstances where a grand gesture will win someone over. And yes, it is important to understand that everyone has different tastes when it comes to how they want to spend their time. Where I have a problem with the message is that it kinda implies that there are no circumstances where you can’t win someone over. To me, that’s not the best message to give, as it not only sets people up for failure, but also encourages relentless pursuit, even when the recipient is not interested. And let’s be honest here, there could be any number of reasons that someone would get upset by being hounded like that.
BUT … there may be a reason for it. While both shows target the same age group of 7 – 12 year olds, MLP:FiM is also reaching out to the 4 – 6 year olds. It’s around this age that children are getting ready to start (and actually starting) school. And what do children worry about when first entering this environment? How to make friends, and what to do if someone doesn’t like them. In that respect, the positive message was possibly used as a way to alleviate those fears and make the transition into school easier for the young. If that’s the case, it’s not entirely a bad thing in terms of intent, though it is still a little inaccurate in how it sometimes plays out.
Honestly though, regardless of reasons, I still think that Recess tackled this subject better, and delivered the correct message. Friendship can be a wonderful thing, but it won’t always happen. As an adult, I’ve met plenty of people who I genuinely got along well with. I’ve also met people who simply didn’t like me, sometimes for very little reason at all. And that’s fine. Friendship should be a special thing between two people who both want that bond. If someone doesn’t want to be that close to you, don’t sweat it.
But what about all of you? Whether you have kids or not, how do you think that the dilemma of someone not liking you should be dealt with? Let me know in the comments below.
And don’t forget to check out the other OWLS posters!
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