Watching Cartoons with Jesus: My Little Pony and the Myth of Redemptive Violence

MLP: Friendship Is Magic

Yesterday and Today
Yesterday I started work on a post titled something like “Rene’ Girard and My Little Pony: Subversion of Sacrificial Mimetics”. Catchy title, I know. But between yesterday and today, something changed. This morning, I read an article about an 11 year-old boy in my former state of North Carolina who attempted to commit suicide after being bullied about his love of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.

My heart was broken before I’d even gotten vertical.

Lying next to me in my bed was my four-year old son, who not only sometimes rocks pink Converse All-Stars (they were his sister’s hand-me-downs, but he looks rad in them – do they make them in my size?), but who also enjoys the very same show.
Lord have mercy.

Watching Cartoons with Jesus
Perhaps I was too formed by the WWJD movement as a teenager and young adult, perhaps the dyes from those stitched bracelets seeped into my skin and caused this, but I have no issue with imagining sitting next to Jesus and watching cartoons. Some might call it sacrilege, but I’m pretty sure the guy who said, “Let the little children come to me,” wouldn’t feel out of place in front of animation.

So when Jesus and I are watching cartoons, I have found that he, unsurprisingly, much prefers cartoons that are focused on the redemption and growth of all characters (even “villains”) over those cartoons that weekly find a new villain for the heroes to destroy. Yes, that’s right, Jesus seems to prefer redemption over destruction.

Jesus and Redemptive Violence
Maybe this is because in the midst of a culture that was focused on retributive violence and vengeance, Jesus sought and found a way to subvert that story. Jesus refuses to use the power at his disposal to destroy even a single human life. Instead, Jesus seeks to find redemption for all those he encounters, offering such ludicrous lines as “Father, forgive them, for they don’t have a clue what they’re doing.”

The thing that “they” and we are so clueless about is our own false assumptions about how violence is a necessary avenue for redemption. I love Rambo as much as the next guy born in the late 70s, but my eyes are increasingly opened to the false narrative of vengeance. There is no path of violence that leads to true resolution. Violence and retribution narratives are only stories we tell ourselves to keep from becoming vulnerable. But that vulnerability is foundational to a full human experience.
Jesus loves vulnerability and eschews violence. This makes him the perfect candidate for watching MLP.

Friendship Is Magic
What makes My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic so remarkable is that it is teaching my children truths that I only learned later in life. It is teaching the value of seeking redemption for every character/person. Even the “big-bad” antagonists of the season openers are not only given the opportunity for redemption, but are helped along in the process. While perhaps not intentionally, this is pretty clearly a New Testament mindset, the greatest antagonist to the church in the book of Acts, one Saul of Tarsus, is redeemed to become Paul the Apostle.

Even if it is extra-biblical, I don’t need a particular faith to know that those individuals who have arrived at a peace within their own lives have not done so through acts of aggression, but only by making “friends” – first with themselves then with the world. Friendship really is the path forward. It is the embrace of that which we fear, not the destruction of it, that causes us to grow. And while I’m happy for people to learn this lesson in whatever way they are most comfortable, I can’t deny that MLP is teaching it one episode at a time.

Where the Rubber and Road Meet
Sometimes, when things are dramatically wrong in the world around me, when the innocent are harangued for what they watch, when people are bullied for how they were born, when my own children are threatened or even intimidated – I just want to punch someone in the throat. I can imagine how it would feel, flesh on flesh, an immediate “solution” to the injustice at hand. I would be a hero.

But not really.

The world is not heroes and villains; it is people in need of redemption. I’m hoping for redemption for my own violent desires, hoping one day to not only not actually punch people in the throat, but to not want to do it in the first place. I may have quelled my external violence, but the violence of my will still needs redemption.

I’m not going to get there by myself. I’m not going to get there by blaming others or hating myself. I’m only going to get there by living with people and learning to see and love them as they are, by loving myself a little better, trusting a bit more, and by embracing even the dark corners of my soul. We can only do this together, when we stop seeing each other as enemies.

As much as I want to wish vengeance upon those who caused the pain that led this 11 year-old boy to harm himself, I know that there is no answer there. Even his mom knows that, even in her pain she knows better. She said, “I’ve heard a lot of people say you need to go after bullies and hold them responsible. But you know, I don’t think that’s what Mike would want. I would rather teach people how to do right than turn around than punish, because punishment doesn’t always work.”

No, punishment doesn’t always work. But friendship does. Because friendship is magic.

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