[EDIT: To clarify, I don’t think for a second that Miller uses “it’s for kids” as an excuse to phone it in. If he did, Season 4 would not be nearly as good as it is. My concern was more that I’ve heard that line used by a lot of people who believe the show isn’t worthy of discussion or critique, and the Tweets seemed like a good jumping-off point to discuss that larger issue.]
Well, I was right — they handled it well.
But my most pressing thoughts after “Castle, Sweet Castle” weren’t about the episode itself, but about reactions to the the episode. Jim Miller apparently got irritated with some of the fan commentary:
Getting tired of folks complaining about storied being ‘too predictable’ or ‘not mature enough’. It’s a show designed for viewers aged 6 – 12. I’m sorry it’s not as sophisticated as ‘Breaking Bad’. It’s not supposed to be. It’s great that adults enjoy it, but it’s not designed to work specifically for you. It’s supposed to be fun and easy to digest.
Miller’s argument troubles me. Not because “Castle, Sweet Castle” was too predictable or immature — it was neither. Nor do I think he was out of line in responding to criticism (though apparently he might). What concerns me is the specific argument he makes to defend the episode:
It’s a show designed for viewers aged 6 – 12.
This line is pretty familiar to anyone who’s been in the fandom for awhile. Criticisms of FiM are frequently deflected with “c’mon, it’s a kids’ show,” and I’ve gotten pretty used to that.
But to hear that argument from someone directly involved in the show’s production — that disturbs me.
Now, I agree that the analysis community in particular tends to be overly-negative. And if you think that a piece of criticism is unwarranted or unjustified, by all means speak out and say why.
But I’m convinced that “it’s for kids” is never an appropriate response to criticism. Here’s why:
First of all, if we use “it’s for kids” as an excuse for FiM‘s simplicity, we assume that FiM‘s simplicity needs an excuse. It doesn’t. FiM‘s simplicity is a strength, not a weakness; it allows for clear morals, it makes for easy viewing, and it provides the setup for interesting and entertaining character interaction.
Don’t get me wrong; I love really deep, complex, layered narratives. But if that’s all I were allowed to watch/read/hear, I would go insane. Chocolate fondue is great, but sometimes (often), I just want a chocolate bar. And if you can make a really good chocolate bar, my hat’s off to you. More generally, we seem to have this notion that something simple can’t have artistic merit — which is clearly false.
My response to someone criticizing “Castle, Sweet Castle” for being predictable or unsophisticated wouldn’t be “it’s for kids”. It would be 1) the episode wasn’t particularly predictable or unsophisticated, relative to the rest of FiM, 2) FiM‘s simplicity is a strength, not a weakness, and 3) it doesn’t matter if something’s been done a thousand times — if you do it really well, it’s still good art.
Miller uses “it’s for kids” as a defense against the criticism of simplicity. That’s a mistake, but at the end of the day, it probably doesn’t cause much damage.
But there’s another, more insidious way that the phrase “it’s for kids” is used; to excuse legitimate flaws.
[EDIT: To clarify again, I have never heard Miller (or anyone involved in the show’s production) use the phrase in this way. But I have heard several fans do so.]
FiM, like any creative work, is imperfect; some episodes have pacing issues, questionable visual design, or clumsy exposition. And when these are discussed, there is always that one person saying “c’mon, it’s a kids’ show.”
“It doesn’t need do be great,” that argument seems to say, “it’s for kids, they won’t even know it’s bad.”
You’re right, they won’t — and that’s exactly the problem. That’s the most important reason “it’s for kids” is a bad excuse; if we accept “it’s for kids” as an excuse for mediocrity, then we set children up for mediocrity.
Children form expectations of the world around them based upon what they see. And if the only art for them is bad, they won’t realize it’s bad — they’ll just think it’s what art is. And when they grow up, they will start making bad art, without even knowing it — because they’ll never have seen good art.
While I generally praise the show, I will point out its shortcomings if I think we can learn from them. I don’t do this despite the fact that the target demographic is kids, I do so (partially) because the target demographic is kids.
There are future artists in that audience, and I want them seeing The Crystal Empire’s architecture, not the Rainbow Power designs. There are future writers in that audience, and I want them hearing the story of Rainbow Rocks, not Equestria Girls 1. There are future musicians in that audience, and I want them hearing “Winter Wrap-Up”, not…
Okay, so Daniel Fucking Ingram and William Anderson are apparently gods, and I can’t think of an example of bad music in the series. But the point still stands. I want kids exposed to great creative works, so they’ll grow up to make great creative works.
So yes, FiM is (non-exclusively) for kids. And that is a reason to hold it to a higher standard, not a lower one. And Miller clearly does hold it to that higher standard — at least if the show’s quality is any indication.
If we use “it’s for kids” to excuse mediocrity, then we’re encouraging mediocrity in kids. If we use “it’s for kids” to excuse simplicity, then we’re excusing something that needs no excuse.
So let’s just stop using “it’s for kids” as an excuse.