Monday, August 27, 2012

Cartoons and Healing: My Interview with Amy Keating Rogers

There is a yearning to return to innocence.

In a fallen world full of illness, terrorism, wars and rumors of wars, a growing number of people are focusing their minds on things that bring them back to a child-like wonder. Not to be confused with a childish attitude, but to view things from the perspective of a child – for a fantasy world that, though not without confrontation, will always have a happy ending.

This is not a new phenomenon. Certainly, J. R. R. Tolkien began writing his mythical tales of Middle-earth in army barracks, recovering from the horrors of World War 1. In C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, the series opens with four children – Peter, Susan, Edmond and Lucy Pevensie – being evacuated from London to escape the very real threat of the Blitz, the German bombing of the United Kingdom in World War 2.

It could be said that much of fantasy and children's media has been derived from very real and serious events. It is no wonder that both children and adults have benefited from them.

"I think if people can find healing in the shows I’ve worked on, that is fantastic!" said Amy Keating Rogers, a writer and story editor for such cartoons as 'The Powerpuff Girls', 'Dexter's Laboratory', 'Samurai Jack' and 'My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic', the popular reboot of the 1980's Hasbro toy franchise. "That is not the original intention of the programs I’ve worked on, but that doesn’t matter. If someone can find hope then it means everyone that worked on that show has surpassed expectations!"

Amy has been nominated for four Emmy Awards, and has also written Powerpuff Girls chapter books for Scholastic and Golden Books. "I’ve been in touch with a man that suffered a stroke and watching The Powerpuff Girls gave him the drive to work on his recovery," she said.

"When you write, what are your thoughts concerning the adults who are also going to be watching?" I asked.

"When I write, my primary concern is the children that will be watching the show," she said. "Having children myself, I try to write things that I feel would be appropriate and that I wouldn’t mind my kids watching. I also have the network Standards and Practices to take into account for any show. Each show has different guidelines that I must be aware of while writing. Some shows let you push the boundaries while others are more strict. Finally, I take into account the parents that are watching with their kids. I always throw in humor that the adults will get a kick out of, while staying appropriate for kids at the same time. But if I laugh at it, I figure other adults will too!"

I was curious how adding confrontation into a show was determined, without having too much confrontation.

"It depends what the subject of the story is," she said. "If it’s about a character coming into town and causing trouble, I write them being confrontational. But these characters are also modeling behavior for our kids, so there needs to be a balance of that character being confrontational but then getting their comeuppance. They may not learn from their bad behavior, but if the other characters are aware of it and are unwilling to be treated that way again, that’s a good payoff."

I asked her about the adult following of the recent 'My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic' show, a group of people who call themselves Bronies and Pegasisters. "I have had some great interactions with the Brony community," she said. "I went to BronyCon back in June and will be attending more Cons coming up this year. Everyone I have met has been very kind and appreciative of the show. The episodes of MLP: FiM were not originally intended for an adult, male fan base. But if they enjoy and are inspired by the show, I think that’s fantastic!"

'My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic' is about ponies from a town named Ponyville in a world called Equestria, specifically one pony named Twilight Sparkle and her quest to study friendship, under the guidance of the wise Princess Celestia.

"The Brony community is also not just about watching this show," she added. "It’s about following the examples set forth by the characters in the show. And the Bronies have taken it to heart, raising lots of money for various charities. I’ve been very impressed by them."

It would seem that the followers of the show have been impacted for the better by the strong morals, values and strength of friendship it portrays. By doing a quick search on Google, I was able to find one group who was raising money to send financially strapped students to an art university.

Those who attended the BronyCon held in Secaucus, New Jersey were a very kind crowd. According to an article on Buzzfeed, they cheered for two National Guard members who came to the convention in uniform. In a time when the military is sometimes protested, this show of respect spoke volumes concerning this community.

"I spoke with many people personally at BronyCon and in emails that say that MLP: FiM has changed their lives," Amy said. "MLP: FiM seems to show people a more peaceful, utopian community that is a great escape from the real world."

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic airs on The Hub network 

Much like Lewis' Narnia, the show has some conflict, but always it's the good that wins. Strong life lessons are taught, and examples on how to treat others are given. "The show was always geared to show stories about friendship—thus Friendship is Magic," Amy said. "And friendship can have a lot of conflict. In life, there are always misunderstandings and assumptions. Pride and ego can get in our way. Wanting to please everyone yet pleasing no one. But, through these conflicts, our goal is to demonstrate how apologizing and accepting apologies makes those friendships stronger. Being older and wiser, Celestia understands these issues better than the younger ponies and is able to offer her wisdom."

I asked about one character in particular, a show magician named Trixie who was a bit of a snob when she arrived in town, and if the main characters would be forgiving if an episode was made where she returned. "That’s a very good question," Amy said. "I think if Trixie came in wanting to make amends, then certainly. It would depend how she entered Ponyville. Is her motivation to make friends or to cause more trouble? The other characters would respond accordingly."

Is it bad for adults to watch and be impacted by a children's show? Not at all, if they benefit from it. C. S. Lewis once said, "Critics who treat adult as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence."

"When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."

Finding in things what is morally beneficial; finding what helps us move beyond our tragedies; to search through the coats in a wardrobe for a portal to a place full of innocence and wonder, especially with our own children; that truly is magic.

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