“Individuality” is the new collectivism

“The Oak Tree” by Michael Craig-Martin

The following reflections from Matt Walsh helpfully uncover the shallow “authenticity” of our identity-obsessed age:

I don’t believe that Grayson’s affinity for My Little Pony has anything to do with “individuality” or “self-expression.” This is a cartoon show produced by a subsidiarity of the multinational conglomerate known as Hasbro. The Pony gear is mass produced kid’s apparel, which his mother likely bought at Toys ‘R Us, Target, Walmart, or some such place. This stuff is packaged, marketed, and sold in bulk. Individuality? Hardly. Call it whatever you want to call it, but “individuality” isn’t involved here.

As mentioned above, many bloggers and internet commenters have lamented that Grayson is being made to feel ashamed of “who he is.”


So he is defined by his affection for cartoon unicorns, is he? That backpack speaks to the very substance of his soul, does it?

This is precisely the problem with modern culture (well, one of the many problems). We all walk around following fads and trends — some of which are DESIGNED to elicit glares and guffaws from non-trendy “prudes” — and then we act as if we’ve been attacked on a molecular level when someone expresses distaste for our plastic-wrapped, calculated, corporately constructed “image.” I’m not accusing nine-year-old Grayson of falling into this category, but this does describe many in the Outraged Mass who choose to hoist up a My Little Pony backpack, and march under it like a battle flag.

To prove my point, the “Bronies” have turned Grayson into a martyr for their cause.

What are Bronies, you ask? I was unfamiliar myself until recently. Evidently, these are a sub-culture of grown men who love My Little Pony. They gather together on internet forums and discuss the show. They congregate at Brony Conventions.

They are involved in a fad that is one in a long line of similar fads, all bound by one goal: to do bizarre things, then dare anyone to call it a bizarre thing.

I, for one, will take the challenge. It is bizarre for grown men to be such passionate lovers of a little girl’s cartoon show about unicorns.

Yes, it is bizarre. But bizarre ain’t unique these days. It isn’t individualistic or bold. It is precisely what it purports to attack: collectivism.

You should read the whole thing before accusing Walsh of being an insensitive asshole, since he repeatedly makes clear that the bullying is unjustified and should be punished. Of course, he will still be called an asshole, but that is par for the course nowadays. As far as I can tell, the millennial generation (those, like myself, born in the 80’s or 90’s) solely value a rather clearly identifiable pair of attributes: kindness/nicety and tolerance. These are fine qualities, to be sure, but they have a tendency toward banal self-assertion and ritualization of the same, to put it mildly. Saner generations would have called it narcissism, but apparently Jesus identified himself with the narcissistic credo’s of his day, not (as I thought) the sinners falling on their knees.


Image: “The Oak Tree” by Michael Craig-Martin (1973), a famous and influential work of existential and postmodern “conceptual” art. In this instance, the artist defines the essence of a thing — or, as Sartre said, “existence precedes essence” — because essence is not a given or “out there” in the reality of a thing.

Needless to say, I despise this “art.”



  1. 1. I do think Brony culture is weird (and I’ve never seen an My Little Pony episode), but this kid is only nine years old, so I don’t think it’s the same thing at all. Kids go through phases all the time. I might be concerned as a parent if he’s still into MLP in 3 or 4 years. But at his age, is it really any different from a young tomboyish girl taking an unusual interest in Star Wars or superheroes or whatever?

    2. I don’t have a problem with schools having moderately strict dress codes, banning licensed paraphernalia, or even mandating uniforms. But if they make an individual targeted ban on this backpack while allowing kids to wear Star Wars and Barbie apparel and whatever other cartoon kids are into these days, then I really don’t think it’s defensible.

    3. Walsh says that “pink is girly” is not just a social convention. This is empirically wrong – early in the 20th century, pink was a boys’ color. I do agree that social conventions shouldn’t be flaunted willy-nilly without good reason, though.

    • One more thing: I really don’t know if the bullies were actually punished in this case, but Matt Walsh seems way too certain that they were. People let bullying slide all the time in public schools or give it little more than a slap on the wrists- maybe he doesn’t realize this because he’s a homeschool guy.

  2. Very good questions/insights, Joel, as I always expect from you. Walsh recognizes, both in this excerpt and elsewhere, that the kid is not to blame for this. For what it’s worth, I actually have a tremendous amount of sympathy, since I was never a “traditional” male kid in regards to my interests and hobbies. I was always the sensitive artistic-minded kid.

    I blame the culture and the elites who have brought us to this point of madness. “Pink” is obviously a social convention, but what it intends to signify is not…which is what I think Walsh meant. There is a long history surrounding nominalism v. realism or existentialism v. essentialism, and I am rather clear on which side I stand. But, I hope that I am also historically sensitive enough to know where the ambiguities are found, without surrendering objectivity altogether.

    And, in your follow-up comment, you are right that Walsh is projecting from his own assumptions about these situations — whether the bullies are punished. I think his overall point is correct, but I would not likewise make the same assumption.

    As should be obvious, I do not agree with every aspect of something that I quote or the person who authors the quote, but I do like insights that challenge the conventional moral wisdom of our day.

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