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Adam McKay: Teaching economics via 'My Little Pony' parodies

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"Anchorman" director and Funny or Die co-founded Adam McKay has a thing for being entertaining. So for his entry in Morgan Spurlock's massive, ambitious anthology project "We the Economy" — 20 short films that aim to help everyday viewers better understand economic issues — McKay decided to tackle the issue of income inequality by making a "My Little Pony" parody, roping in the vocal talents of Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Billy Eichner and Sarah Silverman. He just hopes the Bronies are watching.



So when you think "income inequality," the first thing that pops into your head is "My Little Pony"?


We were just trying to find a way that had energy, had color, had laughs and at the same time a bunch of information. My 9-year-old and 14-year-old daughters had been watching "My Little Pony" like crazy around the house and I'd been hearing the kind of aggressive optimism of that show and those cheery voices, and I thought, That's kind of hilarious because that's how we all sort of walk into the economy anyway. We all think, Oh it's America! I can be whatever I want to be, and then we all kind of get slapped and shoved down a bit. So I thought a parody of "My Little Pony" was a perfect vehicle for that.

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Income inequality has become a very front-and-center topic recently. What do you think got us to this point?


It's really, really extreme in the U.S. Most people aren't aware of how bad it is. With 50 percent of all the wealth going to the top .1 percent, and 80 percent of the American public gaining no wealth whatsoever over the last 30 years. Obviously in any economy you're going to have some people doing slightly better than others, and that's fine, but when you have a very small amount doing titanically better than a large majority, it creates major problems. You don't have a consumer base to buy products, the labor market becomes incredibly distilled and wages plummet as unemployment goes up, and it creates a vast underclass and a really unhealthy economy. You start seeing spiraling, extreme poverty going on and mortality rates rise. It really can be catastrophic. As far as how we got there, it's not too hard to track it. They un-pegged the minimum wage from cost-of-living increases, so it doesn't go up anymore and it's at a poverty wage level. There are so many tax breaks for the uber-wealthy and for transnational corporations, so that's reduced tax receipts by the government, which would normally spend that money on building projects and more jobs and constructive ways to help our economy.

I imagine working on adapting a Michael Lewis book has meant a lot of this is on your mind these days.


Yeah, it certainly brings about a ton of questions. I mean, you're looking at a time in American history where most of our institutions are going through major scandals across the board as Big Money seems to be rotting our institutions. There's just too much temptation for consolidated power and consolidated wealth, and that's basically what happened in the U.S. Everyone quotes that "invisible hand of the free market" bit from Adam Smith, but what no one talks about is there's 50 pages before it where he's talking about how that free market has to be heavily regulated in order for the invisible hand to operate. Somewhere along the line that got lost. The best comparison I've heard is if you have an NFL football game, you don't just get rid of all the rules and say, "Well, it's a free game" and have guys attacking each other in the parking lot and throwing rocks at each other. You have to have rules in order for the economy to operate.

It seems like a big uphill battle, trying to fix the knowledge base on economics for everyday people.


There's obviously, in our country, a lot of misinformation flying around, a lot of crazy half-true stats and bizarre theories that don't actually hold water. What it should be is our public education, our schools, should be teaching economics and finance, and there shouldn't really be any gray area about this stuff. But they don't, so you hear all this folk logic and email forwards out there. We're just hoping this project can be a shove away from the dock for a lot of people, and entertaining as well.

How familiar are you with Brony culture? Do you think they'll dig your short?


I actually didn't know anything about it, and I started to do the movie and people kept mentioning it to me so I went and looked up the documentary. That is a fascinating world. If any work I ever do in my life intersects with the Brony subculture, I will be very proud.

All 20 "We the Economy" shorts will be available across the Web for free starting Tuesday, Oct. 21.



Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter: @nedrick

 

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