I simply cannot let such a crime against fabulosity go uncorrected. (Sweet and Elite)

You realize this means there was a pony version of Dali, right?
Has anyone drawn him? I want a drawing of him.

It’s December 3, 2011. The top song is still Rihanna, and the top movie is still BreakingĀ  Dawn, but at least the The Muppets are at a close number two, so theaters at least aren’t completely devoid of joy. In the news, scientists develop an artificial bone scaffold that can be made with a 3D printer, leading to speculation that we may someday be able to print artificial bone for injured people, Egyptians take to the polls in the first elections since they overthrew their government early in the year, and Herman Caine drops out of the U.S. Presidential race, disappointing fans of avant-garde performance art everywhere.

On TV, Meghan McCarthy writes and James Wootton directs the aptly named “Sweet and Elite,” an astoundingly good episode that sadly tends to get overshadowed because it’s in a season full of astoundingly good episodes. This is Rarity’s star turn in more ways than one, as the second (and last to date) time she is sole focus of an episode, coinciding with her entry into Canterlot high society, which is only everything she ever wanted.

What we get is effectively a high school drama–a kid who isn’t normally in the popular crowd joins and forgets abouther unpopular friends. Then she has to choose between popularity and her friends, and chooses to bring the two together, shattering the high school class system. It’s basically the plot of Mean Girls and countless other films and Very Special Episodes, which isn’t at all surprising; high society and high school are both cases of forced association between people with very little productive work to do, so they turn to petty internal politics instead.

What’s interesting about Rarity is a character is that she is equally readable as the villain of a high school drama: she is (to judge by the reactions of other characters) beautiful, status-conscious, fashion-obsessed, materialistic, and judgmental. She is a classic “Queen Bee” character familiar from countless stories set in high school, and in many such stories would be the bully picking on our Everygirl heroine, who would probably resemble either Twilight Sparkle or Rainbow Dash.

But that’s what makes Rarity one of the most fascinating characters in the show; in McCarthy’s hands she evades that stereotype. Even when she prioritizes associating with Canterlot society over finishing Twilight’s birthday dress, she never stops caring about Twilight. She does not at any point blow off her friends. Even when she pulls the sitcom-cliche “two parties/dates at once” she never actually admits to her friends that she’s embarrassed by them.

Take Mean Girls for an example, as it’s probably the best recent version of this story type. Cady starts that film as one of the outcasts, which this episode clearly positions Ponyville as being equivalent to. After she is accepted into the popular crowd, however, she quickly absorbs those attitudes and begins rejecting her former outcast friends, up until the end of the film when she finally turns on the Plastics and helps bring down the school’s clique system.

Rarity does basically none of that. She never turns on her friends; we neither get a scene where she attacks or betrays the Mane Six nor one where she tells off the society ponies. Quite the opposite; though some of the society ponies are initially horrified or amused at the antics of the Mane Six and Rarity’s association with them, Fancy Pants sways them to accept her. High society stays intact, and Rarity find herself able to move between worlds.

Which, honestly, is far more realistic than the usual story. Cliques are an inevitable result of people having little real power and too much time on their hands, which is why you see them so often among high school students, trophy spouses of rich people, and noble courts. When people have actual work to do, there are always a few petty people who play political games, but by and large most people just want to get stuff done and work together to accomplish it. Adult life, in my experience, has vastly fewer cliques than high school, and for most people part of growing up is accepting that.

It sometimes seems like the people who have the hardest time letting go are the people who were at the top and, surprisingly, the bottom of the high school hierarchy. I think sometimes it’s hard to accept that a bad experience is actually over; I know for me I was out of high school for more than a decade before I realized that in college, there were just too damn many kids for their to be a popular crowd; we all split off to do our own things and left everyone else alone. There were factions, sure–I was on the newspaper staff, and the underground newspaper saw us as rivals while we ignored their existence–but there was no hierarchy per se. Every club and group had its members and allies, who generally thought they were awesome, and its detractors, who obviously didn’t, but most students were just too busy to give a rat’s ass about any group they didn’t belong to. That’s largely remained my experience in adult life, with two exceptions: bigotry, which is a different (albeit massive) problem entirely, and those rare occasions where petty people and bullies are encouraged to get together and assume power (one very poorly managed workplace; the condo board/housing association everywhere I’ve lived that has one).

Really, in adult life, when people of very different interests and goals encounter one another the reaction is hardly ever horror, especially if (and, as I said, it’s a big if) bigotry is left out of the equation. Case in point: I work in a government office. It is a place of Very Serious People ranging in age from late 20s to early 60s. My ringtone has been “Smile, Smile, Smile” since before I started working and I’ve kept a Lyra Heartstrings figure on my desk. My desktop wallpaper is a rotating set of images including schematics of the TARDIS, Starfuries in flight past Babylon 5, Kanata from the first-season opening credits of AKB0048, Lina Inverse, and a screencap from the second Gurren Lagann movie. No one has ever cared.

I know not everyone’s so lucky. Some people are stuck in situations where the people around them are unusually judgmental and conformist, or the levels of background pettiness are high enough that cliques happen. If you’re in such a situation, please accept both my sympathies and my assurance that not everywhere is like that. Most people really do have too much going on to give a shit that your dress is a simple design from a shop in Ponyville–and sometimes the people you least expect will turn out to actually like it.

Next week: Remember how I said Season 2 was full of outstandingly good episodes? Yeah, this ain’t remotely one of them.

Pony Thought of the Day: Derivative Works Month Coming!

I’ve decided that I want to expand the scope of Fanworks Month to include licensed works other than the series, so I’m going to be calling it Derivative Works Month from now on. I’ve also decided that, rather than have two straight months of it at the end of Season 2, I’ll have a month at the midpoint and another at the end. So, Derivative Works Month will begin some time in August and continue for four consecutive weekends.

That said, I’m open to suggestions of what to cover, either for this one or the next one. I’m definitely going to do the licensed comic–it’s the main reason I wanted to include licensed works, and a reader (who I don’t know if they want to stay anonymous or not, so I won’t name names) is very kindly sending me a copy of the first volume. Which I have to say, I am highly bribable, and will happily review anything if it gets me free stuff. There’s also one other thing I’m definitely doing, but it’s a surprise. Any other suggestions of either licensed works (and before you ask, no, I’m not doing anĀ Equestria Girls article until after Season 3) or fanworks you’d like to see me cover? There’re two slots open, and then there’ll be another Derivative Works month early next year that has all four slots open…

Pony Thought of the Day: Rarity is Farsighted

Rarity wears glasses when working on dress designs in “Sweet and Elite.” I think she might be farsighted. Alternatively, she could be nearsighted and refuse to wear them for fashion reasons, but be forced to in order to see her designs. I prefer to think she’s farsighted, though, given that her glasses are actually pretty cool and quite flashy, so probably not something she’s embarrassed over.

Pony Thought of the Day: Request for Stories of Brony Women/Pegasisters/etc

I know at least some of my regular readers are women. I find myself somewhat urgently (it’s for the book) needing to know more about what it’s like to be a brony who is specifically a woman/pegasister/whatever you prefer to call yourself. I feel like a lot of attention is paid to male bronies and very little to the women in the community, and I know I’ve been guilty of that myself in some of my articles, so I’d like to try to write at least one article specifically about the experience of brony women.

Anyway, any story you’d like to tell about your experience of being a woman who is a brony is welcome, but if you want a prompt I’d especially like to hear any of the following:

  • Do you feel that, compared to the larger society or other fandoms to which you belong, the brony community is more/less/about equally a welcoming and safe space for women?
  • Do you feel that women are well-represented and recognized as contributors within the brony community?
  • Do you feel that media about bronies (news articles, Equestria Daily, the Bony Study, the Brony Documentary, etc.) accurately and fairly represent the women in the community? Do you feel that these sources adequately acknowledge the presence and contributions of women in the community?
  • Is there anything that you feel is unique about being a woman brony as opposed to a woman in another fandom/the larger society? Anything that you feel is unique about being a woman brony as opposed to a male brony?

My readership is pretty small, so statistically speaking there aren’t that many genderqueer or intersex bronies reading, but if so, I’m interested in your experiences, too. Basically, I feel like the experiences and feelings of bronies who identify as men are well-documented, everyone else’s less so, and I’m looking to try to do my small part to help correct that.

Please share your stories in the comments or e-mail me at froborr@gmail.com if you want them to be more private. I would like to quote the stories in the article where possible, so please let me know if I have permission to do so, and how I should credit you or if you would prefer to be anonymous. I’m in crunch time on the book, so I’d like to have the stories by the end of the day Saturday, June 29. I know that’s very short notice.

Finally, if you know anybody who might have the kinds of stories I’m interested in and would be interested in sharing, please guide them here.

Thanks!

Pony Thought of the Day: Drinking Names

My roommate/best friend/kith/ex-fiancee (my life is complicated) Viga went to a happy hour with the D.C. Brony Society. One person had a little too much, leading to the nickname “Drinkie Pie.” Then someone came up with “Rainbow Smashed,” and after she came home we had to come up with names for all of them. (Well, I say we. It was almost entirely her, I helped with maybe one of them.) The complete list: Twilight Spritzer, Drinkie Pie, Applejack-and-Coke, Rainbow Smashed, Fluttershots, and Rari-Long Island Iced-ty. Plus once the CMC hit drinking age (and not one second before, if Applejack has anything to say about it), we’ll get Shooterloo, Appletini, and Sweetie Beer.

This is what passes for entertainment in my house.

I’m not talking about my performance, I’m talking about yours! That feeble cheering… (The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well)

Wait, is she holding that baby by the…
Ewwwwwwwwww…

It’s November 26, 2011. The top song is and top movie continue to be Rihanna and Breaking Dawn. In the news, the Egyptian revolution continues, with violence mounting in Cairo, where dozens have been killed and thousands injured. Six people, three of them children, die in a plane crash in the Superstition Mountains. And a “supercommittee” within the U.S. Congress fails to agree on budget cuts, making the sequester–massive across-the-board budget cuts that will do extensive long-term economic damage–inevitable.

We need a hero. Fortunately writer Merriwether Williams and director Jayson Thiessen are here to give us one with “The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well,” which blends a Rainbow Dash character episode with the introduction of Ponyville’s first masked hero as a foil for her. The episode functions in part as a way to try to move Rainbow Dash’s character forward. Thus far, while she’s certainly loyal to her friends, she’s also lazy, not mindful of others’ feelings (as demonstrated by her impatience in “Dragonshy” and pranking in “Griffon the Brush-Off” and “Luna Eclipsed”), and more flash than substance. At the same time, the episode is a chance to celebrate some classic superhero-cartoon moments, with Rainbow Dash flying in the iconic Fleischer Superman pose and using a variant of Spider-Man’s catchphrase, Mare-Do-Well posters reminiscent of Batman the Animated Series, and Mary-Do-Well’s costume strongly resembling both the Shadow and Disney’s Batman parody Darkwing Duck.

But for some reason, this episode is extremely unpopular, often coming last in episode-ranking polls (although now “Magical Mystery Cure” gives it a run for its money in the unfairly-disliked-episodes sweepstakes). Williams is overall something of a punching bag among bronies–her episodes tend to have a lot of dread built up before them–but the criticisms of both her in general, and this episode in particular, are unfounded. As this is the most widely disparaged of her episodes, it’s here that I’ll make my stand against the haters.

Like the last widely disparaged episode I defended, “Feeling Pinkie Keen,” one of the most common complaints about this episode is its friendship lesson, which can be summed up as “don’t brag.” For some reason, a lot of fans take this as an extreme position of “don’t show any pride or do anything that makes you stand out, or your friends will smack you down.” That’s ridiculous; it is neither explicitly stated in anywhere near such extreme terms nor implied by the events of the episode.

Rainbow Dash is obnoxiously full of herself right from the cold open–the dividing line, I’d say, is somewhere between accepting people’s accolades and suggesting ways for them to praise you. When she saves the foal stuck in the well, on the other hand, her behavior is fine–she is appreciative of the praise, nothing wrong with that, but doesn’t milk it. After she saves the baby, though, she’s awful. She implies that a baby was hurt–scaring the town and no doubt panicking that baby’s poor mother–just so she can make a joke and garner more cheers. Think about it from that mother’s point of view: Seconds ago she was no doubt terrified that her baby was going to die. She gets a few seconds of relief, only for Rainbow Dash to tell her something is wrong with the baby–it’s a surprise she didn’t either faint or try to murder Rainbow Dash! Twilight Sparkle says she can think of a few new words to describe Rainbow Dash, and Applejack says modesty isn’t one of them. I can provide a new word to describe her behavior here, too: complete and total dickweasel.

By the time Mare-Do-Well appears, it is blatantly obvious that Dash is more interested in her newfound celebrity status than actually helping anyone. She is, after all, willing to spend time signing autographs rather than saving the pony in the crashing balloon. Note that she was wrong about how much time she had–she missed the balloon, so if Mare-Do-Well hadn’t already saved that pony, they would have died due to Rainbow Dash’s negligence and fame obsession.

Her friends are not overreacting in the slightest. They do not even show up until Rainbow Dash pulls her assholery with the baby, and don’t enact the Mare-Do-Well plan until it’s very obvious that Rainbow Dash needs to be brought down a peg before she gets someone seriously hurt. Their plan is an excellent way of doing so because it involves doing nothing but good. Mare-Do-Well doesn’t taunt or lecture Rainbow Dash, doesn’t set out to humiliate her; Mare-Do-Well just saves people and leaves. It’s Rainbow Dash that ruins Rainbow Dash’s reputation, not Mare-Do-Well, because she is simply unable to handle not being the center of attention, and her attention-seeking aggravates everyone around her.

The second major complaint I see about this episode is that the characters are behaving out of character. Again, I don’t see it. Rainbow Dash’s personality is being dominated by the negative aspects, true, but not in a way that contradicts the behavior we’ve seen from her before. This isn’t like “A Dog and Pony Show,” where someone previously willing to enter the Everfree Forest and kick a manticore is suddenly dirt-phobic; this is a pony who has consistently been depicted as a show-off and somewhat prone to callousness in regards to others’ feelings. If anything, the episode it most resembles is “Lesson Zero,” where Twilight’s long-standing worry-prone, neurotic nature comes back to bite her. In the same way, this episode is Rainbow Dash’s long-standing self-centered, prankster nature coming back to bite her.

The rest of the Mane Six are not out of character either. Applejack in particular has been shown to have little patience for Rainbow Dash showing off, and none of the others seem likely to object to a plan that consists of them doing nothing worse than serving as a better example. They’re not being overly harsh or judgmental; Rainbow Dash is presenting herself as a hero, but really she’s just seeking attention. That’s dangerous, and she needs to be taught a lesson. Now admittedly, it may seem a little odd that they don’t just talk to her. On the other hand, there’s that scene in Sugar Cube Corners where she offers them a chance to be in her ghostwritten autobiography. That could easily be read as them trying to talk to Rainbow Dash, but giving up when they see how far into her celebrity persona she’s gotten.

I understand why this episode had a backlash. This episode does not portray Rainbow Dash in the best light, but that’s necessarily going to happen from time to time now that the show is willing to depict characters other than Twilight Sparkle developing. There is no way to depict a character as growing without first depicting them as needing to grow. That’s all that’s happening here.

And Rarity makes Darkwing Duck costumes for everypony! How can anyone not love this episode?