Pony Thought of the Day: Another Story I’d Like to See in Season 4

I may have shared this plot idea before, but I don’t think with this friendship lesson: Fluttershy and Angel go to visit his family, who have just moved to Ponyville. They run into Applejack on the way, who’s looking for the varmints that tore up her south field to build a burrow. Yep, same bunnies. They begin to feud, Fluttershy trying to help the bunnies to stay and Applejack trying to eject them. They start trying to recruit their friends to each other’s sides, and privately worry their friendship might be over. Ultimately someone (probably Twilight, but it’d be nice if it were someone else for a change) helps them reach a compromise that satisfies everyone. The two write a friendship letter together: “Sometimes friends disagree or get mad, and that doesn’t mean the friendship is over. It’s important to talk to the friend you’re mad at and work through it together.”
(Why yes, I’m still reading Odd Girl Out, why do you ask?)

Pony Thought of the Day: Paragons and Exceptions

Of the mane six, three are paragons of their respective tribe and three are exceptions. For the unicorns, Twilight Sparkle is the paragon, with an immense gift for the magic of her tribe. Rarity is the exception, barely using her magic and sticking mostly to physically (well, telekinetically) constructing her creations. For the pegasi, Rainbow Dash is the paragon, an immensely talented flyer who almost never touches the ground and who can clear a sky in… well, you know. Fluttershy is the exception, barely flying and taking care of living things. For Earth ponies, Applejack is the paragon, an immensely strong and determined pony with a massively successful farm; Pinkie Pie is the exception, bouncing around constantly and with no ability to care for plants or animals at all. But what’s most interesting about this, for me, is that it’s entirely accidental. Originally Pinkie Pie was a pegasus and Fluttershy was an Earth pony, and they only swapped them because it increased the number of different ways in which characters moved, from two zippy flyers and four walkers to one speedy flyer, one slow flyer, one bouncer, and three walkers.

Pony Thought of the Day: I’ve been caught

Oh no, everyone, they’re on to me! The brave, brave souls at Your Kickstarter Sucks have conducted a stunning and thoroughly researched expose of my evil scheme to accept voluntarily offered money in exchange for goods and services. Fortunately, they have a cunning counterstrategy: talking about my Kickstarter to large numbers of people who would otherwise not know that my Kickstarter exists.

I accept my defeat, and humbly bow to you, oh wise and honorable people of Your Kickstarter Sucks.

In other news, the Kickstarter is still hovering just shy of the second stretch goal! There’s only a little over a week left, so if you want access to the Kickstarter-exclusive essay or to nudge me closer to being forced to watch Generation 3 ponies, now’s your chance!

That’s four “ever”s. That’s like… forever! (Baby Cakes)

On the one hand, EWWWWWWWW. On the other, it’s nice
that Mr. and Mrs. Cake share the childcare duties, and this is
treated as so normal that it’s never even remarked upon.

It’s January 14, 2012. The top movie is Contraband, about which I know nothing, and the top song is still LMFAO’s very funny “Sexy and I Know It.” In the news this week, Mitt Romney wins a second primary, in New Hampshire this time, and Scotland and England conflict over whether Scotland is allowed to hold a planned referendum on independence in 2014, but the main story is a revolt in Chechnya and ensuing fighting between Chechnyan militants and Russian troops.

This week’s episode, written by Charlotte Fullerton and directed by Jayson Thiessen, is the quite fun “Baby Cakes,” a terrifying and extremely accurate warning against making the terrible mistake of having or accepting responsibility for children, because they will exhaust you, terrify you, force you to do humiliating and disgusting things, and then use their evil mind-control powers to make you want to keep doing it.

But I kid (except for the part where I am 100% completely serious that that is what children do, their evil mind-control powers are a documented fact). Really, this episode is a continuation of a theme that started last episode (or is that next episode?) involving exploring the various ways in which past, present, and future can influence one another. Indeed, while that theme is not fully realized until the eleventh episode (either one of them), playing with and exploring time has been as common a theme thus far this season as transformations were last season:

  • “The Return of Harmony”: an ancient evil returns for revenge
  • “Lesson Zero”: Twilight is racing the clock
  • “Luna Eclipsed”: The traditions surrounding Luna (both her own old-fashioned ways and the beliefs other ponies have about her) clash with the realities of the present
  • “Sisterhooves Social”: Sweetie Belle is motivated entirely by her desire to spend more time with her sister
  • “The Cutie Pox” and “Secret of My Excess”: Young people grow up too fast, with disastrous consequences
  • “Sweet and Elite”: Rarity is torn between making time for her new friends and making time for the old
  • “Family Appreciation Day” and “Hearth’s Warming Eve”:  The power of stories of the past to change how we view the present

“It’s About Time” indeed. Children are symbols of both the future and the past. The past because we often seek signifiers of our ancestors in the features of children: “he has his mother’s eyes” or “she has her granduncle’s ears.” Additionally, children are a reminder of when we ourselves were children, which of course is in the past. At the same time, they signify the future because they will (if all goes well) inherit that future when we are gone. If, then, last week was about the power of the past to reshape the present, this week is about the responsibility of caring for those who will carry that past into the future.

So of course that responsibility falls to Pinkie, our spirit of chaos, our mini-Discord, complete with a flour- and water-based echo of Discord’s transformation to stone. The result is almost a clip show: Hey, remember back in Season 1 when Pinkie Pie used to perform unambiguously diegetic musical numbers out of the blue? Remember Twilight obsessing over reports to the Princess? Applejack having to buck her entire farm before a deadline? Pinkie’s terrible puns from the series premiere? A troublesome guest whose refusal to eat is an early sign that the caretaker is in over her head? Pinkie’s hair going limp? Twilight trying to persuade someone to accept her help, and saying exactly the wrong thing in a way that convinces the other pony to reject help? A babysitting job turns into a horror movie, and is ultimately resolved by the babysitter playing a card from the standard sexist depictions of women?

All here.

Except this isn’t a clip show. The scenes I refer to resemble events of past episodes, some very closely, but they are not actual repeats and there is none of the usual framing of a clip show: no characters stuck somewhere and reminiscing to pass the time, no Troy McLure hosting a fake documentary, no trial sequence in which a character has to justify their past actions. Instead, the past recurs not as a fragment to be repeated, but fully absorbed and transformed, an integrated part of the present.

This is actually a common technique of postmodernism. The literary theorist Ihab Hassan describes this as part of the postmodern tendency to hybridization; just as postmodern art tends to merge genres, it also tends to bring the past into the present so that it can play with and recontextualize it. This is neither rote repetition of the past nor an ahistorical denial that the past is the past, but a declaration that the relationship between past and present is not a one-way street.

Put another way: a clip show simply repeats the past while saying “this is the past.” A formulaic show repeats the past while saying “this is new.” This episode does neither; it repeats the past while saying “this is different now than it was then.” Applejack is still determined to harvest all her apples, but there is no suggestion just she would refuse help. Twilight is writing a report to Princess Celestia that summarizes her reports to Princess Celestia, but she’s not panicking and frankly, given the number of reports she’s doubtless written by this point, probably useful. The horror movie-sitcom hybrid is handled more artfully than in “Stare Master.” The past is present, but altered.

One of the more interesting examples is the repetition of Twilight unintentionally persuading someone to refuse her help. In “Applebucking Season,” Applejack initially refused to admit she needed help, was solidified in that refusal of help by Twilight’s accidental insult, and ultimately broke down and admitted she needed help. Here, Pinkie Pie initially wants the help, but changes her mind in response to Twilight’s accidental insult, and ultimately discovers she didn’t need the help, as once she earns the babies’ sympathy they start behaving.

With the exception of distant stars viewed through telescopes, we cannot perceive the past directly. All we can do is try to reconstruct it. Memory reconstructs our personal pasts; history reconstructs the pasts of cultures; sciences such as paleontology and geology reconstruct the past of our world; astronomers and cosmologists reconstruct the past of the universe. The past, in other words, is a construct, and like any construct it can be deconstructed, decontextualized, hybridized, and generally played with.

Which is not to say that the results are always necessarily good. “Stare Master” presents Fluttershy’s standard-issue stereotypical sitcom-mom power as an expression and extension of her close observation of body language and behavior, which is easily readable as an effort to reclaim the trope from its problematic roots. Pinkie Pie’s crying, however, is a straightforward (albeit unintentional on at least the character’s part) expression of the stereotype that women use their tears manipulatively, a troubling note in an otherwise enjoyable episode.

Regardless, the constructed nature of the past means that, as much as the past creates the present, the present also shapes the past. How we construct our pasts is in large part a product of our present. Depressed people have difficulty recalling happy memories. The Great Man theory of history gives way to theories based on sweeping large-scale forces, such as Marxist history, and these in turn give way to fashionable ideas about contingency that synthesize the two.

The present contains the past, in other words, but does not repeat it perfectly. Our lives are neither clip shows nor formulaic repetitions; the past is present but fluid, transforming to fit the shape of its container, the present.

And if we don’t like that shape? Dump a bag of flour on its head, have a good laugh, and move on; it will be shaped differently tomorrow.

Next week: Derivative Works Month begins! First up, a post I’ve been itching to write for months. Oh, this will be fun…

Pony Thought of the Day: Season Four, Derivative Works Month(s)

So, if you haven’t heard, Season 4 will air its first episode on November 23. That’s an interesting date, being the day after the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, which is also the 50th anniversary of the death of mediocre Bible fanfic author C.S. Lewis.

Oh, and November 23 is the fiftieth anniversary of some obscure little British TV show about a man who time-travels in a cupboard. That too.

I therefore hereby propose that November 23 be declared International Postmodern TV Day, and continue in perpetuity as a day of mourning for the Tumblr servers.

Now, assuming Season 4 is 26 episodes and takes about six months to air, then I have a little bit of a problem. I don’t want to do Season 4, episode 1 until after the last episode of Season 4 airs, and right now, even with three Derivative Works Months in the mix, I’m shaving it really close.

All of which is a roundabout way of me announcing that August is Derivative Works Month! I’ve got what I think is a solid lineup for it: you’ll get some things you’ve been asking for, some things you expected, and at least one thing I’m pretty sure no one’s expecting me to cover.

Pony Thought of the Day: Trying Again

Okay, yesterday was a bust because I am apparently incapable of reading a calendar. TODAY, however, I can confirm that I definitely do have a guest post up at The Analytical Couch Potato, exerpted from the book-in-progress.

Speaking of the book, my editor sent me the remainder of the first round of review on Monday. He’s got a lot of great comments, which is great for you guys but a pain in the butt for me because it means more work.

Pony Thought of the Day: I talk about ponies… I think?

So in theory I should have a guest post up at The Analytical Couch Potato today. I say “in theory” because, while I completely trust the fine individuals at that site, for whatever reason it’s blocked at work and I therefore cannot go to the site and confirm it’s there or link directly to the article. Long-time readers should find it familiar; it’s an excerpt of the chapter of the book based on my article about “Party of One.” That’s one of the chapters with the least expansion, but nonetheless you might find it interesting as a point of comparison between book version and online version.

If anyone who gives it a look could (a) confirm it’s there and (b) provide a direct link, it’d be much appreciated.

Pony Thought of the Day: Twilight Would Be Jealous

So, I’ve been working heavily on the book after work and on Saturdays, because my editor is doing an amazing job and that means tons of work for me. A lot of it has involved heavy research, because my editor’s reaction to basically any assertion I make is “prove it.”

Why not Sundays? Because on Sundays this place is closed:

That’s the main reading room of the Library of Congress, home to 32 million books and 61 million manuscripts, and one of my favorite places in the world.

And I am enough of a nerd that, every time I walk in, all I can think is “Twilight, eat your heart out.”