The Fosters

So, remember WAY back last year when I asked for show recommendations? No, not the anime recommendations, even earlier?

I went through those recommendations, and it turns out the only one of those series I have free, legal access to is The Fosters. So guess what I gave the three episode test?

And yeah, it passed. At this point I’m completely caught up on both the show and the web series. It’s pretty good! Standard-issue family melodrama, of course, but still surprisingly good for something airing on ABC Family that isn’t Whose Line Is It Anyway reruns.

The basic premise is the adventures of a fairly non-standard family: two lesbian moms (one white, one black), the bio-son (who sucks) of the white mom from a previous marriage, and an adopted pair of Hispanic twins (one boy, one girl). In the first episode they take in an additional pair of Troubled ™ foster kids, a teen girl and her little brother (who is the best character).

Most of it is, as I said, standard-issue family and teen melodrama, but where it occasionally shines is in the way it shows how the political is personal. Issues like gay rights, the flaws in the foster system, and immigration law impact this family and the people around them directly. Rather than pontificating opposing political philosophies, the show (usually) refrains from preaching and just shows the direct impacts on the characters of these issues, and how their lives are distorted by the unfairnesses inherent in our society and laws. Also Jude is legitimately adorable, which is hard to pull off!

So that’s one recommendation down, umpteen to go!

The Only Lost Cause (Can You Face Your True Feelings)

I’m running a Kickstarter campaign to fund My Little Po-Mo volume 2 here!

And as long as you have your wallets out, you can help Viga pay for art school (and earn some custom art in the process)!

Apologies for the lack of updates the last couple of days, going to a con sick turns out to be REALLY EXHAUSTING.

Look at how happy Sayaka is! Clearly everything
is gonna be just fine. Really!

Last episode, we saw how Kyubey denies the agency of the magical girls by restricting their access to information. This episode opens by continuing that thought, as Kyubey demonstrates to the audience and Sayaka how little he cares about her. As part of a demonstration of his claim that the removal of the magical girls’ souls is beneficial to them, he uses Sayaka’s Soul Gem to torture her, demonstrating that the pain of the first blow in her fight with Kyoko would have crippled her utterly if not for the buffer provided by the gem. His total lack of interest in her agony as anything but a teaching tool, however, belies any claim by Kyubey to have the benefit of the magical girls in mind.

The repeated use of the word “zombie” to describe the magical girls (which is original to the Japanese text–Sayaka can be distinctly heard using it several times in the episode) is telling here. The entire point of a zombie is that it is shaped like a person, but actually a thing. In philosophy, a “zombie” is a creature that acts like a human but has no internal experience or life–for example, poking a zombie will cause it to say “ow,” but it has no internal sense of pain. More familiarly, the zombies of movie fame are walking corpses, who can be fought and killed while technically being already dead. This allows the audience the visceral thrill of imagining fighting and killing other people, without having to worry about the morality of actually causing a human being to die. In other words, both the philosophical zombie and the movie zombie are extreme cases of objectification, in which a person’s agency is stripped away leaving only a thing which can be used and abused with impunity.

Objectification is rampant throughout the episode. Paralleled to Kyubey, who assumes he knows what is best for Sayaka and causes her intense suffering as a consequence, is Kyoko. Throughout Kyoko’s story of how she became a magical girl, her family and the people around them are represented by dolls, puppets, and toys–like zombies, human-shaped objects that possess no agency. Kyoko made a wish that she believed was what her father wanted, but since she did not consult him, she got it wrong, and as a consequence brought pain not only to her father but to her entire family and ultimately herself. By failing to communicate openly with her father, and simply assuming she knew what was best for him, she treated him as the object of her observations, rather than as a subject capable of expressing his own needs and wishes.

However, Kyoko has learned entirely the wrong lessons from this experience. Rather than talking to Sayaka and trying to understand her, she assumes that she and Sayaka are the same, and that Sayaka’s problem is that she wished for Kyousuke without understanding what Kyousuke wanted. Kyoko has come to reject empathy and human connection entirely, fixating on purely physical needs (namely, food) as a source of comfort while rejecting all human companionship and norms. This is unacceptable to Sayaka, because Sayaka’s problem is ultimately not that she objectifies others.

Sayaka spoke with Kyousuke frequently while he was hospitalized, and he expressed quite clearly that he wanted his arm to heal, and that its inability to heal was a source of despair to him. Sayaka did not assume that she knew what Kyousuke wanted; she found that out directly from him. Rather, Sayaka’s error was (as Mami hinted back in Episode 2) not understanding what she wanted–she wanted a healed and happy Kyousuke, yes, but specifically so that she could be with him. Sayaka’s error, in other words, is that she is excessively self-sacrificing, in effect objectifying herself.

Kyousuke’s self-centered disinterest in Sayaka doesn’t help her mental state at all, of course. He never thinks to question why she visited him so frequently in the hospital; he simply accepts this as normal and thus does not stop to consider whether Sayaka might appreciate being told when he leaves the hospital or that he is returning to school. He displays no interest in her inner life or motivations, and as such does not think to consider her feelings; he treats her as a background character in his life, rather than the main character of her own life–much as he himself is a background character in the show.

The cure for all the objectification going on in this episode, of course, is for characters to treat one another as agents possessed of unique, subjective experiences. Key to this is open communication, which unfortunately is in short supply throughout the episode. Characters mostly talk at each other, missing entirely the effects their words are having; the only real exception is the conversation between Madoka and Sayaka in which the latter breaks down, sobbing that she cannot approach Kyousuke romantically because of her altered physical state.

The trigger for that conversation is a demonstration of how difficult it can be to understand and appreciate others’ subjectivity. Hitomi does everything right when she approaches Sayaka; nothing requires Hitomi to delay approaching Kyousuke or give Sayaka the first chance, but Hitomi does so anyway because she knows how Sayaka feels and doesn’t want to hurt her. Unfortunately, because she doesn’t know about everything else Sayaka is going through–and Sayaka understandably chooses not to tell her–she has no idea that by giving Sayaka this ultimatum she is triggering all of Sayaka’s newly acquired body image issues. Hitomi has no way of knowing how she is hurting Sayaka, and likewise has no idea why Sayaka doesn’t make her feelings known to Kyousuke; Hitomi thus has no reason to believe that Sayaka has any objections to or issues with Hitomi and Kyousuke dating.

Interestingly, however, it is not the loss of her love interest that most hurts Sayaka, but rather the brief moment during this conversation in which she regrets saving Hitomi from the witch in Episode 4. Sayaka is holding herself to a ridiculously high standard here, and thus failing to recognize that brief ugly impulses are a part of the human condition, an element of the internal life that does not necessarily translate into outward behavior. Instead, Sayaka takes this momentary viciousness as proof that she has truly become subhuman, that she is a “zombie” rather than a person with an unusual physical configuration.

Ultimately, this tendency of Sayaka to objectify herself culminates in deliberately numbing herself so that she can fight the witch with no sense of pain. Her sense of self-worth has plummeted to the point that she no longer cares about self-preservation and is no longer willing to accept help. It is only a matter of time, in her eyes, before she inevitably loses Kyousuke, and she feels that this is only right because she sees herself as having become a thing. At this point, despair and deep depression are all Sayaka sees in her future, and fighting witches the only purpose she has left.

The stage is now set for the culmination of the middle arc of Madoka. The first arc ended with the show escaping from the constraints of the magical girl genre. This second arc will end with the genre’s death.

Next week: Five faces of depression.

Guest Post: “Get back, you! One bad apple spoils the bunch!” (One Bad Apple)

To the fairest…

I’m at Mysticon this weekend, so have a guest post by Spoilers Below about his own take on “One Bad Apple.”

Reminder: the Kickstarter for volume 2 is still running! 

A few weeks ago, I suggested to Froborr that, if he didn’t want to write about this episode, I’d be happy to jump on that particular grenade. He did, though, and did so with aplomb, but, as I always manage to do, I’d gotten most of an article prepared in advance just in case, and so in lieu of my usual G1 stuff, I decided to finish it. I have nothing to add to Froborr’s assessment of bullying — which was personal, touching, and sad in the kind of way that hits you under the ribs and leaves you frowning, but also was quite different from what I took away from the episode. So, instead of jumping on the grenade, I want to take it apart and see what happened.

““What is this all about? The gods aren’t content to foist guilt on man. That wouldn’t be enough, since guilt is a part of life anyways. What the gods demand is an awareness of guilt.”
–Roberto Calasso, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony

It’s the dawn of time, and Uriel has just received a brand new flaming sword to keep a pair of orchard thieves away. In celebrity news, Peleus and Thetis are wed in a star studded ceremony that leaves one particular important personage left on the sidelines scratching the word ΤΗΙ ΚΑΛΛΙΣΤΗΙ into the soft golden flesh of an apple, and, though they might not know it yet, it will be one of the last times that the gods and men will ever dine at the same table or live in the same place. This seemingly small and unimportant apple will kick off the first gigantic, widespread world war that the Western world has ever seen, and will cause the deaths of just about every named hero in all of mythology.
One bad apple caused it all, you see. The fall from grace, of course, coincided with woman’s acquisition of knowledge of good and evil, and saddled everyone with original sin, which may or may not be a form of predestination depending on which sect you believe in. She shared it, of course, because one of the foundations of Western civilization has been that women are the cause of every problem and at the root of every evil, a perception that has only just now, 3000 some years later, begun to be exposed for the complete self-serving bullshit that it is. And on television, three young friends who have banded together to find solidarity in their mutual lack of ability anxiously await the arrival of a fourth to join their crew. She’ll be just like them, you see. Why wouldn’t she be? She’ll be the cool one.

This was always going to be a hard episode: the introduction of a new “Cool” character who recalls Poochie from The Simpsons, already unpopular regular characters acting like the bad guys in the second half, an uncomfortable moral that would not sit well at all with the periphery demographic, the chance to revisit uncomfortable moments from our pasts and our reactions to them…
The apple itself is a symbol of knowledge and beauty, something jealously guarded and fought over, something which brings life and prosperity, something which has transformative power inside itself. Every seed contains within itself a full tree, given enough time and the right conditions. And similarly, every pony contains the potential for transformation and self-discovery. The first thing the television series dealt with was a bushel of smashed apples, and a pony wondering about her cutie mark. It should come as no surprise that, 26 years later, these are still prime concerns. But while the first episode of the original series had Twilight assure Ember that it would come in good time, and was content to say no more, FiM devotes episode after episode to the search for a purpose in life, for your special talent, for that one thing that sets you apart from everyone else and makes you you, the thing that no one else has. This is dangerous knowledge, this puberty thing, which introduces all sorts of adult problems and responsibilities. Far from being the ideal land of do as you please, there are bills to pay, rents and mortgages to arrange, significant others and spouses and children to devote time to, jobs that cannot be pawned off or ignored the way school work can… The stakes are real when you’re a grown up.

The show, being a children’s television program primarily aimed at ages 5-9, is uniquely unequipped to deal with all the ramifications of a magical system of visible predestination. All the jokes and the dark fan fics about ponies with bloody knives for cutie marks or whose special talent is killing aside, it really does introduce a tough question: what if a pony’s special talent is something she doesn’t like? What if she grows out of it? What if she wants to switch careers after a mid-life crisis and try something new? What if her husband doesn’t support her desire to go back to school and start teaching and turns out to be a robot? And why is your special talent only one thing? We already had an episode devoted to explaining how horrible it would be to be too special and too good at too many things — as if such a thing as being too talented or too skilled is possible in the real world (if you don’t believe me, try imagining a situation where someone says “Oh no, get a worse doctor, this one is too good of a violin player to operate!” or “This person can’t be a firefighter! Sure, she got 100% on all the assessments, but she was also a geologist and figure skater before she applied here!”) Given the static nature of television, it’s a pretty good bet that we’re not going to see the cutie mark crusaders ever get their cutie marks until the show hits season 7 or 8 and needs a reboot and new cast to sell different toys to a different audience, replacing the main cast, if ever. I’m not going to say never, because after all, Twilight has wings and is a princess now, but we’ve had how many episodes where Applejack learns not to be so stubborn, Spike not so greedy and irresponsible, Rarity not to take on so many tasks at once at the expense of her friends and family, Rainbow Dash not so competitive, Fluttershy more assertive, Twilight not so compulsive, Pinkie Pie not so needy…

The apple keeps rolling, out of Adam’s shocked hands and lands at the feet of three goddesses, who immediately begin to quibble over it. Despite their supreme power, sagacious wisdom, and dominance over Love itself, they simply cannot stand the idea that the other two are more beautiful, and so Zeus calls in Paris Alexander, the backpacked protector of men, who recently judged a bullfight fairly, to say who deserved the apple. Zeus isn’t going to get mixed up judging  any beauty contest that involves his wife. He’s not that foolish. And, fool that Paris was, he broke his vow to judge fairly and chose the bribe of a beautiful woman, not realizing that being king of all the known world or the most wise and ferocious warrior the world had ever seen would have given him access to any woman he wanted and prevented the war and carnage that followed. But such is the anthropic nature of stories: if people don’t make mistakes, if conflicts and fated meetings do not occur, then there is no story to tell.

And so, shall we blame the Original Sin or the Original Snub for Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon, who just happen to be walking by right then and there? (And yes, I realize at the outset how silly it is to debate the free will of scripted characters, animated ones at that, who are even less free than their acted counterparts (actors can at least sometimes sneak a facial expression or line interpretation in)). What do their cutie marks represent? A crown is a poor choice for an earth pony in a country ruled by an immortal alicorn monarch who has already chosen her successors. A silver spoon for stirring up shit, perhaps? Do they really have any control over their actions, any more than Applejack could quit the farm and live in the city with the Oranges?

Arthur Schopenhauer put it quite well in The World as Will and Representation: “Everyone believes himself a priori to be perfectly free, even in his individual actions, and thinks that at every moment he can commence another manner of life, which just means he can become another person. But a posteriori, through experience, he finds to his astonishment that he is not free, but subjected to necessity; that in spite of all his resolutions and reflections he does not change his conduct, and that from the beginning of his life to the end of it he must carry out the very character which he himself condemns, and as it were, play the part which he has undertaken to the very end.”

Hence why the takedown at Diamond Tiara’s Cutecenaria about how the blank flanks have so much potential and openness left in their futures is so devastating. Her status is all she has: her special talent is being special, which is every bit as worthless as it sounds. It is unsurprising that she takes it out on others. This does not absolve her of her actions, of course, no more so than Twilight’s freakouts don’t need to be apologized for, nor Rainbow Dash’s hypercompetitiveness, nor Applejack’s stubbornness. Learning to mitigate it will be her own battle, but we’ll never see it. In Friendship Is Magic, she isn’t one of the main characters, and exists only to torment the real protagonists. Unfortunately, she’s less real than the other characters. She only exists when the CMCs see her.

Who are, if you still remember, anxiously awaiting their already christened 4th member. They’ve piled expectations onto her, and can’t wait to induct her into their club, regardless of how she feels about it. They are, if you will, a pride organization, who are already priming to out their newest member to the public of a new town and parade her around in a gigantic float, without bothering to ask her feelings on the matter or let her even finish a sentence. It is easy to think that you’re helping, because after all, didn’t you want then when you were feeling down? Why wouldn’t they want the same thing? For someone who was actively fleeing any associations with her blank flank status and looking forward to some anonymity in the boonies, is it any surprise that she snapped?

This is an uncomfortable thing to mention, of course. Most pride organization are quite literally built on the idea that their particular niche is nothing to be ashamed of, and it something to be celebrated, and most of the time quite rightfully so (Fuck NAMBLA. No, seriously, fuck those guys). The CMCs hit on something that isn’t quite one of the five geek social fallacies, but is close: the assumption that someone will be just like me simply because they are in the same circumstances. I recall a part in Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters, a novel about a fashion model who has had her lower jaw shot off, where a friendly nun working in the hospital keeps trying to set the protagonist up with various other patients — a burn victim, a lawyer who just lost his nose — as if her own disfigurement now meant that she was now solely attracted to other accident victims. Not everyone deals with things the same way, and part of our failure to deal with the specifics of individual circumstances is why huge programs to change things fail. To what degree is a member of an afflicted group obligated to participate in support group activities? No one communicates their feelings properly, and everything breaks down.

Adam and Eve get cast out of paradise for their theft; Aphrodite gets her arm slashed by Diomedes and cannot save her son in exchange for her prize. Babs is a wounded and scared little girl in a new town whose attempt to get away from the things that have been ruining her life have been completely dashed. Is it any surprise that she doesn’t want to live under constant bullying here also? (aside: note that DT and SS don’t mention Babs’ blank flank when she’s on their side; unlike some forms of bigotry, bullying is almost never about specific things that could be changed to the bully’s satisfaction. Or, with a simple motion of her tail, Babs is able to pass, which opens up a much larger discussion about the duty to be “out and proud” which we simply don’t have time for here) Does this excuse Babs’ rampage? Of course not. But try explaining to a person who has just been outed without their permission that they shouldn’t be angry or hate you or lie and cover up their secret and see how well that works.

The moral? Damned if I know. When I was being bullied as a child, I came home crying and talked to my parents. My father explained that there are always going to be people who are always going to dislike you simply because of the way you look, the way you are, the things you like, the way you talk, or any reason you can imagine, and that there’s nothing you can do to change these people’s minds. And sometimes, when you’ve tried everything else and have run out of all other options, you have to hit people to make them leave you alone. He told me to tell the person that I was going to hit them first, and if they kept doing it anyways, to just hit them until they stopped doing it. He then taught me how to make a fist and throw a punch properly. He had been a construction worker and motorcycle punk before he finished his master’s, and worked as a social worker in the Chicago inner city school system doing a lot of work with street gangs, and thus didn’t have time for long lectures or bullshit about hurt feelings and the amount of effort it takes to keep a classroom in line from administrators who, he knew all too well, were overworked and underpaid. I hit the kid, my father and mother cleared things up with the principal. It stopped for a while. I got a reputation as a kid who would hurt others, and people left me alone, except when they didn’t. Because we moved a lot, I never stayed in the same school long enough for it to matter. Bullying, hitting, principal, respite. The cycle continued. To what extent was it my duty to put people who hated me before myself and allow whatever it was that caused them to act the way they did to end with me? I was a kid; such thoughts didn’t even occur to me. I was quite lucky to have a published psychologist for a father who could get in people’s faces and explain why things were the way they were. I got used to being alone and not paying attention to others when they weren’t getting directly in my face. I made some friends and we bonded over mutually nerdy activities. I got my arm broken by some neighborhood kids who had, weeks earlier, knocked me off my bike and left me lying covered in my own blood from a particularly vicious punch to the nose. The ensuing restraining order meant that his family had to move off our block. I learned to stay inside and discovered the internet. I learned what subjects were acceptable to talk about if other people haven’t brought them up first, our own MLP especially included, there being no such thing as Bronies or ironically cool children’s cartoon fandoms back in the 90s. I don’t say these things with any kind of pride or as a recommendation for future action. It simply continues the cycle of violence, and more than once I was beaten up and left bleeding rather badly. I was larger than a lot of other kids and always had enough to eat, so I was at a slight advantage over many of my peers while in public school, but there was only me. It did wonders for my undiagnosed OCD, the as-yet-unnamed intrusive thoughts making me wonder if I simply was a truly violent and awful person who deserved everything that was happening to him. I moved on to a private Catholic high school, and the last fight I was in was a simple back hand slap delivered to the face of a kid who called me a freak. I got served a week’s detention because it was a slap, rather than a closed fist punch which would have gotten me expelled, and the kid never spoke to me again. Turns out he was being bullied by some kids I was casual friends with, and he was making fun of me because I was on the periphery of that group. I didn’t know about any of that; I just wanted him to leave me alone. Rich private school kids were nothing compared to the brutal conditions of some of public school kids I had come up with, though their words hurt a lot more and I got used to feeling stupid and inadequate. But I had pot to smoke by then, and that’s a different story. Again, it is very difficult to write this in a way that doesn’t sound like bragging of one kind or another, which isn’t my intention at all — “There is no such thing as an anti-war film,” as Francois Truffaut said. A single high school kid was not capable of the kind of systemic change at all levels which this sort of anti-bullying reform would take. I was lucky to have parents who were quite familiar with the system and the way it was navigated. I survived. I don’t think about it much anymore, because it’s a part of my life that has passed and is no more.

In a way, it seems almost as if the episode was going to endorse violence as the solution to bullying, but it then takes care to associate violence with evil. The shiny golden apple rumbles its way through the fruit parade to cheers and shouts, booby trapped and headed towards the inevitable fall. But we’ve seen this before. Dumping people off cliffs was the first thing Nightmare Moon did to our regular heroes, and provided Applejack with her opportunity to be honest. Then, as now, she managed to leave out critical information that would have rendered the entire situation moot (“Hey Twilight, let go. Don’t worry. Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy will catch you!”; “Hey, your cousin was being bullied real bad about being a blank flank back in Manehatten and she’s coming here to get away from all that, so be extra gentle with her, would’ja?”). If they’d taken Sweetie Belle’s suggestion and spoken with her earlier, no doubt the entire problem would have been dealt with. Applejack isn’t the sort to allow people to weasle out from under her. Violence was a solution for me because I was the recipient of vast privilege, able to call upon a well-educated man with an angry beard and deep voice who would show up in a suit and tear into people who suggested that I should keep my head down and let myself be made fun of, or that I was actively attracting negative attention and deserved what was happening. Not everyone is that lucky or privileged, though were it in my power they would all have what I had growing up — though, were I that powerful, it wouldn’t even happen in the first place.

But now that they know, the CMCs are forced to consider Babs as an actual person for the first time in the episode: at first she was a brand new friend who was going to be exactly like them, then she was a horrible bully just like the other two in town who constantly menace them. This doesn’t mean that she’s suddenly a good person or that what she has done is right, but it does mean that she can no longer simply be slotted into a box and treated according to their wishes, rather than her’s. And this, this right here, is the hardest thing in the world. The person whose work very eloquently explained it to me, David Foster Wallace, was an alcoholic and drug abuser who at one point early in his career nearly hired a hitman to kill the separated husband of the woman he was obsessed with. He was also a sufferer of chronic depression who grew into a wonderful husband and a caring teacher, and who committed suicide in 2008 while attempting to transition from one antidepressant to another. He was by no means a good or perfect person. And yet, the philosophy still holds: we are presented daily with more than enough evidence to conclude that the world is a horrible and cruel place that isn’t worth it. But when we take a moment to consider that literally every other person on the planet is in the exact same situation that we are in, alone and scared and tired and wanting to feel like they matter and what they do is worth it, it’s difficult to be mean to them, even if we think they deserve it. It doesn’t mean being a sucker or a pushover or a victim. But it does mean realizing that people aren’t one dimensional or simply the brief moments you experience with them.

Before Babs was a monster, they barely let her get a word in. Maybe if they’d actually spoken with her, none of this would have happened. Again, this does not absolve Babs of any of her later actions. She deserves full blame for being a cruel and horrible person, and that she gets off scotfree is one of the episode’s great failings. I don’t think I can emphasize that point enough. It isn’t the CMCs fault that they got bullied. But they weren’t being very good friends at the outset, even though they thought they were being welcoming and inviting. Sometimes what you think people want isn’t what they want. Compare and contrast with Green Isn’t Your Color by the same author, and you have nearly the same story about presumption and missing information, right down to the ridiculous plot point about “not snitching” when you really, really ought to.

The golden apple rolls down the hill, and the CMCs end up covered in mud, just as DT & SS do at the end of the episode. Everyone but Babs is covered. The one who could have prevented it all with a little communication beforehand, Applejack, the keeper of apples and mistress of the orchard, remains oblivious to her role in the entire thing. No surprise there. God never gets a comeuppance for placing a gigantic, obvious temptation right in front of his innocent and trusting new creations, along with a snake to inform them about how good and right it would be to disobey. What kind of omnipotence couldn’t see that coming? Eris sits on the sidelines laughing all the while, strife and conflict proving the one sure and constant thing about human existence from Heraclitus to Hegel to the Hadron Collider. Without conflict, there isn’t a story.

But real life isn’t a story.

Confusing the two is where we start to have problems. This story addresses bullying in vague ways, unable to properly get at the deeper parts that, quite frankly, children’s television cannot show without their ratings moving up to adult. The episode isn’t long enough, and couldn’t in 22 minutes address all the vicissitudes that would need to be covered to explain the topic to an adult’s satisfaction. But it wasn’t trying to be the end all and be all. Episode author Megan McCarthy said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly “[It] explores how you should handle a bully, and sometimes what the source of bullying is […] It’s wrapped in a story that’s really fun and funny, and has music, and doesn’t feel heavy-handed.” Fair enough, I can agree with the first half: you should tell your parent or guardian or an older sibling you can trust, and sometimes it is because the bully is being bullied themselves. You can’t show the second half of the story, where sometimes your parents can’t do anything and you either keep your head down and hope people don’t notice you today or you start hitting the kid until you get sent to the principal’s office, and just understanding that the bully has reasons or a tough home life or is being beaten by other kids doesn’t make them stop and doesn’t make it any easier for you to live through.

You need to eat the apple and see the world for what it is to deal with that second half, but that usually doesn’t come until it happens to you. You have to see and understand the world if you’re going to work towards making it better. Progress is happening, and we’ve made amazing strides in the past thirty years compared to the past three thousand, but the work is nowhere near complete. It takes more than a bold declaration and a lot of talk to bring about real change. For all its high mindedness and greater purpose, this episode’s failing for me was being an episode of a typical kid’s show. It’s one I skip on rewatches not out of any triggered anger or rising bile, but simply because I find it uninteresting. I don’t need it anymore than I need a children’s guide to bicycles, Fencing for Dummies, or a Philosophy 101 textbook. It isn’t worth my time. I’ve moved past that. It doesn’t have anything worthwhile to say to me unless I dig really deep. And that’s okay; I’m part of the periphery demographic, not the target audience. Having now done so, it can get buried once and for all. Maybe somewhere else, with some other kid, a tree will grow.

MLP Liveblog Chat Thingy: “Twilight Time”

My Kickstarter campaign to fund My Little Po-Mo volume 2 is here!

And as long as you have your wallets out, two more worthy causes to which you can give: You can help Viga pay for art school (and earn some custom art in the process), or you can help the family of Michael Morones, the bullied Brony boy who attempted suicide.

How to participate in the liveblog chat:

Option 1: Whenever you watch the episode, comment on this post as you watch with whatever responses you feel like posting!

Option 2: Go to http://webchat.freenode.net/. Enter a nickname, then for the Channels field enter ##rabbitcube, and finally fill in the Captcha and hit Connect! We’ll be watching the episode and commenting there starting at just after 3:00 p.m. EST. Not that that is one hour later than usual because I have a 2 p.m. panel. After the chat, I will update this post with a log of the conversation.

Chatlog below the cut!

[15:05] <@Sylocat> Magic lessons!
[15:05] <@Sylocat> Show off
[15:06] <@Sylocat> Uh oh… helping the CMCs?
[15:06] <Froborr> I would be happy not to get a cutie mark in sweeping.
[15:06] == AlicornPriest [826ccdd0@gateway/web/freenode/session] has quit [Quit: Page closed]
[15:06] <Decoy_Octopus> this is an oddly long cold open, isn’t it?
[15:06] <@Sylocat> Yes
[15:07] <Froborr> A little, yeah.
[15:07] <@Sylocat> Uh oh
[15:07] <@Sylocat> Oh jeez…
[15:07] <@Sylocat> “Killlllllllll meeeeeeeee….”
[15:07] <Froborr> Great, they’ve created carnivorous evil-apples.
[15:07] <@Sylocat> “Must be blood. Must be fresh.”
[15:07] <Froborr> So, this is the episode where Applebloom has to feed her prize-winning super-apple-seedling blood, right?
[15:07] <Decoy_Octopus> calling it, this will somehow be twilight’s key episode
[15:07] <@Sylocat> (those are the only lines I remember from Little Shop of Horrors)
[15:08] <@Sylocat> Pipsqueak!
[15:08] <@Sylocat> Uh oh
[15:08] <@Sylocat> And Twist
[15:08] <Decoy_Octopus> oh hey pip isn’t dead
[15:08] <@Sylocat> Wait, Diamond Tiara doing acrobatics?
[15:08] <@Sylocat> Oh, of course she’s not
[15:08] <@Sylocat> Oh yikes
[15:08] <Froborr> lol
[15:08] <@Sylocat> It’s Alfred!
[15:08] <Decoy_Octopus> she has a butler?
[15:09] <@Sylocat> Uh oh, fantasy sequence
[15:09] <@Sylocat> Mad scientist Apple Bloom!
[15:09] <Froborr> Sweetie Belle for President
[15:09] <@Sylocat> Oh yes, please, Sweetie Belle, toss her into the lake
[15:09] <Froborr> …oh, just a dream sequence
[15:10] <@Sylocat> Ew
[15:10] <Decoy_Octopus> twilight isn’t a princess you dopes
[15:10] <@Sylocat> Uh oh
[15:10] <Decoy_Octopus> what gave you that idea
[15:10] <@Sylocat> Exactly what they were chiding her for
[15:11] <@Sylocat> So, they’re actually addressing the fact that Twilight is now a princess
[15:11] <Decoy_Octopus> wait is that the first time they’ve explicitly said in-show that she’s an alicorn
[15:11] <@Sylocat> Well, the first time since the premiere, I think
[15:11] <Froborr> No, I’m pretty sure they said it in the season-3 finale.
[15:11] <Decoy_Octopus> I don’t remember if they said it in the season 3 fin-oh okay
[15:11] <Froborr> Rarity said it there IIRC
[15:11] <@Sylocat> Cutie Mark Crusader Social Climbers and Connection Users
[15:12] <Froborr> Cutie Mark Crusader Power Brokers
[15:12] <Decoy_Octopus> oh hey someone acknowledged her hair is weird
[15:12] <@Sylocat> “A bold design choice.”
[15:12] <@Sylocat> So they think “adorkable” is just her fashion choice
[15:12] <@Sylocat> Oh boy
[15:13] <@Sylocat> Wait, we don’t see the Little Shop of Horrors thing again?
[15:13] <@Sylocat> Oh no
[15:13] <Decoy_Octopus> oh hey obnoxious titledrop
[15:13] <@Sylocat> Of course, once the CMCs now get a taste of popularity…
[15:13] <Froborr> To be fair, Twilight is a better teacher than Cheerilee
[15:13] <Decoy_Octopus> cheerilee’s a teacher?
[15:13] <@Sylocat> Wait, they don’t seem corrupted by the attention?
[15:13] <Froborr> Then again, Cheerilee is a pretty terrible teacher
[15:14] <@Sylocat> Uh oh
[15:14] <@Sylocat> Sweetie Belle truly is Rarity’s sister
[15:14] <Decoy_Octopus> of course sweetie belle is excited about thi-darnit sylo
[15:14] <@Sylocat> Sorry ^_^;
[15:14] <Froborr> Is Sweetie Belle’s voice getting deeper?
[15:15] <@Sylocat> Oh yikes
[15:15] <Decoy_Octopus> yeah I thought it sounded weird
[15:15] <Froborr> That last line in the previous scene seemed unusually deep
[15:15] <@Sylocat> Whatever happened to Luna being Pipsqueak’s favorite princess ever?
[15:15] <Decoy_Octopus> fdf twilight eating
[15:15] <@Sylocat> (thus that Assassin’s Creed comic)
[15:15] <@Sylocat> Hay burgers
[15:15] <Froborr> …She just used the burger to wipe ketchup off her face.
[15:16] <@Sylocat> Uh oh, and Twilight’s blundering right into the trap
[15:16] <Froborr> Twilight is Princess of the Slobs
[15:16] <Decoy_Octopus> wait pinkie why are you here
[15:16] == totient [~quassel@user-0cemi49.cable.mindspring.com] has quit [Quit: http://quassel-irc.org – Chat comfortably. Anywhere.]
[15:16] <@Sylocat> Red light, green light
[15:17] <Froborr> Scootaloo is really Rainbow Dash’s protege, isn’t she?
[15:17] <@Sylocat> I’m surprised Featherweight isn’t there, given how he sold them out in Ponyville Confidential
[15:18] <Froborr> Featherweight is there.
[15:18] <@Sylocat> He is? I didn’t see him
[15:18] <Froborr> He just took the photo of the CMC!
[15:18] <@Sylocat> Like Decoy and I both said, Sweetie Belle is Rarity’s sister
[15:19] <@Sylocat> And now Apple Bloom and Scootaloo are falling into the same trap
[15:19] <@Sylocat> Come on, CMCs, invite everypony else except DT/SS
[15:20] <@Sylocat> …Or not
[15:20] <@Sylocat> Oh jeez, one of the kids is drooling, literally
[15:20] == Decoy_Octopus [63c3af4b@gateway/web/freenode/session] has quit [Ping timeout: 245 seconds]
[15:20] <@Sylocat> RUN FOR YOUR LIVES
[15:20] <Froborr> So… the CMC are girls 4-7 and the other kids are the bronies, right?
[15:20] <@Sylocat> GAH!
[15:21] <@Sylocat> Wait, she’s… she doesn’t… huh? What is this…
[15:21] <@Sylocat> Ah, of course, she’s setting up a structure
[15:21] <@Sylocat> Hey, in the background, that’s a diagram of the Mystery Box
[15:22] <Froborr> Hey, it is. Interesting.
[15:22] <@Sylocat> I suppose Twilight does want to prove she’s not above them all
[15:23] <@Sylocat> Wait, why is Twilight surprised they haven’t improved?
[15:23] <@Sylocat> Ah, she’s using Rarity’s techniques from The Crystal Empire
[15:24] <@Sylocat> Only they’re not quite… huh?
[15:24] <@Sylocat> HAHAHAHAH
[15:24] <@Sylocat> Well, it’s better than they were last week
[15:25] <@Sylocat> Wait, is that her key to the box?
[15:25] <Froborr> This seems possible!
[15:25] <Froborr> Haha, Spike is suffering. Sucks to be him.
[15:26] <@Sylocat> Ah, so it’s not her key
[15:26] <Froborr> Huh, surprisingly no.
[15:26] <@Sylocat> That was… a weird episode
[15:27] <Froborr> Yeah… don’t know if I liked it?
[15:27] <Froborr> It kept not going where I expected… except then it did?
[15:27] <@Sylocat> Weirdly paced, a bit of cringe comedy
[15:27] <@Sylocat> (also, the CMC advanced with their skills a bit too fast)
[15:28] <Froborr> To be fair, we don’t know how much time elapsed before the final scene.

[15:29] <@Sylocat> Ah, that’s true
[15:29] <@Sylocat> I was also hoping that DT/SS would get a bit of egg on their faces at some point
[15:30] <@Sylocat> But oh well… it had to make the point that, it’s okay they didn’t get any social advancement out of this in the end
[15:31] <@Sylocat> (also, I suppose Twilight will have to get her key last)

Methinks I have confused Netflix…

I’m running a Kickstarter campaign to fund My Little Po-Mo volume 2 here!

And as long as you have your wallets out, two more worthy causes to which you can give: You can help Viga pay for art school (and earn some custom art in the process), or you can help the family of Michael Morones, the bullied Brony boy who attempted suicide.

 So, it appears that my viewing habits have utterly bamboozled the Netflix recommendation algorithms. Their top picks for me include both Mickey Mouse Club House: Road Rally and Battle Royal. I don’t even.

Whedon and Anime

My Kickstarter campaign to fund My Little Po-Mo volume 2 here!

And as long as you have your wallets out, two more worthy causes to which you can give: You can help Viga pay for art school (and earn some custom art in the process), or you can help the family of Michael Morones, the bullied Brony boy who attempted suicide.

It doesn’t take much squinting to see heavy influences from specific anime in several of Joss Whedon’s shows: Buffy pretty much is Sailor Moon, Firefly has similar cast dynamics, a half-Chinese half-country-of-show’s-origin space setting, and a mysterious girl in a box, just like Outlaw Star, and Dollhouse owes a significant debt to Ghost in the Shell.

Which, of course, leads to the logical question: what about Angel. And to be honest, I have no idea; I can’t come up with a single specific anime which it heavily references or draws on. Any suggestions?

Even a Purely Moral Act (This Just Can’t Be Right)

I’m running a Kickstarter campaign to fund My Little Po-Mo volume 2 here!

And as long as you have your wallets out, two more worthy causes to which you can give: You can help Viga pay for art school (and earn some custom art in the process), or you can help the family of Michael Morones, the bullied Brony boy who attempted suicide.

Dammit, Jim, I’m a magical girl, not a miracle worker!
And now the image of Puella Magi Bones Medica is in
your brain and can never be unseen. You’re welcome.

One of my professors in college once gave an odd bit of advice: If you ever have to write on a work, and you’re stuck for a topic, look for the exact midpoint, and right about whatever you find there. I am not remotely stuck on topics for Madoka, but seeing as the end of this episode is the midpoint of the series, it seems as good a time as any to discuss Madoka and consent issues.

The final scene of this episode has the characters recoiling in horror at the latest revelation from Kyubey: that the bodies of magical girls are not alive, but rather simply shells, which can be repaired so long as the Soul Gem is intact. Only by harming that gem can the magical girl herself be harmed–but by separating the gem from Sayaka’s body, Madoka has effectively caused Sayaka’s (temporary, thanks to Homura’s quick intervention) death.

There is a case to be made (not a very good case, but a case nonetheless) that the girls are getting worked up over nothing. Frankly, what Kyubey describes seems like a pretty sweet deal: the physical experience of the body is close enough to being alive that most magical girls never even notice the change, but it is perfectly healthy, more durable, and able to heal from anything? Plus, given the evidence from Kyoko, it seems likely that it can eat junk food forever with no consequences? I’d take that deal in a heartbeat.

Indeed, the Soul Gems seem fairly clearly to be a reference to the Russian folkloric character Koshchyei Byessmyertnuy (Koschei the Deathless in English), who hid his soul in his finger, which he then severed and hid inside an egg inside a duck inside a hare inside an iron chest, which he buried underneath a green oak on a distant island. Koschei is a villainous figure who menaces young women, and only if the hero can find the egg can Koschei be harmed. The advantages to Koschei of doing this are quite clear.

But there is an important difference between Koschei and Sayaka here, which is that of affirmative, informed consent. Koschei, the legends imply, knows what he is doing and chooses to do it. Sayaka had no idea that her life was in her Soul Gem, that her body had been transformed against her will. In a later episode she will note that she does not believe her new body is capable of bearing children, which she perhaps wanted to do someday. Regardless, the horror expressed by Sayaka, Kyoko, and Madoka in this episode makes it clear that all three recognize this as a supreme violation.

Kyubey’s defense is that he doesn’t understand why humans care so much about where their souls are located. This is irrelevant nonsense; it doesn’t matter why they care when he clearly knows that they do care. Kyubey is deliberately concealing relevant information when he makes these pacts, and then blaming the victim when they reject him. In essence, he is justifying his actions by saying “Sayaka never said no.”

“No means no” is often tossed around as a slogan in campaigns for women’s rights, especially where issues of consent and bodily autonomy are concerned. However, while certainly better than failing to acknowledge that no means no, this is an incomplete standard, as Kyubey demonstrates. More important than “no means no” is “yes means yes,” which is what is meant by a standard of affirmative consent. An absence of objection is insufficient, because that could mean that the person was unable to object, just as Sayaka was unable to object to aspects of the deal she didn’t even know about.

This question of respecting the choices and autonomy of others interacts interestingly with another scene in this episode, when Madoka talks to her mother (in the vaguest possible terms, of course) about Sayaka’s situation. Two things are important here, the first of which is Junko noting that doing the right thing does not always lead to happiness or good outcomes. The significance there is that it is an outright rejection of consequentialism as an ethical position, which in general matches the stance taken by the show (hence the consistent depiction of Kyubey as a strong consequentialist).

The significance of rejecting consequentialism explicitly in the scene with Junko is that the ending scene on the bridge implicitly rejects it as well. Kyubey’s position is a consequentialist one: the soul extraction is beneficial for the magical girls, since it enables them to fight witches and survive, but learning about it tends to make them unhappy, so the best thing to do is to extract the soul and not tell them about it. The music and the framing of the scene (particularly the way Kyubey is shot to be literally overshadowing the girls, despite his small stature) make it quite clear that the show is rejecting Kyubey’s construction and empathizing with the girls’ horror, which is to say rejecting the consequentialist perspective.

The second significant element of the conversation is the description of Sayaka as someone doing the right thing and making things worse as a consequence, because that description is hardly unique to Sayaka. It equally well applies to Homura, whose repeated attempts to save Madoka keep making her suffer more and become a more powerful witch in each successive timeline. Junko’s advice to Madoka to make a mistake on her friend’s behalf thus not only applies to throwing Sayaka’s Soul Gem off the bridge; it is equally a description of her choice to become a magical girl (the very thing Homura has been trying to prevent) in the final episode. That this dual meaning is no accident seems clear given the musical choices; the theme which accompanies Junko’s advice in this episode also plays in the final episode, starting from when Madoka says to Mami that she will always reject anyone telling her not to hope, and continuing through her transformation into a magical girl and apparition to all the other magical girls.

Further, this idea of saving someone by making a mistake for them is reiterated in Rebellion, where both Madoka and Homura take seemingly very ill-advised actions on each others’ behalf–but more on that when we get there.

Announcing the My Little Po-Mo Volume 2 Kickstarter!

The Kickstarter for the second My Little Po-Mo book is now officially underway! This book will include all of the Season 2 My Little Po-Mo articles, plus the Best Pony articles from the Volume 1 Kickstarter, and additional content on the “dark side” of the fandom.

You can back the Kickstarter here!

And as long as you have your wallets out, two more worthy causes to which you can give: You can help Viga pay for art school (and earn some custom art in the process), or you can help the family of Michael Morones, the bullied Brony boy who attempted suicide.