Guest Post: -Truly Superior Beings- (Discorded Whooves)

Sean Dillon has never seen a full episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, but he is a fan of a number of its associated fanworks.

A Psychochronography in Gray

“[NAME WITHHELD] shame on you. Doctor Who is SERIOUS, it has always been serious, and until Steffan Mofit every story tackled important, weighty issues. And I should know, I’m a long time fan, I’ve been watching it since Rory’s second episode.”

-Lance Parkin in conversation about the possibility of the villain of the Christmas special “Last Christmas” being the Demon Magician.

Stop me if you heard this one before…

It was a dark and stormy night. It was the kind of storm one thinks of when they hear the phrase “It was a dark and stormy night…” There was man, or what looked like a man, draped in shadows standing atop a spiral staircase long enough to make a gratuitous monologue, which he so loved to do, with one hand touching a window which was just as tall as the staircase and the other twirling his moustache. He was getting rather bored waiting for his nemesis to arrive, almost bored enough to drop his principles and do the killing blow anyway. Fortunately for us, his enemy once again arrived just in the nick of time. “Ah, Doctor,” the being said with the smug tone spoken by voice actors playing cartoon villains who think they’ve beaten the hero, “I was beginning to think you DIED.” The Doctor said nothing. “Well, NO matter,” the villain continued with a cruel smile on his face, “I’ve WON. I’ve BEATEN you.” The Doctor, looking at the far more interesting ground, remained silent. “Oh, you DON’T believe me? Well then,” pausing for dramatic effect as he walked down the steps of his absurdly large staircase and continued to listen to his favorite sound, “I’ll just HAVE to tell you what I have done to your timeline. Right now,

So, there’s this guy. He’s a real clever guy, a real nice guy. He just wants to help people and all that jazz. He travels around the vast narrative of time and space with a girl(1). She’s not necessarily the smartest girl(2) but she still has fun with her male friend. Now one day, things don’t go right. Everything falls to pieces, and he’s hurt really badly. It’s one of those life-altering circumstances where nothing will ever be the same again. When he returns to his travel machine(3), he’s different; he’s changed. He doesn’t even look the same. And as his lovely companion tries to cope with this change, he both physically and verbally assaults her. He then decides to become a hermit.

Susan is slowly dying alone in an apocalyptic wasteland, Ian and Barbara are selling the rights to your stories to Americans, Dorothea died before she could give birth, Jamie and Zoe’s minds are being regressed by the Time Lords to the inelegance of infants, Sam, John, and Gillian NEVER existed,

Now the question with those last seventy-two words is whether I ended a generic description of Doctor Who with the changeover of the Fifth Doctor to the Sixth or described the backstory of Discorded Whooves, as revealed on March 12th, 2012. Naturally, since this is a blog about magic ponies who sing, we are of course talking about the latter.

Shaw dies in a bus crash, Lethbridge-Stewart remains a government toady, Yates continues to be a fool who believes in a golden age, Grant, trapped in a loveless marriage, pines for an older man, Sarah Jane Smith is an adrenaline junkie conspiracy theorist,

Discorded Whooves is a Tumblr ask blog about an incarnation of the Doctor who came to Equestria and faced off against Discord. Naturally, he lost and was discorded (a process whereby a pony becomes a cruel twisted reflection of themselves after being confronted with the flaws of their virtue by Discord and being unable to cope with said flaws (or, in Fluttershy’s case, touching her head to make her cruel)). From there, we follow his adventures as he has hanky panky in the TARDIS while drinking and having adventures with Captain Jack Harkness(4), Twilight Sparkle(5), Octavia(6), and more all the while there’s a plot by the Master, multiple serial murders of unicorns, and Discord(7) is still out there.

Harry remains an imbecile, Leela leads the Sevateem into DARKER, more SAVAGE times, Romana, corrupted by the politics of Gallifrey, and deadly Dorothée become my cruel agents, Adric DIED screaming, Nyssa and Tegan never met, Turlough continued to be a slave of the Black Guardian, Perpugilliam B was married to Davie,

The creator of this blog is not a fan of this series. However, since he is not writing this blog entry(8), let us try to make a redemptive reading out of this before we inevitably reveal why the series is terrible. To begin with, let us look at the basic premise of the series: Discord was able to break the Doctor. As mentioned previously in the Return to Harmony entry, Discord is a threat, not only to the cast of FIM, but also to the show itself. As such, it can be read that Discord is discording not just the Doctor, but Doctor Who itself. Thus we are given a show about a cruel and cowardly man who lives alone in his box that pads out the narrative ad infinitum and never changes its premise. Also, it’s a show with a lot of continuity references, and, even worse, Canon, to the point of lock out. And yet, all the elements within this series can be found in Doctor Who. There’s the aforementioned 6th Doctor parallel of his actions in the Twin Dilemma to this Doctor’s interactions with Derpy, the fact that this Doctor is blatantly the 10th incarnation(9) who, on August 29th, 2012, reenacted his most heinous act(10) because The Master wanted him to suffer(11), the shortsighted fannish desire for both continuity(12) and making a lighthearted series dark and edgy that was allowed to thrive in the wilderness era is covered in the blog with the Doctor’s sex addiction and alcoholism, and, of course, the insane amounts of padding.

Evelyn S remains unloved and alone, bisexual Benny dies in the second Dalek War, Compassion frozen in the Time Lord rape camps, Fitz dies at the hands of the Vore, Trix commits suicide shortly afterwards, Charley P dies in an airplane crash, Rose Tyler runs away from home and dies alone on the streets, Martha Jones cares for nothing but the survival of her patients, Donna Noble and

But perhaps the most horrifying aspect of all is that we are not done with the Doctor’s fall. For lurking in the shadows of the blog is a story that can only be found in “missing” adventures, one about a terrible monster: The Doctor fully corrupted into what can be assumed to be something terrible. A Doctor who views himself above the rest of the ponies; a Doctor who murders the innocent; a time lord victorious; a Doctor who dislikes his companion; a Doctor who replaced the void left within him from the corruption with a desire to make others miserable; a doctor of laws, rules, and regulations: the Valeyard.

Amy Pond are unable to be TOUCHED by those who love them, River Song is NEVER born, Clara Oswald is nothing more than an unimportant PUPPET of fate.” The man shaped being, halfway down the stairs, looked at the Doctor, expecting him to be devastated by his name-dropping of important companions, but he wasn’t. The figure resumed his rantings, growing more petulant with every sentence.

But, there is one other aspect to this redemptive reading of Discorded Whooves being Discorded Doctor Who that makes it the perfect antithesis to Doctor Who that uses what was already inside of Doctor Who to do so. But to explain why that is, we must first understand the darkness that is used within the MLP fandom and what kind this series implements. It should be obvious that My Little Pony is an optimistic show where friendship is a force in the universe that can redeem even the most far-gone of villains. But that’s not to say that this is a series lacking in darkness. There is clearly cruelty(13), evil(14), corruption(15), and just plain meanness(16) within the series. It’s that the darkness isn’t the driving force that runs the universe like most realists believe it to be.

“Grant M is dying alone in an alleyway, accepting that he did not take M+Ms, Twilight Sparkle is a friendless shut in who lives in a library, Dash disintegrates into ASH after demolishing Cloudsdale, Rarity sold out and abandoned her friends, Apple J breaks her sister’s heart by telling her the truth, PDP is standing alone in front of a massive graveyard, looking at the stone faces of her friends, fiendish Fluttershy is spiteful to the animals,

However, some fans(17) seem to think that in order to like something geared towards children, one has to make it more “adult”, “serious”, and “realistic”. They do this by increasing the darkness.(18)

The Cutie Mark Crusaders gave up on their attempts at figuring out what their cutie marks will be, DT and SS remain miserable bullies who can’t stand being with one another for the rest of their lives, Peter P is, and always has been, an uncool, hopeless dweeb who has people die around him in order to make him sad,

There are three ways in which this is done. The first of which occurs when a character and/or plot device from the source material itself is the source of darkness that corrupts the story. This method is generally done by exploring an element of a character that could be viewed through a darker lens, using fridge logic upon the series, and/or forcing darkness upon a character that doesn’t fit with said character. An example from a MLP fan work comes from “The Monster we Made” whereby the darkness comes from Twilight Sparkle wanting dominion over magic and, as such, kills all her friends, Princess Cadence, and Princess Celestia and begins a tyrannical reign over Equestria via the phantom menace of Princess Luna becoming Nightmare Moon once again. The second of which occurs when an outside element is thrust upon the series, which makes the narrative darker. This can be achieved via a crossover with a darker series or the creation of an original character and/or plot device. An example from the Brony community would be from “MLP Project” in which an original character creates an artifact of doom that influences those within its power to do its bidding(19). The third way in which this is done is by making the show itself evil. This is done by perverting the ethos of a series and/or revealing that said ethos is not the true ethos. An example of this usage of darkness comes from “The Conversion Bureau” which does this by being terrible(20). This method is generally done by terrible works that have no idea/hate how the world of the fiction that inspires them works.

“I think we’re through together.

Huh? No! What?

I think, with all that’s happened, maybe it’s best if we step back, reevaluate who we are. I’m going to be busy with the Blonde Phantom Detective Agency, and you’re going to be busy being Spider-Man, and our relationship… with what Emma did– I don’t think we can trust anything. Not for a while. Okay?

Noddy is NOTHING more than a fictional character,

No. Not okay.

Huh?

I’ve got good instincts. And I do trust you. I’ve got a special sense that warns me of bad things and it didn’t like you walking away. So if we can’t trust in what we had, let’s trust in something new. I proclaim this our first date.

That works for me.”

-A conversation between Sophia Sanduval and Peter Parker prior to their first date.

Naturally, Discorded Whooves implements all three forms of darkness. The first format should be obvious given the title of the series. The second is implemented via the usage of the Doctor Who “mythos” with elements such as the Valeyard being a serial killer who cuts off unicorn horns, The Master creating Torchwood to take down the Doctor, Daleks exterminating ponies, and The Doctor being a vile monster who beats women(21), lies to those he loves for the sake of not being alone(22), and isn’t any fun whatsoever(23).

sexist Steven is still a jerk who talks in jokes, Paul was still a creep,

As for the third… we begin on May 22nd, 2013. Oh relax, Amy, it’s the equivalent of a pit-stop, if even that, he remarks. The Doctor is explaining to Jack(24) about the nature of the universe and how they got to the land of magic ponies. He mentions that they traveled to a parallel universe and died on the trip there. This is your idea of a “pit-stop”, she slyly says. Shortly after explaining this for Jack, the TARDIS is unable to land where they want to go, the cloister bell is ringing, the Doctor is panicking, and a sense that the cast is going to die. This is impossible, it’s completely breaking the laws of reality, he says fearfully. So after the crisis is resolved, the Doctor falls unconscious and we get a flashback. It’s sometime around the Power of Three, an adventure with Amy and Rory involving Zygons and wedding proposals to kings has just ended. On the way home, there’s a beeping red light on the TARDIS console. Something is pulling them. DOCTOR IT HURTS, she screams. Something is pulling them outside of reality. HELP US, he begs. And as they fall, we learn the truth. I can’t, i can’t, he cries. A truth that has been hinted at for so very long, a truth far more terrible than what the author has in mind for what broke the Doctor. there’s nothing i can do, i’m sorry, he sobs. For on Tuesday, June 11th, 2013, we learn that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic killed Amy and Rory. i’m sorry, they die.

the government exiles Bob and Andrew for exposing all of their secrets, Russell is murdered for being gay,

I could just end it here. Nothing I can type is going to top the condemning statement of Amy and Rory are killed by My Little Pony. I mean, why would the entirety of the My Little Pony multiverse, regardless of the events conspiring around the Equestria this blog is taking place, allow Amy and Rory to die? Why would the TARDIS take a path that would only save the Doctor and not Amy and Rory? Hell, why did traveling to another universe kill Amy and Rory? It didn’t do it the last time, so why this time? It’s not that complicated of an answer really: Amy and Rory die because it would be dark for them to die.

Will dies in a tank, Verity never inspires a generation, Patrick and Jon NEVER become friends, David Whittaker’s alchemistic tendencies are never given an outlet, Thomas is beaten to death in a bar brawl, Lawrence remains a jerk, Peter was type cast,

Which brings us nicely to what makes Discorded Whooves discorded Doctor Who. For at the end of the day, it’s just so generic and lacking in fun. All of its ideas come from other sources and the story does nothing with them. For example, the dark Pinkie Pie used in the story is the most obvious one possible: the one from “Cupcakes.” Now does the story do anything interesting with this character? No. It just plays “Cupcakes” straight. It even makes the potentially interesting stuff surrounding it uninteresting. No longer is Torchwood an exploration of this mad world we live in. Now it’s the Master’s Doctor hunting team. The Doctor hasn’t become his worst incarnation since the tenth. He’s just under some mind control that he’s fighting. Discord isn’t a force of chaotic madness that does what he does because it’s fun. He’s evil and cruel. Heck, the story could have done something interesting with the Valeyard by expanding on the “Doctor of Laws” aspect and making his scheme to turn My Little Pony into a bureaucracy. But no, he’s evil serial killer Doctor.

Colin B is hated by his own family, McCoy remains unknown and unloved, Pauly is stuck working on crappy American science fiction shows, Chris is stuck doing a terrible children’s show, David cries in the rain, Matt NEVER exists, Peter Capaldi dies at the hand of a Mandrel, and the wheezing and the groaning are forever silenced.”

And even worse, it’s not fun anymore. My Little Pony and Doctor Who are two shows that run on fun. These are worlds with Iris Wildthyme, Pinkie Pie, Frobisher, Cheese Sandwich, The Land of Fiction, Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaappleloosa, LInDA, the Cutie Mark Crusaders, Running Through Paris, the Smile Song, and so many more fun things. And this has none of it. There’s no place in this world for a demonically possessed Sweetie Belle desperately trying to be seen as a normal pony, Pinkie Pie baking a brew that can travel trough time, Sepia Tock drinking tea with Princess Luna and the Brigadier, Pinkie Pie being brought out of a nihilistic world view with a hug from Fluttershy, Discord and Princess Celestia teaming up against Daleks before Discord throws a Pie at Celestia’s face, Rainbow Dash letting Scootaloo stay with her for the night, Twilight buying the Daily Bugle, Applebloom accepting Jappleack as her sister, Ms. Cake being Ms. Cake(25), Octavia being obsessed with tea, Rarity not being a diva on the set of My Little Pony, Trixie playing a D&D campaign with Snips and Snails as inflammatory expies of the cast of MLP ending with Fluttershy taking Princess Celestia as a pet, Dinky always remembering her mother after Discord wipes her out of existence, and hope for the future. In fact, there’s no hope at all.

The madman was nearing the bottom of the stairs, but the Doctor still hadn’t reacted. The man shaped darkness continued, his bravado was becoming more forced “Soon all the children of all the worlds will realize the truth that all realists know: that stories do not have power, there is no such thing as hope, and there is such a thing as truly being alone.

That’s the big issue with this series: there’s no hope. Oh sure, there’s the carrot on the stick that is the Doctor fighting his discorded state(26), but that story’s wearing a bit thin at this point. In fact, we reached the logical end point for the arc on March 10th, 2013. The Doctor had one of his “non discorded” moments and went to make amends with his kids. But as things were going well, Derpy showed up. Naturally, as a character who is a domestic abuser and gets angry at the mere mention of Derpy’s name, the Doctor is about to hurt his wife again when a brick hits him on the side of his head. The one who threw that brick at him is his daughter, Dinky. And she has plenty more where that came from. As the madman is pummeled with brick after brick and thrown at a tree, he begs “Please…” to his daughter and a gives her a look that reads “Have pity on me.” His daughter’s reply is “I’m sure that’s what she said too.” As she is about to deliver the killing blow, she gives him a look that reads “I have pity for you. Goodbye Doctor.”

You think yourself FAR more than just ANOTHER Time Lord? Bah! I was there in the beginning; in fact, BEFORE the beginning, when Omega and Rassilon first met. FOR I AM,” the villain paused for dramatic effect, “THE OTHER!

And that’s where it should have ended. The Doctor either dies because of his cruelty and cowardice or is finally allowed to change into a better story and save the day. It would have been a fitting end, building off of the earliest actions of the series to the climactic end where the cruelty that has been shown to be within the Doctor since “The Twin Dilemma” is, at long last, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death at the hands of its victims. But no, the monster lives. Too far broken to be able to fix himself without an act of grace from up on high. This is a Doctor whose earliest action(27) is both physically and verbally abusing Ditzy.

The revelation was followed with a fit of maniacal laughter accompanied by a strike of lightning that one would think was timed. “You might as well roll over and die before I hurt you even more. In fact,

And it is here, that we see Discorded Whooves for what it truly is. Take away all the ponies, the Master and his plots, Jack Harkness and his team, The Valeyard’s missing adventures, and all the rest, and you discover that Discorded Whooves is essentially this:

TELL me Doctor… What shall we engrave upon your TOMBSTONE?” At long last the little Doctor looked at the Other, who finally reached the end of those 42 steps. The Doctor did not look upon him with anger or hatred. Nor did he look at him with compassion or empathy. He looked at the Other with pity. He had pity for that small man. And, with a sly smile upon his face, the Doctor replied

“Pinkie, you gotta stand up tall, learn to face your fears.
You’ll see that they can’t hurt you. Just laugh to make them disappear.”
    -Granny Pie explaining to Pinkie Pie how to fight monsters.
  1. Although, for some reason they keep ending up on the girl’s home planet.
  2. She has been known to be a bit of a ditz.
  3. Which is bigger on the inside.
  4. Whom The Doctor shoots in the face.
  5. Who tries to slit her wrists because of what happened to her friends.
  6. Who has some connection with the Valeyard which the writer of this post has no idea what that is due to some idiot thinking it was a good idea to keep that blog a secret from the rest of us.
  7. Who, from what I gathered, is the Master’s drums.
  8. Oh, hello. I’m Sean. Since I’m writing this in December, Happy Life Day and may Krampus bless us, everyone.
  9. Because of course he’s the 10th Doctor.
  10. He didn’t say anything, but Donna knew what was going to happen next. “Oh.” Donna gasped as she stepped back, shivering in terror. “Oh, but I ca-“ He was getting closer. “Oh I can’t go back,” Donna cried as he put his hands on her shoulders. “don’t make me go back,” Donna begged, “doctor. please. please, don’t make me go back!”
    “Donna,” he said with the sad tone of a person who wants to save everyone hearing his best friend wants to die, “Oh Donna Noble, I am so sorry.” Donna gasped with the horror of inevitability. “But we had the best of times,” he continued, “the best… goodbye” he said as his hands slithered ever closer to Donna’s head. “No!” Donna shouted, in the vain hope that it could save her. “No! No please! Please! No! No! No!”
    And then his hands caressed her face. She was able to cry one last “NO!” before falling into a deep sleep.
    In her sleep, she dreamed of the thrilling adventures of The Most Important Woman in the Universe! In her wanderings across the universe, the woman helped people, freed slaves, and fought off blob monsters by shouting at them. She was joined on her adventures by her best friend- the Doctor, a silly man who thought he was the most important man in the universe. His egotistical behavior wasn’t helped by the fact that he was the most important man in the universe. But he didn’t hold a candle to Donna Noble: The Most Important Woman in the Universe!
    But like most dreams, when she woke up, she wouldn’t remember any of it. Besides, she didn’t have time for dreams. She had work tomorrow.
    The woman fell into the arms of the man who made her dream her past away. He held her like a father holds his sleeping daughter. “I had to do it,” he consoled himself, “There was no other way to save her. She was going to die if I didn’t do it.”
    The travel machine landed in front of Donna Noble’s house without wheezing or groaning.
  11. Which if we weren’t trying to read this redemptively as Discorded Doctor Who, would make the Ask Blog one of the worst things in the world for essentially fridging a character by using the iconography of the worst companion departure in the New Series in a way that’s even worse than in the original context(28).
  12. As an aside, because I’m not sure where else to place this, I really wish the character who appeared on July 3rd, 2012 should have been paralleled with the Brigadier and I am very cross that she wasn’t.
  13. Oh, poor Pinkie Pie. And here I thought laughter made you happy.
  14. I could care less about the dress/I won’t partake in any cake/Vows, well I’ll be lying when I say/ That through any kind of weather/I’ll want us to be together/The truth is I don’t care for him at all/No I do not love the groom/In my heart there is no room/But I still want him to be all mine
  15. Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii Giiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiirls…
  16. Feelings?! I don’t care about feelings!
  17. Especially ones who have a desire for stories to have a canon.
  18. This is not in of itself a bad thing. The problems come about when the storytellers decide to decrease the joy within the narrative as well.
  19. And thereby reveal why Twilight didn’t tell her friends about any of her plans
  20. The author of this blog post would have done it on this fan fiction subgenre, but knew that the person who runs this blog would most likely not be fond of a post that consists of eight thousand uses of the word “fuck”. He would also like to ask any fan fiction writers reading this extraneous footnote to produce a Doctor Who/Conversion Bureau story where the 2nd Doctor gets thrown into the mix. But he knows this will never happen, because it’s always the 10th Doctor, so he doesn’t bother asking.
  21. I’D RATHER BEAT OUT YOUR VOICE BOX THAN LISTEN TO YOUR IRRITATING WHINING!!!
  22. Do it or I’ll tell your Twilight about Derpy.
  23. I mean he hates the sodding Puniverse for Pete’s sake. Who can hate a universe run on bad puns and friendship? That’s the aesthetics of My Little Pony in a nutshell.
  24. Who recently(29) appeared in the narrative some time after Children of Earth but before Miracle Day.
  25. Discworld.
  26. Wait a minute, why didn’t the main 6 go to deal with Discord?
  27. December 21st, 2011 to be precise.
  28. In the blog, not only is she unconscious and unaware of what’s happening to her, but, as previously mentioned, it is also an act perpetrated by the Master to hurt the Doctor(30).
  29. I.e. seven months.
  30. I.e. the life choices of a mixed race woman(31) are made by two white men to make one of the white men very sad.
  31. The character in question, Laura, is a zebra pony(32).
  32. Zony, as she prefers.

December 16, 2014-January 9, 2015

Guest Post by Spoilers Below: “Resistance Is Useless!” (The Great Rainbow Caper)

Sorry this is a bit late. Spoilers Below got this in with PLENTY of time, I’m just a procrastinating suck.

Patriarchy.jpg

The Letter: Dear Princess Celestia,

it can be hard to admit that you’re not capable of doing something on your own, and sometimes there’s a strong temptation to pass someone else’s work off as something you did yourself. But a real friend would never do something like that! Not only would you not get away with it, but your friend would know never to trust you again, and if you can’t trust your friends, who can you trust? If you work hard, your friends will always support your efforts, and working together is always better than working alone.

Your faithful student,
TS

What is it? The first single episode story of My Little Pony ‘n Friends, and an exercise to see how much story they can tell in such a short time.

What’s it about? Two evil monkeys kidnap Danny and Surprise to force Megan into giving them the Rainbow of Light.

Is it worth it? Eh. It’s short, so you’re not losing much there. What else are you up to for some random 11 minute stretch? It’s not bad, but you also wouldn’t be missing much by skipping it either.

What else was happening? 3 October 1986 – TASCC, a superconducting cyclotron at the Chalk River Laboratories, was officially opened, and a bizarre solar eclipse occurs, visible only for a few moments in parts of the Atlantic ocean, between Greenland and Iceland. We haven’t advanced a week, so the movies and music are the same as they were with The Ghost of Paradise Estate.

Strangeness and science make for a good segue into the episode, because that’s the theme at work in these 11 minutes and 16 seconds. A tight episode, slotted into the now usual pattern of a 4 part story for Monday through Thursday, with a 1 shot on Friday to finish out the week.

Episode author Diane Duane is better known for her Star Trek and her Young Wizards series of novels, and will end up with dubious honor of being one of the highest profile authors MLP ‘n Friends will have. At the time, though, Star Trek: the Next Generation hadn’t begun airing, so the new wave of fans hasn’t quite started battering down the doors, but let’s talk about Star Trek anyways for a moment, because it gives a little lens into the episode. An inherently optimistic and utopian program, Star Trek envisions a post-scarcity future wherein the universe is patrolled and defended by a voluntary military force who do what they do simply because it is the right thing to do. They are called, and they serve. No one uses the world socialism out loud, because Americans have a kneejerk reaction to it, but what else do you call a planned society in which everyone is given tasks that they are qualified for after rigorous testing, where there is no economy because science, via the replicator, has made commerce essentially obsolete, and where a great deal of time is spent exploring the rest of the galaxy looking for other societies which are ripe for uplifting and integration into the federation once they have passed certain benchmarks? Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan, arguably the best of the films, states outright that “The needs of the many outweigh…” “The needs of the few…” “…or the one.” Endless numbers of “redshirts” are slaughtered throughout the various episodes with barely any acknowledgement by the rest of the crew so that the wheels of progress can keep turning, and the technocratic engines can continue to absorb and uplift and improve the rest of the galaxy. It will be found and understood, because that is the technocratic impulse that drives the Federation. Duane has already written the novel The Wounded Sky, parts of which will be incorporated into the script for Where No One Has Gone Before, postulating a hypothetical end point to this exploration, literally the outer rim of the galaxy, where reality and thought become one and the same thing.

But reality (those philosophically loved and despised “things-in-themselves” our senses always are interpreting for us) and human thought are different. And science is constructed from human thoughts.

Because despite the protests of those who would demand otherwise, science does not control the world;  that’d be putting the cart before the pony. The universe does not “run” on mathematics, nor does it “think” in terms of laws or theorems. The cosmos isn’t a big computer, nor a large formula, though it helps us conceptualize to think of it as such. Best as we can tell, atoms move; that is all. Science, once you get into the theoretical aspects, is a system applied onto the world by mankind to make the world intelligible and predictable. Atoms move like this under these conditions, and so if we do this, then…. To mangle Karl Popper’s definition, science consists simply of those likely theories which have yet to be proven wrong. It is never infallibly Right. It is simply not wrong yet. It may be highly unlikely, and when one properly understand the rigors of testing and evidence necessary to even present a theory as likely, it does seem highly likely that certain scientific theories will never be proven incorrect. But we do not have enough hubris to say never. Should not, rather.

And so, when science encounters something which it cannot properly explain, science must change to accommodate it. The world will not change to allow a pretty or convenient theory to continue existing for our sake.It is the nature of science to build around things it cannot yet understand. It is additive, absorbing the world, building boxes to encompass any new information and throwing out its old frameworks if they cannot accommodate the new information. Good bye, Tychonic system with your pretty epicycles, hollow Earths, luminiferous aether, spontaneous generation, miasma theory of disease, telegony, phlogiston theory, Aristotelian physics, electron clouds, emitter theory… We thought the universe used to be like that, but it turns out we were wrong. Maybe we got it right this time?

Needless to say, science is different from magic. To steal a quote from Lawrence Miles’ This Town Will Never Let Us Go:

A scientist points a device of death (let’s call it a laser-gun) at a victim and fires. He knows every atom in the path of the beam will be incinerated, the target’s skin will boil and burn away but those parts of the body left outside the beam will remain intact, and anything which happened to be around the victim will also suffer. Much of the floor is bound to be singed, not to mention the walls.
On the other hand, a magician points a device of death (let’s call it a wand) and fires. She knows that the victim will vanish or turn to ash in his entirety, leaving everything around him intact, maybe even his clothes. That’s the real difference. Magic is the art of meanings. The universe doesn’t know where a human being ends and the clothes begin. The laws of physics only know atoms, not complete shapes. Only a magician’s weapon recognizes the target as a target, and only magic understands context. Magic is context. (p.233)

Mad Larry is talking about weaponry here, but it would work for any sort of magic, not just the violent kind. We’ll be back to science vs. magic in just a moment. Now, the Rainbow of Light is one such powerful magical item. Its central importance to this era of ponies is on par with later years’ Elements of Harmony. And at the opening of this episode, we find Megan snuffing out the clouds with the Rainbow’s magic as easily as the aforementioned magician destroyed her victims, so the ponies can pick cherries to make cherries jubilee without getting rained on.

The weather is such a highly complex system that predicting it with any accuracy even seven days out is terribly difficult using our most advanced technology, let alone actually changing it. Could you imagine the power of a device that could simply destroy clouds in an instant, then summon them right back again? The present reader’s mind, of course, jumps ahead twenty-five years to the weather factories of Cloudsdale and the teams of Pegasi that patrol the skies with the utmost efficiency, keeping Equestria’s weather managed to the most predictable moment. Their Rainbow is the element of loyalty, who, despite her brash demeanor and lazy attitude, is simply so good at her job that she has more than enough time to relax. But right now, back in the past, it’s stuck in a small, easily stolen locket, and Megan is outraged that Danny would even consider engineering on that scale. “Portable weather, great idea, huh Megan?“ No, it isn’t, and she makes him put things back the way they were. Which, in this case, means back to the way they were when she was changing things to suit the needs of the group, not simply obeying the whims of one malicious malcontent.

Enter the Gizmonks, Gonk and Glouda, a pair of advanced tool using apes who view the miraculous Rainbow of Light from afar on their steampowered television set, much like we viewers at home. After capturing Danny and Surprise with a falling cage, they come within one word of uttering the catchphrase that the Borg would a few years later. (So close, yet so far.) The two have already imprisoned numerous creatures, create fantastic devices that they don’t understand, and seem to desire acclaim from their peers for their inventing prowess. It’s implied that there is a society of Gizmonks, who trade in inventions and receive praise for creating. A magical item like the Rainbow of Light would work as a wonderful shortcut to said acclaim. But really, it would never work for them. Not if their society works anything like they say it does. Look at all the latest tools and gadgets they pass over in Danny’s bag (“Not the walkman! No, it’s a computer, don’t!”). Could they credibly pass any of them off as their own? Of course not. Who’d believe they were capable of creating something as brilliant and powerful as the Rainbow of Light?

Because, when you actually consider it, what these Gizmonks are doing isn’t science. They even admit outright that they have no idea what some of their inventions do, and they create them with no specific tasks in mind, and no idea about their potential outcome. The throw things together and hope that they work. While many inventions are the result of lucky accidents or as the unintended side effects of trying to create something else (plastic, penicillin, pacemakers, microwave ovens, ink-jet printers, the slinky…), actual science requires a formal hypothesis tested rigorously under controlled conditions, with variables accounted for, reproducible results, and lots and lots of math. Even the brute force style inventing of Thomas Edison’s laboratories  had a lot of rational thought and engineering put into trying parts that could work, and was being tested to see what worked best. Though inspirations and ideas may come from any number of sources, there are no accidental scientific theories. Einstein didn’t wander onto the stage not realizing that it wasn’t the patent office banquet he was supposed to be giving a toast for and start making up a story about looking into mirrors while travelling at the speed of light to get himself played off stage to applause without looking too embarrassed.

The Gizmonks want science to be magic, and it never will be. They don’t even understand magic. Because magic requires thought and intention. Magic is context. And that context, as we know, is friendship. It’s doubtful the Rainbow would work for Gonk and Glouda even if they acquired it. Magic isn’t a shortcut or “the cheat codes of the universe” any more than science is. It isn’t a bypass on the easy road to happiness. Magic — understanding context and significance, why certain things are the way the are because of the situation they are in and why an action can mean totally different things depending on what surrounds it and when it happens —  takes work. So does maintaining friendships. There’s a difference between using the Rainbow to clear the skies to pick cherries with your friends, and using it to change the weather to suit your personal whims and pick on your sister. I’d even go so far as to argue that while intent may not be magic, context is magic, and is in fact the only way in which certain things can ever be understood.

Oddly, there isn’t even time for the ponies to confront and reject the Gizmonk’s worldview. As with many episodes, the philosophical quandary is already resolved by the time they arrive, as Danny and Surprise have already busted the place up and come rolling out of the glass domed tower in a Trojan horse-like contraption that immediately falls to pieces. The ponies’ hedonistic naturalism and lack of interest in controlling the world around them need not be questioned. Megan keeps them safe and innocent. She’ll bear the weight around her neck for them.

Notes:

— I am, of course, being completely unfair to Star Trek up above. That Kirk and Picard and Sisko and Janeway are in almost constant rebellion against the directives from above, that they regularly encounter people and societies which desire no interference whatsoever from the Federation, and that the Federation’s “conquering with kindness” impulses are mirrored darkly in the anonymous hivemind of the Borg, the xenophobic imperialism of the Romulans, and the cloying sadism of the Cardassians is very much the point. It’s a fascinating and frustrating and wonderful series of programs and films to lose yourself in. If you need a guiding text, Josh Marsfelder is doing wonderful work here: http://vakarangi.blogspot.com/

–”The history of science, like the history of all human ideas, is a history of irresponsible dreams, of obstinacy, and of error. But science is one of the very few human activities — perhaps the only one — in which errors are systematically criticized and fairly often, in time, corrected. This is why we can say that, in science, we often learn from our mistakes, and why we can speak clearly and sensibly about making progress there.” –Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: the Growth of Scientific Knowledge

–I hasten to add, for the benefit of myself and because I’ve actually had people somehow come off with this impression when I talk about science and history and doubt, that no, I absolutely do not believe that, for example, the stars suddenly realigned themselves and quit moving in loop-de-loops and that the Earth suddenly shifted in place however many billions of light years to quit being the center of the universe (if such a place is even correctly thought of as existing) when the observations and theories of Copernicus and Galileo gained traction amongst the general human population. Yes, I used to play Mage: The Ascension too, and I read that one JLA story where Wonder Woman’s lasso breaks, and I’m quite familiar with the idea of consensual reality. I also happen to know how to separate the quite fictional trappings of a role playing game or comic book from quite genuine doubts I have that we are presently at the zenith of all knowledge and that there will never be anything ever proven to be false or incomplete ever again. I’m as sure as I’m going to be that black holes exist. I don’t know enough to make any confident assertions regarding dark matter. If, for some reason, the Earth stops rotating and the Sun doesn’t appear to rise tomorrow morning, I’ve got a heck of a lot more problems than figuring out a new model of physics. All that said, vaccinate your kids so they don’t die, global climate change is real and a major problem, and yeah, it totally sucks about Pluto and the Brontosaurus, but that’s how things go sometimes. The old scientific theory is only discarded in favor of one that works better, not skeptically jeered at in advance just in case because you’re afraid to admit you were wrong some day.

–And lest you think I’m some crackpot, no, obviously magic of the kind wizards and sorcerers do isn’t real. Well, aside from the kind of telepathy I’m practicing right now, wherein I sit in a specific position for hours at a time, staring into a brightly lit screen that changes colors occasionally, moving my fingers across a board covered in symbols, and concentrating really hard on just the right words and ideas to send my thoughts all over the world and into the heads of interested parties who have screens of their own, who will see the symbols and know what they mean and may hear what they imagine my voice to sound like in their heads…

–Oh, and the magic context that makes the example you might be thinking of okay is “Hey, want to see my impression of what a racist/sexist/transphobic/etc. jerk sounds like? You do? They sound like this…”

Next week: Magical Mystery Cure, pt 2.

Guest Post: Magical Mystery Cure: The “Con” Position

Alicorn Priest was kind enough to volunteer an alternate perspective on “Magical Mystery Cure,” specifically the “anti” or “con” position on the episode.

Hey, everyone! I guess I’m doing a guest post while Froborr is taking a break. He wanted me to do a retrospective on Magical Mystery Cure to share my take on the whole alicorn debacle. And believe me, I was pretty upset! I mean, they really should have kept it the way it was. I know there’s this mindset to give the fans what they want, but this was uncalled for! They had used the term “princess” this whole time to represent a winged unicorn, and then they just go and have Rarity use “alicorn” out of nowhere. That’s just indefensi–

Wait, what’s that? Nobody cares about that? Oh, my bad.

No, you wanna know about the angry response to Twilight becoming an alicorn. That I can do as well. I think the best way to go about it is to talk about the effects we expected from such a monumental change. (In hindsight, not so monumental, but still.) Those can be roughly sorted into four categories:

  1. How will this change affect Twilight specifically?
  2. How will it affect her friends and the other main characters?
  3. How will it affect the setting of Equestria?
  4. How will it affect the structure and theme of the show?

I think Froborr did a pretty good job of explaining why all of these things would be fine, but let me try to explain what we were seeing in the naysayers camp. Looking back a year later (has it really been that long?), all of these fears almost seem ridiculous. Back then, though, they seemed all too real.

First, Twilight herself. Remember, we knew nothing about what would happen to Twilight other than a picture of her with wings at first. All we had was the precedent of Celestia, Luna, and Cadance (who we considered a last-minute change). What would Twilight become if she became an alicorn? Well, a goddess. Her magical powers would increase significantly, she would have to rule over a kingdom as the other princesses do, and she would become something different and separate from the rest. This is sort of bleeding into the other categories, but Twilight would lose much of what made her character interesting and relatable. She was a young student trying to balance her schoolwork with interacting with friends. She frequently got flustered and had to go to her princess for help. If Twilight becomes a princess, we asked, what then? Who would she be? Even before the season 3 finale, Twilight was getting the ignominious title of Mary Sue thrust upon her. What would she be if she became a goddess solely because of how awesome she was? On another token, what would be left for her character to explore now that her fundamental question had been answered? The second episode told us that her goal was to learn about friendship and the magic within it. But “Magical Mystery Cure” stated without a doubt that all of that was over. All that could possibly be left for her would be reveling in how awesome she is now. What kind of story is that? (Watch everything after the “Princess Twilight Sparkle Cometh” to see what I mean.) A lot of us like Twilight a lot; would becoming a princess mean we wouldn’t see her as much any more? Would she go the same way as Celestia, Luna, and Cadance?

But that’s not enough. Raising Twilight, by comparison, lowers all of the other characters as well. Twilight may be my favorite (mane 6) character, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the other characters or appreciate their place in the story. What makes Twilight so special that her studies are what propelled her to godhood? Not Rainbow Dash, the mare who performed the mythical Sonic Rainboom? Not Applejack or Fluttershy, who run huge businesses without any assistance? Not Rarity or Pinkie Pie, who bring joy to an entire town? Why does Twilight get her arc wrapped up when there are so many other interesting characters worth exploring? Twilight was the bond keeping them all together. What happens when she becomes a princess and leaves to take on her destiny? And that’s not even getting into the other characters. Creating yet another alicorn cheapens the total effect of the other alicorns. One wonders what Mayor Mare actually would do, considering Twilight would be the highest-ranked official in Ponyville. Who else can I pin through Twilight’s change? It wrecks Trixie’s position as foil. Nope, I’m out of ideas.

I’ve sort of already talked about the setting. I’m writing this before “Twilight’s Kingdom” comes out, but as Equestria Girls put it, Twilight’s probably going to have her own area to rule like Cadance and the Royal Sisters do. …Where, exactly? But along with that, being able to achieve apotheosis brings up some very strange questions. So few ponies actually pull this off, despite pursuing one’s special talent being the entire focus of the society? Twilight and Cadance can do it basically on accident, but hundreds of thousands of ponies can’t do it despite pursuing their personal talents just as ardently? Or is it just ponies with vague concepts like “love” and “friendship” for cutie marks that can get it? And, Celestia forbid, it makes Celestia and Luna even more bizarre. Did they achieve apotheosis too, or are they some greater version of alicorn? If the former, why are they immortal, then? Seriously, it’s such a bizarre thing that nobody would have pegged for this society had this episode not come out. It’s borderline antithetical to the very idea of “do what you do to the best of your ability.” Clearly, a lot of ponies are slacking off.

Lastly, the meta-argument. I don’t remember who said it exactly, but someone said once that “Magical Mystery Cure” would have worked pretty well as a show ender, since it wraps up the critical question of the entire show. But season 4 had already been confirmed by that point, so the show has to keep going from there. But where is there to go when the guiding idea is gone? “Friendship is Magic:” that’s what Twilight was trying to understand that. In “Magical Mystery Cure,” she outright says that she understands it perfectly: “From all of us together, / together we are friends. / With the marks of our destinies made one, / there is magic without end!” So… what then? Where do you go from that? With Twilight a princess, what will the stories be about? How can they be the same if Twilight is so much more powerful? Or what if she’s gone entirely? What kind of show would it be without Twilight Sparkle?

No, to all the haters and nay-sayers, it was clear that things couldn’t be for the better. Twilight would finally be a Mary Sue to end all Mary Sues, and she would leave all of her old friends in the dust. The setting and the story would be broken into a gazillion pieces. Anything they did to explain it would only prove that it was ruined. And then Equestria Girls happened, and it showed that Twilight wasn’t perfect. She still had questions left to answer, and she was still trying to be modest and personable. But Equestria Girls wasn’t perfect, and we still thought that there wasn’t much hope. No matter how much she pretended, Twilight was still a princess, and that meant she was inherently better than everypony else, right? And then “Princess Twilight Sparkle” answered that exactly. Discord outright forced her to consider that position, and she rejected it. The rest of the season, from “Castle Mane-ia” and “Three’s a Crowd?” to “Twilight Time” and “Trade Ya!” kept up the precedent. Looking back, all of the fears I had seem ridiculous now. Of course Twilight would still be Twilight. Of course she’d still stay with her friends in Ponyville. Of course they’d come up with a concept like the diary to keep the characters thinking about friendship and magic. But before season 4, we had no idea the writers had it all under control. Perhaps we should have had more faith.

Alicorn Priest writes: Thanks for reading, everyone! I hope I gave a good insight into the cynic’s perspective to “Magical Mystery Cure” and season 4. PLUG: If you like my writing style or my analysis, check out my reviews here. I’m not nearly as good as Froborr, but I do have some good ideas here and there. END PLUG. Anyways, by the time you read this, “Twilight’s Kingdom” will be come and gone. Crazy how it goes, huh? Fingers crossed that it was good. And then we get another long break, with only Rainbow Rocks to tide us over. Hey, at least it’s not as bad as Sherlock and Doctor Who, right? 😛

Do it again, Megan! Make it go away! (The Ghost of Paradise Estates)

Well, that escalated quickly.

I’m at a convention this weekend, so have another guest post on Gen 1 My Little Pony by the ever-excellent Spoiler Below.

Apologies for the wonky formatting, I don’t know what’s going on.

The Letter:

Dear Princess Celestia,

Sometimes it is difficult to understand that the world can never be returned to the way it used to be. Nostalgia can be a powerful feeling, and change can be hard to accept. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t hurt others trying to undo what has happened. Some things simply can’t be undone, and have to be gotten used to. But in time, you’ll soon find that there are things to enjoy about the new status quo, and a place for yourself in it.

As always, your faithful student,
Twilight Sparkle

What is it? A four parter about a terrifying ghost that haunts the baby ponies and prevents them from getting to sleep.

What is it about? The nature of cultural forces imposing an external narrative onto events that transforms them into a continuity and retroactively implies that said forces have been present all along, thereby making said events inevitable and correct according to the nature of the world and thus not worth resisting. But this is clearly not the case, as a simple paradigm alteration will show that said events can be viewed through many different lenses, and things which seem inevitable in hindsight are almost never necessarily so.

Is it worth watching? Sure, it’s pretty good. This is the last episode George Arthur Bloom will contribute until Tales, and he displays here the same energy and style that he used in Escape from Midnight Castle. As has been pointed out by others, he seems to work much better when he’s not trying to fill a movie length feature, and instead has to cram all his ideas into 40 minutes. Sure, there are 4 songs, 3 of which are, to be charitable, not so great, but that’s the nature of the beast for children’s television.

What else was happening? 29 September-2 October 1986. Ronald Regan signs the Goldwater-Nichols Act into law, reorganizing the US Department of Defense so that command is structured by region and function, rather than branch, and streamlining the chain of command, in an attempt to cut down intra-branch rivalry and allowing the commander in charge of an operation to exercise full control over the all differing forces involved without having to negotiate with each individual branch. An assassination attempt is made on Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who had taken over from his mother, Indira, in 1984. He will be killed along with 14 others by a suicide bomb about five years later. “Stuck with You” by Huey Lewis and the News is number one on the charts this week, off of their quite excellent album Fore! and Crocodile Dundee is released this week, letting us all have a good chuckle at how bad some folks are at surviving outside their native habitats, a theme we’ll revisit in just a moment.

A frequently cited cliche is to never judge a book by its cover. But how about by its title? Some are purely functional (e.g. The Communist Manifesto), some are symbolic (e.g. If on a winter’s night a traveller…), some are descriptive (e.g. The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders, &c. Who was Born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu’d Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest, and died a Penitent. Written from her own Memorandums), and some… Well…
Sometimes the title of an episode contains a major giveaway of its contents. This is often the case with titles with names, events, and other descriptive bits. No one could tell you what Don Delilio’s White Noise is about based purely on the title, but it’s a fair bet that Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo probably has something to do with the Count. This isn’t always the case (Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory isn’t about a place where they build White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman are far more heavily the latter than the former), but often times it is. This is especially true in the naming of serial television episodes, where the title would often tease which episode the hero would be facing. The classic example here are the many adventures of Doctor Who with a named monster in the title, where the first episode wouldn’t feature the enemy at all until the cliffhanger, “Oh no! Not that monster!”, as if the audience hadn’t been waiting for 22 minutes for the Cybermen to show up in “The Continuity Error of the Cybermen”. 
And so the fact that there isn’t actually a ghost at all is really a neat trick to pull. We should have come to accept by now that My Little Pony is a show where weird left turns in plotting are the norm. Where lesser authors would be content to walk out 4 episodes with continually escalating ghostly escapades, perhaps drawing out Molly offering to stay with the baby ponies until the end of the first episode, until Danny too agrees to spend the night in the room and is too convinced of the ghost’s existence and making Danny’s ghost catching plan the entirety of the second, Megan’s unbelieving glower staring down imperiously on all her subjects all the while…
Megan is right, of course. There aren’t any ghosts. Not in a world with talking ponies, anthropomorphic cats that grow to the size of buildings, magical mushroom wizards, volcano dwelling witches, Shelob-sized spiders, the Smooze, evil centaurs that can transform princes into monsters and ponies into nightmares… The existence of ghosts would be a ridiculous thing to consider. Instead we get a completely separate plot about an evil octopus trying to flood the valley to restore it to the way it was when he was younger, before the waters receded and he was replaced by the shapeshifting bird tribe that stole his magical Flash Stone and forced him to accept the changes that nature had wrought on Dream Valley. But “The Shapeshifting Bird of Paradise Estates” just doesn’t roll off the tongue the way the actual title does.
But that’s because Megan is always right. Such is her prerogative as lawgiver and ruler of the ponies, and as such, it would be strange if the world didn’t also obey her and alter to suit her whims, the way it does when children play with their toys. A land with houses and pools doesn’t have room for ghosts. And this is what the ponies want, mind you. For episode after episode, all they have wanted is a nice, safe place to live. Are things as basic as shelter and security really such bad or unreasonable things to want? Of course not. They’re basic human (pony?) rights, up there with food and water. But the pony’s overwhelming desire for a place to live, the focus on civilization and permanence… None of this was here in the carefree days of Midnight Castle. Sure, they already had the formidable fortress of Dream Castle, but they seemed to spend most of their days sleeping on the fields or in the orchards. Paradise Estate is a modern home for a modern world, which needs to be painted a slightly different shade of pink to make it just right. Their old home is gone, destroyed by the Smooze. Dream Valley is a different place, and it has different creatures with different desires living in it now.
Considering its inhabitants and its history, we get a grossly simplified version of the march of evolution from aquatic creatures to birds to mammals… Now, far from being a sure or predestined thing, evolution merely is a winnowing down of that which cannot survive to produce offspring in the current environment. It does not favor the weak nor the strong, and traits which are well suited to one environment may be terribly unsuited to another. The ability to process airborne oxygen is useless in a watery environment, while the ability to withstand massive water pressure is likely to result in death on the land. The idea that evolution has somehow colluded to create the best or most perfect species that has ever lived is appealing to some, but is utterly unscientific. And very few species ever reach the point where they can alter their environments drastically to make otherwise hostile places suitable for life. Humans are the most obvious example, but ants and beavers do it too. Certainly this is what Squirk is doing when he plans to re-flood Dream Valley. But isn’t that exactly what Megan and the ponies were doing with Paradise Estates at the beginning of the episode also? Dream Valley may not be flooded anymore, but it doesn’t contain any natural bright pink building with inground swimming pools.
Unlike the ponies and the horrible Smooze, Squirk lost his old home to the force of nature, which Phluma is unable to explain. No one knows why the water receded, but it did. He has to live somewhere different now, and is obsessed with expanding back to the boundaries of his former kingdom, and regaining his former power. Squirk is the third enemy in a row, now, to have an extreme focus on the past and “the way things used to be”. But while Rep longed for the days when Katrina wasn’t an evil drug addict, and Hydia pined for the days of her foremothers when the witches were powerful and respected, Squirk himself remembers the old days firsthand. He is hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years old. However unlike the contentious and ill-considered land rights dispute of Over a Barrel, it is difficult to see how Squirk’s claims to a land he occupied hundreds, maybe thousands, of years ago, which no longer can sustain him without massive overhaul that would destroy the environment presently there, and which was completely unsettled before the Moochick gave the ponies a home there, can possibly be valid. The world has changed, but he refuses to change with it.
He will do this via the Flash Stone, a magical amulet similar to the Rainbow of Light, which runs on willpower and will do whatever the possessor desires. Like most aged rulers, it should come as little surprise that Squirk isn’t much of one for thinking or creativity. All he does is shoot small blasts of energy and shift water about. His one brief moment of inspiration, changing sea creatures from one to another, hybridizing and chimerizing them into all sorts of different things, seems only a brief infatuation he soon grows bored with. He’s old, he’s stale, he can’t think past himself. He doesn’t even know what to do when Danny and the ponies pretend to surrender and submit to his rulership. Even when we saw him in charge during the flashback, all he did was shoot at his starfish and slap Crank around, no different than his actions now, hundreds or perhaps thousands of years later. The old bullying tyrant who just won’t go away.
There’s an odd criticism of some forms of government that I never understood before reading Buruma and Margalit’s Occidentalism. One of their major theses is that one of the major differences between worldviews of the “West” and the rest of the world is the very stark separation between the church and the state, and that as western liberal democracy is incompatible with a divine or otherwise “special” ruler, there is necessarily a tension between the two ways of thinking. Thus, it would not be inappropriate to describe otherwise atheistic systems like Maoism or Stalinism as “religions” in this sense, as they rely on this style of devotion to a powerful and special ruler and/or party, and a strictly enforced view of the world that is laid out in advance and which permits no deviation. It doesn’t matter if the world is saying otherwise, and suggesting that the old theory should be discarded or altered, as it is in proper science. The world must be changed to fit the view, be it a disastrous agricultural misunderstanding that leaves millions to starve to death, or an misunderstanding of how literary interpretation works that leaves the world being only about 6,000 years old. Or, in Squirk’s case, trying to bring about another flood to destroy all this nasty civilization that has cropped up since his time passed, and to remake the world the way he remembered it being. Tyranny does not require God; it simply requires a tyrant and followers to build the tyrant up.
Megan, on the other hand, has bigger dreams than that. She has the power to transform the world, reshape it to her vision. “In no time at all, we’ll put things back in shape. Everything will be the way it was” she sings as she repairs all the damage from the flood, effortlessly using the Flash Stone in ways of which Squirk never could conceive. But it isn’t the same, not quite. It’s the way it was after she arrived and started changing things. Paradise Estates is filled with human furniture, which would be quite uncomfortable for ponies to use, but perfect for Megan and her siblings. But the ponies will learn to use it. A proper and dignified pony like Rarity would never consider sleeping on the ground, even when out camping. Megan then destroys the Flash Stone; she already has the Rainbow of Light. Why keep more power than she needs? It could be used for evil, after all.
But, quite importantly, she differs from a tyrant like Squirk in a major way: she desires no legacy. There are no statues to her, no holy book of her teachings, no mention of her in Tales, G3, or Friendship is Magic. The only time she is placed on a throne, it is at the pony’s request as guest of honor as their costume party. She may be their ruler for now, but after she has taught them the way to live, she will pass into memory and then be forgotten completely. The important things: caring, friendship, responsibility to one’s offspring, fairness, duty, having fun… these will remain. It will not be all good, of course. There will be petty jealousies and bullying and pollution from industry and a loss of the old ways that will never fully be regained. But without her, they would have been wiped out entirely. Civilization is never perfect. But in this case, it is was not communism that was haunting Dream Valley. It was the ghost of tyranny.
And you thought this was just a silly animated series quickly dashed off to sell cheap plastic toys, didn’t you?

Other Bits:

-Why does Spike live in a storage closet? Poor guy. It’s the one dirty and unfurnished room in the entire estate, too.

-From invisible and multiplying beds to ponies changing color to the humans suddenly having time to get dressed between episodes, this is one where a lot of mistakes crept in. I’m not going to be cool and seize on one of these and make some huge metatextual point about something. Sometimes animation errors and just animation errors.

-George Arthur Bloom, as mentioned above, now bows out of the series for a few years, reappearing as a writer of Tales. But the framework which he built is obvious, even today, and without his contributions to the world and its lore, there is no doubt that none of us would be here reading or writing these words. Bloom was finally able to get Travis Fine to help him make a feature film that he’d been trying to put together for years and years. Any Day Now, the story of a gay couple trying to adopt a child with Down’s syndrome, is well worth your time. If you needed any more proof that a deeply open and inclusive message has been with MLP from the very start, you need only look at its first writer and his work.

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.

Guest Post: On Clop, Bronies, and Furries

In my ongoing quest to avoid watching/talking about “One Bad Apple” adjust the timing of posts so that I start writing about Season 4 after it finishes airing, Charles Dunbar of Study of Anime–and recently minted brony–was kind enough to provide a guest post about his encounters with Derpibooru and clop.

Clop: noun- 1: the sound a hoof makes hitting the floor. 2: a specific style of Rule 34 focusing on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. 3: (c/o Urban Dictionary) to masturbate, as used by bronies.

There is an old internet adage known simply as “cannot unsee.” This term, often used in conjunction with horrific or graphic images, refers to the impossibility of the subject to forget what they saw, often by clicking on an unnamed, or unlabeled image. Some browsers often link it to wishes that they had never found the aformentioned image, or regrets that they will be thinking of it for the forseeable future.

Sure Charles. “Classiness.” That’s
why you included this picture.

I bring up these two “internetisms” because recently I became very, VERY well acquainted with the former, while developing a strange view of the latter. Suddenly possessed as I was with some free time to kill, decided to indulge one of those little voices in the back of my head. This is hardly rare for me- my brain spends most of its time thinking of this or that, and sometimes goes off on its own, much to my chagrin, or dismay. But for this outing, I had something very specific on my mind: Rarity, or more specifically, human Rarity, preferably in a swimsuit. Given how appealing some of the images I found on general Google and Deviantart sweeps were, this search held a lot of promise, notably when I began stumbling upon the pinup galleries and watercolor art buried deep within those engines. Humanized Rarity tends to be one of the more sensualized of the Mane 6, with even her most understated images possessing a certain classiness that does her character justice.

(Mind you, this is also how I justified seeking out these images in the first place, which should key the reader in to how I both had an interest in finding them, and also a certain concern that my interest might not be entirely acceptable in my own eyes. Despite being a strong advocate for embracing one’s fandom unapologetically, even I find myself occasionally torn between social mores and personal fulfillment. I blame the lack of hon-ne in America, despite that being a copout on my part. But I digress…)

At roughly 11:45, I discovered Derpibooru, and that changed everything. For those unfamiliar, the Booru engines are among the largest, and best structured, of the various image hosting sites online: meticulously organized, with enough tags to make Macklemore and Wanz happy beyond their wildest dreams. They have become a sort of wikipedia for image hosting, with well over 4000 sites- both active AND inactive- associated with the suffix. Navigating them, while fundamentally simple, is also something of an undertaking, as many posters to those sites begin hyper-tagging everything, in hopes of getting the art seen by as many people as possible. It’s a wonderful way to promote one’s own art to a giant audience, but at the same time, it can make browsing something of a challenge- occasionally tags are posted that have nothing to do with the image, or the image itself has only a superficial relationship to the search, but it pops up anyway. This is a real challenge when trying to select out NSFW images many times, and also makes browsing the random R34 hentai boards even worse, as some images are simply listed as “tagme,” which appears to be shorthand for “I didn’t bother tagging these, I just uploaded them for lulz.”

A quick browse of these Booru engines also reveals a healthy amount of them being labeled as specifically “NSFW,” devoted to various pornographic, fetish, and Rule 34 based endeavors. The largest booru deposits contain a host of images, both clean and explicit, and often catalogued side by side, with little in the way of filters for content. My Little Pony is itself well represented- a quick search turns up about a half dozen sites, most of them labeled as NSFW and disclaimed as being pornographically-based. I’m sure many more exist outside the “official channels” as well, as yet another casual search on Yahoo revealed shortly afterward. Derpibooru, the site I spent my time on, was the first that popped up, and was the one I spent the entire night browsing through, as I altered tags and filters, in search of some elusive image I never quite came across.

The sort of image you might get with the NSFW filters on.

Over the course of the following three hours, I found myself engrossed by the site, mostly because it opened my eyes with regards to a lot of the clop, anthro, and humanized Rule 34 that’s floating around out there. The larger booru engines usually have enough of it buried within page after page of questionable content (and yes, I’m aware of the irony in using those words when describing clop), but what struck me about Derpibooru was the general “feel” of the site as I was browsing it. It was almost downright classy…or at least the tags I was using were downright classy, which is more than I can say for the other booru sites I have been known to browse. The filters have default settings, which initially kept the NSFW off my screen- a rarity (ba-da-bump) in the usual R34 searches, which I used for the first hour or so, until my curiosity finally got the better of me.

There’s a general opinion out there when it comes to things like clop. Fans who know of it are polarized about the experience- some are fine with it, some hate it, some don’t care, usually structured around the nature of the image or its place within the fan database. Fans who do not know, usually do not want to know, owing to the bizarre nature of feeling sexual attraction to a non-human character. Despite the longstanding tradition of creating sensually explicit or gratifying scenes and stories from popular texts (which is itself subject to its own questions–see Jenkins’ Textual Poachers for more), when it comes down to crossing the line between human and non-human, there is a great deal of controversy associated with the practice- from moral objections to social protests, and a general typecasting of practitioners as suffering from a perversion or delusion. A quick search at some of the press and popular coverage and treatment of Furry fandom in particular yields a great amount of exaggerated practices and a general distaste towards the community as a whole, despite the active practitioners of yiff (the Furry associated term for what would eventually be labeled as clop) being identified as community outliers, or more commonly a small fraction of the Furry fandom as a whole. Much like bronies, furries also have to spend time defending themselves against stereotypes when it comes to these aspects of a the fandom, usually disproportionately to other communities that practice similar concepts like slash and shipping.

Now, nonhuman/anthro and ‘transformation’ kinks are ostensibly more common than one might think (or less common, based on the specific fan’s views). As with commentary based around hentai and doujinshi culture in both Japan and the US, the idea of creating erotica works has often been embraced as a means to creative endeavors, exposure for the artist and fandom, and as a means to more financial success in the beginning of a career. Comics festivals often contain a healthy amount of erotic imagery (and pornography, let’s not be high-minded here), which sits alongside the “clean” works, as a means of growth and creative expression. Finding anthro-focused works along these lines isn’t hard either–much of it is mixed in with human works, and often is viewed as something extremely fetish, much like bondage or more limited expressions of erotic subjects. And for the most part, these images are viewed as acceptable- a legitimate part of the fandom with its own appeal and consumer base, which often crosses boundaries with regards to genre or world of origin.

“Primarily, anthropomorphism does not belong to any subculture, fandom, or independant group of people. it is simply a base form in itself that we stem different (more or less) cultural foundations from. Perhaps I’ve used cultural as too big of a sense. The obvious example of this is the furry fandom. Anthropomorphism and the fandom are in fact not one and the same. Anthro is like the base, the crust of a planet in which life sprouts from. Now furry would be like a tree. It needs the crust to survive as an anchor point and a source of everything that makes it physical. To lessen this metaphor down to a small mouthful, furry needs anthro to survive, anthro though does not need furry. A connection, but a distinction between the two.” 

-Steam Community

But in the worlds of fandom, sometimes an idea gets corrupted in the eyes of certain folks, and sometimes a community develops a bad rap. We have all witnessed such transformations- some of us might have even been swept up in them- and often the fallout can be devastating for people simply looking for a place to belong. This is one of the cases that pops up frequently when examining communities like the furries, and the bronies- communities that cross the “invisible line” between human and animal, and are portrayed as somehow “wrong” for doing so.

Members of the furry communities, which have been active for a long time (the term Furry was coined around 1980, but the enthusiasts of the art and literature had been organized for far longer), are often highly visible, and are understood as those who elevate the idea of anthropomorphized or animalian traits as being worthy of emulation, or who derive positive interactions and identities through these traits they have a solid emotional connection to, have faced backlash from other facets of fandom (not to mention the non-fans) that find their interests questionable at best, and demonized at worst, despite the fact that their practice is rooted in the idea of community, cosplay, and association with characteristics that have strong meaning for the participants- something that all fandom groups derive meaning from.

Indeed, in social chatter on My Little Pony fandom during conventions and social gatherings (usually by non-fans towards visible fans), comparisons between brony culture and furry culture often overlap, with criticism levied at both communities for supposed “degenerate practices,” usually based on misconstrued visible stereotypes and exaggerated claims. Such types of intra-fandom stereotyping is itself commonplace, and rooted in the same social mores that non-fans often levy at fans- the idea that misinformation often becomes fact at the expense of fair treatment.

Try to ignore for a moment the ideas that fans often lament such treatment from non-fans with regards to anime or comics fandom- some are still willing to levy the same type of behavior at fans who practice something they identify as “alien.” What becomes of it is a moment of hypocrisy that strikes all-inclusive fans (like myself) as counter productive and harmful to fandom in general. But again, I digress, as I wish to not present everything here as a rant.

(A survey conducted by the furry community site Flayrah.com in 2012 highlights some of these ideas, and also connections between the furry and brony communities. I highly recommend giving it a read, as it shows that these two communities often share a lot of traits, and mutual respect.)

Within the community, this controversy itself is set within physical parameters as well–the character traits and personality assigned to the Mane 6 are exempt from this criticism, and often are viewed as sensually acceptable once those traits are reconciled with a humanized form for the character. It is perfectly fine to feel connected to the character of Rainbow Dash, so long as the character is presented in “morally acceptable” terms. (Or, “it’s okay if they’re human. Just not as ponies.”) That the Mane 6 are themselves very archetypal characters, complete with their own personalities, means that this line between acceptable and questionable is both very clear, and also very easy to cross. Clop rides this same line, and as it is associated with a highly popular fandom and property, it also has the potential to polarize more of the fandom participants than other modes of expression. Add to that the fact that a sizable chunk of My Little Pony fans are children, and it adds yet another level of concern towards gathering together all these images of the characters under a single URL.

And that is what the Derpibooru site was: a gigantic collection of MLP fanart. Both clean and explicit images were displayed on the same pages once the filters were removed, again not odd on many R34 sites, but somehow striking me as a bit off given the subject matter. But what I found most fascinating is how many artists used the rubric of Rule 34 to showcase their work online. Images on other booru engines are often anonymous, unless the artist is well known for their style or subject matter. But most of the searches I found on derpibooru were tagged to specific artists, and often contained links to that artist’s DeviantArt or tumblr pages. Following through on those same searches led to galleries full of the same tasteful material, occasionally tagged as belonging to clop or R34, despite perhaps containing one reference to a specific interest of fetish point, while keeping the rest of the image fairly clean.

For this fan, that had a certain significance to it. Fan art often relies on the internet to circulate, and fan artists utilize social media to increase their profiles. I once was told by a fan artist that she drew hentai and other more risque images as a way to boost pageviews for her more serious work. My time on the Derpibooru engine showed a certain emphasis on this: artists labeling their work as “clop” in order to increase exposure. The more tags I clicked through, the more I noticed that Derpibooru is more focused on creating an online index of MLP fan art, using the tags and classification systems that the R34 sites use, for the purpose of creating a large database for people to browse. The inclusion of filters and content flags allow for fans to highlight their searches to what they want, while still using the same tag-based system that R34 is known for. But the fact that the site effectively polices itself stood out to me- much the other MLP fan communities, it focused on the community side, as opposed to the sexual side.

To demonstrate: “awwww”

While I doubt I will find the desire to delve deeper into this aspect of the fandom, my brief time exploring this one engine did yield results: a new background image for my phone, some images of Rarity in truly remarkable outfits and situations (including one of her practicing White Crane kung fu), and a whole lot of Fluttershy images that could be tagged simply as “awwww.” There was a visibly proportional number of clean images to NSFW ones, usually focused on exploring the character as they are, rather than how a certain sub-sect might view them as being behind closed doors. And that was surprising to discover, to say the least. Even in a site populated by explicit imagery, there were still those who were interested in legitimate fan art and character exploration that did not require a filter tag. It also keyed me into some of the popular artists within the meta-fandom, and showed me their public and private galleries full of more images to choose from. All told, it was a less grinding experience than my usual forays into R34- still a bit awkward at times, but also not as “creepy” as I thought it would be.

And he apparently did find that pic in the end.

The Sun Is Very Important (The End of Flutter Valley)

The Good Joke.

Once again, we have a guest post from the talented Spoilers Below on a Gen 1 story. This, by the way, is NOT the guest post I was hoping to get last weekend, but Spoilers Below was kind enough to step up and send this in.

“But running away won’t solve all your problems, will it?” – The End of Flutter Valley

The Letter: Dear Princess Celestia,

Communication can be very difficult, especially if you can’t understand the people you’re trying to talk to. It seems like everyone you think you can turn to for help is having problems of their own, and they were just about to ask you for help! In the end, though, it might turn out that you’re making a bigger deal out of things than you needed to, and that you can come to a compromise. After all, they might turn out to be friends you just haven’t met yet!

Your faithful student,
Twilight

What is it? A ten part epic about the nature of friendship, the problems of communication, and the cycle of nature.

What is it about? Witches tricking bees into stealing the sunstone, and chaos ensuing.

Is it worth watching? If it were only 4 episodes long, I could make a case, but 10? Even though they’re only ten minutes apiece, you’ve probably got better things to do with 100 minutes.

What else was happening? 15-19, 22-26 September 1986. This month the Big Mac Index, showing purchasing power in various countries by relating how many hours the average person needs to work in order to afford the burger, is introduced by the Economist. Kalamata, Greece is rocked by an earthquake which destroys 1/5 of the city, kills 20, and injures 80. Augusto Pinochet survives an assassination attempt at the cost of five of his bodyguards, insuring that brutal, dog-eat-dog capitalism will be safe in Chile for another few years. In better news, Desmond Tutu becomes a bishop. Heidi Montag is born, and the Oprah Winfrey Show debuts. Our number one hits for this period are “Take My Breath Away” by Berlin, and “Stuck With You” by Huey Lewis and the News.

One of the worst parts of a televised childhood were the ambitious multi-part episodes that usually made up the season premieres and finales. Because of the way syndicated TV worked, you really had to plan out being in front of the TV at the right time on the right days every time, or else you’d be lost. And when you’re small, this level of planning can be next to impossible, as parents, school, sleep, and other activities are always getting in the way. To this day, actually, it’s a strange problem of mine. I don’t watch broadcast television anymore, but whenever I’m at my parent’s house or over at a friends, it is inevitable that only certain parts of multi-part episodes will be on. Whenever we pass by an episode of Doctor Who, it will end up being the episode “Bad Wolf.” Whenever it’s Star Trek, it’ll be the one where Lore has taken over the Borg (“Descent”). Whenever it’s The Venture Bros, it’s the one that claims to be part two of a terribly complicated three part series (“Escape to the House of Mummies Part II”), but ends up being about a very funny shrinking contest. The first two times I saw this one, I legitimately believed parts one and three existed, which would resolve the time traveling Edgar Allen Poe bits at the beginning and end. 
Foolish me.

For any TV show to be successful, it needs to be consumable by both the casual viewer and also the dedicated follower, and multi-part episodes doubly so. As such, these stories always seemed to be playing catch up, wasting precious screen time with “Previously on…” segments, and when you only have about a 9 minute run time after the opening and closing credits, that really eats into your story time.

Additionally, you need to make sure your story is really worth ten episodes. This is a story that used to take quite a bit of effort to actually see. Nowadays we just punch the title into YouTube and enjoy, but back in the 80s and 90s you needed to do something at the exact same time and exact same place for two weeks. Two specific weeks, because the local video rental store doesn’t own a copy (not that asking to rent it wouldn’t come with its own separate discussion with your parents about why and things you maybe ought to be into instead because of your age and gender). It required the same devotion that regular church attendance does: be at a specific place at a specific time and perform a specific action.

And life, being what life is, you’d end up missing parts. There’s always something missing.

There are gaps, of course, in any religious tradition, by the very nature of human fallibility and the entropic nature of our world. People make mistakes. Even works as ancient and central to human understanding as the Iliad and Odyssey, the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Rig Veda, exist as portions of larger series, and we are missing the other parts. We only know of them from mentions in other works and the occasional plot summary from a learned scholar’s commentary on a people’s traditions. The actual text is lost. For the longest time, there was only one existent copy of Beowulf; can we imagine the state of modern western heroic literature if it had been lost? Even today, the search for Doctor Who episodes carelessly erased by the BBC is the life’s work of a number of individuals, trekking through distant African television studios and analyzing reel after reel of unlabeled footage in the hopes of finding even a few frames of missing show.

Now, putting religion aside for just a moment, and speaking from a decidedly anthropocentric point of view, the Sun is without a doubt one of the most important things in all of existence, up there with air, water, and the laws of physics. That gigantic mass of incandescent gas miasma of incandescent plasma is one of the primary reasons that life on this planet exists in the form it does, and it should come as no surprise that it was worshipped and/or held in high esteem by pretty much every civilization throughout all of history. Because, really, it’s difficult to think of a better god: the Sun provides light, heat, makes the plants grow, provides the temperatures that cause wind movement and therefore the seasons, provides the gravitational pull to lock the Earth into a stable orbit and force time into its present rate… You may think that I’m belaboring the point, but seriously. There is not a single moment of your life that has not been shaped and guided by the Sun, whatever your beliefs about religion, politics, ethics, or ponies may be.

Lance Parkin, in his delightful essay “Above Us Only Sky”  posits that the origins of religion had nothing to do with explaining whether or not god(s) exist(s) or giving reasons why bad things happen to good people; the question they wanted an answer to was “Where does the sun go at night?” In the recorded 8000 some years of human history, and the 200,000 some years that modern Homo Sapiens has existed, this question has caused nations to go to war and people to be branded heretics and executed. If you think about it for a moment, you’ll understand why it’s such an important question. Humans have evolved to function best where there is sufficient light for our eyes to see. We do not have the complex olfactory senses of dogs, nor the sensitive asymmetrical ears of the owl, nor the sensitive electro- and mechanoreceptors of the platypus. We are intensely visual creatures. And that the primary source of light for the majority of human existence spends between 9 and 15 hours (depending on the time of year and the latitude we live in) hidden from our sight was no doubt a source of much confusion and terror. And so, using the best possible tools that our ancestors had available to them, they did the best they could to explain it: the Sun was a chariot that was carried across the sky by the gods, who retreated to do battle with the darkness and emerged victorious every morning because of our devotion. We believed this before we knew how to smelt iron, before we built houses, before we fully understood what allegories were…

(Aside: is any surprise that it is Celestia, she who raises the Sun and banishes the night, that the FiM ponies pay homage and devotion to?)

It is odd that Flutter Valley appears no longer as a tranquil and secluded paradise, but as a blasted and desolate wasteland anyone can now walk to. The ceremonial circle is worn and decayed, cracked and sandworn rocks arrayed in a circle surrounding the object of worship, the gleaming gem that is the sunstone itself, precariously balanced on a curved spire that hangs over the Queen’s head. And even that is far less spectacular than we would expect from such an important totem. The ceremony is sparsley attended, and the offerings meager, but Rosedust does not let this trouble her. Her voice is strong and unwavering, her bearing noble, her concern for her people and their traditions; in every way the very model of a queen.

The three witches pick up right where the Movie left off, still incensed by the failure of the Smooze to complete the destruction of Ponyland, and those accursed little ponies with it. This time, however, the plot is simply to steal the sun stone and move in. Flutter Valley will die without the sunstone, you see. But because the witches are really quite bad at what they do — how does one mess up a landslide, exactly? — they instead decide to hire the bees, who are also quite bad at being bees, to steal it for them. This ought to be a win-win, because the bees live in Bumbleland, a frigid area with no flowers at all. The bees can then grow their own flowers, the ponies will vacate the dead valley, and the witches will move in.

The premise is, of course, silly: Bees do terribly in the snow; they could never survive there in the first place. Sting would be killing himself by removing his stinger in the very first scene we see him in. The nectar bees crave is not inhaled like cocaine. If the sunstone is hot enough to burn down Bumbleland, it would be too hot for anyone to handle. Why would the flutter ponies leave it hanging so precariously over Rosedust’s head during the ceremony? Why bother looking for Megan? How are we to really tell the difference between the barely grassy fields of the Sunstoned Fluttery Valley and the barren sunstoneless one? How could a society of creatures that can never agree with one another work a magical ceremony together? Who dug the vast tunnels underneath Bumbleland? Is this episode actually a subtle attempt to get your children to worship the sun, just as She-Ra introduced them to the occult powers in female centric deities, the vast and easy associations of horses with goddesses? Is the images of ponies trapped in honey while the forest burns down around them simply too scary for little children?

None of this really matters, of course. It never did. The point is that the sunstone is returned, evil is punished in the most perfunctory of way (the same Utter Flutter that banished the Smooze), and dark clouds are banished from blocking the real Sun. The sun stone merely reflects its rays and amplifies them. The point was never that there was a literal boy who literally lost control of his father’s fiery chariot. The point is moot as to whether or not the fox actually complained about the sour grapes. It doesn’t matter that we know full well that it’s just a children’s television program and that we’re a periphery demographic.

The point is that the stonebacks were on our side all along, and just wanted to play with us. They just didn’t speak our language. The point is that we should let the bees come and have the nectar; we don’t need it, and it only makes the flowers grow better. Hell, it’s necessary for their very survival. The point isn’t that the furbobs always disagree, it’s that they can work together despite their differences of opinion and heal an injured pony when the time comes. It’s not easy to look at, because it’s so bright. But it’s the thing that lets you see everything else. Without basic trust and communication, all other things break down. We can disagree, but we have to work together when it’s important. That should be as easy to see as the Sun itself. Yet it’s so, so very easy to miss. Especially when hidden between a lot of running about and feinting about interesting events that could happen but don’t.

It the inconvenient way they schedule those episodes, you see. It requires an almost religious devotion to see others as worth seeing as you see yourself.

Other Bits:

  • Yes, that is Bart Simpson you’re hearing. Nancy Cartwright worked in the MLP stable of voice actors before hitting it big with her Simpsons’ role.
  • The amount of time your author had to repeat “This is not a review blog. This is not a review blog” while writing this would make some cry. Your author did not succomb to the temptation to submit the sentence “This is not a review blog.” 334 times in lieu of actual content, under the policy of “If you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all”.
  • Thankfully, we are over the big hump, and none of the other episodes are longer than 4 parts until we reach the G3 movies. Which, at your author’s present glacial pace, should be sometime in 2020 (?).

Next Time on G1 Ponies: G-g-g-g-g-g-ghosts!!!!

Cupcakes – so sweet and tasty/Cupcakes – don’t be too hasty (Guest post by Charles Dunbar)

If you have any involvement whatsoever in the East Coast anime convention circuit, even as an attendee, then you know Charles Dunbar a.k.a Study of Anime. A cultural anthropologist who studies both Japanese culture and American fandoms, he attends on the order of 20 conventions a year and typically presents five to ten hours of programming at each, ranging from the history of Doctor Who to an overview of the academic study of fandom to ninjas historical and legendary. He’s been a friend for a number of years now, and edited the book version of My Little Po-Mo.

A couple of months ago, he admitted to me that he had finally become a brony. This is his story of how. 

Hello all, my name is Charles, and I like My Little Pony.

I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting for those words to escape my mouth. I’m pretty sure a lot of folks have been also (including the writer of this blog). Since what seems like forever, friends, loved ones and fellows met at cons have all tried–unsuccessfully, I might add–to get me to join the “herd.” Or, at the very least, get me to watch Friendship is Magic.

But I resisted. Oh, how I resisted. It wasn’t because of the maligned reputation of the brony community at large–I’ve appreciated “marginalized” fandoms my entire life, from Star Trek in the 90s (when it was still seen as “nerd stuff”) to gaming (I’ve been called a satanist before for liking D&D and Magic) to even anime back before Pokemon gave it mainstream attention. Honestly, all my impressions of the FiM community have been positive: the welcoming atmosphere that reminded me of the otaku crowd I first wandered into in the late 90s/early 00s, the vibrant creativity, the quirky “in-jokes”–all of it was firmly rooted on the positive side of a fandom that had appeared and grown right under my nose, while my attentions had been diverted to looking at con culture and fandom dynamics. The fact that the same community managed to cultivate and externalize itself was worthy of even more respect, given the cosmopolitan nature of modern fandom, and how so many prospective groups never evolve beyond their nascent stages. I’ve watched as so many anime rise and fell, as webcomic fandoms began to pop up during those long weekends, and watched as group memberships fluctuated rapidly based on whatever was popular–but at each junction, the brony community expanded and steadily consolidated its fan base, with some notice from the attendees at large, but still generally “under the radar” when compared to the highly visible Hetalia and Homestuck fans.

It also wasn’t the idea that MLP:FiM is a show for children, either. I had actually watched most of G1, and enjoyed it, back when I was but a wee one, sitting in front of the TV on Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons. I never subscribed to “gender stereotypes” growing up (didn’t even know what they were, to be honest) I just watched what I liked, and I knew She-Ra was cooler than He-Man, and that the Ponies were on right after something else I enjoyed, so I stayed put. I still remember some random scenes, and I can say with some definitive authority that I scribbled down the bare bones of what would become mental “fanfics” featuring the characters. That alone would negate the “stigma” of watching the series now, because for me it would be first and foremost a nostalgia act.

(Plus, most arguments about age-appropriate entertainment fly past me because I’m also a massive Poke-holic, even as I live through my third decade of life. I’m one of a few Westerners who can seriously say I’ve made actual money talking about Pokemon.)

I knew I would enjoy the show, I knew I would appreciate the fandom, I even knew I would have friends there to help me navigate the complexities of it once I took that first step down the road to Equestria (I can’t believe I just wrote that, btw. Equestria.) No, there was another reason I was holding out, resisting the pull with every fiber of my being. It was rooted in personal experience, reflected by my introductions to every fandom I’ve ever been a part of since I came to understand what being a fan really was. I was aware of myself and my actions, moreso than ever before in my life. I KNEW what would happen.

Once I started down that path, it would be full speed ahead.

People who know me know I disdain doing things half-assed, especially when it comes to my fandoms. And when I discover something new, I make sure I’m versed in as much of it as possible. I acquire the fan art, I read the fictions and the blogs. I discuss it with my friends. Sometimes, I even write about it. I take being a fan very seriously, and while I might never throw myself into a fandom to the same degree as the truly devoted, I still manage to devote enough of my time to not be superficial in my practices.

When I first saw friends becoming interested in FiM, I knew immediately that, should I get involved, I would spend at least the next month or two becoming thoroughly familiar with the material, spending more than a few hours browsing YouTube and Google, and generally obsessing over the show with anyone who will listen. That happened when I got into Doctor Who in 2008, happened again when I rekindled my love of Star Trek and Star Wars, and had a lesser manifestation this past year as Psycho Pass and Attack on Titan restored my faith in anime. It’s how I function in most aspects of my daily life, in fact–the enthusiasm with which I approach fandom isn’t itself unique to fandom, and when I get excited about something, I get EXCITED about it. And it’s not all that much of a challenge to become excited about something, so long as it tickles my mental fancy, makes me laugh, or indulges my creativity.

(FiM stoked a few of those fires earlier this year, as I was becoming acquainted with some of the fanfiction (namely Fallout Equestria) during another one of my periodic binges on FF.net, but it shared the stage with a brilliantly written Harry Potter AU fic series, and was summarily forgotten a few months later.)

And so I resisted. I was doing a pretty bang-up job of it, too. I knew enough of the fandom to insert some random practices into my “daily speech:” I would say “brohoof” from time to time, and remark how certain things could be “20% cooler.” I even threw some fan-made pony videos into my Anime Openings panels, much to the chagrin (and horror) of friends sitting in the audience. I was fully aware of the fandom and the show, and while I made no attempts to ignore/deny it, I also made sure not to indulge (beyond when I was sitting in a room with people watching it, as happened during Halloween 2011, when “Luna Eclipsed” was being screened while I was sitting in a basement, waiting to leave for Nekocon). I held out during Dr Bill Ellis’ wonderful exploration of how bronies and otaku can learn from each other at AnimeNEXT 2012. I held out after watching some truly horrid “documentaries” about brony fandom that even I knew were fatally flawed in their thesis and execution. I even held out while editing Mr. Blue’s manuscript for My Little Po-Mo, constantly repeating my need for objectivity as I read through draft after draft, and became familiar with the same characters I now know quite well.

And then I discovered Cupcakes, and it was all downhill from there.

For those unaware (and from what I gather, that means nobody really. If you’ve avoided Cupcakes, you must be living under a rock, or have completely ignored the MLP fan-content community for the past two years), Cupcakes is what happens when you mix FiM with Silence of the Lambs and an Eli Roth movie. I won’t try to explain the plot here, that’s what Wikipedia is for, but needless to say, it’s a (literally) bloody mess of a story centered on Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, sharp implements, and the aforementioned cupcakes. It’s a bit crude, a bit base, and completely over the top in terms of gore and stretching the limits of one’s disbelief.

I loved every minute of it.

I enjoy horror. A lot. It doesn’t need to be cerebral (one of my favorite “gore” films is Hostel pt. II), it just needs to be entertaining, bloody without being excessive, and if it makes my skin crawl, it’s done its job well. Cupcakes succeeded on that front–not only is the fic (and associated comic, videos, and sequels) generally “in-character,” but it’s such a departure from the tone of the show, that I could not look away. (Though admittedly, upon watching Feeling Pinkie Keen, I can completely see Ms. Pie acting out that way.) And I didn’t–I spent the subsequent week absorbing everything I could about it, all while starting my much-delayed foray into the series proper. Along the way, I also found “Rainbow Factory,” “Forensics in Magic,” “Sweet Apple Massacre” (which I will go on record as saying NOBODY SHOULD EVER READ. Seriously, it’s the “A Serbian Film” of MLP darkfic, sans “political commentary.”), and even began sharing notes with a friend for one of my own, which as of now will get written up “eventually.”

Not exactly the typical “how I became a fan” story, is it? Or maybe it is?

That’s something to be said about meta-fandom, isn’t it? How something completely outside the scope of the show and its content could be so appealing to some folks, that they are drawn in because of it. I’ve met other fans who found FiM through Cupcakes (including one on the streets of Chinatown, who was wearing a Derpy shirt, which was how we got to talking), and people who appreciate the impact the fic had on the community at large. It’s not all that well-written, nor all that revolutionary when you think about it (it seriously is Silence of the Lambs), but it touched off a huge wave of sequels and copycat fics, which in turn inspired other writers, artists and designers to “take a stab” (pun intended) at contributing to the fandom. How many of these folks would have done it otherwise?

As much as I enjoy the show (and enjoy it I do, as I knew I would), it’s the meta-fandom that keeps me there. Fan songs, fan mixes, some truly lovely fan art, and welcoming fans in general, enhance the appeal of FiM more than the show itself manages. Let’s be honest with ourselves, the show isn’t THAT great, groundbreaking, or revolutionary. It’s a quirky, self-referential program meant to impart positive messages to a young generation, rarely allowing itself to indulge more serious moments, and erring on the side of humor when the going gets tough. Essentially, a kid’s show, with easter eggs thrown in for any adults roped into watching it with their children. But the fandom has managed to co-opt the show in ways that allow them to satisfy their own wants, and exercise their own creative impulses within the framework of a world that they know, understand, and love. They add to the prevailing “mythology” of Equestria in fully unorthodox ways that are themselves more satisfying. Any depth they find/add to the show, they do fully on their own, for their own gain, and under their own terms. They are aware that their contributions are not “canon,” but also receive little-to-no pushback denouncing their efforts from the controllers of the canon. They appreciate both the show and expanded content as interlocking entities that revolve around, influence, and enhance the other, not unlike Celestia and Luna in that iconic image from the pilot. And they fully embrace the fact that some of the fans might skew meta, while others prefer canonical, and do their best to not judge the other “side.”

I can appreciate that, as I’ve appreciated otakudom, Trekkies and wannabe Jedi (three things I already am). It might be a bit presumptuous of me to say at this point (I’m only a month in), but seeing as how aware I’ve been of the community these past few years, I can see this becoming yet another solid interest of mine. Like I said before, I saw this one coming a mile away.

Oh, and before anyone asks me: Rarity. (You were all right.)

Guest Posts: Tell me what’s doing; anything brewing? (Escape from Catrina)

 Once again, I’m happy to give you a guest post on the Generation 1 My Little Pony cartoon by the always-excellent Spoilers Below.

“Bushwoolies, unite!”
“Yeah, unite!”
“Escape!”


The Letter: Dear Princess Celestia,

Everypony is is born free; and everywhere they find themselves in chains. One thinks herself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they. How did this change come about? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? That question I think I can answer. If I took into account only force, and the effects derived from it, I should say: “As long as a pony is compelled to obey, and obeys, it does well; as soon as it can shake off the yoke, and shakes it off, it does still better; for, regaining its liberty by the same right as took it away, either it is justified in resuming it, or there was no justification for those who took it away.” But the social order is a sacred right which is the basis of all other rights. The acceptance that you have no more or less rights than any other creature, and certainly shouldn’t be placing any yokes of your own, can be difficult for some ponies to understand, but once learned it frees you up from the addiction to power and control. You can learn to love yourself and others for who they are, rather than what they can do for you.

Your faithful student, 

Twilight Sparkle

What is it? Following the failure of Escape from Midnight Castle the year previous, Hasbro produced another 22 minute pilot/special for the MLP franchise. We have the year 3 ponies to sell, after all.

What’s it about? Megan is returning to Ponyland amidst great fanfare and celebration, and will preside this evening over a grand parade of costumes held in her honor for saving the ponies in our last adventure. Meanwhile, an enslaved group of cute, fuzzy little blobs throw off their chains and leave the evil dictator Catrina without workers for her Witchweed factory, which produces the magical fluid she needs to fuel her powers. What will happen when she sets her sights on the ponies?

Is there singing? Yep. One song about going to sleep, and one wistful memory of life the way it used to be. Guess which one is sung by Paul Williams.

It is worth it? Eh. This is a clear step down from the first special, despite music legend Paul Williams guest starring. Almost any randomly chosen Friendship is Magic episode would be better. Depending on how fast you read, you could enjoy a section or three of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grassor Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. Plenty of time to cook a pizza or listen to one side of the Electric Light Orchestra’s Discovery. But if you like seeing the proletariat throw off their chains to live in an anarchistic commune and the horrors of cartoon drug addiction, then I’ve got something for you…

What else was happening? 23 March, 1985 – Dutch anarchist, journalist, and philosopher Anton Constandse dies this morning at age 85, as does Zoot Sims, the jazz saxophonist who lent his name to the eponymous Muppet. Movies this week include Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (See? I wasn’t lying last time!), He-Man & She-Ra: The Secret of the Sword (best summed up by Janet Maslin: “Complicated but entirely predictable”), Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (in which Ralph Hinkley and Rachael Tyrell try to keep Number 6 from stealing an apatosaurus) and The Last Dragon (which is easily one of the best films ever made, and one you ought to see right now). Musically we find REO Speedwagon at the top with “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” followed closely by Madonna’s “Material Girl” and Phil Collins’ “One More Night”. Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley get married today. The US performs another nuclear test in Nevada to intimidate the communists, as from the public US perspective the Cold War’s end is nowhere in sight. Whether this is actual blindness or willful ignorance depends on your politics.


Speaking of actual blindness versus willful ignorance, one of the big panics in the 1980s was over all the Satanic imagery present in Saturday morning cartoons, how they were desensitising children to violence, and how they promised to destroy American civilization as we know it. While most “Think of the Children!” books from the era focused on the supernatural elements that were turning our children into Satan worshippers and authority destroying Nazi-fascist-communists (the distinction between these three political systems being rather fuzzy to all the panicked authors sampled), or the excessive violence that was turning them into psychopaths the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Johnny Quest and Combat were on TV, in this case they missed the mark completely. This episode was summarized by Saturday Morning Mind Control author and professional panic wave rider Phil Phillips: “A character drank a potion, her eyes shot forth like lightning, she grew to an enormous size, and she received power. What a drug trip!”  He’s under the impression that the moral of the story is “Taking drugs is awesome, they give you magic powers!” which is just the kind of thing he does. In the same book, he couldn’t tell the difference between the My Little Pony Movie and the 10 part story, The End of Flutter Valley that came after it, which will tell you just how closely he was paying attention. Yet there is a political aspect of this episode he missed completely. Revolution? Destroying the means of production to return to nature? Following a strong leader to fight for freedom? Just imagine all the horrible things it’s programming your children to do!

And it’s partially because of statements like the latter that the nature of freedom is such a strange thing. Though it is easy to say at first that one is free, simply because of one’s personal philosophies or the nation one lives in, for the most part this subject is kept an a priori assumption. One may have duties, certainly, and may need to do the calculus of a given action to determine whether it is desirable, but we are free to choose, free to believe, free to do as we chose, though we are not free from the consequences. But simultaneously, there are clearly outside forces that act upon us, making it difficult to chose otherwise, or even in some cases completely obfuscating the alternatives. Coercion and deceit, mental illnesses and addictions, social situations and self images all impinge on freedom. It can be difficult to say no when someone bigger and stronger will throw you into a pit to die if you disobey.

Really? Philosophy? I thought this was a pony essay? Hold your horses, we’re getting there.

The Transcendentalist movement was an American philosophical and religious movement that began with the publication of Emerson’s Nature, and had the final bullet put into its head about a hundred years later with the publication of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. It was an optimistic and idealistic philosophy which believed in the innate goodness of all people and of the world itself, and that life required self-reliance and individuality for life to flourish. Political organizations and organized religion corrupted this individuality, made man a slave to expectations and cultural demands, and ground him down to a mere puppet or slave. They believed that each individual was part of a holy unity of nature and God, and that without the corrupting influence of artificial institutions which seemed to take on lives of their own and control humanity from above, peace and goodness would reign over the land naturally. There was no such thing as evil, there was merely a lack of goodness that could be added to any situation, and given free choice everyone would do what they believed was right. The flipside of this is the sociopathic individualism of Howard Roark, who is Frank Lloyd Wright with the serial numbers filed off, who simultaneously wants to work the way he wants to work, and wants people to pay him to do what he wants, rather than what they want, as if buildings were the product of one man and one man alone. The Fountainhead may contain some of the most beautiful and impassioned calls for artistic integrity ever written, but it is simultaneously the selfish and corrupted endpoint of the beautiful ideal that came before it: “Fuck you, got mine.”

Rather than an angry man sitting in prison for refusing to cut his beard, we have an angry young man blowing up a building he had designed and been paid for, simply because the actual creation was not built to his specifications, and raping the female lead “by engraved invitation”. The obsession with being “king in their own castle and master of all who fall into their dominion” is about as far from the “community of individuals who live in harmony with nature and far enough away from one another that they can have time to themselves” as one can get. The objectivist cares not for those who cannot help themselves; the transcendentalist seeks to empower them so they can coexist. (Aside: ironically enough, while Wright’s buildings are indeed very beautiful, a good number are also in constant need of repair due to shoddy ceiling, cantilevering, and structural planning. What this says about artistic integrity vs. practicality will be left to the reader.)


Isn’t this a gross simplification? Of course. The transcendentalists had their antecedents in the various gnostic movements of Europe and encompass a huge number of authors and political situations that we simply don’t have the time to cover, and objectivism doesn’t necessarily go as far as forgetting other people exist, merely seeking an acknowledgement that one is not obligated to help or sacrifice for others and that it is okay to do things that benefit no one but yourself. The history of the American individualism movement has a great deal more complexity, enough to fill all the present volumes already written on the subject and more, but it’s also a bit outside our present fractal snowflake. But for the purposes of this essay, one can accept that personal freedom can (not necessarily, but possibility) come at the cost of another’s freedom, and that said freedom has both positive and negative aspects both for the individual and those around them, ne?

Fine, for now. What does this have to do with the candy coloured friendship horses? Right, right, the ponies. Our little ponies themselves live a life that Thoreau would have killed for. Rather than having to squat in a shack in the woods as part of a labor exchange with Emerson, they have the run of all of Ponyland, living together in harmony with nature, beloved by all the creatures of the land, regularly interacting with the mystical gnomes Emerson dedicated his early journals to. Their non-conformity is magically imprinted into their very natures: no pony’s talent the same as another. They appear to have no rulers, no hierarchy or class system beyond a rather sensible one based on age (baby ponies are sent to bed, because children need naps), and everyone is invited to join them in their life style of play and comfort. In Ponyland, a queen is simply a fun costume to be assumed when you’ve no other ideas, and discarded when the parade is over, rather than someone who’ll toss you down a pit for spilling her drugs.

Sounds nice. Like an idyllic utopia. Unfortunately, as with all utopian communes, infighting is common. The treatment of Sundance is harsh, and such small mistakes, while frustrating, don’t necessarily deserve such rough words. So no, not a utopia for everyone. Mean people exist everywhere, even paradise. One could argue that it is only after Megan’s introduction of society and the idea of one who is superior to them that the pony’s simple and harmonious lives begin to break down. When Applejack’s bucket is overturned and the contents ruined in the previous adventure, it is laughed off and used as an excuse for a kiss. This time, an athletic/food related accident results in a pony running off crying into the forest, convinced she will never be good at anything. The queen costume is Megan’s idea, and it is Megan who ends up on the throne, presiding over the parade of costumes at this story’s end. Is it any surprise that their world is destroyed by the Smooze in the very next adventure, and that they never again achieve this level of harmony and safety? She has already effectively destroyed their way of life by her very presence. And yet, without Megan, they would be yoked to a chariot and transformed into dragons, enslaved to process witchweed under threat of being tossed down a pit or frozen to death, or depressed about their clumsiness. Utopias never last.

And what does this have to do with…? We’re getting there, don’t worry. Now, slavery is, of course, the antithesis of freedom. One is forced, be it through threat of violence or social conditioning, to obey the will of another. This isn’t the simple voluntary exchange of labor, nor the power imbalance present in the “do the job or you’ll starve” wage slavery, where at least the person has a chance to go home and perhaps through some windfall escape their situation, nor even the “voluntary slavery” of a Dominant/submissive relationship. No, the style of enslavement offered the bushwoolies by Catrina is one of hard labor and ceaseless toil in an underground factory, with no chance to escape and no hope of ever altering their circumstances. They aren’t even offered the transformation into mindless dragons that Tirek offered the ponies in our last installment. They are forced to toil in full knowledge of their place in life and their circumstances. As cruel a fate as can be devised for a sentient creature.

And why, one may ask?

Vanity, of course, that most vile of sins, the devil’s favorite. The dark mirror of self-confidence and positive egoism. The undeserved celebration of self for self’s sake, rather than for one’s accomplishments or abilities. Catrina loves power and being powerful, loves being superior to others, said power and superiority being dependant on the witchweed the bushwoolies are forced to harvest and process. The acquisition of power for its own sake continues to be the focus of our pony villains. She doesn’t need the magic to do anything, per se, she just wants it because she wants it. It, quite literally, makes her feel big. It lets her shoot lasers out of her eyes and control the weather. A slave to its addiction, one shudders to think about the DTs happening off screen at the end. Thankfully she’s utterly incompetent in magic’s use, or the world might have actually been in trouble. 

Where? Where did it all go so wrong? How so? 

Well, imagine a more competent villain like King Sombra or The Changeling Queen getting ahold of it. An entire Crystal Empire devoted to witchweed cultivation, the surrounding area kept frozen and permanently impassable, or the passing of the seasons completely in the hands of someone who exists only to drain love and devotion from her innocent victims. Catrina seems to have no desires other than getting her way and lounging around in her huge bed.

Having a professional sycophant doesn’t help either, as Rep is far too impotent in his attempts to stop Catrina’s self-destructive behavior and facilitates her horrible desires. It is fitting that he provide a mirror of the reptilian Spike and his helpful reassurance and advice. The ultimate enabler, he literally changes at a moment’s notice to acquiesce to her desires, and makes excuses for her behavior. It isn’t necessarily bad to encourage others and help them to do better, but when what they are trying to do is enslave an entire race to continue a drug addiction? When he assaults a child to steal her necklace, any doubts about the lengths he will go are put to rest.

Why does he do it, one may ask? The answer is found in the song “Good (Before You Turned Bad) Old Days”. He loves her and wants her to change, but feels powerless to do any of the things that might actually make such a change happen. A tragic yet familiar situation to anyone who’s encountered an abusive relationship, especially when one of the partners is a drug addict.


But she’s still awful. Enslaving others is wrong, full stop. No question there. If she were processing the witchweed herself, no one would have any problem with her. She could lay in bed, get high, and harm no one. Still a sad situation and hardly a full life, but not one that is actively destructive. But the lust for power and the jealous desire to see herself as better than others turns her into the villain. She used to be nice; but not anymore.

It is little surprise that the bushwoolies revolted and escaped when they had the chance. The purple bushwoolie’s call to action is, of course, far superior to Rep’s attempts at capitulation. All revolutions at their heart involve a strong leader who can sway the masses to hir side, and lead them to rise up against their oppressor. They shut down the machinery and return to nature, despite all the concessions the petit bourgeois Rep offers (“Better hours! A week off every Summer! A window so you can see outside!”). Designed to be completely toyetic and cute (the ponies even comment on this, after the Bushwoolies ask how they look), the bushwoolies’ anonymous horde of voices mirrors the minor ponies’ to a T. Whether they will continue their crusade into a state of permanent revolution, band themselves together with a strong national identity against the outsiders, or simply co-exist peacefully in the forest remains to be seen.


But why didn’t they escape earlier? Isn’t it the case that a slave asks for freedom, while a free person simply declares themselves so? Not exactly. A better definition would be “A slave is someone who will be harmed or killed for declaring that they are free.” Their ruler has shown no compunctions about murdering them for failure. They escape only when Catrina is at her weakest, asleep and waiting for more of the potion that was “accidentally” spilled earlier.

So, then they kill Catrina or she gets killed by her own evil scheme backfiring or something, right? No, she gets some actual character development. After the rainbow of light soundly defeats her magic, and even Rep turns on her, after seeing how far she’s gotten him to, she’s given one last chance and reforms, destroying the machine and returning to the simple life of leisure that she and Rep shared before the addiction became all consuming, happily bedecked into their Victorian garb and taking part in the parade of costumes celebrating Megan at the end. If only all recovery narratives went so cleanly.

The moral seems an awful lot like One Bad Seed’s though. Forgive the person who subjugated and enslaved you, who arranged for the theft of your civilization’s most precious artefact, and was moments away from insuring that you never saw the light of day again? A simple death via falling is almost too good. Why forgive? What possible reason could there be to give such a person a second chance? Because the revolution must have enemies if it is to remain in power, and the need for successful converts to the cause is paramount when it comes to further recruitment. Which is the better image: “We’ve joined up with the bushwoolies, who are already of the same philosophy as us,” or “We’ve convinced the arch bourgeois to abandon her old ways and join us! We’ve gotten her to kick that nasty drug habit, destroy the machine, and live freely as an individual alongside the rest of us, her dress a return to the old style she and Rep shared back in the old days.” What better symbol is there than a reformed enemy? Megan can trick baby ponies into going to sleep, trick Sundance into having self-confidence, and even find a place for their mortal enemy. Everyone should join and come live in a pony paradise!

But what does that have to do with…? Can an idea be a form of enslavement? Can the introduction of a meme destroy a previous held social paradigm? Seven years later the ponies live in a completely humanized society, with rock music, television sets, cassette players, roller derbys, hair salons, ice cream parlors, and garbage dumps. The city and the society exists as a concrete thing now, and though both the G3 and FiM societies roll back the urbanization of Tales, never again do they achieve the single dwelling naturalism of the early days. Megan, by her very presence, makes the old ways impossible. She can lie and use reverse psychology, something the honest to a fault ponies would never before do. She exists as a constant reminder of their perceived helpless. Why wouldn’t they try to emulate someone “stronger” than them?

And in the future…? With hindsight, it is obvious that the natural revolution failed. The bushwoolies were (somehow) a failure, relegated to the “add on” spot to a line of pony princess. The Luddite machine smashing lasts a single episode, and the Smooze is on the horizon in our very next adventure, destroying everything and forcing the ponies to retreat further into themselves.  As with the purple bushwoolie, the emergence of a strong leader who centralizes a disparate group usually happens in response to a perceived threat, and Megan takes an even more controlling role with the ponies. Their home is replaced by the next best thing, the plastic commercialism of capital and the greedy desire for the new winning out over the safe forest where they lived together in harmony. The Smooze tries to force them to grow up, to deal with their anger, resentment, and disappointment, to realize how unsustainable their way of life is. The petty abuse of Sundance for her mistakes will be writ large in Lickity Split’s attempt to be herself. The sea ponies will see themselves replaced by the newer and more exciting Flutter ponies. Even the cast find themselves replaced yet again. Only Megan remains, presiding over her little ponies by holding their salvation around her neck.

But no one knows that yet. The movie is still a year off (though we covered it first, for reasons which will become apparent in time, I assure you). The tone of the ending is much like Edmund Wilson’s hagiographic To the Finland Station, which couldn’t imagine in 1940 that Vladimir Lenin would turn out to be one of the worst monsters history has ever seen, and that the USSR was not on “the right side of history” — that indeed even that line of Hegelian thinking was completely misguided. Wilson admits such in the various introductions and appendices he wrote to the book over the subsequent years, and thought it best to treat the work as a record of what the feelings were at the time, of what the revolutionaries believed they would bring about, of where people thought they were going.

And just so with this episode. It seems like it wants to try something different: if the show can’t be the pure adventure of Firefly fighting dragons, it will be the gentle pressure of Posey and Megan putting baby ponies to bed and the conversion of villains into friends. But it simply wasn’t good enough. It would take the heavy brutality of the film to get the show into regular rotation on Saturday mornings, which would open with a direct sequel to the film, the 10-part End of Flutter Valley.


Next Time: Hope you like Spike, and aren’t afraid of bees…

Other bits: 

  • Though this was the 2nd special created, it also ran at the tail end of season two, hacked into two parts to suit the format of the program, and with the song “Good (Before You Turned Bad) Old Days” cut for either time or rights issues. Needless to say, the removal of the song removes a lot of what makes the story work. 
  • Apparently ponies breathe helium. How else could they get their balloons to stay aloft? That also might explain some of the tonality of their voices… 
  • Baby Moondancer’s costume is that of a princess, and her coloration certainly looks familiar, doesn’t it? What color do all the fan artists use for young Celestia’s hair? 
  •  Paul Williams is at a point in his career here where one wonders if he’s slumming it or not. His singing is rather limp and uninspired, a far cry from the Phantom of the Paradise or the Muppet Show. It’s certainly a quick buck for relatively little effort.  
  • The Bushwoolies ended up not being a success. Only six toys were released, each packaged with a different princess pony. You’d think a line of plush toys similar to the Popples would have sold like gangbusters, but what do I know? 
  • There is an old Persian legend about the origin of the pearl. It is said that the pearl was created when a rainbow met the ground during a storm, the flaws and imperfections said to be the result of the thunder and lightning. Megan is a diminutive of Margaret, itself derived from the Greek margarites, meaning “pearl”. Couple her stewardship of the Rainbow of Light with her emergence from an oyster in the previous adventure, as well as the special attention she pays to Moondancer over all the other baby ponies (Pearls are also said to be hardened moonlight) and I cannot think of a more appropriate name.

“…it’s very sweet of you to offer, but I don’t think that’s exactly what the little ponies had in mind. ” (The Movie)

Nothing can stop the Smooze!
Not even giant delicious cookies!

This week is something a little different, as I take off for my birthday and Anime Boston. Stepping up to the plate for the Sunday post is regular commenter Spoilers Below. I think you’ll enjoy this piece; I know I did.

The Letter: Dear Princess Celestia,

Today I learned that running away from your problems actually solves them! If you run far enough, you’ll eventually meet someone who can fix all your problems for you, and who can make all the bad things in your life go away. Because none of your problems are really your fault in the end. You and your friends exist in a perfect state of innocence that needs to be preserved, and forces more powerful than yourself can be begged into saving you from the evil and nasty outside world.

Your Faithful Student,
Twilight Sparkle

What is it? An hour and a half long animated feature film. It’s available on VHS, BetaMax, and DVD, but I bet you’re going to watch it on YouTube because this is the 21st Century.

What’s it about? Three evil witches conjure an evil flood to drown the ponies and destroy their home. The ponies run away in search of someone who can help them stop it.

Is it worth it? Depends. This is an hour and a half of your life you will never get back. You could instead watch Yojimbo and have 20 minutes left over to make a pizza. You could prep and cook a chicken. You could go on a bike ride through your town or rural area. You could watch 3 episodes of a much better TV program (I bet the host of this blog could recommend something if you still want magical pastel ponies…). Or you could watch this, a psychodrama of existential horror and resisting growing up by any means possible…

What else was happening? 20 June, 1986: Two benign polyps are removed from Ronald Reagan’s colon the morning the film is released. Also this month, the last issue of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is published, a story every bit as bleak and age-obsessed as this one, as is Labyrinth (a film much better than this one, and not just for David Bowie in tight pants), which, ditto. Thousands are arrested in South Africa as the state of emergency that had been in place since the previous year is expanded to cover the entire nation and keep anti-Apartheid activists in their place through intimidation, police violence, and censorship. It becomes a crime to even mention someone being arrested until the government sees fit to make their name public. The US Congress will override Reagan’s veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 a few months later, the first time in the 20th century that such a thing takes place over a matter of foreign policy. Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald’s “On My Own” is at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts this week, featuring a pretty cool split screen music video and an amazing beard. The Sega Master System is released in the US and dies an ignoble death because Nintendo already had most of the video game competitors locked into (essentially) exclusive contracts. It will fare much better in Europe and South America. The novelization of The Celestial Toymaker, as racist and execrable a story as Doctor Who will ever produce, is published, while we wait for Colin Baker to return in the fall after an overlong hiatus. Of interest to plain old non-advanced Dungeons and Dragons people, the final part of Frank Mentzer’s BECMI is published, Immortals, detailing high level play as immeasurably powerful gods and goddesses.

Speaking of the gods, the Great Flood is one of the earliest myths in existence, owing perhaps to the tendency of the Tigris and Euphrates to overflow and destroy everything built nearby. When such a thing happens more than once during your lifetime, it is easy to imagine how the destruction of everything would simply be a scaling up of the already catastrophic destruction you are forced to live with periodically. The flood itself was sent by (the) God(s) to wipe out the wicked and unclean, the aborted ways that civilization could have developed, the cutting short of all the threads to focus on one single family and all the animals they could gather. Danny Devito’s Grundle King functions seamlessly in the role of Utnapishtim here, explaining the loss of his race and kingdom to the previous flood.

The Smooze’s coming is foreshadowed early on, with mischievous little birds covering each animal with fresh snow to wake them from their slumber. Their little version of the winter wrap-up is ignored by the ponies, who are busy preparing for their spring festival. The ponies of the 1980s are a primitive and simple breed; there is no Princess Celestia to keep the nasty weather at bay and tell the animals what to do, let alone keep them safe from the horrors that want to enslave and destroy them. Even the calm before the storm is restless and tense, however, the fun and excitement disrupted by Lickity Split’s desperate practice of her own dance moves, and subsequent ruination of the performance. In doing so, she nearly manages what the witches cannot: ruining a good day. Her costume is no less garish than the witches’ own, her ostentatious displays and inability to fit in a reflection of their own desire to win their mother’s approval. Who but Spike, the pony’s eternal other, acting in the old series is a sort of older brother to the ponies, could accompany her past her leap of faith and subsequent fall, trapped alongside a waterfall too loud to be heard over? The flow of water, as feminine a symbol as exists in western media, leaves her isolated and alone. Learning that one is not, in fact, capable of doing whatever she wants is a hard lesson: “You’re not a pegasus pony. You’re just an earthling!”

As mentioned above, this inability to fit in it is mirrored in the witch Hydia’s daughters, Reeka and Draggle, who are simply no good at their chosen vocation. Their mother makes it abundantly clear how conditional her love and respect are: she refuses to let them call her “Mama,” and threatens to kick them out of their home if they cannot do the job correctly. It’s not for any lack of trying: they’ve got the dictionary of evil and the desire to ruin the ponies’ day, but just knowing the book isn’t enough. One rarely senses that their hearts are truly in it. Their initial attack (a flood of water, dankness itself) is rebuffed by (who else?) the Sea Ponies, saviors of the first animated feature and emphasized-commercial-property-being-promoted, their song no less catchy than the Smooze’s, but also many years older. We have different toys to sell you with this film. Indeed, the Sea Ponies do not even speak, they merely redirect the torrents and disappear. Clearly, just water will not be enough for the witches plot.

In his review over at Overthinkingit, Fenzil notes that the Smooze is the perfect villain for the non-violent ponies. It allows them to passively run away for most of the movie, rather than confront and fight head on as, say, Megatron and Optimus Prime do in the boy’s version of this film. Being powerless on their own, the ponies need their own young girl (an ordinary girl just like you!) to tell them what to do. Megan got them out of trouble last time, and the time before that as well, defeating Scorpan and saving the ponies from eternal chariot pulling duty, charming the Moochick, and freeing the Bushwoolies from slavery. She liberates the ponies from bondage as easily as you, dear viewer, liberate the ponies from their cardboard and plastic packaging — don’t tell me you’re one of those collectors who refuse to remove them from the box?

The Smooze itself is as blatant a puberty metaphor as Madeline’s appendicitis. I mean, come on: the arrival of a dark purple stain that covers everything, turns you irritable and mean, and makes the old, childish ways impossible? Something that must have been created by an evil witch (or, to keep the metaphor going, a wrathful god) who hates you and wants to destroy your life? The choice of an oversized brassiere for a sail on the witches’ ship can’t be mere coincidence. Note also how Spike seems unaffected when he gets some on his tail. What problems could puberty cause to someone who has internalized their cynicism and already grown up? The Smooze emerges from a volcano, echoing Krakatoa and Pompeii in its destructive eruption, indurating Dream Castle and its adjacent childhood nursery in a deep purple rock.

And yet the Smooze is not perfect. It is missing the flume. An interesting thing, flume. Checking the definition, one finds:

“Flume. noun. 1. a deep narrow defile containing a mountain stream or torrent.
2. an artificial channel or trough for conducting water, as one used to transport logs or provide water power.

At this point, one suspects that the reason the two sisters didn’t want to fetch some was due to simple engineering restraints. Sadly, the truth is much scarier.

Megan’s arrival threatens to end the film far earlier than usual. She goes straight for the heart shaped locket she carries and releases the Rainbow of Light, which solved all the problems in the past two specials. It ought to end here, at the 35 minute mark. With a few more minutes of padding you’ve got a nice two part special to show back to back, with plenty of commercials in between. Saturday morning cartoons at their finest.

But no. No matter how viciously the rainbow fights — twice decapitating the Smooze and removing one of its hands at the wrist — it is in the end helpless against the onslaught and is devoured to the ponies’ horror. The Smooze ends up caught in the valley and calcifying, unable to proceed after the destruction of Dream Castle. Growing up forces these sorts of confrontations, the end of dreams and of innocence, the smothering of the magical rainbow that solved all your problems in a sequence that feels both overlong and horrific in its slow churn towards absorption. Nothing can stop the Smooze. Puberty comes whether you like it or not. The ceaseless march of time is unending and evenly paced. The ticking alligator can only be dodged for so long. The bird will never see the rainbow, and Noah will never receive word that the deluge has ended. Nothing can stop the Smooze.

Fenzil’s analysis does miss one key point, however, argued saliently by Clausewitz in his seminal work, On War. Namely, that defense is the stronger position to be in during a conflict. An attacker has to have an objective or goal in mind, while all the defender need do is thwart those attempts. It is much more difficult for Hydia to expend her resources going after the ponies, acquiring strange and rare substances (i.e. the aforementioned flume) to continue her assault. All the ponies need do is survive, and she has lost. And survive they do. A quick trip to the magical ashram of the Moochick gives them a brand new home and a continuation of their previous, safe lives. Is the only way to avoid growing up a deeper retreat from the outside world, into a perpetual fantasy with enough rooms to do everything you used to (and even a swimming pool!)? An Estate which is truly Paradise.

The witch sisters’ collection of the flume is as disturbing a scene as one will encounter in children’s media. The flume comes from a horrible tentacle monster shaped like a jug that proceeds to undress, spank, and abuse the two sisters while threatening to drop them off the edge of a cliff after they assault it with a pickaxe. They barely escape with their lives, having acquired enough flume to reanimate the Smooze. We are deep in it now, the horrors of what maturity can mean. It should come as no surprise that their next task is to bribe the spider Aagh (a no less sexualized monster than the flume plant, given its multiple limbs and semen-esque webbing fluid) into stopping the ponies from reaching Flutter Valley. Paradise Estates is no safer than Dream Castle once the reanimated Smooze starts rolling along, singing its funky, gunky song.

Following the instructions of the Moochick, Megan and co. make their way through a gigantic field of sunflowers in search of the only being that can defeat the Smooze, the mysterious Flutter Ponies, and battle with the aforementioned gigantic spider, it’s legs echoing the Flume plant’s tentacles. They are trapped by its webs, until Molly “remembers” that spiders are ticklish. The metaphorical meaning behind tickling a huge hairy beast with pussywillows until it falls to the ground in delighted laughter, expelling sticky white fluid from all eight of its legs, is too horrible to contemplate. I feel uncomfortable even mentioning it, but we cannot change the text, we can only interpret it. Needless to say, the ponies reject the Spider and everything it stands for, retreating into the cave that lies at the end of the canyon. They choose not to grow up. It is only after their defeat of the spider and everything it represents that they reach Flutter Valley, pure and innocent in its beauty and splendor.

The flutter ponies are a cowardly and skittish bunch, whose refusal to defeat the Smooze seems almost cruel considering how far the gang have come, and what that refusal means to their very existence. But since Lickity Split, whose childlike rebellion has spared her from the Smooze, has saved one of their own, Rosedust agrees to drive the Smooze away, freeing the rainbow, uncovering the castle, and depositing the witches back in their volcano to be trapped in the Smooze for all eternity. They do so with relative ease, creating a sweeping wind that would make Rainbow Dash envious. The dusty sparkle that emerges from their wings recalls the fairy dust that allows one to fly off to Nevernever Land and eternal childhood.

The message seems to be, then, that if you wish to remain in an idyllic and childlike state, one must seek out those even more isolated than yourself, and learn from them to return to a state of grace. Everything is undone by their magic and everything is safe again. No one has really learned anything beyond the basic desire for a home and companionship, and nothing in truth has changed. Baby Lickity Split is happy to be back, having learned nothing about herself save that she should remain the same child she was. The ponies now live on a high plateau, safe from the world around them, to live in Paradise (estates).

The flood, no matter its origin, has washed away the sins of the world.

That is, until…

Other bits: The film effortlessly passes the Bechdel test, as a good 90% of the dialogue is between two different female characters talking about ponies or pony related things.

The film lost about $10 million, and is considered one of the biggest flops in animated movie history (and indeed, still ranks high among movies flops of any genre and format).

South Korea’s AKON studios, who are now famous for producing The Simpsons and just about every other animated program you watched in the 90s, banged this pictures out in only 10 weeks, producing over 300,000 cels of animation. It shows. What color was Shady supposed to be again?

The sky appears to be a wall, based on the way the balls of itself the Smooze tosses at the flutter ponies splatter against it.

Lickity Split’s song at the Wishing Well is a shockingly accurate portrayal of how echo is actually supposed to work, with the repetition of the last syllables forming half of the conversation. It’s much more difficult to write than it sounds (no pun intended).

Firefly’s absence haunts the film in a strange fashion. It was she who first brought Megan in to solve their problems, she who was the closest thing to a defined personality that the ponies had, she whose voice actress received top billing in the initial special. You could afford all these other stars; was Sandy Duncan simply not available that day? Are we promoting new pegasus ponies now? Or would putting Peter Pan directly into the film as the hero have made the message too spot on?