“Maybe in your world, but in our world, Spike– uh, Hum Drum always comes through when we need him! Always! ” (Twilight’s Kingdom)

Ha ha ha! Kiss the Twilicane, you unworthy peasants!

Some of the following may be fictitious. But isn’t that true of all stories?

The Letter: Dear Twilight,

Ever since you were cursed by Discord at the moment of your birth, we’ve all been anxious about your development. Now that you’ve turned 16 and learned the truth, it seems strange to be telling you things that you might already know, but I thought you’d best hear it from me–hear my side of the story as well–so you can make up your mind fairly. What we did back then, we did only because the fate of the nation, of all our people, was at stake, genuinely and seriously. It has weighed heavily upon me ever since, and I have subsequently strived to make your life a pleasant one, filled with knowledge and love. And friends. That I had failed in the latter until just recently is only one of my many sins, for which I will perhaps never have the time to fully atone for. None of us are perfect, though we may strive and strive towards it. The crown is heavy, and the burden is such that it can never be settled to make everyone completely happy. No doubt you will find this out yourself as your reign continues. If you will allow me to beg one last favor, please come to the castle at your convenience. I promise that it will be worth your while.

Yours with love and affection,
C.

What is it? The five part finale to season 28, a masterful pulling together of years’ worth of disparate plots by Meghan McCarthy.

Is it worth watching? An emphatic yes. If you’ve followed us this far on the journey, there is little chance you’ll be able to stop, or that you’ll want to.

What else was happening? 5-9 May 2014: Top songs this week include “Happy” by Pharrell Williams, “Old Man Avenue” by Gross Domestic Product, “We Love You Kim Jong-Un” by the Ponchobo Electric Ensemble, and “Let It Go” by Idina Menzel. Top films include Neighbors, Callin’ You Liars Out, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Heaven is for Real, the book the latter is based on an object lesson in both effective targeted marketing and how children will repeat anything you tell them with their own modifications, including that Jesus rides around on G3 Rainbow Dash while in Heaven. Bestselling books include Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Pitteky, A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren, The Target by David Baldacci, and Cypher Horizon by R.A.M. Faerthingale. Scientists insert two new nucleotides into E. coli bacteria, which reproduce to create a new organism with six DNA letters, rather than the usual four, which they hope to use to create living vaccines, basically innately crippled forms of diseases which could be fought and easily defeated to grant immunity but which could not themselves naturally reproduce, thus helping to eventually eliminate all disease. God was not available for comment, but no doubt some of his alleged followers were heard somewhere chanting “Fire bad!” A star remarkably similar in size to the Sun and terribly close in intergalactic terms is located in the constellation of Hercules, and may offer clues to the creation of our own Sun and help in detecting similar stars.

Speaking of stars, this episode focuses almost exclusively on our protagonist in a way that we haven’t seen in quite a while. The other main characters are quite literally pushed to the sidelines to allow her the spotlight and give her journey the conclusion it has been building to.

The Faustian bargain of three-dimensional personality and flashy animation which began in full four seasons ago has come around completely, and the questions we’d been asking since the last season’s finale about Twilight’s princesshood–which had nearly been lost in the shuffle of the more dominant personalities and Olympic fever–are finally addressed. These are not the answers that Lauren Faust would have given, but just as General Firefly has passed the mantle down to her daughter Rainbow Dash, so has McCarthy taken up the reins and made the show her own. All the strange different directions and aborted attempts at finding a new vision that plagued season 27 are solidified under her executive production.

Continuity-savvy watchers will note the many references to past episodes littered throughout, which makes sense for a season finale that celebrates 30 years worth of episodes (the first special debuted on 14 April, 1984): Cerberus leaving his post from “It’s About Time,” Twilight’s anxiety about what she ought to be doing from “Winter Wrap Up” and not knowing what to do from “Lesson Zero,” Tirek and Scorpan from Rescue at Midnight Castle, the banishment of Queen Megan and the Great Rewriting of Pony History from “Discord’s Diary,” Luna and Celestia’s journey to plant the Rainbow of Light in the Tree of Harmony from “The Magical Alicorn Princesses” (which was better detailed in supplements CL-2: Little Keep in Ponyland to CL-10: Night’s Dark Terror of the MLP RPG), Twilight getting named after her mother and Celestia’s prediction that the little filly would go far in the world from “Foal Follies,” Spike’s return to the Crystal Empire and his rebirth without a British accent from My Little Pony Crystal Princess: Twilight’s Egg, Discord’s theatrical performance from “The Mysterious Rainbow Magician”… Could it be anything less for an episode which is the culmination thus far of a long running series? McCarthy did her homework on this one!

Changes and evolutions are strange beasts. A great deal of season 28 has been about justifying Twilight’s new alicorn status to the fans, just as season 25 spent its opening episodes setting up the new status quo: introducing the new characters, moving the new older Twilight from Canterlot to Ponyville, introducing the newly winged and athletic Rainbow Dash and the no-longer-royal Rarity, who had acquired Rainbow Dash’s fashion sense cutie mark in season 24’s “The Great Mark Mix-Up.” Such cast shake-ups are familiar to anyone who watches soap operas, or to fans of Doctor Who, the various regenerations of the Doctor and his various traveling companions signifying changes in the tone and style of the show itself (including that very odd British radio-only MLP spin-off where Twilight and the Doctor have adventures together). But to listen to the fans, one would think that the show may as well have been cancelled the moment a character makes an entrance or exit. You can find copious evidence throughout the Internet about these later day arguments, but few present day fans remember the drama surrounding “A Very Minty Christmas” over Minty’s newfound love for socks, even though it kicked off a popular meme that runs to this day, or Cheerilee’s divorce in “Cute from the Hip,” a subject thought “too adult” to discuss with children, even though a good 50% of them either would or already did live through it. Heck, I’ll transcribe here for you an early voice of dissent from the “Pony Express” letter column in the Winter 1993 issue of MLP fanzine Hoofbeats:

…though it is nice to see G.A. Bloom “back in the saddle”, as it were, it is hard to see Tales as anything but a stale disappointment of staggering proportions. The plots are hackneyed trash that was cliche back when The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis was considered fresh, the characters don’t take advantage of any of the progress that’s been made in animation since the program started running full seasons in ’86, and, frankly, the new humanized civilization angle is just hard to swallow. Maybe after 7 seasons it’s time to put the old writers out to pasture or, worse, just send the show off to the glue factory?

Pretty brutal.

Of course, it’s literally impossible for the target audience to have actually followed the show for the nearly 30 years that it’s been on the air. Even those of us who didn’t age out of it usually drift in and out for periods of time, catching up when the show is good, and drifting off when it’s bad or our interest wanes, watching reruns when we’re curious to see what we’d missed. And seeing how the target audience wasn’t born when the show began, and, in fact, some of the target audience’s parents weren’t born when it started, some recapping for an episode of this density is obviously necessary. The tried and true way to do this is via the cold open, giving relevant little clips of the previous episodes and perhaps a voiceover explaining the situation. Instead, this episode does the brilliant trick of incorporating the recapping into the episode itself, making it a plot point, giving us a bowdlerized version of the events of Rescue At Midnight Castle, sanitized and divested of all references that imply previous heroines or the existence of humans, rewritten to make Celestia and Luna the heroines of the story, and working in the previously unmentioned banishment of Tirek to Tartarus.

(Aside: And ain’t that a thing to just casually reveal in a flashback? “Oh, by the way, Celestia has the power to banish people directly to hell.”)

Having escaped, Tirek makes his reappearance as a mysterious cloaked figured in an alley, draining Rare Find of all his magic and leaving him and his oranges lying colorless and blank flanked. He becomes slightly larger as a result. Easily one of the scariest scenes the program has done in its entire run. This is a recurring metaphor that the series has used, greed correlating to size, from Fluttershy’s father and his horde in “Dragonshy,” to Spike’s tremendous growth spurt in “Secret of My Excess.” The show has preached moderation and personal growth by giving, a tradition practiced most famously by the Irish kings, the immensity of the gift being directly proportional to the honor bestowed to the giver. Thus, it should not surprise us that Tirac’s acquisition of power is shown visually by his growth from a hornless, bent and cloaked figure barely able to creep from the shadows into a towering monstrosity with gigantic curved horns who has no trouble burning down the Everfree forest with his power. (His updated appearance’s resemblance to “Putting your Hoof Down”’s forceful and egotistical Iron Will cannot be coincidental.)

(Aside: Odd, in this framework, that Celestia is the largest pony we ever see, considering her complete lack of care for possessions without practical purposes or sentimental value.)

Power, in Ponyland, is measured directly by one’s ability to control the world. Thus, just as Tirek has stolen the power of the cutie marks from the ponies — even the otherwise “non-magical” Pegasi and Earth ponies — he has stolen that which is able to give them control over their world. Without it, nature will creep back in, the clouds will move on their own, civilization will gradually fade away, perhaps even language and conscious thought will be lost, just as it threatened to do in the season opener “Princess Twilight Sparkle.” They will just be regular ponies. The show may as well be a documentary that runs on Animal Planet. Nothing will make them special or unique individuals anymore.

(Aside: and how are we to square the later events, where it turns out that the combined power of the 4 alicorn princesses is equal to that of literally every other pony in Equestira plus Discord? That’s quite an imbalance in favor of the royalty, all things considered…)

Speaking of specialness, Twilight feels overshadowed by the other princesses, and not unjustly so. They have things to do, places to be, dignitaries to meet with and kingdoms to run. All Twilight does is save the world every few months, and apparently this is nothing special or unique either. And as we learned in “The Crystal Empire,” it is necessary for her to allow others to do so. We get a visual reminder of this at the very beginning of the episode in the form of a gigantic statue of Spike right as they enter the crystal palace. One might say that Celestia was making sure that Twilight knew it, and whether that’s a good thing or a bad things depends on if you are in the “Imagine a hoof stamping on a face forever/she’d won the battle over herself, she loved Princess Celestia” camp or not.

(Aside: the “go-to” example of this manipulative tendency is in season 25’s “The Ticket Master,” in which Celestia sends only two tickets to the Grand Galloping Gala, when she ought to have sent seven. A lot of people assume she was being a jerk, as she’d met Twilight’s friends last episode; they were the reason she was letting Twilight stay in Ponyville, and she knows that Twilight has six total. But if she had, however, she would have deprived Twilight of a valuable lesson about friendship and asking for things (the non-diegetic reason being, of course, that if she’d just sent enough tickets there wouldn’t be a plot to write an episode about). A much better example of this kind of benevolent manipulation can be found in season 23’s “Twilight Sparkle” by Thomas Zahler and Ronda Pattison, where Celestia sends Twilight to serve as the assistant to the reclusive royal archivist Summer Mane, delaying a test that Twilight was anxious about. Twilight manages to ingratiate herself to the crotchety and anti-social mare, and the two slowly become friendly, discussing their favorite books and such, until Twilight’s curiosity gets the better of her and she looks in Mane’s office, which she had been forbidden to do. Within she finds a typewriter, confirming suspicions she had been having. Twilight is discovered by Mane, who is furious, withdraws all of her previous affection, and demands that Twilight leave the next morning, regardless of any consequences. Before she leaves, Mane explains that she was once a famous novelist, Jade Singer, and Twilight explains that she had already put that together, based on Mane’s glasses, love of swing music, smeared cutie mark, and brand of typewriter. Mane had written Twilight’s favorite book, in fact, and she wondered why Mane had never written another. Mane explains that the pressure of the book having been such a big success meant that it would be nearly impossible for her to measure up with her second. How could she stand to fail? Twilight can empathize, of course, having been the most promising magical prodigy that Ponyland has ever seen, and the stress of being tutored personally by Celestia leaves her in a constant state of worry and anxiety. But with her friends supporting her when she fails and congratulating her she she succeeds, she can get through it (she’s referring to Spike, Shining Armor, and Cadence here). And now that Mane has a friend of her own, Twilight bets she’ll be able to as well. Back at the castle, Celestia explains the entire situation, that Jade Singer had been a friend of hers whose instant success had become too much for her, and who Celestia was happy to allow to work anonymously at the archives while she got her strength back. And now thanks to Twilight, Celestia has her old friend back, and Jade is writing again. It is left unspoken that this is exactly how Celestia wanted the situation to turn out, and it is difficult to criticize her for introducing two people who would solve one another’s problems and leave one another happy. But at the same time, the degree to which Celestia always seems to know exactly how to solve the problems, exactly which people to introduce to one another, precisely which information to give to which people… And as Celestia herself never personally solves things, and always allows others to do so… And the tone of her voice when she explains that the other three princesses will be giving all their magic to Twilight…  Well, Uriel sitting in his watchtower in the sun never fell, did he? But then all he was charged to do was observe.)

Said jealousy has another, darker implication. This season’s opening cliffhanger left us with a stark reminder that the now friendly and helpful Princess Luna was once Nightmare Moon, driven by her spite and resentment to try and usurp the throne and control the entire kingdom. Couple that with the various hints we’ve gotten throughout the series that Twilight is quite a bit more powerful than we imagined (Why does she know a spell that drives ponies insane in Lesson Zero? What possible purpose could it serve to know such a thing?), and her symbolic placement opposite her sister-in-law Cadence in this second generation of alicorns–her darker color scheme and relative isolation compared to the quite-literal princess of love further echoing the Celestia/Luna split–and one could easily see the series taking a darker turn.

We’ve seen quite a bit of Cadence this season, helping Twilight and her friends rebuild the Castle of the Two Sisters, acquiring all the missing parts that had been scattered across the world and transformed into various objects that happened to be in the possession of the ponies they met. Whether her addition as a semi-regular cast member is a welcome change or the Worst Thing Ever is no doubt something you have an opinion on, but for our purposes it continues the theme of growing up in a way that is rarely mentioned: as we age, our relationship to former authority figures changes. If you haven’t already, you’ll find that around the time you hit your mid-20s, almost no one really cares how old you are. You’re just an adult. The age thing becomes trivia; experience and ability are counted far more than raw time. Cadence was once Twilight’s babysitter, but now that Twilight is grown, they can just be friends. The old power dynamic is replaced.

(Aside: we’ve mentioned before Starswirl the Goateed’s fantastic essay about how the program is fundamentally Platonic in its conception, from the three tiered system of ponies explicitly mirroring the three classes of Plato’s Republic, the advocation for a life of hard work and friendship through dialogue and the constant search for understanding of the self. One could even only-half-jokingly suggest that the friendship which is most frequently advocated in the program is Platonic. Interestingly, this episode takes Platonism one step further by putting Aristotelianism to task for its failings, starting with Aristotle’s notions of friendship. In The Nicomachean Ethics (Books VIII & IX), Aristotle describes friendship between unequals as fundamentally impossible, because one should only be friends with a person of higher standing if they are more virtuous, and even if so, the higher will be the more loved of the pair, the higher being unable to love the lower as much, and the friendship being, really, not an actual friendship at all. The lesser will always want something from the higher, and one should never want something from one’s friends, one of those statements that sounds intuitively correct until you start to unpack it a little (I wouldn’t want my friends to only be friends with me so they can borrow money, or because they like using my stuff. I would want my friends to know that I’d be there for them in a crisis, financial or otherwise, and would hope they’d do the same for me. Is a friend who has a life changing crisis, especially one outside of their control, suddenly a bad friend? Certainly not). Needless to say, alicorn Twilight is clearly of a higher standing, vastly more powerful, more influential, and in many other ways unequal to her friends. The high ranking athlete/government worker and prestigious local business owners don’t come even close to approaching demi-goddess and personal servant of the goddess-empress of the domain, who can reshape reality with her thoughts, travel through time, and alter people’s minds, let alone the party-planning pastry chef or veterinarian, and yet there is no suggestion at all that simply because of who she is that Twilight ought to treat her friends as less than herself, or that her friends should expect more or less from her. Clearly something’s going on here. Aristotle’s other obsession is with the concept of friends being “a single soul dwelling in two bodies”, that your friend (because you can have only one True Friend, maybe two if you’re very lucky) will be essentially an extension of yourself, from whom you will want nothing, receive nothing, and desire nothing. Which of course ignores entirely the joy that can be found in difference and diversity in favor of a monomania that in real life tends to be rather unsustainable. My friends are not myself. I love my friends for the sake of themselves, for the pleasure of their company, and also because I know I can rely on them the same way they can rely on me. We are a safety net for one another. One can have more than a single close friend, and one can live in a community of virtuous people who are all mutually beneficial to one another. And, in a world where the Goddess walks on four legs and frequently needs our help, we too can be friends with her and she can love us, even if she doesn’t quite suit his definition of a God. Where Aristotle isn’t wrong, he is inadequate. If God were omnipotent, any statement about her limits or constraints is by definition ridiculous, no matter how “logical” (think about it for a moment if it’s not clicking: “all-powerful” trumps “logical” or “comprehensible”). And if she is not, then it is by her actions and deeds that she will be judged by us, not her raw power. [Continued.])

But then it’s shifted directly in the complete opposite direction: instead of being just another princess, Twilight ends up the only princess. In the end, she ends up the only pony who has anything special left at all. All of the magic, all of the power, is handed over to her. This sort of thing, I can say from personal experience, can be an obsessive-compulsive’s worst nightmare.

To proceed, we’ll need to discuss a little about what obsessive-compulsive disorder is, and how it works. To speak in clinical terms, obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts that often result in irrational repetitive behaviors designed to ward off them off. An intrusive thought is an unwanted idea, image, or obsession that lodges itself into the forefront of your consciousness and refuses to leave. Imagine being unable to stop thinking about hurting someone, or worrying if the bump your car just made was a pothole or a person you just ran over, or that if you don’t lock your doors and double check and triple check them that your house will be robbed… Those are extreme examples, but you get the idea. The sensation is not dissimilar to watching a horror film and afterwards sitting up unable to sleep because you can’t stop reviewing images or scenes from the film whenever you close your eyes. Logically, you know that it is just a film, and that if you turn out the lights and go to sleep, nothing will happen. But you just watched it in the film, and you can’t stop thinking about it… Sometimes, you perform an action which makes the thoughts go away, or distracts you from thinking about it, or which you believe makes the situation go away, but “Pure O” OCD is very common, in which no compulsive behaviors manifest. This is as accurate a summary of OCD thinking in comic form as I’ve ever encountered.

And so for someone as obsessed with not making mistakes, this is the literal description of a nightmare: Twilight had just been handed the keys to the kingdom. Everything depends on her, everyone is watching, everyone will know if she screws up. No one can help her. And she can barely control herself. She has so much power, she could easily destroy the entire town, perhaps the entire planet, with a careless swing of her horn (by bringing the sun too close and roasting the world, though thankfully this thought doesn’t occur to her when she’s making morning happen). This isn’t just her usual fear of getting sent back to pony school, and it can’t be fixed by her usual warding behaviors of retreating into the world of books, getting support from her friends, or allowing Spike to enable/berate her into functionality. If she screws up, the sun doesn’t rise, three people she cares about deeply remain trapped in hell, her friends will be enslaved, magic will leave the world forever… Just a little while ago, she was anxious about waving to strangers at a distance and unfurling a banner. Even her signature ability, teleportation, becomes completely unstable, flashing her all over the place. In a direct reference to the first scene of Rescue at Midnight Castle, Twilight sits on the edge of a cliff and teleports herself down. But then her powers go haywire, sending her all over Equestria, and finally leaving her wedged inside a cracked rock, where Tirek calls her out to battle.

By this point, we’re solidly in Tirek’s realm. The show has lost any semblance of the pastoral problem of the week pacing, the gentle caring of a group of friends working together to help one another with their problems. The message of friendship is turned into one of alienation as Discord betrays Fluttershy, his only real friend, and who herself never even considered it possible, and is in turn himself betrayed by Tirek, who no longer needs him, their one-sided relationship a nasty warning about some of the people you’ll meet out there, rather than a lesson about giving others the benefit of the doubt. Pervert the message, now that Tirek has won: Magic destroys friendships.

(Aside: Of course, it is never perfect, this analysis. There is always room for more, for difference, for change. It is never a meeting of exact equals who want nothing, who only give, who receive incidentally. We disagree, argue, interpret differently… and that’s wonderful! Allow me to quote at length from the initial article I wrote back in high school for my column in the fanzine Plot Watcher’s Monthly (S. Below, “Jacques’ Little Ponies.” April 1999, p.6-13): 

Il n’y a pas de hors-texte. “There is nothing outside the text” is one of the most useful, yet misunderstood statements about art that has ever been made. There are at least two ways of interpreting it: the first, that the work must be taken in isolation, that nothing is to be considered but the work itself, and that this self-contained capsule must accommodate within it all possible things that could come into consideration–all exterior entities: the intentions of the author, the circumstances surrounding the work’s creation, the knowledge of the reader, later works that reflect upon this one… all of these are to be ignored or denied. The Text On The Page Is All There Is.

The other–the correct one, when read in context in Jacques Derrida’s Of Grammatology–holds that the phrase means that literally nothing is outside the scope of the text, that everything is to be interpreted and synthesized, and that simply because a certain school of thought or philosophy hadn’t been codified yet, that because the author stated outright that their work absolutely means this and nothing else, that because a connection seem tenuous and strained and more like an excuse to write about something entirely different, doesn’t mean that they aren’t somehow related to the topic at hand. There is nothing but interpretation, nothing but new perspectives to see and new things to learn and discuss.

To unfurl our flags and state our beliefs early on, we will be adopting the latter interpretation wholeheartedly and unreservedly, the former seeming more like a straightjacket and an excuse to ignore a much more interesting drunkard’s walk through history so that one has a convenient excuse to shut down discussion. Each and every reader will bring to the text a collection of experiences and understandings and historical baggages far different from any other reader, and will experience the work in a way much different from any other. The idea that those particular idiosyncrasies should be discarded in favor of advancing a single political philosophy, a particular literary school of thought, or even what the authors themselves consciously stuck in, seems sheer folly.

Derrida’s signature idea, Deconstruction, is itself a somewhat tricky concept to define. What it most certainly doesn’t mean is the popular definition, which seem closer to “Doing it sincerely, but with an ironic veneer,” or “Doing it straight but with a lot more blood and darkness.” To cut it into the simplest terms, deconstruction involves interpreting an ideal in such a way that not only does it elucidate what the author intends, but also brings up the host of unexamined beliefs and conjectures that come part and parcel with it. Rather than the work being re-constructed from its disparate parts to assemble the intended meaning of the author, is instead de-constructed to reveal all of its spongy bits and contradictions.

Take, for example, Derrida’s famous example in Dissemination, the “War of Drugs”, which implies by its very nature that drugs are bad (we are declaring war on them, after all), and that a natural, drug-free body is better than a drug addled one. It seems to follow from a commonsense point of view, but if you take a moment to think about it, clearly neither of those two things are necessarily true. There are good drugs; the ones I take to control my migraines are wonderful, for example. And that ideal “natural body”, well, what does that mean, exactly? Shall we stop performing surgery on patients who need it, simply because surgery is “unnatural”? or deny ourselves drugs which reduce pain? While it is easy to classify a synthetic substance like ecstasy as unnatural, both marijuana and poppies are grown quite naturally, far more naturally than many of the foods we eat every day; is that not also a contradiction against the “natural” ideal? And for that matter, is not the very act of eating food or drinking liquid, that we should ingest anything at all, in some sense a pollution of this “natural body” ideal? Our bodies have never been “pure,” in the sense of sealed off from all external contamination — every few seconds we inhale air that contains who knows what. The ideal is just a shortcut to keep from having to do all the messy thinking and hard examination. The real question is not “If…” but “Which drugs will we be taking?” or “What are drugs, anyways?” or “What do you mean, precisely, by ‘Natural’?”

And so it is with works of art. The author is blind to many of the unquestioned assumptions their work makes, and the things that their work says about the culture in which it was produced. The language itself, the metaphors used, the actions and their symbolism… All these things mean different things to different people at different times. To see an example of this, pretend a work was created in a different time period and by a different person: it will yield a host of completely different assumptions and interpretations about the work and its place in history–the most famous instance of this being the Borges’ short story “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” imagining Don Quixote rewritten as a great post-modernist epic about the absurdity of life and the quest for authenticity simply by being copied verbatim by an author in the 1920s (that this story was written in 1939, when Derrida was 9, and Roland “Death of the Author” Barthes still a tubercular student at the Sorbonne, has not escaped your author).

What this means, of course, is that it is possible to do fantastic work, locating hidden meanings and unexamined prejudices hidden inside works, and that complete bullshit is able to be hoisted aloft as though it were the most precious and sacred cow. This is dangerous work. Here there be dragons. Ponies, too.

Because that’s the territory we’re staking out here: My Little Pony.)

In the end, both Twilight and Tirek are alone. Suffused with more power than they know what to do with, boiled over with rage, and, it would seem, literally trying to kill one another, they battle. The show has had combat before, from the kicking and slamming of “Friendship is Magic Part I & II” to the explosive party cannonfire of “A Canterlot Wedding.” But it’s never been like this. We caught a glimpse in “Princess Twilight Sparkle,” when Nightmare Moon and Celestia did battle, but even that was nothing compared to the drawn out violence we see here. Twilight is no longer afraid to charge straight in, the way she was hesitant to during her battle with the hydra in “Feeling Pinkie Keen.” And what an intense battle it is! Explosions, energy blasts, lightning fast dodging, a pumping soundtrack, with none of the multi-episode cutaways and boring exposition that makes a fight take two weeks as often happens on Dragon Ball Z or Naruto. Is it that the show is trying to appeal to male audiences as well? Or is it that females like explosions too? Or perhaps trying to break down appeal on gendered lines like that is far too reductive and simplistic. If there’s one thing My Little Pony has done well throughout its years on TV, it’s defy easy classification to its actual viewers while appearing at a distance as silly piece of fluff that can be offhandedly dismissed as just another girl’s show.  But it’s hard to not pay attention when mountains are being blown apart and forests are being razed.

(Aside: even more so than the Changelings from “A Canterlot Wedding,” the violence and cruelty that Discord and Tirek display towards the ponies recalls the utter sadism present in some minor and distant quarters of the Brony fandom. Rather than simply hiding themselves in plain sight and taking over when no one is looking and living off their love and affection like the changelings, Tirek actively pursues and sucks the life from his victims, draining them mercilessly and leaving them collapsed and unmarked, taking that which is special and innocent and wonderful and twisting it all around inside himself so that he can simply take more. Cupcakes, anyone?

But then, he’s only one guy. One jerk who can be told to go away until he stop being a jerk. Or can be asked why he’s like that, and helped to change, if you’re feeling up to it. Both are acceptable answers.)

Like all things Platonic, it was inevitable that the show would need to face Derrida. After all, was it not Discord’s friendship that allowed Tirek to attain his power in the first place? And if “Friendship is Magic,” why are the unicorn class, those most predisposed to magic, the ones most likely to be cold and brusk and shallow around one another? And is friendship, in its most unmoderated, unqualified, and Pinkie Pie-esque form, really something that is always good? Of course it falls apart under examination. No one can hurt you like your friends can. Who else have you opened yourself up to? Made yourself vulnerable to? Shared secrets with and shown parts of yourself that you don’t broadcast in public? Especially in a culture like the US, where profanity has been overused to the point of ubiquity and common insults barely carry any weight, who but your friends would know the proper things to say to really make you cry? And just having friends doesn’t solve all your problems. Tom Chirella’s excellent article about the “boy crisis” and homelessness in the July 2014 issue of Esquire makes no mistake that these young men have plenty of friends and are always happy to make more; it is in everything else that they are lacking.

(Aside: [from above] In fact, given Aristotle’s obsession with inner natures and essential properties, isn’t it synchronistic that it is Tirek’s exploitation of Discord’s doubts over this very concept that lead him to destroy all the friendships and goodwill he had built up since his last rampage? Is this what our “true nature” leads to, the acceptance that some people just are the way they are and can never change? Certainly a magical draconequus who reshapes reality at a whim with all the cares of a small child is unequal to a gentle and shy pegasus who can barely bring herself to fly, her tail dragging on the ground whenever she walks and her voice rarely rising above a whisper; they are unequals in both sheer power and in moral character. And yet in the world of My Little Pony, they can meet for tea regularly, and though their friends might think it strange, there’s no implication of judgement from her circle once they’ve realized it’s safe and beneficial for all that the conversation and exploration continue. Starting in this season’s opening credits, Discord now makes an appearance in Fluttershy’s window, as if the link between the two characters wasn’t strong enough. [continued])

Alone and isolated, is this what Twilight has become? Is being special just about being able to destroy evil and banish it to hell forever? And if so, is she really special, or just another in a line of fighting princesses with magical powers? But really, that’s not true, is it? It isn’t external things that make us who we are. An extra pair of wings doesn’t make a character special. Fighting powers and magical blasts are accessories, not definitions. A crown or a title doesn’t make someone suddenly worthwhile or worthless. At the same time, though, we’re not watching a documentary of ponies. This is explicitly not a feature on Animal Planet about the habits of steppe ponies, nor even a more realistic fictional treatment like Farley’s Black Stallion series (the apocalyptic final novel, The Black Stallion Legend (1983), aside). Many of the viewers will never go near a real horse in their entire lives. We’re interested in the characters because we can relate to them, or because their situations intrigue us.

(Aside: [cont. from above] Aristotle’s concept of friendship is defended quite elegantly by essayist Michel de Montaigne in Of Friendship, wherein he describes his friendship with judge and author Estienne De La Boitie in glowing terms, literally using Aristotle’s concept of two-souls-in-one to describe how they felt towards one another, and how nothing, nothing, compares: not marriage, not fatherhood, not brotherhood, not homosexual love, and certainly not the passing acquaintances and everyday relationships we all too casually refer to as “friendships.” Indeed, their friendship is described in almost supernatural terms, with the affection occurring almost immediately upon the reading of one another’s work before they met in person and continuing until the moment of Le Boitie’s death four years later, never to be replaced by another in Montaigne’s heart (though one wonders how it would have worked out if La Boitie hadn’t died like one half of the couple in a romantic story, and how the friendship looked from his perspective). The description calls to my mind the scene in The Muppet Movie where Kermit and Rowlf meet for the first time, and we just know that they will be friends, because of who they are and how they are joined, in the gnostic sense. Or, to draw us back to the topic of this essay, season 25’s “Cutie Mark Chronicles,” where it turns out that Rainbow Dash’s initial sonic rainboom is what gave all the main characters their cutie marks, binding them together years before they even met. But unfortunately for both the ponies and the Muppets, Montaigne insists that one can have only one real friend. Having five (or six, if Spike counts) would be four (or five) too many. And if friendship can only be induced through an almost supernatural combination of coincidence and kismet, how can one ever hope to locate it? Is friendship really magic?)

Of course, one could argue (quite persuasively, as Froborr has), that the “true” content of a story, of a history, doesn’t matter nearly as much as the moral or the lesson that is being learned. Those who learn history will not be doomed to repeat it if they are properly taught morality. Those who learn kindness are less likely to fall into old patterns and hatreds that have festered for centuries. Those who are raised alongside one another with an appreciation for their differences but a recognition that everyone is special and deserves respect are likely to view history through the lense of “How could anyone have believed that?” The legend of the founding of Equestria from “Hearth’s Warming Eve” teaches ponies to calm down, put aside their differences, seek commonalities, ignore cultural hatreds, and work together for their common good. Who cares if it’s literally what happened or not? From a moral perspective, the good is more important than the perfect. The “real” version can go into the history book, and the “instructional” one into the children’s heads. Just learning doesn’t address the real life inequalities that are still present in the world, of course, but it does help people see that those inequalities are real and need to be addressed, because no one should have to live the way many do, and knowledge is almost always the first step before action.

(Aside: [cont.] In fact, My Little Pony argues that one of the primary reasons to have friends is so that you can rely on them when you are in need. If you need help harvesting your apple orchard because you bit off more work than you can chew or so you don’t lose it to a pair of charlatans, if you need to get an infestation out of the town before it destroys everything, if you need them to cheer you on while trying your hardest in a competition, if you need  them to watch your sister and her friends for the night or rescue you from being turned to stone by a basilisk, if you need them to help you carry back a huge load of gemstones you’ve looted from a pack of thugs… The point is a maximization of the social good where no one is left behind, differences are respected and appreciated, and everyone learns and helps one another. This is far more like Francis Bacon’s conception of friendship, where a friend is someone who will listen to help you calm down and relax, will discuss and bring their experiences to the table thus making you wiser than your would be alone, and will do the things for you that you cannot objectively do for yourself, like praise you or admonish you. The fruits of friendship are many, and are delicious–even if Bacon prefers pomegranates to apples. Compare the main characters’ relationships to the chilly and back-biting air of Canterlot, with its fussy, shallow, and cruel unicorns who’ve no time for anything but the latest trend and little appreciation for individuals as individuals. They aren’t all like that, sure, but enough are that it’s no wonder Celestia wanted a princess who knew about friendship to rule the land. Compare Discord’s friendship with Fluttershy with the one he thought he had with Tirek: the one he had with someone utterly opposite to him offered innumerable benefits both to himself and to the world around him, while the one he thought he had with the being close to his own temperament, the one who encouraged him to just be himself, consequences be damned, merely resulted in his being used for all he was worth and discarded when he wasn’t of any more use. Sure, someone will protest, Discord and Tirek weren’t really friends, in the Aristotelian sense. But did Discord know that? He certainly thought they were. As close as brothers, even. “Look at this nice necklace he gave me.” Another advantage of having more than one friend: if and when you are betrayed, you have other friends to turn to.)

Which makes  the ending of the episode all the more sensible, given the earlier themes that have run through the season and the series, and indeed, the overall message of the series itself. It isn’t fighting that will get you to win, not really. Fighting lets you continue the fight. It is not that one shouldn’t defend herself when attacked, or that one shouldn’t protect her friends, but that when it comes to ending the conflict, killing the enemy once and for all simply isn’t a workable solution. Putting a bullet in the head of everyone who doesn’t like you just paints a target on your own. It just encourages both sides to further take up arms and harm others. It is only by giving up her power, that which allows Twilight to harm others, that which she can barely control, in favor of her friends–including the one who, mere episodes ago, proved himself to be such a nuisance it nearly ruined the free time she had to spend with her sister-in-law–that she can unlock the power to truly banish Tirek from the land once and for all. In the real world, resigning and choosing your friends over raw power doesn’t result in magical glowing and rainbows and banishments to hell, but neither does raw power turn you into a gigantic cen-minotaur who can burn down forests and imprison ponies in floating blue orbs, presumably to finally finish transforming them into stratodons and get the old chariot up and running again.

It might be more satisfying, on a certain level, were Twilight to incinerate Tirek into a pile of moon dust, or blast an explosive beam through him with a shower of sparks and smoke, but that’s not what will solve the problem. Her people, united against him, telling him what’s unacceptable and what they won’t tolerate, will. Because this show isn’t Sailor Moon or Power Rangers, and its violence is never of the sort that ends problems; it is only a vehicle to the ending, if it comes up at all. Tirek’s banishment comes through the power of a united front refusing to accept his power over them. They have mastered themselves, and they trust one another. What power can he have over them? Twilight has won the battle over herself. She loves not just Princess Celestia, but all of her friends. Friendship is magic, and Tirek sold out his only friend for a temporary gain that, in the end, brought him nothing. Had he not sold out Discord, he might have won. He’ll have plenty of time to reflect on that in Tartarus, if it ever occurs to him.

Deconstruction isn’t meant to be something one fights against tooth and nail, bitterly clinging to the ideal like a drowning person to a scrap of wood. It was always intended to be a joyous and life-affirming activity that brought about a deeper understanding of the world and the people in it. That so many who practice it can only find darkness and insecurity in everything speaks more about them than it does about the works themselves–if you don’t believe me, deliberately try to find an optimistic reading of a dark work; I bet you will. We all tend to find what we look for. We do not necessarily lose our ideals by understanding them better. Simply because they have a dark side, because they can be turned against us, does not mean that they are bad or unsuitable. We simply understand all the sides, rather than wearing blinders and keeping ourselves from questioning, examining, analyzing, and determining if it is still good anyways. We do the examination, we do the hard work of sussing all the ins and outs, the vicissitudes of the situation, the implications of what we say and do, the exceptions we can make because we are humans and not robots or deontological Kantians. It is difficult, but it is honest. We do not pretend to stand in the false light of fanaticism, we do not pretend to grope with the closed eyes of nihilism, we simply walk in the twilight and navigate as accurately as we can, making adjustment to the mental map as we go. Remember just how many of Plato’s dialogues end with no conclusion being reached? Perhaps they aren’t so different after all.

The reveal that Twilight was being raised by Celestia to take over for Luna’s duties, but instead derailed Celestia’s plans by breaking Nightmare Moon’s spell and saving Luna, can’t possibly have been Faust’s intention when she took over the show, but it works surprisingly well as a first reveal to set up the even bigger reveal that Celestia and Luna are leaving the world completely. We all expected a different ending, of course, with Luna and Celestia resuming their leadership positions and a return to the usual status quo, not retiring themselves to the sun and moon to rebuild their now lost power, secure in the knowledge that the planet they encircle is safe in good hands. Even after all this, somehow it still doesn’t seem like Twilight is ready. Sure, she can defeat horrible monsters, and she’s rebuilt the Castle of the Two Sisters alongside her sister-in-law in one of the most naked bits of foreshadowing I’ve ever encountered (but then I remind myself that the target audience probably isn’t very familiar with that particular device and likely found it neat that there was a clue hidden in front of their faces the whole time), and has assumed the mantle of princess of the night, but it seems like something got crossed somewhere, like there were different directions the story was supposed to go instead. Which Fyre-Flye herself even admits.

(Aside: The still raging “Ready/Not Ready to be The Princess” debate brings to my mind something I read, where an adult child asked their parent when they finally felt like an adult. And the parent replied Never, that life just kept happening and there was no big revelation where suddenly you felt grown up and all your problems were easy. But what happened instead was that as you get older you’d have a problem and you’d think “Wait, I’ve been through this before. I know what to do in this situation. I can handle this” and the longer you live, the more situations are like this. Nothing gets any easier, you just have more experience and you learn what works and what doesn’t.)

But that’s the nature of change. Twilight has wings now. She’s a princess. She’s planted the elements of harmony and grown a new tree. She rules the night and Cadence rules the day. Her friends are her trusted advisors with thrones of their own, and will insure that nothing escapes her dominion. Her mom writes the Daring Do books. We can look forward to her further adventures in season 29 as she tries her best to administer a kingdom beset on all sides by horrible monsters, incompetent functionaries, duplicitous businessmen, an overworked sister-in-law, and perhaps another old foe from the past: a funky, grunky, gooey, oozy monstrosity that’s just Twilight’s shade of purple? This is the show for the foreseeable future. The old library has been replaced by a new castle.

We’re living in Twilight’s Kingdom now.

Surely you saw this coming?

Notes:

  • When I speak of Celestia as a Goddess, I mean in the same sense as I do when referring to Superman as a God: a moral, aspirational figure with vast power who exists in the realm alongside the “regular” people, and who frequently needs their help despite all their vast power. Superman’s best superhero friend may be Batman, but his real best friend is Jimmy Olsen. You are free to make any inferences you might make about my religious beliefs from this.
  • “Jesus performs the same sort of folklore wonders that Superman or Johnny Appleseed does. The miracles of the Old Testament God would be easy enough for Superman to perform. Again, there’s this disconnect between the God people going to church picture – nativity scenes, walking on water, healing the sick – and the ones the theologians have decided on, this abstracted figure. And, you know what? If it’s within the power of both God and Superman to save a kid down a well, and only Superman does … well, I don’t know about worship, but I think Superman’s the better being.” –Lance Parkin, “Counting to Nothing,” comments section. 
  • Yes, this does mean vis-a-vis all the above that I would rather live in a Platonic tyranny ruled by Celestia and Superman than a monarchy of Aristotelians I’ll never be friends with. The only circumstances I can think of in which the “good dictator” might be acceptable require a being of fictional purity and goodness and near omnipotence as the head of state. The things I never thought I’d use my philosophy degree for…
  • Aristotle does have some quite lovely things to say about friendship, it’s just that in his writing, he comes off as the sort of person who never really had this sort of close friend, and is describing what he observes from afar, as usual. As with many things, Aristotle makes declarative statements that he has no way of backing up: “A play is best when it takes place it one day, in one place, with one plot.” “Women have fewer teeth than men.” “Spiders have six legs.” “A single deep friendship is always better than multiple less close ones.” “Friends can never need things from one another.” He is correct quite very often, and justifiably seen as one of the two founding pillars of Western philosophy, but in many places it is in spite of, rather than because of, him that we advance.
  • Though I give him a hard time above, the Essays of Montaigne are absolutely worth your time. Even when he is wrong, misguided, or outdated, his style, wit, and charm are not to be missed. I can say with complete honesty that this style of writing would not exist were it not for him. Estienne De La Boitie’s Discourse on Voluntary Servitude is likewise an excellent read for anyone interested in the early origins of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance.
  • Derrida is a pain to read, and while sadly I don’t possess enough French to judge for myself whether this is his fault or that of his translators, everything I’ve read suggests that his native French is just as obscurantist as his translations read. The easiest point of entry that directly involves Derrida himself is probably Deconstruction in a Nutshell, a moderated interview with Derrida by John Caputo. Of Grammatology and Writing and Difference are the two “main” books of his vast output, but I can’t recommend them for pleasure reading, or even as an introduction to his thought.
  • I had an entire extra section based on a reading of Rare Find losing his oranges coupled with Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, the last vestiges of an older menace trying to suck the life from an inevitable rise that through sheer demographics will transform the landscape of at least my country once a generation dies off, Tirek being defeated by rainbow powered women, and an even deeper gay reading of the events, but unfortunately that’ll have to wait until next time. Until then, read Jeanette Winterson even if you skip all the philosophy. She kicks ass.

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.

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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.

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.

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!!!!

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.

Firefly is Best Pony (The My Little Pony Special/Rescue at Midnight Castle/Firefly’s Adventure)

Even back in the 80s poor Applejack could
never catch a break…

Last week, I promised flashbacks, secret origins, and the power of history to shape the present. By which I obviously meant it’s time for another Generation 1 guest article by Spoilers Below!

(Aside: click on the links whose words interest you, don’t worry about chasing down every little thing (unless you feel so inclined…))

The Letter: Dear Princess Celestia,

Sometimes it feels like the way you think about your life and the way the world should be just don’t match up to the way things really are. There are some really horrible things out there, and it can be really difficult to keep living your life in the way you choose when they turn their attention towards you. But that doesn’t mean you you should give up! You can always meet new friends who can help you! Sometimes asking for help can be difficult or feel strange, but in the end you lose nothing by the attempt. Be brave! In the end it’s much better than suffering alone. What else are friends for?

Your faithful student,

ps. Why am I pink in this episode? And my mane! Did the animators mess up again?

What is it? A 22 minute special produced by Hasbro to hock the new “year two” line of pony toys.

What’s it about? A horrible monster is attempting to enslave the ponies to pull his chariot so he can release the Rainbow of Darkness to conquer Ponyland. With the help of his two vile minions, he kidnaps nearly enough to enact his evil plan. Can the ponies find someone who can help free their friends and stop the monster’s reign of terror?

Why is it significant? This is where it all begins, creating a web of relations and links that proceed outwards, encompassing everything without leaving the confines of its very small boundaries. Without George Arthur Bloom’s pilot, none of this happens. The Sea Ponies and Year Two toys aren’t a huge sales success and Hasbro shutters the pony development division. There’s no reason for Megan to come back and help the ponies defeat Catrina, no movie, no television show. Lauren Faust doesn’t have a character to get her screen name from and, already having much experience with round and stubby armed female protagonists, instead ends up revamping her other childhood love, the Strawberry Shortcake franchise. Shorties, a band of periphery demographic male fans of the show, take the internet by storm. The trials and tribulations of Strawberry Shortcake, Ginger Snap, Plum Pudding, Angel Cake, Huckleberry Pie, Orange Blossom, and their mascot/familiar Custard the Cat teach us the importance of friendship and the magic of eating delicious desserts. Moony Muffin, a background character with a silver mailbag who ends up crosseyed due to an animation error, inspires the internet to pay especially close attention to the backgrounds, and soon fandoms for all the various minor characters spring up. The “Baker’s Half-Dozen” inspire cosplays, comics, podcasts, fan art, music, and transformative life experiences in millions world wide. Conventions are held…

A more horrible fate for the world cannot be envisioned.

Is it worth it? Hell yes! I mean, come on, it’s only 22 minutes. You weren’t doing anything important right now, were you? And you are a real fan of the show, aren’t you? Don’t worry, the essay will still be here when you get back from the YouTube tab.

Are there songs? Yep. One of them performed by a broadway singer, too. Shame they couldn’t write as well as she could sing, but that’s why you can do live scrubbing, isn’t it?

What else was happening? April 14, 1984. I have been alive for less than a week, and thus miss the first showing. The day before, the Indian military launches Operation Meghdoot, and succeed in claiming the disputed Siachen Glacier from Pakistan. This kicks off the Siachen Conflict, which is still being fought today. The day after, fez wearing comedian and magician Tommy Cooper will die of a heart attack on live television in the middle of a sketch, and it takes way longer than it should for people to figure out that he’s not faking it. We are 9 days away from the public announcement of the AIDS virus’ existence in the United States. Kenny Loggins remains at the top of the charts with Footloose, the title song from the film that was released back in February. Movies this week include Friday the 13th IV: The Final Chapter, which needless to say wasn’t, and Swing Shift, a strange film notable for the inability of the two stars, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, to realize that they were supposed to be in a serious drama, rather than a lighthearted romantic comedy, a misunderstanding of genre we’ll revisit in a little bit. And that morning President Reagan, a firm believer in the domino theory, says he will continue aid to El Salvador despite many vocal critics, believing it to be an important step in stopping the influence of the Soviet Union in South America.

Speaking of President Reagan, one of the most important — whether good or bad is debatable, but important — things he did as president as far as we’re concerned was push through deregulation of children’s television programming. As Dr. Toon tells us: “The impact of deregulation on children’s programming was astounding. Cultural historian Tom Englehardt noted that between 1984 and 1985 cartoons featuring licensed characters increased by some 300%. By the end of 1985 there were more than 40 animated series running concurrently with licensed products and active marketing campaigns.” Half-hour toy commercials were now A Thing, with the various companies and conglomerates pumping out as many toyetic characters as possible. If you were nervous about Reagan Appointee Mark “Regulate It Like a Toaster” Fowler’s FCC trying something (yeah, right), just be sure to tack on a little message at the end or somewhere in the broadcast to let the children know what they should have learned and you’re good to go. It’s educational now! It didn’t really matter what you wrote, provided it displayed the toys in as many exciting and fun scenes as possible. Kids of that age and era would simply turn on the television and watch whatever was on, so if you were on the right channel, you had it made. No one can get parents to open up their wallets like an excited child.

Before this, the ponies were just injection moulded hunks of plastic shaped into vague pony forms. The special quite literally animated them into actual characters… well, kinda. It’s a slow process, with a two year gap in between two specials and the film, and another before there was an actual television program. But it is a beginning, and however unintentional it may have been, it’s not hard to see Friendship is Magic as the logical endpoint. This is the pebble that starts the snowball rolling down the hill. This is the raindrop that is responsible for the storm.

Faces familiar to viewers of Friendship is Magic abound: there’s Applejack working the fields, there’s Twilight trying to teleport down off a cliff face, there’s Rainbow Dash Firefly doing her aerial acrobatics. As is typical of those who don’t obsessively cut out and keep the info cards on the back of the packages, we’ve long since forgotten the name of the white and purple unicorn (Glory, maybe?), but Rarity sounds like a pretty name, doesn’t it? And we’re of course shipping her with Applejack less than 2 minutes in. What’s more romantic than licking apple off of someone’s cheek? And from the opening, we’re no doubt poised for a program about blank-flank Ember learning to like herself even though, as an Earth pony, she can’t fly or do magic. Twilight assures her that she’ll find her own special talent sometime soon. It’ll be an easy way to kill 22 minutes into forgettableness, and considering the generally low expectations for children’s entertainment, Bloom could have simply pulled a Terry “Good Enough” Nation and packed it in early: Ember runs away, is chased after by one of the older ponies who doesn’t want to see her hurt, saves the both of them by making a campfire (her special talent!) so they don’t freeze during the terribly cold night in the forest, is found by her other friends the next morning who assure her that they missed her, everyone hugs, someone makes a pun on the word “fire” (“And I bet you’re all fired up to take another camping trip!”) and everyone laughs, roll credits. Took me 30 seconds to come up with. I’m sure a professional television writer could do it even faster.

But consider this: disposable genres are often where the most interesting things happen: pulp novels, anime, comic books, etc. To be fair, this kind of mercenary media usually ends up as garbage. Expectations are low, and honestly most of the results are crap, but sometimes due to a magical combination of lowered expectations and the relative freedom to produce literally anything that can be published or animated, amazing things happen. And also consider this: one of the best parts about being a kid with toys is that there are no world boundries or continuity or canon to worry about. It may have taken 20 years for a GI Joe/Transformers crossover comic to be produced, but no such boundaries exist on the playroom floor. You can invent your own world, and what you say goes.

So just when we’re getting comfortable, about 2 minutes in,  the show turns on the caps lock and swerves left into a really heavy and dark kidnapping and enslavement plot. One moment Applejack is trying to collect apples and cope with Firefly messing up the Cutback Drop Turn Sonic Rainboom Double Inside Out Loop above her, the next she’s running for her life as dragons wyverns stratadons swoop in from the sky to kidnap her friends, yoke them to a chariot, and transform them into horrible monsters. It’s almost as if another program has invaded this one. Viewed through this lens, the appearance of the Cen/Minotaur Tirac, his winged baboon minion Scorpan, and his minion the baby dragon Spike isn’t really that odd. Our young players have access to some He-Man and Thundercats toys as well. And the only thing that’s going to fix that is a girl who really knows what’s going on, a regular girl just like you, dear viewer!

(aside: And doesn’t having a centaur crossed with a minotaur work just wonderfully as a dark mirror of the ponies? He’s still a four legged, hoofed creature, capable of all the pulling and farm work that a pony would be, and every bit as sentient and capable of thought, but with the added strangeness of the minotaur torso jutting out of the horse body making the sentience more explicit. And what was the minotaur but the horrible son of Queen Pasiphaë of Crete, created as punishment for King Minos’ greed?)

Because we are working from a formula, a recipe if you will, that was established over 100 years ago. It was fully explicated in George Orwell’s seminal essay on Boys’ Weeklies, which pretty much codified how children’s serial entertainment works. You keep the characters just vague and broad and varied enough that there’s a good chance that any given reader will have something in common with one of them and want to see more of their misadventures, and make sure they all make appearances often enough that the reader will sit through an episode that isn’t about their favorite (ask any given fan, and I’m sure they’ll be able to tell you which pony each of their friends are, and which one is Best). And of course, there’s a tent pole character around whom all these characters will swirl. Megan is, without a doubt, intended to be this character, a viewer projection figure allowing you, the viewer at home, to have adventures with her favorite ponies. Having so few traits of her own (she likes horses, she is a girl, she likes friendship, she gets mad when people try to hurt her friends), it’s beyond simple to mentally fill in whatever gaps you need to make her likable.

And this demand for an easy to relate to Point Of View character is a strange thing in retrospect. Back in the 80s the world was much more closed off and close minded, and there was a general expectation that people had no interest in people unlike themselves — a view which sadly persists today in too many places, but is nowhere near as prevalent as it was in the past. (aside: witness how many shows with “breakout characters” quickly quit focusing on the bland male lead with emotional problems and start focusing on the funny and/or interesting person) Needless to say, this is demonstrably false: I can relate to the mental state and reactions of a fictional purple unicorn far better than I can most television characters despite not being myself a purple unicorn. Our host feels similarly about a yellow pegasus, and I’m pretty sure he’s a human. We can understand things just fine through the eyes of a purple unicorn; it doesn’t need to be someone like us. As a result, Megan feels superfluous. There’s no reason Firefly couldn’t go straight to the Moochick to get the amulet and rainbow herself. But this is the old show; we’re still solidly in the nigredo phase of the great work. The elements are all on the table, but it will take someone a lifetime to put them together. And so Firefly kidnaps  brings back a normal human girl to fight for them, despite Megan’s insistence that she can’t do anything to help.

There’s a tradition in children’s literature to abstract violence, to shield young eyes from the absolute brutality that even one punch can inflict on someone. Whether this is good or not is debatable, as children probably don’t need to see, for example, what it really looks like when someone is shot, but at the same time hiding the real horrors behind red and blue laser rifles belittles just how serious and deadly armed conflict is. Sailor Moon’s shining light attacks are perhaps the logical endpoint of this: the enemy is simply washed away with a flash of light or battered with a gigantic heart and ends up a puff of ash and a symbolic object related to their gimmick (with the added benefit of allowing you to save about 4 minutes worth of animation per episode with recycled attacks and transformation sequences). What violence could be cleaner than that? The Rainbow of Light is not quite so rough as that, but the comparison holds. (And wasn’t the original Friendship is Magic pitch essentially a magical girl show?)

But magic isn’t all good. It can transform innocent ponies into horrible dragons. They need a worthy foe after all, and what else but darkness could be the opposite of a rainbow? One could question why a cen/mino-taur needs a chariot to get around, but that’s perhaps the wrong nitpick for a character as focused on control as Tirac. Of course he could walk or gallop on his own; he wants you to do it for him. Hence why he forces Scropan to do it for him, why he abuses Spike and manipulates his desire to be included in something, anything, his insistence that Scorpan address him on one knee as master… Tirac doesn’t want friends, he wants servants and slaves. Though as astute viewers may have noticed, Scorpan simply isn’t trying very hard, which is the problem with relying on fear and intimidation to make people do what you want. It takes the threat of decapitating Spike to get Scorpan to finish the job, and, as any good media viewer ought to know, threatening the cute mascot character is the surest way to get a villain killed.

(Aside: That the entire scenario effortlessly reads like an older sibling stealing your toys and the quest to get them back can’t possibly be accidental…)

Spike ends up imprisoned alongside Ember (who is too small to be transformed and pull the chariot), always the misfit of whatever group he’s in, but a loyal friend nevertheless. Spike not fitting in and being isolated from his peer group, then finding another which is more loving and accepting, will be a reoccurring theme throughout many stories over the next 30 years, and that he has endured as a character this long speaks to the necessity of this story being told. It’s one thing if the ponies all get along with one another and with the stand in for the viewers at home; it’s quite another if they can be friends with their opposite and make him feel more included than he ever was among the other dragons. (aside: It’s tempting to say here that it’s because the nice boys aren’t scary and you ought to play with them too, but it reads just as well as an allegory for learning to love your stepfamily after a divorce, or dealing with all the mental confusion of being adopted. You don’t need to be biologically related to someone for them to be family, just as you don’t need to be a pony to be a pony.) Not that Scorpan will allow Spike to be hurt. Just as he insured Megan didn’t die from being dropped when Firefly kicked the stratadon that was kidnapping her. Why would an evil monkey creature do that, dear viewers? Have you guessed our twist ending yet?

It is decided that the only person who can help them is the Moochick, a mushroom-dwelling, absentminded magician who keeps losing things in his horde. After a literal song and dance, the ponies and Megan receive the Rainbow of Light, the only thing that can defeat the Rainbow of Darkness, and Tony Randall gets an easy paycheck. On the way to the castle, Applejack slips through the slats of a rickety old bridge, and Megan dives into the river after her. Our last concession to “traditional” girl television entertainment is given in the form of a Busby Berkeley style musical number (Girls love musicals, right?) with the Sea Ponies, who disquietingly have the exact same heads as the regular ponies. They save Applejack and Megan from drowning, and give Megan a shell to summon them whenever they need aid. Given how horribly catchy their song is, it’s the least they can do.

This favor is cashed in almost immediately, so the ponies can get across the moat and enter Midnight Castle. Tirac is almost too delighted by this turn of events, as he now has the last pony he needs. Applejack is transformed into a horrible dragon, and Tirac soars into the air to unleash his power and let eternal night reign forever. Not that this can be allowed to happen. Firefly can fly like the wind, and the ponies play keep away for as long as they can, battling the guards, teleporting all over, making prodigious leaps, and soaring quick as can be. Betraying his master, Scorpan ascends to the air and battles Tirac directly, the two beasts grappling savagely, before Scorpan is shoved from the chariot, thankfully landing on a bale of hay to keep him from being dashed on the rough stone roof below.

And then Tirac opens the bag around his neck and lets the Rainbow of Darkness free. This was supposed to be a show about magical friendship horses. What happened?

Just selling toys, that is all this is meant to do, right?. It had no other intended purpose. It’s a commercial you get to watch in between the other commercials on Saturday morning. For those of us at a certain age, the undeniable truth is that almost all of our beloved childhood characters and heroes were created to sell us things. Optimus Prime was killed not to provide dramatic tension and introduce children to the idea of death, but because Hasbro wanted to introduce a new line of characters and needed a convenient excuse to get the old toys out of the way. The MLP movie, as we discussed before, didn’t even bother with explanations; they simply rolled out a new cast and pretended they were the old one, then tried to sell us a new playset, Paradise Estates. It would be easy to be cynical. After all, we grew up in a time when every other story was about the horrible world our parents were leaving for our children, the sports heroes we looked up are now murderers or drug addicts, the jobs we went to college for have 300 better experienced and better connected applicants than us, and good luck finding someone to love when you live with your parents and are unemployed. Said parents who probably got divorced at some point during your childhood, by the way. By any stretch we have the right to be annoyed and dark and bitter.

And yet, and yet, there is something there that can be loved anyways, despite the commercial nature of its creation, without irony or appeals to camp. Something sincere in spite of the cynicism. These are cool toys, aren’t they? They do things. Sure, the hunk of plastic might be permanently affixed in one pose, but look what it could do with your imagination? They run and fly and fight! Look at the adventures a normal young girl can have with them. Can you even dream of the adventures you’ll be having once you have some of them for your very own? That’s the message, isn’t it?

If “The purpose of art is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable,” then this is art, isn’t it? What would be so wrong about dreaming of a better world? Why not let it in? Why not become the change you wish to see in the world? as that banal old platitude goes. Much like Plato’s Republic, the world already exists if you act like you’re a citizen of it. It doesn’t mean you can’t be angry or upset about things that are wrong. But rather than wallow in it, why not try to change? Be a little nicer and a little more forgiving of others faults? (aside: if you skipped all the rest, this is the link to follow and watch. It’s the important one.) Why not give someone the benefit of the doubt? Why not help someone with no expectation of something in return? Why not be a little less selfish, a little more compassionate, a little more willing to stand up for what’s right? Everyone acts like it’s some horribly complicated and difficult thing, and while the latter is true, the it still only requires a little effort and sacrifice to figure out. It doesn’t matter if you’ll never fly like Firefly and Medly, or jump far like Bowtie, or disappear like Twilight. Everyone can be nice. Everyone can figure out what’s really important to them. Everyone can let a little light into their lives. Effort does not require talent or skill.

(aside: Isolationism isn’t the answer, by the way, and unlike the film the special in no way endorses it. Kindness and forgiveness do not preclude self-defense or getting angry. Get help. Get your friends back. Don’t just lay there and take it. Remember that Ponyland is constantly under assault from horrible monsters and really genuinely terribly people, often who want to destroy the ponies for no other reasons than petty jealousy or selfishness. Equestria is right on the border of the Everfree forest, home to horrible hydras and gigantic lunar bears, where the plants grow and the animals take care of themselves and the clouds move all on their own! The gates to Tartarus, Hell itself!, lay within walking distance. And yet the ponies remain, happy to forgive those who repent, and accept those in need.)

And it is then, after all their options are exhausted, that Megan unleashes the Rainbow of Light. It’s a tiny thing, barely bigger than her palm. What could it possibly do?

Light is a strange substance, especially when compared to darkness. Because of the way it works, outside of a black hole, there is literally no way for darkness to be so dark than even a little light can’t brighten it. Darkness is an absence, a lack, a void waiting to be filled. There’s a bit in Alan Moore’s Top Ten that has stuck with me ever since I read it years and years ago. In it, two men have been fused together by a teleportation accident and will soon die. The one is a follower of the Great Game, an intergalactic chess match being played across the galaxy between the light and the darkness. The fellow he’s bonded to, an ordinary businessman, asks how the gamer can keep going. He’s going to die and there’s nothing he can do about it. Hasn’t he wasted his life on this silly game? Looking up at the night sky, the points of light are so few. Surely the light side must be losing. What hope is there? No, the gamer replies, a serene smile on his horse-like visage. We are winning. It used to be all dark.

And it is just so here. It doesn’t matter how dark and tenebrous the Rainbow of Darkness is. It is useless compared to even a little bit of color. Tirac is obliterated in a wave of light, never to be seen again, all alone in the end. The transformed ponies are returned to their original states and placed gently upon the ground. The stratadons return to being butterflies. The guards turn back into bluebirds. And Scorpan becomes his old self again, a noble, nameless, mustachioed prince who can resume ruling his kingdom. But Spike? Spike doesn’t change back into anything. He’s always been a baby dragon. He’ll always be a baby dragon. There’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone can share a laugh at Ember sneezing so hard she falls into the shallow river, and in the end even she can laugh too. She’s learned no lesson, hasn’t discovered any special talent, has had no transformative journey or life changing realization. And that’s alright, too. Someday, when she’s ready, she will. Everything was lovely once again.

Because friendship is optimal. I would submit that that’s been the thesis of the series from the very start.

Coda: In 2005, Lauren Faust decides to create a DeviantArt account. Aliases are hard to come up with, so why not the name of a favorite character from her childhood? The common spelling is long since claimed by fans of the Joss Whedon program, but in true internet fashion, a few letter swaps that preserve pronunciation work out fine. And the rest is history. And as we all know now, Fyre-Flye is Best Pony…

But wait, wait, wait! In the opening credits who’s this silent red and white unicorn, hanging out in the background, then getting carried off by the stratadons?
Moondancer? Yeah, right, sure. That’s her name. I believe you.
So why don’t they her that ever, huh?

We should have known. The seeds were there all along. She just needed to find her wings and transform into her full alicorn self.

“Look out Twilight! Here I go!”

Other Bits:

-Some fanon holds that Firefly is Rainbow Dash’s mom. Works for me. I’m sure there’s fanfic of her and Rainbow Dad Bolt meeting for the first time somewhere on the internet.

Sandy Duncan is one of those strange performers who adults think children are aware of and care about. It’s a small class, usually featuring young women who’ve played Peter Pan, and someone else can unpack the various implications of thinking kids will love a woman who dresses up as a young boy and carries children off to have adventures in Never Never Land. But Sandy Duncan must be important to this program, because all the commercial breaks remind us she’s in it. It’s quite rare to have an actress repeatedly credited in the subtitle of every commercial bump, after all. Now, please don’t take this to mean she’s bad, because honestly she’s not. She’s quite talented as a singer and dancer, and she’s the best pony voice actress in the show chiefly because she doesn’t go for an odd breathy high pitched rasp whenever she speaks. She’ll reprise this role for years and years, too, in between being the cool aunt on The Hogan Family.

-The parallels between the special and The Mare in the Moon/Elements of Harmony are pretty obvious, and as you’d expect, the more modern show avoids almost all of the things the Special gets wrong. Twilight doesn’t need a human girl nor a magical mushroom wizard to give her special powers; she acquires the magic jewelry through the powers of filibuster and sophism friendship and sagacity. They don’t need a deus ex sea ponies to keep themselves from drowning in the river, because they can work out a solution for themselves (“Oh, it’s fine, my dear. Short tails are in this season. Besides… it’ll grow back.”). Applejack doesn’t slip off any bridges, and Rainbow Dash can catch Twilight before she falls. Twilight manages to learn the magic of friendship, rather than nothing. And in the end, it is not the villain’s lieutenant that is redeemed and transformed back into his old royal self, but the villain herself, turning out to be as much a princess as Celestia herself, a much more powerful ending.

-The reason Firefly and many of the other original ponies aren’t in FiM is due to a huge and complicated copyright kerfuffle that Hasbro is in over the original rights to the characters. They managed to keep Spike and Applejack due to their inclusion in the G3 line of toys, but seem to have lost the rest. Sadly there is very little authoritative and properly sourced information I can find on the details of this. In the end, it doesn’t much matter. The show is just as good with the names and colors being a little different.
Next week: Flashbacks, secret origins, and the power of history to shape the present. And you still still don’t know whether I’m going in production order or broadcast order!

“…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?