Sunday, June 30, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Derivative Works Month Coming!

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

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

Friday, June 28, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Rarity Needs More Songs

Nothing deep or profound today, just the observation that both of Rarity's musical numbers are excellent and if she doesn't get another in Season 4 I'll be sad.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Rarity is Farsighted

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

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: I can't believe I actually have to say this.

Bronies vandalized a piece of public art. There's some uncalled-for hating on bronies in general in that thread, but the core point is valid: anyone who defaces art is a criminal and deserves to be punished. It is an act of violence and desecration, and I am ashamed to share a fandom with the people who did this.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Drinking Names

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

This is what passes for entertainment in my house.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Just Straight-Up Regular Apocalypse

As bad as Rainbow Dash would be, the thought of Pinkie Pie becoming an alicorn princess is even more terrifying. Like, end-of-consensus-reality, welcome-to-the-Twilight-Zone bad.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: And You Thought Pinklestia Was Bad

Okay, so, regardless of opinions on Equestria Girls, can we all agree that the associated toys suck weaselmonkeys? Because... wow, they are just completely terrible, aren't they? I was already complaining that the Equestria Girls characters look like Bratz dolls, and apparently Hasbro decided to screw with me personally by releasing what amount to actual ponies as Bratz dolls.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Liveblog?

Would there be any interest in an Equestria Girls liveblog? My thinking is, somewhere in the week following the DVD release, I make a PoTD thread that exists solely for us to all start watching Equestria Girls at a predetermined time and comment with our thoughts as we watch.

Yes, I am now ripping off Mark Watches as well as TARDIS Eruditorum.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: The Crackfic Writes Itself

I just found out that Charlotte Fullerton, one of my favorite writers on Friendship Is Magic, is the widow of the late, great Dwayne McDuffie.

So basically, Rarity and Static Shock are step-siblings.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Not so much. The word "fierce" comes to mind. (May the Best Pet Win)

Teenage helicopter tortoise
Teenage helicopter tortoise
Teenage helicopter tortoise
Tortoise with a rotor
Tortoise power!
It's November 19, 2011. The top song is still Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris with "We Found Love." Last week I forgot to replace the generic placeholders for the artist and title, which is actually hilariously appropriate for this song. The top movie for the weekend is Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part One, the latest installment of a series that dares to tell women that if they're bland and personality-less enough, they can win an eternity of romance with an abusive monster. So basically it's the anti-pony.


Speaking of ponies and deft segues, on TV we have "May the Best Pet Win," written by Charlotte Fullerton and directed by James Wootton. It's a fun little episode, with a catchy song and a consistently amusing competition between the animals trying to earn the spot as Rainbow Dash's pet. It's pretty obvious from the start that the tortoise will win via some variant of "slow and steady wins the race," but there's so much else going on around that predictable story that the episode ends up oversignified, if anything.

For example, from the moment Rainbow Dash confesses that she might be interested in having a pet someday, Fluttershy is immediately all over her. Anyone who spends time around geeks knows someone like that, and most of us have probably been that person at some point: the evangelical geek, the one who cannot wait until you try their newest obsession and won't stop bugging you until you do. Rainbow Dash is surprisingly willing to humor her, although she does start to get aggravated as Fluttershy offers the pets she would like, rather than ones Rainbow Dash would appreciate. By the end of the musical number, however, Rainbow Dash is fully sold on the idea.

It's rather like the way I, and I suspect more than a few other bronies, got into the show: my then-fiancee was watching it, and kept bothering me to join her. Eventually I broke down and watched the first two episodes, and liked them just enough to keep going a little longer. Eventually, somewhere near the middle of the first season, I realized I was hooked, and became an enthusiastic participant. I suppose this blog is my heli-tortoise, only not as awesome. Nothing is as awesome as a heli-tortoise.

Fluttershy, in other words, can be read as a pushy Friendship Is Magic fan trying to persuade her friend to watch the show. As long as she presents the things she likes about it, Rainbow Dash is uninterested; it's only when Fluttershy starts taking into account Rainbow Dash's preferences that she starts to build some enthusiasm.

And then this interesting parallel just stops, as after the song Fluttershy steps aside and lets Rainbow Dash take over the rest of the episode. Instead, we get something else entirely going on, one of the most subtle "disabled people are just as deserving of friendship and respect" morals I've ever seen.

Think about it. The reason Rainbow Dash doesn't like Tank is because he moves slowly and can't fly. Because, in other words, he lacks physical attributes and abilities she takes for granted. From her perspective, he's disabled, and because of that she devalues him, even though that's what's natural for him. She then learns her lesson, and realizes Tank is awesome and the best pet imaginable and utterly flawless in every conceivable way. (I may be slightly partisan. Slightly.)

Generally, there are two hazards an episode like this has to navigate. It has to make clear that the disabled character really is disabled--if it depicts them being able to do everything an able-bodied person can without any additional effort or assistance it just encourages the (disturbingly widespread) belief that disabled people are faking or exaggerating their condition for attention or out of laziness. (No, seriously; my mother is disabled, and I have witnessed people treating her this way more times than I can count.) At the same time, it cannot treat the disabled person as less than fully a person, with as much to offer as anyone else.

Given its usually excellent handling of gender and consistently awful handling of race, it's completely up for grabs how well Friendship Is Magic will do with a thorny issue of identity politics. Happily, it knocks this one out of the park. Tank's lack of speed and agility cause him to lose most of the competitions, but he plays to his physical strengths (powerful neck muscles and tough shell) to employ a strategy against Opal that would have worked if Rainbow Dash hadn't unfairly cut him off. Disabled people aren't stupid or automatically incompetent at all physical tasks, but again you'd be surprised how many people I've encountered who act as if they believe exactly that.

In the end, of course, Tank wins mostly because he cares about helping Rainbow Dash more than winning the contest. But he also wins in part because of his difference. Rainbow Dash and the flying animals all have in common that they can fly, and hence that they are lightly built. None of them can carry the huge boulder that fell on Rainbow Dash--but sturdy Tank can. His strength doesn't come from his disability (if you are in need of a new one and would like my mother to tear it for you, try suggesting that her disability is in any way a "blessing in disguise"), but is independent of it. His disability is part of who he is, but not the totality.

And thus we kick off Rainbow Dash's character arc. Part of the new freedom the show has found in breaking away from the Twilight-learns-a-friendship-lesson formula is that other characters can now start developing. One of Rainbow Dash's biggest flaws (appropriately for the Element of Loyalty, in the same sense that Rarity's possessiveness is the perfect flaw for the Element of Generosity) is her self-centered approach to the world. She tends to discount and dismiss the interiority and subjectivity of others, hence her disdainful and unsympathetic treatment of Fluttershy in "Dragonshy." Thus, while she has a healthy self-confidence and values her own abilities highly, she has yet to fully understand that there are other ways to be that could be just as valuable.

Like Fluttershy in the first part of the episode, in other words, Rainbow Dash has failed to take into account what's going on inside the people around her, and thus unintentionally behaved obnoxiously. Just as Fluttershy needed to dial back on her fervor and find pets that appealed to Rainbow Dash's taste, so does Rainbow Dash need to understand that Tank has value even though his virtues aren't the same as hers. It's a small step on the long road toward understanding and accepting responsibility for the effect she has on others, and it's a development that will be revisited more than once in this and the following season.

Admittedly, throughout this episode Rainbow Dash is the subject and Tank the object; he is a means by which she learns a lesson about how to treat other people, not a character in his own right. Of course, he's an animal and a pet, so that's not so bad, but still, it is a little problematic that our first disabled character exists solely to further the character development of an able-bodied pony.

But he gets a sweet helicopter pack out of it, so that's okay.

Next Week: Speaking of revisiting Rainbow's character arc...

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: The Book Lineup

So, I've more or less finalized the lineup of articles for My Little Po-Mo Volume 1:
  • 26 Sunday articles from this site, everything from "Dear Princess Celestia..." (which will be the book's introduction) to "This day was going to be perfect/The kind of day of which I've dreamt since I was small (The Best Night Ever)." All are revised and expanded for the book.
  • Two articles I wrote for other sites, both of which I revised and expanded for the book:
    • Fillies for Feminism
    • The Brony Effect
  • An excerpt from an article I wrote for an essay anthology that hasn't been published yet because I'm the only contributor who turned theirs in on time: A Brief History of Saturday Morning.
  • Four brand-new, book exclusive articles:
    • Theophrasus Bombastus Twilight Sparkle von Hohenheim
    • The Melancholy of Celestia Suzumiya
    • A Cutie Mark Conundrum
    • Today I Learned... (which will summarize the first season and close out the book)
Feel free to keep suggesting articles, though. Even if I don't put them in this book, there's always the next one--and who knows, if it's appropriate and a good idea, I might put it in this one after all. I thought I had the list nailed down yesterday, but somebody suggested an article to me on Twitter and it was too perfect not to do.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Are we appropriating MLP?

Two things before the actual PTOD: First, I finally broke down and got a bloody Twitter account. If you'd like to follow me, I'm @Froborr.

Second, please note, I'm linking here to an article by Amanda Marcotte, a writer and activist I greatly admire. The article in question is not her best work and makes some assumptions about bronies that I think most of us would regard as incorrect. Please don't prove her right with your response; if you comment on the article or message her, do so with the love and tolerance that are the motto of our community.

As I discussed in my Pony Thoughts of the Day on implied viewers, I think the show does offer a space for adult geek viewers of either gender, though the original intent was most likely to make a space for the show’s creators. At the same time, there are a plethora of shows for adult geeks, but as far as I know this is the only currently airing show for small kids that depicts women as full, equal human beings, each of who is an individual. The kids need this show, so much as I love it, if it ever came to a conflict between being good for the kids and good for the geeks, I have to say that the kids should win.

Which makes Amanda Marcotte’s Slate article on Equestria Girls deeply unsettling for me, because she has an explanation for perhaps the biggest question about Equestria Girls: Why?
Turning the ponies into human girls does seem like a baffling choice on its surface. There are plenty of teenage girl dolls for little girls to buy, from the aforementioned Bratz to the ever-popular Barbie, but the Ponies were really holding down the market by appealing to the apparently genetic affinity little girls have for all things equestrian that dates back at least to National Velvet. But what if the change wasn't about little girls at all? What if there was another audience—an older, male, and kind of off-putting audience—that also loves the Ponies and wants nothing more than imagery of them as humans to appeal to their less-than-innocent fantasies about really getting personal with their favorite toys? If there was such an audience, they have a little bit more disposable income than little girls, and selling to them, even if you alienate parents of little girls, might end up being quite profitable indeed.
If true, and it seems plausible enough, then bronies are crossing a line from enjoying Friendship Is Magic to appropriating it. If we are exerting influence on major creative decisions, then something is deeply wrong and we need to find a way to stop it.

That said, I’m not convinced this is actually true. Marcotte makes the erroneous assumption that bronies are watching the show out of a prurient interest. While it’s true that Friendship Is Magic porn exists, it’s unsurprising that a search with the word “porn” in it turned up porn. A better test would be googling a character name with SafeSearch off (I do not recommend actually attempting this); entering a female character from Avatar the Last Airbender or Pokemon produces porn much higher in the results than a Friendship Is Magic character. There’s more than there was a year ago, admittedly, but clop is still controversial—is there any other fandom where porn is debated, rather than an accepted fact?

It’s also a stretch to refer to the Equestria Girls designs as “sexy.” Yes, they all wear skirts (a decision I’ve criticized before), but otherwise there isn’t anything particularly sexualized in their presentations. They are neither realistic depictions of young women nor overtly sexualized; they look, as the mother quoted in the article says, like Bratz dolls. I find it hard to believe, and hard to believe that Hasbro believes, that “people who want to have sex with Bratz dolls” are a lucrative potential market, let alone the subset of that group that are also bronies.

No, I suspect a much more likely culprit is that, after three years, the original members of the target demographic are starting to age out of the show, and Hasbro is trying to find a way to squeeze a few more dollars out of them. They did something similar before, with My Little Pony Tales in 1992, long before bronies. Admittedly those characters were still ponies, but more anthropomorphized than the first incarnation.

So, this probably isn’t an attempt to appeal to bronies. But if it is, or if at some future point Hasbro and DHX start making major creative decisions in an attempt to appeal to bronies instead of little girls, then as I said we’ll know we’ve crossed the line from appreciation to appropriation. At that point, I believe we in the brony community would have a collective responsibility to try to find a way to encourage the show to return to being the best thing on television for little girls.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Rariplexity

Is Rarity the most complex character ever to appear in a children’s show? No, not when you consider characters like Avatar the Last Airbender’s Zuko or pretty much the entire cast of Princess Tutu.

Is she the most complex character ever to appear in a show for children this young? As far as I know, yes. Yes she is. While Fluttershy is my favorite pony and probably always will be (unless they do an episode where she’s, like, a bigot or something), Rarity is the most fun character in the show to write about for this blog, by a wide margin.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: This Comic Amuses Me Because I Am Five

I like this comic. I wish I knew the source; I found it on Tumblr but the person who shared it didn't give any attribution.

Edit: Commenter ppplusplus found the source! Thanks!

http://doublewbrothers.deviantart.com/art/A-show-for-little-girls-349191758

Monday, June 10, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Subtext, Shipping, and Space

One of my favorite things about Friendship Is Magic is the near-total lack of romantic relationships. There are very few canonical pairs, and except for Shining Armor and Cadance, they're all far in the background--pretty much just the Cakes and the Mane Six's parents.

There are two things I like about this. One is purely personal: I'm sick of romantic subplots getting shoved into everything, and glad to see something that doesn't have them for once. The other is more for others' sake: it creates a space into which viewers so inclined can insert interpretations of the characters' sexuality and romantic behavior that might not be supported by the text.

It makes shipping easier, in other words.

Now, I personally am not a big fan of shipping; as I said, I'm sick of romantic subplots, so I'm not going to make up my own. That said, shipping does serve a useful function in that it allows people whose sexual interests might be underrepresented or even taboo to find something for themselves in mass media. For example, there is no way in hell Lyra/Bon-Bon could be depicted as a canonical pairing in a children's show in 2013; Western culture has come a long way in combating its rampant homophobia in the past few years, but nonetheless the mere depiction of a same-sex couple is still considered more risque than a heterosexual couple.

By not having much in the way of onscreen romance, the show allows everything from my own "all ponies are entirely asexual, but a small percentage are romantic asexuals" to "everypony is having off-camera lesbian orgies multiple times a day." So I can happily watch knowing that I'll never be contradicted by the show, but so can someone who ships Big Mac/Cranky Doodle or Fluttershy/Crysalis or Angel/Spike. (Do people ship that last one? If so, is it called BuffyShipping or VampireShipping or something like that? Because that'd amuse me greatly. Still wouldn't touch those fics with a ten-foot pole, though.)

Sunday, June 9, 2013

You don't have any cutie marks *either*? I thought I was the only one! (The Cutie Pox)


Sweetie Belle bowls WITH HER FACE.
Anyone who dislikes the CMC is OBJECTIVELY WRONG.
It's November 12, 2011. The top song is Rihanna featuring [somebody] with "[stupid title]." As we've come to expect from top Rihanna singles, the song is repetitive, brainless, and cliche, and the video is hilariously pretentious. The top movie this weekend is "Immortals," yet another CG-fest action movie that forgets to have a story, characters, or acting in it. Since last episode, Barnes & Noble released the nook, which will become the number two dedicated e-book reader, a record number of Americans (just shy of 50 million) are living below the poverty line, and the International Atomic Energy Commission reveals that Iran may be working on nuclear weapons technology. The U.S. demands that Iran stop, apparently under the impression that the only country in history ever to use nuclear weapons to kill people has the moral authority to tell other countries whether they get them.

“The Cutie Pox,” written by Amy Keating Rogers and directed by Jayson Thiessen, isn’t a bad episode or even really a mediocre one. It’s just that, from “Party of One” to “Sisterhooves Social,” the show was on fire for seven straight episodes, and now that it’s back to being merely pretty good, it’s a bit of a let-down. It also does not help at all that this is the second episode in a row to focus on a Cutie Mark Crusader, though admittedly “Sisterhooves Social” had too much Applejack and Rarity in it to be considered a pure Cutie Mark Crusader episode.

The episode also features Zecora more heavily than any episode since her debut. I’ve addressed why I consider her a deeply problematic character before, so here I will simply repeat my call for the only cure for tokenism: we need more zebras on the show! There are some problems with the plotting, too, most notably that Applejack and Twilight Sparkle seem to make a huge logical leap when they decide to seek out Zecora to cure Apple Bloom, and then Zecora coincidentally shows up anyway, making it entirely unnecessary. I suppose it’s possible that they thought a five-year-old would need reminding that Zecora was involved, but the show is normally more confident of its audience’s ability to follow along. Also, it doesn’t really matter much, but it’s never made entirely clear whether the effects of the Heart’s Desire plant merely simulated the ancient plague, or the original Cutie Pox was caused by ponies using Heart’s Desire.

There’s also the question of why Apple Bloom doesn’t get her heart’s desire, but that’s easily explained both diegetically and non-diegetically. Non-diegetically, entities that grant wishes are almost always tricksters, and grant a parody of the wish instead. This episode fits neatly into that narrative tradition, but more interesting is the diegetic explanation.

Consider the Mane Six in “The Cutie Mark Chronicles.” For each of them, it’s not simply a matter of doing a particular kind of work and discovering they’re great at it; Applejack and Twilight Sparkle in particular have been doing farmwork and magic, respectively, for years when they get their cutie marks. In every one of the flashbacks in that episode, what causes the appearance of the cutie mark is not discovering their talent, but discovering that they love their talent. That's why Rarity's talent is design and not mining; why Rainbow Dash's is racing and not sky-clearing, and so on.

Apple Bloom doesn't know what it is that she loves to do. She has shown, by the end of this episode, an amazing talent for various kinds of hands-on work, most notably carpentry in "The Showstoppers" and potion-making in "The Cutie Pox" itself. Yet despite demonstrating these talents, Apple Bloom still doesn't have her cutie mark, because she hasn't found--or decided on--her calling.

Which is exactly why she gets the titular Cutie Pox. Since she wishes for any cutie mark, the Heart's Desire gives her every cutie mark. At least, she would presumably have continued getting new cutie marks for the rest of her life if she hadn't been cured. And note that most of the talents Apple Bloom demonstrates are showy, public ones that a performer might have--hula hoop stunts, plate-spinning, tightrope walking, and so on. This is because Apple Bloom's motivation for wanting a cutie mark is her desire for validation (that is, her desire for proof that she has value); she wants the approval and acceptance of others, and she believes that she can get that if she is seen to have a cutie mark. (Interestingly, the precise reasons that Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle want their cutie marks are never revealed; we can presume it's similar to Apple Bloom's reasons, but there's little actual textual evidence for this.)

Our society has a lot of ugly messages about validation floating in it, especially during the prime dating years of late teens through twenties, which happen also to be the prime brony years. The most common is the message that you need a committed, romantic, sexual relationship to be a whole person--that anyone who lacks such a thing or, worse, has never experienced it is somehow lacking. Combined with our culture's general heteronormativity, many of us end up internalizing the message that you need a member of the opposite sex to validate you. Broadly, men get told they need to get laid, and women get told they need to have a boyfriend or get married.

This is a deeply poisonous idea. It both feeds and is fed by the pernicious "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" myth that poisons so many relationships, it aggravates loneliness by encouraging the lonely person to think that they are less of a person because they are lonely, and it is a major contributing factor to Nice Guy Syndrome.

Worst of all, though, it blinds you to other sources of validation. The search for validation is one of the great motivators; once all your basic needs of physical survival are met, which for most of us (alas, not all by any means) is relatively easy, it's the search for validation that drives most of what we do. But the insistence that there is One True Way to Validation obscures the many, many other ways to be validated, or the fact that different possible sources of validation work for different people.

At the end of the episode, typically for Cutie Mark Crusader episodes, Apple Bloom appears to learn nothing. The overt friendship lesson for the kids, about not trying to rush things or be dishonest, seems to be entirely ignored when she waits for a matter of seconds before resuming her crusade with Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle. However, as I've been saying for some time now, the show is increasingly operating on two levels, with an overt friendship lesson for the kids and a subtler one that's applicable to bronies.

There do seem to be hints that Apple Bloom has internalized the other lesson, about not assuming there's only one way to be validated. She doesn't need a cutie mark to feel that she has value; she can achieve that feeling by coming clean about a misdeed, earning her elders' approval with a well-crafted letter to Celestia, or having fun with her friends. Most importantly, because she has lots of ways to feel that she has value, she can start to develop an internal ability to self-validate when the other sources aren't around. Maybe then she can figure out who she is and what she wants, and actually get that cutie mark.

Next Week: Rainbow Dash sings, tortoises fly, and everything is wonderful forever.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Equestria Girls Trailer #2

Remember how I said the first trailer clearly wasn't for me? It's that implied viewer thing; the implied viewer of the first trailer was definitely little girls. The implied viewer for this one, I think, is bronies: more story, more humor, Photo Finish, Vinyl Scratch, confirmation that Spike goes with her...

*yawn*

The song still sucks. I'm going to watch this--I'm considering liveblogging it when I do--but this doesn't leave me with any desire to actually pay the ridiculous cost of a movie ticket for it. Especially since the distributors have hit on this brilliant strategy of only showing the movie in places where no one lives.

So yeah, still not enthused, still cautiously pessimistic, but this trailer was definitely about showing the bits they thought someone like me would be interested in, so they're clearly trying.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Best Episodes vs. Best Season

While I'd argue that, overall, Season Two has more great episodes and fewer bad or mediocre episodes than any other season, I think it could have been better organized. It has two episodes in a row that heavily feature members of the CMC, two Applejack episodes in a row (in fact, of the four episodes that aired in January 2012, three were about Applejack or the Apple family), and both its Rarity episodes were in the first nine (which wouldn't have been so bad, except that Season Three had no Rarity episodes, meaning it's now been 30 episodes since the last time Rarity got one). Spreading some of those episodes out would have helped even out the season, and I suspect the clumping influenced fan attitudes negatively--I love the CMC, and even I'm a little nonplussed by having to review "The Cutie Pox" right after "Sisterhooves Social." And I know I didn't start talking about how boring Applejack is until somewhere in late January 2012, right around the third Apple episode of the month.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Mark Does Stuff

This is barely a pony thought, I suppose, but I've been consuming a LOT of Mark Reads and Mark Watches lately. There's a sort of running gag in his The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings reviews that Middle-Earth has scads of talking birds, but what Mark wants are talking horses, and he is endlessly frustrated at their repeated failure to show up.

Now I really, really want him to watch Friendship Is Magic. He would go nuts for it!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Memory Contamination

Way back in the distant mists of the early 2000s, I was taking a class in children's literature and ran into my (completely awesome, by the way) professor on the bus. I mentioned the upcoming Harry Potter movie, and she said she never went to movies of books she liked, because the actors in the film would contaminate her experience of the book--once she saw the movie, she would forever hear their voices when she read the book, instead of the voices she imagined previously.

I never really got what she meant until I rewatched "Sisterhooves Social" for Sunday's post. As I've mentioned before, it's the source for my favorite episode of Friendship Is Witchcraft, and this makes it really hard to pay attention to what the characters are saying and doing. Every time I see a shot used in Friendship Is Witchcraft, I hear that dialogue in my head!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: Pigs. Again with the Pigs.

So I've got class issues in Equestria on my mind for various reasons, and I'm watching "Sisterhooves Social," and I notice something: basically all hooved mammals in Equestria can talk, right? I mean, we've seen ponies, sheep, donkeys, and mules speak--it's reasonable to assume pigs can, too, right?

So what's up with the Apples gathering up the bruised apples to give to the pigs? Isn't that kind of an awful thing to do to a sentient being?

And then you put on top of that the way they treat the sheep in that episode... is Applejack a racist speciesist?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Pony Thought of the Day: My Little Po-Mo Volume One

Remember that Super Sekrit Projekt I mentioned in the last metapost? My Little Po-Mo Volume One will be going on sale beginning in late August/early September, with dead tree versions available on Amazon and B&N.com, and e-book versions in multiple formats from Smashwords.

It'll have revised and expanded versions of every episode article from "The Mare in the Moon" to "Best Night Ever," plus several articles which have never appeared on this site that talk about season- or series-spanning themes, the fandom, and other topics that don't fit in the episode articles.

I'm pretty excited about this. I'll be launching a Kickstarter in a few weeks to cover production costs (mostly paying the copy editor and cover designer, both of whom I've already retained), and I'll post here regularly with updates on the process.

We'll start, though, with a question: While I have a few articles I'm definitely doing, there's still some flexibility in what I'm doing for the new book-exclusive articles. Anyone have anything they'd particularly like me to talk about--either a theme that showed up in more than one episode that they'd like to see me expand on, or something in the fandom that's relevant to the first season, or anything along those lines?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

This isn't at all what I imagined. (Sisterhooves Social)

Normally I would make a silly comment, but I'm too
distracted by Rarity's mother's pants. Have we EVER seen
a pony wearing pants before this? Do we ever again?
It's November 5, 2011, and so, for no reason other than that it pleases me to do so, I offer you this bit of
doggerel with apologies to Alan Moore and centuries of folk tradition:

Remember, remember
The Fifth of November
The two sisters who were not
I know of no reason
This sisterhood season
Should ever be forgot

The top song is still the exact same tiresome bit of Adele, and the top movie this weekend is Puss in Boots, the horrifyingly awful spinoff of the horrifyingly awful, omnipresent, and never-ending Shrek series. Rather appropriately, the series took a weekend off between the last episode and this one, which I completely should have cited when I decided to do a guest post. Ah, well. In the two weeks since last episode, an earthquake in Turkey killed hundreds of people, but did not stop the world's population from hitting seven billion on Halloween. In a not unrelated story, the U.S. Department of Energy reveals that 2010 greenhouse gas levels were worse than the worst-case scenarios published by the ICCC four years prior. And twice in these two weeks, Oakland, California police respond violently to that city's Occupy protests.

"Sisterhooves Social" is one of Cindy Morrow's more interesting episodes for me, but curiously, the first time I watched it I found it entirely forgettable. I'm not sure I've rewatched it since, which makes it one of the episodes I've watched least (though there is one episode, which shall remain unnamed, which I have only ever seen once). I'm not sure how I missed this the first time, possibly because it's been on my mind lately, but in large part this is a study of the gap between the intention behind an action and how that action is perceived by others.

There's a term for this phenomenon in third-wave feminist circles: Intent Isn't Magic. (Sometimes with an f-bomb thrown in there, but this is a scholarly, serious site about a children's show, and that kind of language just isn't fucking acceptable.) Though it's usually applied to discussions of gender relations, it applies just as well to Sweetie Belle and Rarity's interactions in this episode. Throughout the first part of the episode, Sweetie Belle has the best of intentions to help her sister, but her actions at first inconvenience Rarity, then destroy her property, and finally seriously set back her work. Rarity, meanwhile, eventually approaches Sweetie Belle with the intent of making peace, but her actions--suggesting activities only she likes, for instance--only drive the two further apart.

I'm actually going to take this a step farther than it's usually taken, and stake out a fairly extreme position: intent isn't just not magic, it's irrelevant. Of course, having said it I'm going to pull back slightly: my intent is relevant to me, but not to you. Your intent is relevant to you, but not to me.

The problem with the intent of others is that it's utterly unknowable. All that can be known is another's actions. Even if you tell me your intentions, I can't rely on that, because you could be lying or mistaken (how often have you done something with what you thought were good intentions, and realized after the fact you had ulterior motives or were just rationalizing?) Of course, fictional characters are different. Fiction has a very low information density compared to reality, which means we can interpolate and interpret much more freely and confidently because all the information that is there can be assumed to be relevant. In other words, because even the most complex fictional character is always going to be vastly simpler and more straightforward than any real human being, we can read their intentions reliably. Thus, the audience knows Sweetie Belle is trying to help and shares her frustration at the repeated failure of her efforts. However, to Rarity, Sweetie Belle is real, and thus her intentions are not readable. Rarity isn't a mind-reader, so she has no choice but to respond to Sweetie Belle's (repeatedly destructive) actions.

Both Rarity and Sweetie Belle find, by the end of the episode, that their intentions cannot enable them to get along; only by changing their behavior can they maintain the bond between them.

I want that written in letters of fire ten thousand feet high. I want that burned into the insides of the eyelids of every human being who ever lived or will live. I want that to be the national anthem of every country and the fight song of every school.

What you were trying to do only matters to you. What you meant to do, what you intended to happen, only matters to you. To the entire rest of the universe, what matters is what you actually do and how it impacts others.

And if that impact is not what you intended for it to be? Then you are doing it wrong and you need to do it differently. If your intentions really are what you think they are, that won't even be difficult; you'll just naturally keep trying things until you get the results you're trying for. Because we know both their intentions, thanks to their fictionality, we know Rarity and Sweetie Belle will eventually work it out, barring some swerve that comes from some story element outside their characters (which is fairly unlikely in anything not by Joss Whedon or George R. R. Martin). They both genuinely want to get along, and therefore they eventually will find a way to do so. Which is another way of saying intent might not be magic, but friendship is.

This really is the next stage after Lesson Zero, and well-placed here, just a couple of episodes after. After recognizing the internality of others, that you cannot ever truly understand what happens inside another person but must accept it, the next step is to realize that they will never truly understand what happens inside your head, that you are more opaque than you realize, and that you will sometimes have to adjust your words and actions because others don't see the thoughts and feelings behind them.

Which brings us to an odd question: Did Morrow intend for this episode to be an examination of the Intent Isn't Magic concept? On one level, we can say probably not: the explicit friendship lesson is about compromise. On the other hand, well, does it matter what she intended? The episode works as an examination of the Intent Isn't Magic concept, and therefore it is one. It follows naturally from the friendship lessons on communication and not making assumptions that predominated shortly before Pinkie Pie broke the show at the end of the first season, and ties them together with the Spike/Nice Guy Syndrome theme. (Spike being a classic example of someone who claims his intention is the benefit of another, but whose actions--and, more importantly, his repeated failure to modify his behavior when it fails to produce the results he supposedly intends--make it clear he's not really after that at all.)

Like everything else that speaks directly to bronies, it might not be intentional, but nonetheless ends up being there. And like I've been saying all along, what the creators of the show do matters more than what they say they intended. Was Rarity's conflict with Sweetie Belle intended to be more of a "don't touch my stuff" thing than the more cleanliness-based conflict it ended up being, as Faust suggested in her recent Q&A on 4chan? Doesn't matter--what matters is the episode that actually aired.

This isn't, I should note, the Death of the Author. There's no rule against considering authorial statements of intent. I've implied (in, admittedly, a moderately gonzo post) that "The Return of Harmony" can be read as a Gnostic fable; do you really think I'd object to an attempt to read it as the product of the stated intentions of the people who made it?

Instead, what I'm arguing is that Authorial Intent Isn't Magic. The work is what it is and has the impact it has, and if it doesn't have the impact the author intended it to have, then it is up to the author to adjust their future work. Saying "Oh, I actually meant X" when people experiencing the work come away with Y is as empty as Sweetie Belle saying she was just trying to help. This isn't to erase the creator--far from it! I have a deep and abiding respect for anyone with the skills to create any kind of art. (Especially the visual arts. I can write, not just in the sense of stringing words into sentences but in the sense of being able to create fiction. I understand how writing works, so even when someone is a much better writer than me, I can sort of see how they did it. Drawing, on the other hand, is basically witchcraft as far as I'm concerned--you put lines on paper and suddenly there is an image. How that's even possible is beyond my feeble brain.)

Instead, what I'm trying to do is prevent creators from overshadowing their work. Case in point, not that long ago on this very blog, a commenter objected to one of my Pony Thoughts of the Day with the words "Faust already said Scootaloo is flightless." Not to pick on them, because this is endemic in fandoms in general, but this was well after at least two episodes of Season Three showed Scootaloo flying.

Ultimately, for all that it may be a harsh lesson, in the context of "Sisterhooves Social" the message that Intent Isn't Magic is a welcoming one, because we were never intended. The show was never made with bronies in mind, and yet here we are.

Because whether they intended to or not, the folks at DHX made a show that is, blatantly obviously in just about every frame, for us. That doesn't mean it's just for us, or that we don't have to share--but it is for us, and that's pretty nice to have.

Next week: It's Amy Keating Rogers. Writing an Apple-centric episode. Yay.