Sunday, January 18, 2015

I’ll bet everyone thinks I’m useless, and they’re mad at me for messing things up! (The Glass Princess)

This week's guest post is by the inimitable Spoilers Below, who was provided quite a few over the past couple of years. This is the next, and possibly last, entry in their study of the original My Little Pony cartoon.

The Letter: Dear Princess Celestia,

Being kidnapped is terrible! Why does it happen so often? I don’t understand the absurdity of the act. They take us, we escape, their dwelling is destroyed. Do we not have a dangerous reputation now? Must they continually smash themselves up against our walls until they learn, until they are transformed into friends? Or is it that we kidnap them, with our kindness, transforming them into things like ourselves, until they can no longer see themselves anymore, can see only us when they look into a pool of water or a pane of clean glass? Again and again, over and over, the script plays out. And again and again, we drive them away or we convert them to our cause. If they just want to be friends, why must they tug on our manes and throw stones? Why don’t they just ask?

As always, I remain your faithful student,


What is it? A four-parter about Shady and her friends getting stolen from the pony olympics, getting their manes shaved, and breaking free.

Is this episode worth watching? Nah, this is one to skip. It’s overlong, with bad singing, a cliche plot ripped from 101 Dalmatians, and is mostly a retread of the same thing we’ve seen in the past few adventures.

How was this entry written? Some of these parts were written entirely on 20-year-old memories of the episodes, the others directly after watching all four parts, with only minimal editing for spelling, grammar, and the weather reports, titles, etc. recorded afterwards. Can you guess which are which?

What else was happening? 6-9 Oct 1986 - Phantom of the Opera debuts in London, a musical all about masks and lies and dark reflections. Bernard Kalb resigns his post as State Department spokesman, citing his dissatisfaction with the Reagan administration’s misinformation campaign and its repeated attempts to deceive news organizations about Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi . “'Anything that hurts America's credibility hurts America,” he tells the New York Times. And, fittingly, the Waterford Glass Group of Ireland offers to purchase Wedgwood P.L.C., the 227-year-old maker of fine china, for approximately $360 million.

0 As I write this, it is a pleasant 70 degree day outside, and I am wearing shorts and a t-shirt in front of the computer. Tomorrow the temperature is scheduled to drop to at least 30 or lower.

1 Reflections can be a dangerous things. Mirrors are something that we instinctively distrust, because they show us the opposite of the world: letters are backwards, the world is reversed, even our motions themselves are incorrect--as anyone who has tried to adjust something on their face, only to find that they simply can’t use the mirror image as a reference will understand. But a reflection isn’t actually the opposite, is it? It doesn’t show the world as a film negative does, for example. Good doesn’t become evil, it becomes dooG. They show us what to avoid, what to correct, what to change. And one could never actually pass through a mirror, of course, even if it were a porous surface, because one’s reflection would always be in the way.

2 One of the things about post-modern approaches to art is that the work itself begins to function as a Rorschach blot: one can only find within it what one is aware of. Whenever I think of sunglasses, both the mirrored kind and the pony, I think of the terribly evocative opening of J.M. Coetzee’s powerful and disturbing novel Waiting for the Barbarians (1980):
I HAVE NEVER SEEN anything like it: two little discs of glass suspended in front of his eyes in loops of wire. Is he blind? I could understand it if he wanted to hide blind eyes. But he is not blind. The discs are dark, they look opaque from the outside, but he can see through them. He tells me they are a new invention. "They protect one's eyes against the glare of the sun," he says. "You would find them useful out here in the desert. They save one from squinting all the time. One has fewer headaches. Look." He touches the corners of his eyes lightly. "No wrinkles." He replaces the glasses. It is true. He has the skin of a younger man. "At home everyone wears them."
Said novel is all about self-doubt and the self-loathing experienced by the colonial magistrate who finds himself powerless to stop the brutal torture and execution of the indigenous locals by a military commander who is posted there to subdue a suspected “native uprising” (it is about much more than that, but this description will do for our purposes). It is of course mere coincidence that Shady’s name recalls the glasses which recall the book which recall the feelings which recall Shady’s feelings. (They also recall the description of a glasses-wearing party official in 1984.) Though the timeframe isn’t impossible (the book was published in 1980, the episode is from 1986), it is certainly unlikely that the story’s authors had the novel or colonialism in mind when they wrote a children’s TV episode about three ponies being kidnapped and exploited for their “natural resources”, which would result in a dramatic transformation of their indigenous land.

3 Self-reflection can be a wonderful thing. “Know thyself” is rightfully enthroned as one of the pillars of philosophy, as without understanding the self and what makes you you, it can be difficult to map your experiences onto others experiences, to show empathy, or to think about how you’ve changed and what ways you’d like to be in the future. Without reflecting on the self, we could never grow, never learn, never improve. And if we cannot take care of ourselves, how can we be expected to take care of others?

4 Imitation of what’s on the TV screen can prove dangerous. Supposedly, a lot of children cut their pony’s hair after watching these episodes, believing that their manes would magically grow back just as they did on the program. Behind the glass, the projected CRT world lied: the television cannot make the laws of the world change. A plastic toy isn’t the magical creature it is in your mind.

5 Self-confidence is the most fragile thing in the world. Is it strange what damages it. One can be the toughest, most self-assured, utterly resolute individual, and the wrong feather blown against you on the wrong day can bring it all tumbling down. What we build our confidence on matters, therefore. Some decide to place it in other people, some in objects, some in themselves. But other people will let you down, betray you, abandon you, or will simply have their own lives to live and can’t be there when you need them. Can you rely on them to get you what you want? Objects are fleeting, temporary; how does one know that one has enough? How can one compare one’s possessions to another person’s? Is an ancient crown worth the same as a priceless cape made of magical pony hair? How about a magical rainbow? And as for yourself, well, you’re scary, aren’t you? Who knows you better than yourself? It’s so difficult to look at yourself and say “I love you. You’re worth it. You’re a good person, and you deserve to keep going and be happy” that it’s little wonder people turn to others and to objects rather than do it themselves.

5 Self-esteem is at once the most important and most overrated concept in the world. The degree of self-examination we do these days can be terribly damaging. While sometimes it is good to ask questions, to reevaluate the situation, to question our first principles and make sure we are still on the right course, constantly checking and rechecking inevitably leads to self-doubt: “What if someone out there is having more fun?” “What if I’d be happier doing something else?” “What if I’d be happier with that those people have?” The ability to make yourself happy with what you have right now, to live contentedly in the situation you are in, without falling into despair and giving up all hope for the future, is a delicate and difficult balance to strike.

4 Imitation of what’s on the TV screen can prove beneficial. One can get an interesting read of what is and isn’t acceptable in society based on what’s being watched by its people. And in a very real sense, the positive portrayal of a character like William Truman can do more to alter societal views than any amount of publishing or activism. Behind the glass, the projected world shapes the real one: the television can make the laws of the world change. Take Porcina’s treatment of the ponies as real, once she encounters them in person, after watching them through her mirror. She can’t bring herself to hurt real things. Even a vain, selfish, isolated and disconnected person can learn the rules and learn empathy.

3 Reflections are wonderful. They are the closest thing we'll ever get to seeing ourselves from the outside. One can never see the back of one’s head, one’s shoulder blades, one’s chin.

Mirrors are a brilliant tool for safety, for science, for beauty. And they allow us to multiply light, turning a small candle flame into a room filling blaze.

2 One of the things about post-modern approaches to art is that the criticism usually begins to diverge from a discussion of the work itself to a discussion of other topics, minor details, the historical context, the author’s life, and even postmodernism itself. Said context can be important for establishing how and why a work is the way it is. For example, Sakura Trick can be enjoyed by itself, but knowing that it comes from a tradition of Japanese schoolgirl 4-panel comics (a pretty direct line from Azumanga Daioh through Lucky Star and K-ON!; Sakura Trick is in some readings the logical conclusion of said shows) enhances our understanding of why certain characters act the way they act, why situations are the way they are, why set-ups and beats are paced that way... By making the off-screen implied shipping of the previous series explicit, Sakura Trick refuses to indulge in any of the sly games or fantasies that the other series did. And yet, by doing so in the context of a decidedly non-explicit 4-panel gag strip, rather than a romance comic, it paradoxically manages to come off as far more realistic than its counterparts in either of the two traditions it emerges from. Lest you think I am being weird by bringing up seinen shoujo-ai manga up, can you think of any other form of media which is utterly dominated by female characters (Sakura Trick features zero prominent male characters) with self-esteem problems resolved through the power of friendship, consumed by young men? Perhaps the appeal of My Little Pony amongst male viewers isn’t so strange after all. They’ve been watching programs about young women for years and years, but no one bothers to talk much about it seriously.

1 Self-reflection can be a dangerous thing. While “Know Thyself” may be rightly understood as one of the foundational principals of all philosophy, too much time spent in the self and the “interior world” will almost inevitably lead to depression and insecurity. No one can focus on themselves for too long without seeing all their faults, all their imperfections, all their flaws magnified. The mirror shows us a bad world, a world that we rightfully keep on the other side of the glass. One can never actually pass through a mirror, of course, even if it were a porous surface, because your reflection would always be in the way. Best to keep it there.

0 As I write this, it is a chilly 20 degree evening outside and I am bundled up in front of the computer under a blanket. Yesterday it was a pleasant 70 degree day. Who knows what the weather will be like tomorrow?

What else was happening? 6-9 Oct 1986 - The Waterford Glass Group of Ireland offers to purchase Wedgwood P.L.C., the 227-year-old maker of fine china, for approximately $360 million. Bernard Kalb resigns his post as State Department spokesman, citing his dissatisfaction with the Reagan administration’s misinformation campaign and its repeated attempts to deceive news organizations about Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi . ''Anything that hurts America's credibility hurts America,” he tells the New York Times. And, fittingly, Phantom of the Opera, a musical all about masks and lies and dark reflections, debuts in London.

How was this entry written? Some of these halves were written directly after watching all 4 parts, the others entirely on 20 years old memories of the episodes, with only minimal editing for spelling, grammar, and the weather report performed afterwards. Can you guess which are which?

Is this episode worth watching? Totally! As a meditation on the nature of duality, the fragility of self-esteem, and the need for friendship, this is another solid entry in the canon.

What is it? A four parter about Shady being depressed about not being able to contribute to the community, and rescuing her friends kidnapped by an evil princess, thereby getting her confidence back.

The Letter: Dear Princess Celestia,

I was thinking about coins today. We toss a coin to determine which side goes first in sport, because that’s the most fair way. It’s random, which of the two sides will come up. But at what point, though, does one side of the coin become the other? A coin really has three sides, not two, counting the edge. Or five if you count the lip between rim and face. Or hundreds, if the side is ridged... those are the sides that do not matter, perhaps? And why must we compete with one another? Striving in friendship towards mutual improvement is among the most pleasurable of things, but the darkness lurking beneath it, the spectre of hatred, jealousy, and weakness that haunts, begging to be let out, is ever present.

As always, I remain your faithful student,

Twilight Sparkle

Shady, it’s not your fault. No one in the world is perfect. It’s time you saw the light. (The Glass Princess)

Addendum: Self-Reflection

So, the blog comes to an end. It’s unlikely that Jed will ever write about ponies again, and therefore unlikely that he’ll need guest entries of this nature. Knowing myself, any attempt to take over would proceed in fits and spurts before flaming out completely; I simply don’t have the stamina for a weekly schedule of posting. And is there even an audience for the classic show? It was a niche of a niche to begin with. Was anyone enjoying the look back at the origins of the show? Were there any old fans in my position, enjoying the continuity from yesterday to today? Is this really the end? Who knows. Perhaps, perhaps not. Jed’s pony posting was something I looked forward to on Sundays, even if I didn’t have any comments to add.

This entry itself brought about its own synchronicities. I had an infected kidney, one of the few mirrored organs in the body, which had to be fixed with two surgeries, which required the delay of writing this entry by weeks. I lost some weight as a result while convalescing, but I still recognize myself in the mirror. It’s interesting, having no choice but to slow down and do nothing. It’s not something I’m used to. I wrote nothing for three weeks straight, after two years of nightly activity. It’s not pleasant, being forced to do things against your will like that, but the body isn’t something which can be persuaded or bribed or argued into compliance. Physical reality isn’t the ideal world. But that level of anger is hard to maintain, especially when its so utterly futile. When there is nothing to do but lay and heal, you learn to lay and heal. The world didn’t change very much without me participating in it. You’d think more would have happened, at least on the microscale, with my being out of it for so long, but not much did, certainly not in the grand scheme of things. One of the odd things about following the world closely is the idea that you can predict what will happen next, that by being well informed, you can somehow control or shape the world around you. But it’s not really like that. The world moves of its own accord, and is simply waiting there for you to rejoin it once you’re through convalescing. I watched more TV in the past few weeks than I have in years.

It’s a TV show I came to incidentally, Friendship is Magic, catching a random episode (“Friendship is Magic, Part 2”) while flipping through channels at my fiance’s house over lunch. I binge-watched the series on Netflix a year or so later. I loved the old show as a child, and it was interesting to see the new show be of such high quality. That the protagonist was a librarian displaying a number of OCD traits further inclined me to like it; it’s rare to encounter a protagonist so much like myself. They’re usually bookish caricatures, or hand washing jokes, certainly not main characters.

I was late to the brony phenomenon, and honestly, it still baffles me to a certain degree, as I have almost zero direct connection to it. I’ve never interacted with one in person: the closest I’ve come is watching a young man awkwardly hit on a young woman by explaining that he’s a brony, but that the older show sucked compared to the new show. She smiled and nodded politely and kept browsing in the manga section, not engaging. I wasn’t going to step in and explain all the details he was getting wrong, because what would be weirder than the librarian who is twice their age inserting himself into the conversation with his bizarrely extensive knowledge about a 28 year old children’s TV show? (In my defense, I had literally watched “Rescue at Midnight Castle” the evening before.) No, that’s a level of awkward that I simply could not manage. As The Onion article mocks, I Appreciate The Muppets On A Much Deeper Level Than You. I also once stood in line behind a woman at the local gaming store who purchased a set of My Little Pony card sleeves: she was very friendly, and had participated in the same costume contest as my wife and I earlier that day. None of us talked about ponies.

Toy collectors, on the other hand, I know a bunch of them. They seem just as baffled and pleasantly amused. For them, they’re happy to have new ponies to add to their collections. The show, they could take or leave, just as they did with all the previous incarnations of the show.

To those who were enjoying, I’m happy that I could share my thoughts and ideas with you. To those who were annoyed by these jaunts into the past and interruptions in the usual schedule, no worries, I’ll probably never trouble you again.

Take care of one another, and please be good. Perhaps we’ll see one another some day, when the ponies find a gigantic puppy, and deal with the consequences.

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