Pony Thought of the Day: Marmite

What is it about Spike that makes him such a love-it-or-hate-it character? I think it basically comes down to whether you judge him more by his behavior in Spike-centric episodes or by his behavior in other episodes where he appears, mostly Twilight-centric ones.

In non-Spike-centric episodes, his character revolves on supporting Twilight, and (especially early on) the fact that he’s a “baby” tends to be emphasized. In Spike-centric episodes, he’s a complete jerk. The Mane Six also get their flaws put on display when they take center stage, of course, but as a general rule either they learn their lessons and move on, or (particularly in the case of Pinkie Pie and to a lesser extent Fluttershy) their flaws are harmful only to themselves. Meanwhile, Spike is repeatedly depicted to be self-centered and greedy in a way that hurts both himself and others, so increasingly (if you focus on those episodes as the ones that define him) it starts to look like he’s wilfully not learning his lesson.

So I think that’s probably why Spike has lots of detractors and lots of defenders, but not a lot of people in between.

0 thoughts on “Pony Thought of the Day: Marmite

  1. I've been waiting for a spike-centric episode to bring this up. See to me, Spike is a child. He doesn't know any better, and just like the CMCs he has much further to go than the Mane 6. Also while he is often a Jerk, part of it does come down to the fact that he is a Dragon in addition to being a familiar. He's a fantasy character playing at the wrong archetype. He's downright altruistic compared to the other Dragons we've seen.

    Which isn't to say that I like him. I actually find him a little tedious. But I just don't see him as bad as all that.

  2. My problem with reading Spike as a child is that he fulfills an adult role, Twilight's assistant. If he is really as immature as all that, he should not have a job, he should be either in school or out playing, like the CMC. This goes back to a point I've made in comments before, which is that you can either read Spike as an adult jerk or Twilight as an abusive parent/exploiter of child labor, and of the two characters Twilight seems to me to be the one worth salvaging.

    The “he's a dragon” argument ignores that he is a sentient being and therefore has the option (and moral responsibility) to override his impulses. It would be one thing if he were shown struggling with it or to have any sense of remorse after he fails, but all too often he doesn't–the show bends over backwards to indulge him and make excuses for him when, frankly, at his worst he's as bad or worse than Gilda.

  3. Spike is clearly Twilight's annoying little brother. This works fine from the audience viewpoint, where Twilight is an identification figure for young girls, but it breaks down when considered from inside the show, where Twilight is a young professional woman.

    Of course, we don't know what the education system for young dragons is.

  4. He's a familiar. A wizard's assistant or servant, often a spirit possessing another creature or given form via a homunculus. The slave labour argument is hard to engage because of the fact that we know fuck all about dragons. Twilight hatched him though but doesn't seem to raise him…he's absent in all of her flashbacks save ” Cutiemark Chronicles”. Frankly their relationship was never really defined and will therefore continue to be problematic.

    He occupies a strange place because he's knowledgeable in terms of book marts but lacks emotional maturity. He's smart enough to read and index magical tomes, but not smart enough not to give into a childlike greed when given presents. He can see where Twilight's worries are misplaced but feels smitten by Rarity in a very “First Grade Playground” sort of way. It's hard to read him, but maybe if we look at him having some sort of difference in his emotional reception or processing? A behavioural problem? Dr. Sandifier has me locked on to redemptive readings, and if I can like Martha Jones, I can ind. good reading of Spike.

    Also Dragons are mythic forces, no matter what mythology. Even in Equetria, some thought must be given to the fact that he's a force of nature a much as a person. Also FiM doesn't seem too hot on the concept of free will or anybody.

  5. “Annoying little brother” doesn't work for me because he is capable of providing emotional support for Twilight in the her-centric episodes; he's just too sensible in those episodes to read as a child to me.

    Theonlyspiral: Has Twilight had any flashbacks he would appear in, though? The only other episode I can think of in which she has flashbacks is “A Royal Wedding,” and IIRC all of those are from before she got her cutie mark/started training with Celestia/hatched Spike. My assumption has been that she lived with Celestia from the time she became her student until she moved to Ponyville.

    You don't like Martha? Wow, you weren't kidding, we really do agree about NOTHING Doctor Who-related except that it's awesome.

    Spike is a force of nature? Sorry, don't buy it. These aren't mythic dragons, they're D&D. (Which isn't to say that there's nothing mythic in D&D, but the dragons aren't where you'll find it.) Might as well say that Rarity or Fluttershy is “a force of nature as much as a person” just because unicorns and pegasi show up in mythology.

    Also FiM doesn't seem too hot on the concept of free will or anybody.

    This is a genuinely fascinating comment and I'd like to hear more. I can sort of vaguely intuit where you're coming from but I'd appreciate details.

  6. I think the comment about free will refers to the Cutie Marks. It seems to be a topic that comes up a lot in the fan base at least.

    Basically, does a pony “choose” their cutie mark, or is it something they are born with? Is it predestined, or do the events leading up to its appearance shape what it turns out to be? Is it the idyllic nature of Equestria that keeps ponies happy with their chosen skill, or does the cutie mark enforce that happiness and keeps Equestria idyllic?

  7. Hmm, I think “Cutie Mark Chronicles” answers that question: The difference between destiny and coincidence is how you look at it, and therefore your cutie mark is both destined and your choice. Put another way, if you discovered you were good at something but didn't choose to recognize it as your destined super-special talent, you wouldn't get your cutie mark in it. That's why Applebloom doesn't have a building-stuff-related cutie mark yet, why Rarity's is clothing-making rather than gem-finding, etc.

  8. On the other hand, when Twilight changed their cutie marks in the season finale, it changed their destinies/memories/whatever, and they felt compelled to follow this new destiny because “it was what their cutie mark was telling them”.

    If they had free will, couldn't they have realized they were miserable doing what they were doing? Couldn't they have chosen to do something else? Instead, it was the magic of friendship that set their destinies right, not an act of will of their own.

  9. Did we watch the same episode? It wasn't the magic of friendship that cured them–their friendships were merely how Twilight convinced each of them to try to do their real job. Once they started doing it, however, they realized they wanted it to be their destiny, remembered what the spell had erased, and restored their original cutie marks–I read that as reasserting their free will after the spell tried to take it away.

    Even there the spell didn't do it entirely: they all DID realize they were miserable, and Fluttershy (the strongest-willed and most perceptive of the Mane Six) was leaving town, abandoning the role the spell forced on her.

  10. I feel like there's just no solid information on Dragons or their development. We don't know how he's supposed to act or how old he really is. And the other dragons we've seen have clearly been forces of nature. From the water servant to the big red, they are more than mortal ponies. Unicorns and Pegasi while mythical creatures are do not have the same resonance or iconography around them.

    And yes. I can't stand Martha “Osterhagen” Jones. She had a lot of potential but had some very mediocre scripts, and ended up as someone I could see as the villain in a Doctor Who episode, who gets a pass because she's an ex-companion. She goes from being a Doctor, to toting an assault rifle and grenades. On the other hand she complete Mickey's arc as he makes the ultimate sacrifice, giving up his chance at a life with a real person and marrying her, so that's kind of a point in her favour.

    Also it's not free will if you only have one choice. Applebloom will get a construction cutie mark, just as Sweetiebelle will get one for singing or music. It doesn't matter if they want something else, they have no other options. You are destined to do what you are destined to do. And if you don't want to you get to be miserable.

    I wouldn't call her leaving town to be a sign of strong will. I see it as her giving up.

  11. I dunno, in medieval times unicorns had some pretty massive mythical resonance, being identified with Jesus and all.

    I'll take Martha over Rose any day. Yeah, the Osterhagan thing is pretty jaw-droppingly a bad idea, but then again the whole point of that episode was that traveling with Tennant turns you into a bad person unless your name is Donna.

    Do they only have one choice, though? We can't say what their cutie marks will be or how they'll interpret them. The story of how Rarity got her cutie mark, for example, could have ended with her becoming a miner or jeweler just as easily. Rainbow Dash didn't become a racer. Destiny is what you make of it, that's the whole point of “Cutie Mark Chronicles.”

  12. I didn't get that from the episode. On the contrary, it seemed to imply that the 6 were destined to become the elements before they ever met. Isn't that what Twilight wrote to Celestia?I can't check right now.

    I believe the characters have free will though. At least, as far as you can go before arguing what free will means.But I also believe there is a case to be made for the opposite.

    Take Trixie, for example. Her special talent is stage magic, but she's clearly not happy about it. She wants to be Great and Powerful, not just an entertainer. She goes as far as seeking dangerous magic only to satisfy her damaged ego.If nothing else, she's proof that not all ponies are satisfied with their lot, which paints Equestria as a slightly darker realm than it appears at first sight.

    If she doesn't have free will, her cutie mark defines all she can aspire to be. If she does, then her name and cutie mark have conspired against her, since in a world of Meaningful Names, she's clearly marked as an entertainer.

  13. Here's where I argue for my take on “Cutie Mark Chronicles.”

    If Trixie is both visibly unhappy with her lot and able to take action in an attempt to change it proves that she has free will. It doesn't matter that her actions are not long-term successful; nothing about free will implies that you will succeed at any given task, only that you are able to attempt it. For example, I suck at calculus, but that doesn't mean I don't have the freedom to try to do it.

    (I say “if” because I see Trixie as being unhappy about being humiliated by Twilight and losing her entertainment business, not unhappy about being an entertainer.)

  14. Also I want to thank all of you for your thoughts on free will. I started writing a full response on the subject, and now I'm halfway done with the “Magical Mystery Cure” article the better part of a year before I need to post it.

  15. Glad to be of assistance 🙂 (Yay, found a way to have a display name without Google forcing me to use my full real name!)

    I suppose it depends on how you define free will. Fighting your destiny is a common trope, independent of whether the character can or cannot change it. If you can rebel against your fate, but can't change it, can you be said to have free will? Take Twilight travelling back in time to deliver a warning, or the story of Oedipus for a classic example. Compare to “Back to the Future”, where Marty's actions radically alter how things turn out.

    Time travel is an interesting lens for studying free will, since it allows for a do-over.

    Anyway, I do side with them having free-will, but I can see where the people that doubt it are coming from. There's no way to distinguish between trying and failing because you just aren't good enough and failing because you were destined to fail, and success is not a choice open to you no matter what you do.

  16. There's no way to distinguish between trying and failing because you just aren't good enough and failing because you were destined to fail, and success is not a choice open to you no matter what you do.

    If two things differ, then there must exist some circumstance under which they can be distinguished. That's what “different” means. If two things cannot be distinguished, then it follows that they are not really different at all, just different ways of talking about the same thing.

    “You failed because you're not good enough to succeed,” in other words, is just a different way of saying “You were destined to fail.” And neither implies that free will does not exist.

    Whether free will exists or not, you cannot choose to succeed. You can choose to try, but whether you succeed has nothing to do with whether you have freedom.

    Put another way, free will is about inputs, not outputs. The question is not whether there is more than one possible result of your actions, it's about whether you are the cause of your actions.

  17. Part of the problem Spike has is that he's the most “Other” regular character that the show has, and the program never really treats on this as well as it could. He's the only complete “outsider” accepted by the ponies, due to his odd status as the only legacy character left from the original series (we're never going to see the Bushwoolies, Megan and her siblings, or the Moochick, for example). He's a left over piece of the original puzzle, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise that he doesn't fit. That's he's quite far from the helpful and intelligent Spike of the old series is a shame, but one that the show makes work in its own way, usually writing him as the annoying little brother you the young viewers at home might recognize from your own lives. (One could argue that Zecora fills the role of permanent outsider as well, but she's just a pony variation, and said outsdierness lasts for a single episode. Remove the accent and for foreign trappings and she's an alternative Princess Celestia) But let's go deeper than that, shall we?

    Central to understanding the character are the events in Dragon Quest and The Secret of My Excess: Spike is fundamentally different from the ponies in that he will never achieve a cutie mark, and must remain constantly aware of his “dark side.” His friends' generosity leads to him overdoing it and transforming into the dragon they recently evicted from the nearby mountain, something he is able to overcome through recognizing the love and respect of another person who doesn't see him as a monster. When he seeks out his own kind, he finds to his disappointment the worst excesses of cliche masculinity (Casual destruction of the innocent, taunting and bullying, risking self-harm to impress others). Is it any wonder that his rejection of the other dragons results in him saving a phoenix, as direct a symbol of rebirth as exists? (Sadly, this is followed up by him running around town guilting the ponies for gems in exchange for ignoring their pets, and transferring his obsession onto Applejack for a period, but since this is a multi-writer serial it would be too much to expect permanent change from the characters. Applejack learning that she doesn't have to take on the burdens of everyone doesn't stop her from running away when she doesn't win enough prize money, for example)

    If the ponies represent the bronies, as you very successfully argue, then Spike holds up an interesting mirror to that: the obsessive hording, the disregard for others in favor of his own feelings, the casual selfishness… Is this much different from the fans harassment of poor Claire Corlett? or insisting that the replacement of Ditzy Doo's “faux retarded” voice with a more socially acceptable valley girl carelessness is a betrayal of the show's core fanbase? Those who are upset that the show doesn't continue to cater directly to the interests of their periphery demographic, rather than continue to be a show directed to young children?

    As you've said before, the opposite of a pony is a dragon. If the ponies are what the bronies aspire to, then Spike is what they so often become when they fail.

    (as an aside, are you interested in guest entries? I've been working on a few things here and there, but couldn't find a contact email to ask you about it privately.)

  18. Interesting thoughts. I tend to agree with your analysis of what Spike represents, and plan to discuss just that reading when we get to “Secret of My Excess.”

    I hadn't really thought about guest entries. E-mail me at froborr@gmail.com and we'll talk!

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