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.

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.

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…

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.

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.

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.