Due to how late this post went up Monday, there will be no Tuesday post. Regular updates resume Wednesday.
|Sweetie Belle has just discovered the awesome power
of coffee. Apple Bloom and Scootaloo are unimpressed.
It’s March 31, 2012, and the top song is still “We Are Young,” as it will be for the remainder of the season. The top movie is also unchanged, as The Hunger Games has its second of four weekends at number one. In the news, in the wake of a scandal surrounding wealthy donors paying for access to him, Prime Minister of Britain David Cameron publishes a list of the donors who did so; Visa and MasterCard have a massive security breach which potentially compromises more than 10 million credit card numbers; and the London Metropolitan police make a scandal of their own when a black man they arrested uses his cell phone to record them abusing him and using racial slurs.
On TV we have “Ponyville Confidential,” the antepenultimate episode of Season Two, written by M.A. Larson going unusually light on the outside references and directed by Jayson Thiessen. A Cutie Mark Crusader episode, it returns to their core motivation–where in their last episode they were motivated as much as or more by concern for Cheerilee as getting their cutie marks, here the cutie marks are their primary concern once more.
On the surface, this appears to be a fairly typical story of the “journalism is a corrupting and invasive industry that ruins lives for profit” ilk. (Are there any industries that don’t?) However, it contains a distinct oddity that makes it stand out both from other, similar stories and from the rest of the Cutie Mark Crusader episodes: at the end of the story, the CMC are still on the student newspaper, which neither collapses or continues on in villainy, but instead has a change of leadership and increase in outside guidance.
If not about the evils of journalism, then, what is this episode about? Generally speaking, a work can be said to be about (among other things) whatever it is that the core conflict is fought over and with. In this case, there are two major conflicts: first, between “Gabby Gums” and the townsfolk who are hurt by the stories she tells about them, and second between the CMC and Diamond Tiara, who blackmails them into continuing to work for her. In that light, it becomes rather clearer, since these are essentially the same conflict, between those who wish to establish their own identities and those who wish to control them–in other words, it is once again a conflict between freedom and power.
We live in an age where, paradoxically, privacy is increasingly difficult to maintain in the offline world, yet most of the social ills to be found online can be traced to an excess of anonymity. Given an unlimited freedom to define an identity, a small but virulent minority choose to define no identity at all, instead reveling in the ability to lie, troll, and generally disrupt any community in which they find themselves. This is known as the online disinhibition effect, and one of its major causes is precisely the dissociative anonymity that Gabby Gums provides the CMC: she is an invention, a cipher, that enables the CMC to engage in toxic activity they never would have dare undertake in their usual identities. The cure for such behavior, as the CMC themselves experience, is light: stripped of their anonymity, they come clean, apologize, and endeavor to do better going forward.
The balancing act, therefore, is between the need for privacy to create a space within which people can define themselves, and the need to shine light on people who abuse that privacy and anonymity. Consider the three news stories with which I began this article: neither the Prime Minister nor any of those credit card holders wished their information to get out, and I doubt the London police knew they were being recorded. All three involve taking away from someone the power to define what information about them is presented to the world. Yet instinctively we recognize that exposing malfeasance by those in power is a good reason to take that power, and stealing credit card numbers a bad reason.
The Internet has intensified both sides of the equation, creating both new ways to communicate anonymously and new ways to discover information about others. Ultimately, however, it is an equation that has already been solved. It might not be as simple as replacing the editor-in-chief and bringing in more teacher supervision, but the answers are out there.
Next week: Didn’t we already do pony Rashomon? Oh well, this is closer to pony Murder on the Orient Express anyway.