|Clearly this bodes nothing but glad tidings and happy times.|
It’s April 26, 2014. The top song is still “Happy,” as indeed it will be for the remainder of the season, and the top movie is revenge comedy The Other Woman. In the news, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that states may amend their constitutions to eliminate affirmative action, China amends its environmental laws to reduce pollution and environmental damage in the country, and on the day this episode airs, the legendary hole in the New Mexico desert where thousands of unsold E.T. Atari cartridges were said to have been buried after the Video Game Crash of 1983 is unearthed, proving the legend true.
On TV we have “Inspiration Manifestation,” cowritten by Corey Powell and Meghan McCarthy, and surprisingly solid for a Spike episode. It is actually readable in a fair number of different ways, and happily none of them are worse than mediocre–that being the surface reading, in which this is an episode about Spike wanting to only ever say positive things to Rarity so that she’ll like him more, not realizing that criticism is an important part of friendship. First, as an artist, she needs honest aesthetic criticism from Spike not just to keep from going overboard as she does in this episode, but so that she can trust his statements of support. She knows the puppet theater at the beginning of the episode isn’t good enough, because the client rejects it; Spike insisting that it’s perfect, especially in such an overblown way, doesn’t do anything to persuade her, and can only serve to call his judgment into doubt, making it easier to treat his positive statements as things he’s “just saying to be nice.” Second, and this is the point on which the episode spends most of its focus, by refusing to question or criticize her actions, Spike tacitly endorses her worst behavior as she wreaks chaos and destruction throughout Ponyville in the name of beautifying it, disrupting and endangering the well-being of the other ponies. Only by having enough backbone to speak the truth to her can Spike be truly a friend to her, because only by doing so is he accepting his communal responsibility to inform other members of the community when they are doing wrong.
In this sense, the episode serves as something of a metaphor for the worst problems of the brony community. As I discussed in both My Little Po-Mo vol. 2 and my post on the Bob’s Burgers episode “The Equestranauts,” bronies have a serious problem with self-policing. The (generally laudable) desire of the community to be all-inclusive and all-tolerant leads to a tolerance for behaviors and inclusion of people that are intensely toxic, helping to create an environment in which spamming and harassment of non-bronies and attacks on anyone who criticizes the behavior of bronies are commonplace. Most recently, a brony accused of plagiarizing a fanfic appears to have been bullied into suicide. Spike’s refusal to criticize Rarity even when her art becomes harmful is particularly reminiscent of the “Down with Molestia” conflict, which started as a disagreement over a Tumblr blog that had a running gag about Princess Celestia being a serial rapist and rapidly escalated into a vicious war of words, threats, and harassment on both sides. Bronies can tolerate anything, it seems, except honest disagreement or critique.
This is not the only available read of the episode, however. Spike’s behavior can also be read as enabling. In this read, Rarity’s attachment to the magic is akin to a drug, perhaps a stimulant that makes her more superficially productive but disrupts her judgment and endangers the people around her. By continuing to praise her, Spike is helping to encourage her addiction. In this light, Rarity’s line “I’m so excited! I’m so excited!” stands out as a possible reference to the infamous 1990 anti-drug Very Special Episode of Saved By the Bell, “Jessie’s Song,” in which Jessie becomes addicted to caffeine pills while trying to become more productive. In that episode’s most famous scene (with over 2.5 million YouTube views), she tries to sing the Pointer Sisters song “I’m So Excited,” before breaking down in tears: “I’m so excited! I’m so excited! I’m so… scared!”
Spike’s struggle about whether or not to tell Twilight that Rarity is causing the problems around town, in this addiction read, is another staple of PSAs: “sometimes you have to break a promise to help your friend.” Again, in both reads there is a running theme that it is impossible to be a true friend to someone without sometimes risking disapproval or entering into conflict with them. Even in Equestria, perfect harmony is both impossible and undesirable. Of course, even though he learns this lesson, Spike doesn’t stop being a jerk; he goes from the kind of jerk who constantly tells “white lies” to the kind of jerk who makes unkind, unhelpful statements and then excuses them with claims he is “just being honest,” as he does to Twilight at the end of the episode.
Which brings us to the last of the readings of this episode I want to discuss, one that ties into running themes of my coverage of this season: Spike’s place in the Tree. He of course has none, corresponding to none of the sephiroth, and thus has no key episode. This, however, is in a sense his equivalent, because this episode deals closely with the other function of the Tree: it is not merely the path from humanity to God, from the material to the spiritual; it is a bridge that links them, and can be traversed both ways. It is the original process of Creation, from the divine spark to the material world, and so, just as every soul is a microcosm of the universe, so too is every act of creation a microcosm of the Creation. The Sephiroth, read top to bottom, are thus a model of the process of creation, from initial inspiration to finished product.
And so of course the spell Spike finds is dark magic, because its function is to circumvent the Tree, to pass directly from spark to matter. It is thus a negation of the Tree, and thereby allied with the Tree of Death, the qlippoth, the plundervines. A reptilian creature tempting a woman away from the Tree of Life and toward another Tree, which brings death? Fairly sure I’ve heard that story before.
Yet Spike’s role is not really to be the Serpent, since his telling the truth is what ultimately sets Rarity free from the trap he unwittingly placed her in. Only by refusing and rejecting her behavior–stepping out of harmony with her–can he restore her to who she was, bringing back the proper creative process and with it, the Tree.
Once again, the qlippoth, in the Jewish tradition at least, are not evil. They do keep us away from the the sephiroth, but only as a rind keeps us away from the fruit inside; they are as much protection as hindrance. So, it seems, may be the case here: Perhaps the Tree of Harmony needs a little Discord.
Next week: But first, more of the other plotline no one cares about and another Spike episode. Shoot me now.