My Little Po-Mo vol. 3 Book Launch!

My Little Po-Mo vol. 3 coverMy Little Po-Mo: Unauthorized Critical Essays on My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Season Three and Derivative Works is now available for purchase!
Like them or hate them, the fans of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic have created a plethora of derivative works, from the typical fanfiction and fanart to long-running comics, audio dramas, video games, songs, and even animation! Not to be outdone, licensed derivative works have proliferated as well in the years since the series began. But is this a natural and healthy expression of fandom? Or appropriation by adult men of one of the few quality works not created with them in mind?
This third volume of essays adapted from the blog My Little Po-Mo combines a critical study of the third season of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic with analysis of both licensed derivative works and a selection of fanworks to explore these questions and the show which inspired them.
This volume includes:

  • Critical essays on every episode of the third season.
  • Additional essays on licensed works such as the IDW comics series and the Equestria Girls spin-off movies.
  • Analysis of more than a dozen fanworks, including Friendship Is Witchcraft, Ask Jappleack, “Rainbow Factory,” and Mega Pony!
  • A case study of Doctor Whooves as an instance of fan influence on the show.

And more!
You can buy it as an ebook on Smashwords (preferred–you get it in your choice of DRM-free formats, and I get more royalties than the other sites), the Kindle store, Barnes & Noble, or the iTunes iBook store!
Or if you prefer, get it in print on CreateSpace (preferred–this site pays the author more royalties) or Amazon–other stores to follow!
ETA: And if you’re interested in the first two books in the series, or my other books, you can find them here!

The Glorious Lunar Republic (The Lunaverse, Season One)

“Anypony could,” Trixie said, as she felt eldritch might gathering around her – but oddly, not within her. In each of her friends, yes…but she, herself, contained nothing. Not yet. That wasn’t Magic’s role in this. “Anypony could have become the Elements. You’re wrong, Corona. Power isn’t magic. Friendship is magic.”

Corona paused at that. “That,” she proclaimed, “ is the stupidest, most insipid, worthless dross I have ever heard!”

A highly inaccurate depiction of the Lunaverse.
Mostly because the buildings aren’t on fire or in ruins.

Once again, we’re discussing something that can’t quite be pinned down in  time, but we’re somewhere between early 2012 and the present, which seems fitting given that the beginnings of the Lunaverse are an exercise in disorientation, regardless of whether one regards those beginnings as the first Lunaverse story written, Rainbow DoubleDash’s “Boast Busted,” or the first story of the Lunaverse’s first season, “Longest Night, Longest Day.”

Both stories begin without explanation, thrusting the reader into a situation that is at once familiar, yet distorted. In “Boast Busted,” just as in the episode “Boast Busted,” Trixie puts on a self-aggrandizing magic show only to be disrupted by hecklers. In “Longest Night, Longest Day,” the personal protege of the Princess is sent to Ponyville to oversee a solstice celebration. But in the former story Trixie is a resident of Ponyville and it is her heckler, Twilight Sparkle, who is the wanderer newly arrived in town; in the former Trixie is the protege, and the solstice in question is winter, rather than summer.

But if the Lunaverse were simply a matter of reversals, it would not be worth writing about–just another fanfiction based on one simple idea that cannot stretch very far, as opposed to a vibrant universe at the heart of a vibrant community and hundreds of thousands of words of fiction by multiple authors (due diligence: including a very slow-to-update story by myself). Thankfully, it does something more.

The core conceit of the Lunaverse is that the Princess who tried to seize sole control a thousand years ago was Celestia (known mostly in the stories as Corona, the Tyrant Sun) rather than Luna. Corona is motivated by pride more than Nightmare Moon’s jealousy, and as such proves rather more resistant to redemption; as of the end of the first “season” (that is, the first 26 canonical “major” stories and an assortment of minor “webisodes”) she is still at large, though she has mostly attacked through proxies and minions. The first story of the season details her escape from imprisonment from the sun during the midst of the Longest Night Celebration in Ponyville, and the attempts by six ponies to acquire the legendary Elements of Harmony to stop Corona: Trixie, who becomes the Element of Magic, of course, and five minor and background characters from the show: Cheerilee, the Element of Laughter; Carrot Top, the Element of Generosity; Raindrops, the Element of Honesty; Lyra Heartstrings, the Element of Loyalty; and Ditzy Doo, the Element of Kindness and best pony. (What is it with me and Elements of Kindness, anyway?)

Nothing in the premise is in and of itself particularly compelling–the idea of an alternate Mane Six is pretty much a cliche in the fandom, as is the idea of Luna being good and Celestia evil. What makes the Lunaverse is what it does with this premise; namely, while some of the stories are alternate versions of stories already done by the show (including the two already mentioned and “At the Grand Galloping Gala,” the season finale–all three by Rainbow DoubleDash, Emeral Bookwise’s “Griffon Over the Line,” and several more), others are entirely new adventures, such as “Helping… Hands?” in which Trixie accidentally turns Lyra into a strange sort of hairless ape, much to both their horror, or GrassAndClouds2’s “Symphony of the Moon and Sun,” in which a series of musicians over a period of centuries try and fail to play a piece about Celestia’s transformation into Corona and banishment despite Luna hating all prior attempts.

One of the best examples of these is GrassAndClouds2’s “Carrot Top Season,” in which the titular farmer ends up the representative of the smaller farmers of Ponyville in conflict with the large and powerful Sweet Apple Acres, owned by Applejack. This version of Applejack serves as a type case for the differences between the Lunaverse and Maneverse (as the Lunaverse community refers to the world of the show): she is recognizably the same character but slightly twisted, just that little bit darker, with the consequences of her beliefs more fully explored: Obsessed, prone to working to exhaustion, and totalizing everything–she believes both that the slightest setback could spell the end of the Apple farm and that the Apple farm alone stands between Ponyville and starvation–she quickly becomes tyrannical, turning the entire town against her as she tries to pressure them into supporting her farm.

The resulting story (one of the Lunaverse’s longest) ends up an exploration of the perils and pressures of competition, the organization of labor, and the dangers of capitalism far more complex than “The Super Cider Squeezy 6000” could ever achieve, because it is not that there are good and bad ponies that is the problem in “Carrot Top Season”; it is that the pressures of business have so warped Applejack’s worldview that her good impulses lead her to act like a petty tyrant, and the consequences of her actions leave her more isolated than ever.

That one word, “consequences,” more than any other defines the Lunaverse in comparison to the show. Swapping Trixie and Twilight doesn’t just make a cutely flip-flopped story; setting a giant space bear loose in a town is a crime, and Twilight isn’t just fleeing embarrassment but the authorities as well–not to mention that Twilight has a family, and their responses to her altercation with Trixie end up setting the stage for the season finale. Another of the early stories, “Family Matters,” involves Ditzy Doo (or, more accurately, Ditzy’s daughter Dinky) facing the consequences of her youthful indiscretion, and of course one of the main differences between “Longest Night, Longest Day” and “Elements of Harmony” is that in the Lunaverse Corona isn’t instantly reformed, only weakened and driven off–she is still out there, gathering power and occasionally sending minions into Equestria, and the consequences of that influence several stories throughout the season.

But this focus on the stories can partially obscure the truth of what the Lunaverse is. The Lunaverse forum on FIMFiction is as much a part of the Lunaverse as the stories are, because it is there that story ideas are debated and modified and the world and characters fleshed out. That community is a huge part of the Lunaverse, and an excellent example of the difference between fanfiction and commercial fiction in general.

It is a received wisdom that folk culture is dead. After thousands of years of people deriving entertainment by telling each other stories and singing songs together, a century and change of first radio, and then television–of music and stories crafted by experts and delivered directly into our homes, replacing the amateur story nights and singalongs that once occupied them–have wiped folk culture away.

This is nonsense. Television and radio can fulfill the craving for story and music, but they cannot fulfill the need to create that so many people share. We still make up stories and songs–and we still take the common myth cycles of our people and transform them for our own purposes. It’s just that instead of Thor and Loki getting into drunk shenanigans, it’s Kirk and Spock having sex–or six “wrong” ponies getting the Elements of Harmony. Fan culture is folk culture, and like folk culture it is influenced by the top-down “canon,” but produces its own works in a bottom-up process. Yes, it has its leaders–Rainbow DoubleDash has the final say on what is or is not part of the Lunaverse canon–but ultimately anyone can write for the Lunaverse, and a number of very different people have. The results are necessarily messier, more chaotic than a polished, commercially produced show (not to mention all the inherent differences between prose fiction and television animation), but also more (for lack of a better term) authentic. There is no line between the authors and readers of the Lunaverse–even people who haven’t written a story can help shape one by commenting as chapters are posted.

Like any folk community, the central tension of folklore is present, between the creative impulse (which, as it is a drive to create something new, is therefore always a drive toward change) and traditionalism, which is always present in a context where the main method of creation is modifying something that was handed down by others. There is a tension between those who want the Lunaverse to be its own creature, and those who want it to be a reflection of the show–for example, whenever some new development in the show contradicts something established in the universe, there are those who want to incorporate it into a story and either retcon the Lunaverse to match or explain away the difference, and those who don’t care because the Lunaverse isn’t the Maneverse. 

“At the Grand Galloping Gala” is a good example. Its climax hinges on a weird blend of populist ideals (“the nobles are corrupt, and us good peasant folk need to do something to straighten them out”) and royalist sentiment (“we just need to get the Princess involved, and she’ll straighten things out”). Such a juxtaposition is not at all uncommon in folktales, where it isn’t unusual at all to find a clever, plucky peasant outwitting the evil, corrupt nobles–and being rewarded by marrying a princess and becoming nobility themselves, presumably so that the next clever peasant has someone to outwit. The revolutionary, anti-authoritarian impulse is tempered by an almost-worshipful treatment of traditional, “good” authority.

But such is, as I said, the nature of a folk community.

In the end, the products of the Lunaverse are amateur work. Grammatical errors abound. Stories are sometimes clumsy, characterization is uneven, and jokes sometimes don’t fit (shoehorned-in Babylon 5 references are nearly as common as in Time Lords and Terror and its sequels), but in exchange there is a vibrance to it, an ever-changing and growing supply of stories (about a half million words in the canon portion of the first season alone), and an active and extremely welcoming community. It is an expression, in other words, of everything bronies love about ourselves–a micro-folk within our larger folk community.

Next week: Everything new is old again. It’s time for yet another Apple-sode.

Mods Are Asleep (The Return of Queen Crysalis Part 1-4)

Special thanks to Harrison Barber, who gave me the trade paperback of the comic on the condition I did this review. Bribery: It works!

Last week, I talked about “Snowdrop” getting the “Applejack” approach to the show right, and a few months ago I talked about “Double Rainboom” getting the “Rainbow Dash” approach wrong. But what does getting the Rainbow Dash approach right look like?

It would be hard to think of a better example than “The Return of Queen Crysalis,” the story comprised by the first four issues of IDW’s My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic comic book, written by Katie Cook, art by Andy Price, with colors by Heather Breckel and lettering by Robbie Robbins and Neil Uyetake. To recap past discussions, the Applejack approach is characterized by adherence to the traditions of past generations of My Little Pony and sincere emotion, as befits the Element of Honesty; its primary pitfalls are a tendency to become cloying or overly sentimental. The Rainbow Dash approach, by contrast, is hip and modern and tries to reward fans by giving them what the want, as befits the Element of Loyalty. Its primary pitfalls are a tendency to become cynical or overly fannish.

From the start, “The Return of Queen Crysalis” is definitely fannish. Just in the first issue, we have the return of a fan-favorite villain seeking revenge for her defeat in the show, coupled with a host of geeky references to classics like The Prisoner, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Indiana Jones. Plus, the Cutie Mark Crusaders are kidnapped, which I’m sure was almost as satisfying to the fans who dislike them as their depiction as annoying and oblivious in the second through fourth issues. Throughout the series, the Mane Six act like exaggerated caricatures of themselves of the sort that drive memetic humor, whether it’s Twilight discussing research papers on cave trolls while fighting one or Fluttershy being an enthusiastic walking encyclopedia of monster lore.

But “Double Rainboom” did the exact same sort of fanservice, and failed. Why does “The Return of Queen Crysalis” succeed? First and foremost, it is an extremely well put-together comic. Its use of layout is particularly masterful; one of the challenges of laying out a comic is that space on the comic page represents both space and time. In general, large panels suggest size and scope of a space or scene, as well as allowing for more detail, but they also slow down the passage of time. A full-page spread gives a sense of importance and size to a scene (as long as the comic doesn’t overuse the technique), but it slows the comic nearly to a halt as the reader stops and looks at the page, subconsciously expecting, and therefore taking the time to look for, as much information as a standard six- or nine-panel grid, but still only receiving a single moment of the comic. By contrast, many panels arranged in narrow horizontal slices cannot fit much detail in any single panel, but give the impression of time passing swiftly as events flicker past.

Okay, who read my comic while
eating nachos and goop?

How, then, to create a sense of physical space while keeping the flow of time? One of the best solutions the comic finds is by using the panel borders to set a stage of sorts that fills the page, and then using the panels themselves to depict moments occurring on that stage. For example, in the first issue, when the ponies enter the changelings’ lair in Ponyville, the panels are irregularly shaped, and instead of borders they’re separated by the changelings’ goo, which results in an entire page dominated by that goo. This creates an impression that the characters have entered a space that belongs to the changelings, one that is so defined by them that they even distort the panel shapes. This utter changeling dominance of the space could also have been established by a splash page showing the ponies small and surrounded by changelings, but at the cost of halting the story for that page; the approach chosen instead allows the story to continue to flow. The irregularity of the panels creates a sense of stumbling, being out of control, but the story doesn’t slow or stop; it keeps flowing to the next page, where the regular panels in the midst of a splash page re-establish a pony space within the changeling space, allowing the ponies to begin fighting back.

But “Double Rainboom” had its technical merits as well. Ultimately, it is on the story level that it stumbled, and the story level on which “The Return of Queen Crysalis” succeeds. Starting with the second issue, the ponies leave the familiar portions of Equestria and set off into regions the audience has never seen before, escaping one of the major pitfalls of the Rainbow Dash approach, the tendency to fill the work with either memetic references (in the case of a meme depot) or continuity references (in the case of a cult show)–because we are in new territory, we have little opportunity for either memetic background ponies or locations and characters from past stories. Instead, we get new gags and references, such as the toy-collector troll or Pinkie Pie’s costume (though the latter does suspiciously resemble Max Gillardi’s design for Pinkie Pie in his .mov series of parodies).

Most importantly, Queen Chrysalis works well as a villain here, perhaps even better than in the show. She is able to use her minions to trick the ponies into fighting and splitting up, not too differently from Discord in “The Return of Harmony,” but with the added wrinkle that she is doing it solely to convince the ponies she doesn’t want them to reach her. In actuality, she does want them to confront her, so that she can drain Twilight’s magic. Further, her trick against Twilight in the last issue, is, while fairly cliche–sticking to the letter of the agreement to not hurt Twilight’s friends by making Twilight do it–nonetheless one of the most sadistic things any villain in the show has done. It fits well with Chrysalis’ personality as it’s presented in the comic, which is to say savvy, cruel, and ironically detached.

That last is a great way for the comic to avoid one of the other pitfalls of the Rainbow Dash approach, which is that too much irony in the story can detach the reader from caring about it, and render the story insincere. As I have said many times, sincerity is Friendship Is Magic‘s strongest point, so irony is a dangerous thing to play with. However, by putting the snide remarks and clever asides in the mouth of the story’s villain, “The Return of Queen Chrysalis” is able to fully exploit the humor potential of that irony without encouraging the reader to join in it, since the characters we root for are still fully engaged and sincere.

For example, Chrysalis is disgusted and unsettled by the teddy-bear “Wuv” creatures, which is likely the reaction of most readers, but Spike happily embraces them. Additionally, throughout the story Chrysalis is impatient and snarky with the Cutie Mark Crusaders, while the Mane Six go to great lengths to rescue them and clearly care a great deal about them. Chrysalis functions as a way to give voice to the reader’s tendency toward irony and cynicism, serving as the sort of knowing nod that categorizes the Rainbow Dash approach, but because she is the villain and therefore will be defeated in the end, we know that sincerity will ultimately win out.

In the end, “The Return of Queen Chrysalis” is exactly what it sets out to be, a well-executed, highly enjoyable comedy-adventure story of precisely the sort Rainbow Dash would choose to read.

Next week: The single derivative work I’ve been most requested to cover.

[Pony] Is My Waifu (Snowdrop)

You know, I really wish I hadn’t already used
“20 percent cooler” in a previous article title.

It’s March 21, 2013. In the news this week, the Steubenville rape trial, coverage which has helped wake up the mainstream to the concept of rape culture, reaches a guilty verdict; the Voyager 1 space probe reaches the edge of the solar system yet again, because “edge of the solar system” is not a well-defined concept, and My Chemical Romance breaks up. The top movie this weekend is “The Croods,” and the top song is Bauur’s “Harlem Shake.”

The big news in the brony community is that the much-anticipated fan-made episode “Double Rainboom” goes live on YouTube in a little over a week. But quietly, just ahead of the big episode, a small group of fans known as Silly Filly Studios releases “Snowdrop,” a short animation written by Meredith Sims and directed by Sims and Marshal “Zedrin” Watson. 

Way back in the “alchemy” series of reviews in the first season, I posited that Applejack and Rainbow Dash could be read as representing opposing visions if the show. The Rainbow Dash Show is flashy, cool, fun, and exciting, but also a bit heartless and excessively fannish, while The Applejack Show is sincere, honest, and remains true to the core values of the show, but is also prone to sentimentality and  a tad on the boring side.

“Double Rainboom” begins as everything right about the Rainbow Dash approach and ends up being everything wrong about that approach. “Snowdrop” starts as everything wrong about the Applejack approach, and ends up being everything right about it.

Snowdrops, like many flowers, are quite redolent with meaning, almost to the point of being oversignified. They are small, fragile flowers that bloom just at the beginning of spring, and thus often appear while there is still snow on the ground, which together with their small, white blossoms gives them their names. They are frequently cited as one of the first signs of the end of winter; for example in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the appearance of snowdrops is one of the earliest indicators that the power of the White Witch is starting to break. Like any other symbol of winter’s end, they therefore represent rebirth, restoration, and thereby also origins and beginnings, but the power of these meanings is belied by their frailty, small size, and the simplicity inherent in being a plain white blossom.

It is thus fitting that the small, white, fragile filly Snowdrop should be named for one. Her character seems designed to evoke sympathy as directly and hamfistedly as possible: she is blind, shy, picked on, and melancholic, but at the same time never shows signs of giving up or lashing out. She is very close to the Japanese anime-fan aesthetic of moe, which translates roughly to “that which provokes protectiveness.” In shows that employ the aesthetic, moe characters (who are usually female and either childlike, hyper-sexualized, or (in the most disturbing cases) both) are depicted as weak or shown suffering physical or emotional traumas, in ways meant to evoke a desire to protect them in the (mostly male) audience. It is in essence fiction designed to fulfill the audience’s White Knight fantasies.

White Knight fantasies represent a desire to save others in the abstract—that is, not an altruistic and response rooted in empathy for the real, material, concrete suffering of a specific person or group, but a self-centered, abstract desire to save generic others and thus acquire an increased sense of self-worth or affection. As such, they are closely related to Nice Guy Syndrome, in that both involve greater focus on what the White Knight/Nice Guy wants to give, rather than understanding what the object of the fantasy/syndrome wants to receive, and both substitute a self-centered desire for entitlement to emotional rewards, rather than any actual empathy.

In addition to the moe aesthetic of the character herself, the winter setting of “Snowdrop” also recalls any of the large number of mawkish, emotionally manipulative Christmas tales that employ the suffering of a “pure” character to teach the audience some lesson, such as Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Match Girl.” These stories are frequently sentimental to the point of sappiness, and it is difficult to say whether the ones where the suffering, pure little girl (it is usually a girl) gets her wish are more obnoxious than the ones (such as “The Little Match Girl”) where the suffering girl is “too pure for this world” and gets “rewarded” by dying horribly. Such stories are the epitome of glurge, stories so blatantly emotionally manipulative that, even when intended to produce positive feelings or responses, they are still vaguely nauseating. And for most of its running length, “Snowdrop” looks exactly like one.

Except then Snowdrop makes the first snowflake and presents it to the Princesses, and everything changes. The one thing moe characters never get to do, the one thing the Little Match Girl cannot be permitted, is to tell their own stories, to contextualize their own experiences under their own terms. Snowdrop, however, gets to express herself artistically. She creates the snowflake to represent the sound of stars twinkling that she alone can hear; since she is blind, she presumably does so by touch, and this is an animation. Her snowflake is therefore a visual representation of the tactile experience of hearing a star.

That concept alone makes any flaws in “Snowdrop” worthwhile, but in addition to making art, the narrative also affords Snowdrop a space to make an artist’s statement. She is allowed to explain the why of the snowflake, and in so doing touches one of the listening ponies, Princess Luna. We know this is set in the far past of the series, because Celestia’s opening narration frames this as a flashback even as it shows familiar ponies in the now; because Celestia’s hair is pink instead of rainbow-hued, which is commonly used in fanart of her as a young pony; and because the paratext tells us so in the form of a video description. This is thus Luna before she became Nightmare Moon: it is a Luna who is at some point in the (possibly quite near) future going to allow herself to be consumed with jealousy that no one appreciates her night who hears Snowdrop explain that snow isn’t useless.

Snowdrop isn’t useless; she has a creative power, just like anyone and everyone else. Luna isn’t useless either, nor is her night; is it any wonder that Luna refers to Snowdrop as “the only one who ever truly knew my night?” She’s not talking about blindness–the fact that ponies have a word for it suggests that other blind ponies have existed. She’s talking about that feeling of uselessness, of wanting to prove she has value. Jealousy isn’t greed; it isn’t simply a matter of wanting something you don’t have. Jealousy is resentment, as much a feeling that what you have is worthless as that what someone else has is desirable. Luna feels less valued than Celestia, and therefore feels less valuable; her night is used for rest and recovery (just like Snowdrop’s winter), instead of fun and happiness like the spring or Celestia’s day.

Snowdrops, in praising winter, is also telling Luna that she’s wrong about the night, that it isn’t worthless and can be celebrated. But critically–and more than anything else, this is what saves the short from the dangers of glurge–Luna doesn’t listen. She continues to feel that her night is worthless and unvalued, continues to stew in jealousy, and ultimately tries to seize power as Nightmare Moon. Snowdrop’s sweet, disabled, martyr-like moe purity cannot prevent Luna from becoming a monster.

Yet Luna remembers her as a friend anyway. Snowdrop doesn’t fail; she transforms winter forever, and is never forgotten by the night. At the same time, there is a limit to what she can accomplish; the end is thus not sickly sweet, but bittersweet, as Luna mourns her absent friend and the mistakes which meant she never got to say goodbye.

The last of Snowdrop’s snowflakes–which is recognizably the first–drifts to the ground, landing on a snowdrop, which slowly blooms. Sadness and cold and darkness exist. It is not as easy as simply being pure and sincere and trusting that everything works out perfectly–but even in the midst of snow, the first signs of spring can bloom.

Next week: There is a reason this is called Derivative Works Month, not Fanworks Month. This is why.

Haters gonna hate. (My Little Po-Mo)

Christ, what an asshole.

August is Derivative Works Month, where I take a break from episode reviews. Instead, each Sunday I cover a different fanwork or licensed work from outside the show. This week’s derivative work is the analysis blog My Little Po-Mo.

This is another one of those things that runs for months, so once again please forgive me for not listing movies, music, and headlines.

My Little Po-Mo is a fairly obscure and extremely pretentious analysis blog by a fan who goes by the screen name Froborr. It describes itself as being postmodern, but for better or worse displays little of the linguotextual carnivalization that characterizes most post- (and post-post-) modern literary analysis.

As its author points out in the very first entry, My Little Po-Mo is almost entirely an imitation/intimation of the postmodern Doctor Who fan/analysis blog/book series TARDIS Eruditorum, but where that work is a tour-de-force that recontextualizes the fifty-year history of Doctor Who and uses it as a window into and emboitment of meditations on British history, politics, philosophy, and art, My Little Po-Mo lists top songs, movies, and headlines from the air date in the opening paragraph of each article. TARDIS Eruditorum does that as well, of course, but while TARDIS Eruditorum frequently uses the songs and headlines to set up themes for the article and locate the episode in a particular and peculiar temporal locus, My Little Po-Mo usually just states them and moves on; given that the most historically distant episode it addresses (not including guest posts) aired in late 2010, there appears to be little historical context to give.

The majority of posts (on Sundays, at least; the blog posts pointless little “Pony Thoughts of the Day” the other six days of the week, but they are largely disposable and frequently inane) are cases of severe overreach, such as an attempt to align an apparently randomly chosen sequence of four first-season episodes into the traditional four stages of making a philosopher’s stone, as reinterpreted by Jung into a grand narrative of spiritual awakening. Remember, this is still My Little Pony we’re talking about!

This “alchemy” series ignores a significant fact and thus becomes a telling example of the overreach that characterizes the blog. Specifically, the alchemy posts discuss episodes that aired very early in the show’s broadcast, at a time at which the brony fandom barely existed; further, due to the long lead time required for most animated works, the episodes’ scripts must have been in a finished (insofar as any unviewed work can be considered “finished”) or near-finished state significantly prior to the airing of the first episode of the show, and therefore before the brony fandom could exist. The central argument that the episodes represent a struggle (and ultimately alchemical wedding) between appealing to geeks and remaining true to the show’s roots requires viewing the show as an independent gestalt from its creators, a viewpoint that is not only never articulated, but actively undercut at points.

At other times, the blog takes a turn for the distressingly aggressive/righteous. Repeated tirades against show writer Amy Keating Rogers have little basis other than the microanalysis of social justice issues read into (as opposed to out of) the space of the text, and perhaps a modicum of tokenism surrounding (but hardly absorbed by) Zecora, a character Rogers didn’t even create. In particular, accusations of sexism regarding “The Ticket Master” and “A Dog and Pony Show” require extensive de- and reconstruction to support, and the articles in question leave much of that process in the realm of the assumed, never actualizing it; the article on “Bridle Gossip,” meanwhile, never initiates the process at all, and amounts to little more than an extended rant.

Meanwhile, simple propositions, such as the argument that pony society resembles a community of geeks, are given elaborate arguments that meander through largely unrelated spaces before arriving at a conclusion that could likely have been argued in a much smaller space. More damningly, episodes such as “The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well,” which valorizes bullying techniques that have been used for decades, primarily against young women, are given a vigorous (but ultimately inadequate) defense. The author also seems hypercritical of the character Spike, and is determined to read the worst possible motivations into everything Spike does. Loathe as I am to try to read author motivations into a work, a certain degree of iconoclasticism and a kneejerk contrarian streak seem likely to be at work here, along with almost certainty an element of projection.

Occasional posts are, in the author’s words, “experimental,” which appears to here mean “deliberately obtuse.” These include a two-column post on two episodes that heavily overemphasizes their thematic similarities, and a post on “The Return of Harmony” that appears to have been written normally and then had the paragraphs rearranged semi-randomly, because that’s just less than entirely unlike Discord’s actions in the episode. These little microcarnivalizations do little or nothing to enhance the posts, but serve as an excellent vector for the substitution of inaccessibility for depth.

Ultimately, one has to ask whether this blog is serious or a joke. It seems like it cannot possibly be serious, but that rests on the assumption that My Little Pony is inherently unworthy of this kind of attention. That, in turn, requires that something have inherent (un)worth, which necessarily requires some authoritative measure of worth which can be used to gauge said unworth. Such an authority would completely invalidate human freedom, which requires the assignment of worth to be an idiosyncratic, highly personal subjectivity, and therefore said authority cannot be permitted to exist.

On the “this is actually serious” side falls the months-long effort and Kickstarter campaign to launch a book, which is not being marketed as humor. But that then returns us to the problem of the author’s qualifications and skills, which he himself noted in the very first post are inadequate to the task. So is this simply a serious attempt executed poorly?

But how can anyone take seriously such passages as “The conflict between Rarity and Applejack is one of class roles and expectations; it is about conflict in the ways the two ponies construct their worlds, and thus can be resolved by a process of deconstruction and reconstruction. The conflict between Applejack and Rainbow Dash is not as simple, because it is a conflict of personalities and essential natures. A world which contains both of them is necessarily a world which contains conflict. It seems as if they cannot coexist.” Somewhere beyond overreach and overreading lies the space in which claiming that “The Elements of Harmony” prefigures Arab Spring and the Occupy movement can possibly be considered as a serious argument. Frankly, anyone involved in either group of protests would be fully justified in taking significant offense.

Of course, as previously stated (un)worth cannot be considered inherent, but is necessarily always a product of the socially constructed value-schema of the observer. Nonetheless, My Little Po-Mo makes a solid attempt at invalidating that worldview, and stands out as a strong candidate for the (empty) set of works useable as a zero-line for value as analysis/entertainment.