fuyu: (oh shit)
Lyssie ([personal profile] fuyu) wrote2012-01-27 04:44 pm

My Little Pony: Friendship is OH WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS

A few months ago, I became a brony. (Or a filly. Pegasister? What is the presently accepted catchy term for a female adult MLP fan? Do we have a gender-neutral one?)

My nostalgia for the old G1 ponies I'd played with so much in my girlhood was mounting, and reached a critical mass sometime around the point where I kept hearing about how entertaining the new show was, and I finally broke when I found out that the fandom was prolific, enthusiastic, and wrote interesting things. (This is a fandom where I much prefer gen to anything else - and despite the proliferation of shipping fics, I have no trouble finding really good gen. This is a good feeling.)

So, I watched it. And I liked it! Oh, sure, it was unremittingly For Little Girls. I routinely roll my eyes at the sheer proliferation of pink and hearts in the toyline. The characters are drawn in broad strokes, and after watching an episode I can usually find several things about the story and execution that fell flat for me.

But goodness, it was so charming! And even kind of feminist! And the broad strokes the characters are drawn in are entertaining and likable broad strokes! And the main characters even subvert some annoying stereotypes! The book-loving nerd is a take-charge heroine too, erudite and wordy without falling into "impenetrable Hollywood genius speak" or being insufferably superior. The girly clothes-obsessed diva? A designer, who takes her work very seriously and runs her own boutique. It's not like there weren't ever things that annoyed me, but I came to love the show, and I love it still.


Oh, yes, there's a but.

As tends to happen, this new show I liked so much had some Problems.

Part 1: How I Started

One of things I'd first heard about the show, and consequently one of the reasons it took me so long to get into the series, was decidedly unimpressed reaction of a webcomic author I follow. She'd been encouraged to give the show a try, picked an episode at random... and came up with Bridle Gossip. The one with Zecora. The zebra who lives alone in a hut in the scary woods, knows MYSTERIOUS VOODOO THINGS!!!, doesn't talk the way the other ponies do, is designed to look as obviously Stereotypical Tribal African as is possible, and basically couldn't have been more obviously coded "THIS PONY IS A BLACK PERSON" if they had actually tried unless they showed her eating watermelon and playing basketball. And, of course, Twilight's comment early on that she's "not a pony".

Just a little bit othering, there.

Of course the moral of the story was that you shouldn't judge others based on appearances blah blah blah Zecora's actually a nice and helpful person and unfairly discriminated against. A worthy lesson, don't get me wrong! But the handling was... not... good...

I mean, consider: they amped up her creepiness early on deliberately. The first time I saw a screencap of her, knowing no context, I actually thought she was a villain. So right off the bat, the lesson becomes less "Don't assume people are bad just because you don't understand them!" and more "Don't assume people are bad just because they're TERRIFYING. You know, LIKE BLACK PEOPLE ARE!"

Oh! And the entire plot of the episode hinges on her being unable to give a coherent warning about the Poison Joke because she talks weird. If she didn't apparently have a compulsion to speak in rhyming couplets, she could have said something like "You idiots! Don't you know what that stuff is? That's Poison Joke!" Which still might not have helped, depending on how suspicious the main characters were (pretty suspicious), but would at least have made the misunderstanding more their fault. Which would have improved the moral of the story, because they were the ones who needed to learn a freaking lesson. As it is, it's a little hard to blame them much for thinking she was laying a curse on them.

So, yeah! Zecora is a problematic character! And Bridle Gossip is consequently one of my least favorite episodes. I'm glad I started watching the show despite my early misgivings about this character, but boy howdy does she have problems. I try to imagine a little black girl watching MLP and seeing Zecora, and... I'm not sure I want to think about what she'll be learning from that.

That is the first of My Problems With MLP. Which I've been vocal enough about when talking about the show that probably anyone who knows me knows My Feelings On Zecora. It is not, however, the last of My Problems With MLP.

The second one, the buffalo vs. settlers... I don't feel educated enough to really go into what's wrong with THAT one, there's a whole lotta icky there and I'm not prepared to unpack that adequately. If anyone has or knows of a good deconstruction of that, I'd love it if you'd link me so that I can point to it and say "Yes. This."

Thus far, though, it seemed like the only major problem I had with the series as a whole was its tendency to racefail. Which is pretty bad, but at least it was confined to just two episodes, right? And if you're going to fail epically, racefail is... not good, but also not uncommon in TV and movies, so at the least I can sigh, and cut the writers a very small amount of slack for ignorance. (And keep talking about The Problem of Zecora, so they can stop having the excuse of ignorance.)

And if you only have one major categorism fail in your show, well, that's not completely execrable, right?

Part 2: The Problem of Derpy

Oh hi, blatantly ableist scene in The Last Roundup!

You know the one. The whole Internet probably knows the one by now. Rainbow Dash and Derpy are putting up some decorations - or rather, Rainbow Dash is putting up some decorations while Derpy is destroying everything she touches, cheerfully oblivious to the havoc she wreaks with every move, and why Rainbow Dash might want her to stop. While speaking more or less exactly the way you might expect a mentally disabled person to speak.

Wow. Let's list the problems here!

Derpy is apparently mentally disabled, which wouldn't be a problem in and of itself if we weren't also assuming:

- ... that mentally disabled people can't do a damn thing right, no matter how they try
- ... that mentally disabled people are incapable of understanding when they're doing something wrong
- ... that being mentally disabled is hilarious, because this scene was played for laughs
- ... and that, therefore, it's okay to laugh at the mentally disabled.
- Not to mention the ableist connotations that her very name has picked up, THANKS 4CHAN.

That sure is a whole lot of Not Okay wrapped into one little pony.

Trying to elevate Derpy from the level of a cute Where's Waldo for the fans (which was perfect) into a voiced fanservice character was ill-advised in the first place. I know they meant well, but it was a bad idea. There are a crapton of different interpretations of Derpy in the fandom. And the main one, it seemed, was problematic - Derpy as the Wacky Idiot. But that was fandom - it wasn't official. It still wasn't okay, but it at least wasn't endorsed.

Then they endorsed it. By putting Derpy in the show exactly like that. And it was painful to watch. It's put me somewhat off my pony since I saw it.

And this would all be bad enough if MLP was a show for adults. Problem is? It's not. It's entertaining enough to draw an adult audience, much like classic Disney, but it's aimed at little girls. So little girls are going to be watching this show, and seeing this character who's a dead ringer for a mentally disabled person just fucking shit up everywhere and having no idea that she's causing trouble, and they're going to see that this is treated as being funny, so they're going to laugh, and deep down below their awareness they're going to learn that it's okay to laugh at people like that. Because that's how this shit gets absorbed.

This isn't okay.

... Now, I'm probably not going to stop watching. I am in the quandary of the fan of problematic things - my favorite show did something really gross, yet the stories and characters still resonate with me and I still love the art and it's still really cute and enjoyable, dammit. I like it and I like the friendly corners of fandom I've found and I like what I've gotten out of this show, emotionally.

But I'm not gonna ignore that it has problems, either. And I'm going to start talking more about those problems, because y'know what? Silence is support.

(I'm also going to engage in a little Discontinuity to try and make it less awful in my head. It never really happened, or it didn't actually happen that WAY, or Derpy switched her allergy meds and the new brand threw her for a loop. I don't know. I don't want to erase people with mental disabilities, but if that scene is how this show is going to portray someone with a mental disability, then I don't think they should be trusted with characters who have mental disabilities.)

On that note, anyone know how to send a complaint to Hasbro?
avian: tsunderes (excuse the fuck outta you)

[personal profile] avian 2012-01-28 01:56 am (UTC)(link)
Mixed feelings and mixed opinions ahoy!

I mostly agree. One of the things about Derpy, when I was linking people who were not fandom-acquainted or knew anything about the show AT ALL, were immediately caught by Derpy's voice. It was the thing to make them immediately go 'yeah, that's probably why everyone is up in arms'. Her voice is my biggest problem with Derpy, because it alone is the immediate switch that squicks me out and cues me in that she's a mentally disabled coded character.

Rainbow Dash is known for berating everypony that doesn't live up to her expectations; Fluttershy, Tank, just her getting mad in general when things aren't going her way. In a sad sense, that makes her the best character for this scene. If it were any of the other ponies getting frazzled at these actions like 'oh no, please calm down' from Fluttershy or such would make Derpy look even worse because she can't listen to a calmer character.

So one who can't handle dealing with a pony who is meant* to be funny and ditzy in a screwup way was their best way to get The Laffs out of this scene. Otherwise imagining how it could've gone worse is seriously making me go uuuugh.
*not successfully executed.

A different VA (or the VA using a different tone) and changing the lines slightly would have made her at least a step in a different direction if they didn't want to code her the way she ended up turning out.

Just imagine the latter in Rainbow's voice as an example:

"I just dunno what went wrong!" vs. a sheepish "Heh, Iiii dunno what went wrong."

"Nice work Rainbow Dash!" before crashing into the pillar vs "Nice work, Rainbow Dash!" then showing some reaction of knocking into the pillar.

Just the simplest changes in the execution would make her the bubbly headed character Hasbro most likely intended as opposed to making the image immediately jump to someone's head about what this character possibly is, regardless of whether they're familiar with the show or not.

And regarding the top of the essay:
To poke a can of worms and run as far away from it as possible: Zecora also removed the idea that ponies are a-racial to all viewers. At first they were just pink, purple, orange, and blue, but if you introduce and immediately recognizably black character, that's out the window. And that's sad.
avian: tsunderes (her mother's pride)

[personal profile] avian 2012-01-28 02:17 am (UTC)(link)
Oh yes, it would be the most precious thing! That's one of the things that sorta bothers me, there's just one zebra, and she came from 'a faraway place', and while she's a good character but also problematic (I liked her in Luna Eclipsed a lot, it was the one time we didn't see her as medicine maker hidden deep in the Everfree Forest), there needs to be more of her. Heck, I'd like history but I'm afraid to ask for it ever since they handled race issues so badly in the Buffalo episode.
dev_chieftain: (opinions)

[personal profile] dev_chieftain 2012-01-28 03:15 am (UTC)(link)
Having a problem with the character who exists because of 4chan fandom is having a problem with 4chan. Derpy exists because people noticed a "coloring error" in the first episode with one pony being wall-eyed, and everyone made up their own stories-- quite without help from the show-- about how she was crazy, couldn't speak normally, broke things, whatever. They thought it was hilarious, and then the animators, trying to meet the fandom and show that they're paying attention, started actually adding Derpy in on purpose.

So, sure, it's ableist. But blame the source, which in this case is the internet.
isana: China and Taiwan from Hetalia (china and taiwan)

[personal profile] isana 2012-01-28 11:06 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm just glad I'm not the only one shocked by that scene. Everything else about that episode was OK, and I might not have minded if they'd just called her Derpy and left it at that. But the voice and her constant blundering made me super uncomfortable.

I did expect better from the show, but as you mentioned in the post, there's Zecora...
isana: (men)

[personal profile] isana 2012-01-28 11:26 pm (UTC)(link)
I thought her name was "Ditzy-Doo" at one point, too. I mean, I didn't see the point of that scene, either--like, if Ponyville trusts her to be the mail carrier, one would think she'd be more competent than that. (/overanalyzing)

It's probably really disappointing because the show seems to have such a good track record otherwise--like, "come on, you're better than this."
isana: (Default)

[personal profile] isana 2012-01-28 11:42 pm (UTC)(link)
Damn. The health care system in Ponyville is really shoddy if a few whacks to the head have poor Derpy like that.
isana: (magic flower)

[personal profile] isana 2012-01-28 11:50 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm glad I wasn't drinking anything when I read that comment.

(off-topic: have you seen this tumblr that's an X/1999 retrospective? CANNOT STOP LAUGHING)
isana: China and Taiwan from Hetalia (china and taiwan)

[personal profile] isana 2012-01-29 04:14 am (UTC)(link)
Ah, OK. (I seem to remember someone on the flist referencing CLAMP, and I guess it might have not been you? Sorry! ^^;)