Sunday, February 26, 2012

Hasbro to Fanboys: Drop Dead

In other, less grave news, I turned on the Internet this morning to discover that socially maladjusted geeks everywhere are in an uproar because Hasbro has censored one of their favorite characters from the absurdly popular and weirdly addictive cartoon show, My Little Pony:  Friendship Is Magic.  I find this quite disheartening, as I was enjoying the show myself.  I mean, heck, I've even written fan fiction, and I don't do that for just anypony.

Your fond childhood memories, now twenty percent cooler.
Though I've never exactly been a huge fan, having a Y chromosome and therefore being outside the target demographic, I have always had a certain respect for the My Little Pony franchise.  When I was a child, Ponies were ubiquitous; every girl in my grade school had one or more, and when I played games of pretend with my Female Childhood Friend™ from down the street, I had Transformers and (though I hate to admit it) Gobots, and she had Barbies and Ponies.  I think in most of our games, I was a robot with a laser gun, and she was a princess with a unicorn.  I mention that only because it occurs to me that a fantasy novel about a unicorn-riding princess with a laser-toting robot sidekick would totally kick awesome.

Where was I?  Ah, yes.  Also in my childhood, I sometimes watched the original cartoon show based on the Pony franchise, My Little Pony 'n Friends.  I was probably about five or six when I saw it, so my memories of it are vague, but I recall it being surprisingly gritty for a girls' cartoon based on a series of pastel-colored miniature horses with brushable hair.  By lurking on Internet fansites as well as talking to people who remember it better than I do, I get the impression that my memories of the show are not entirely incorrect, and that it really was kind of gritty.  Also, I think the main reason I watched it when I was five was because I had a crush on Megan.

I remembered you cuter.
To give the uninitiated a quick rundown, it goes something like this:  Without getting into all the complications, My Little Pony has gone through roughly four phases or "generations."  According to the most trustworthy source on the Internet, Wikipedia, its inception was in 1982 when the first little pony was designed by Bonnie Zacherle, who shortly thereafter went to work for Hasbro.  The concept of these toys is elegant and simple and designed to appeal to young girls:  they're brightly colored plastic ponies, and you can brush and style their manes and tails  The show I watched as a kid was, along with some TV specials and one theatrical film and a second short-lived series, the televised manifestation of the Generation 1 (G1) ponies.  There was a second generation series of toys that saw no televised adaptation.  Generation 3 (G3), which ran through the first decade of the twenty-first century, can be considered the franchise's Dork Age; it involves a number of straight-to-video releases featuring ponies who apparently have little to do with their lives except hold parties and fashion shows, a far cry from the original G1 ponies who know how to kick haunch and eat ice cream, except they're all out of ice cream.

From what I've seen on the Interwebs, fans of the current G4 series enjoy pouring their hate on G3.  That might sound a little ridiculous, but to show that their hate is not entirely unwarranted, I suggest we play a little game.  I'm going to post an excerpt from a G3 video here; you play the video, and then tell all of us how far you made it before you either stopped the video or gouged your own eyes out.

Yes, I agree:  make it stop!

The franchise got a kick in the pants, and an unexpectedly broad fanbase, with the advent of G4 and a new television series with the cumbersome title of My Little Pony:  Friendship Is Magic, which is largely the brainchild of Lauren Faust, who earlier worked on Powerpuff Girls, though she has moved onto other projects while Friendship continues in its second season.  To the surprise of its creators, G4 has picked up a sizable and vocal peripheral fanbase made up largely of young men in their teens and early twenties, who have spread the word through Internet threads, meme-sharing, and goofy "ponifications" on YouTube, with the result that just about everypony seems to be watching this show.  As a result, we have gems like this:

Yeah, I'd watch that.

G4 gives us a slimmed-down Ponyverse based heavily on G3. The story takes place in a land called Equestria where most of the people are, not surprisingly, talking ponies.  An obsessive-compulsive young Unicorn mare named Twilight Sparkle, a student of magic in a school for gifted Unicorns, is ordered by the immortal and goddess-like Princess Celestia to leave the capitol of Canterlot and move to the small town of Ponyville to make some friends, because she seriously needs a break from study.  Accompanied by her assistant, a baby dragon named Spike (who has the honor of being the only character to appear in G1, G3, and G4), Twilight quickly meets five other ponies, all of them with distinct and rather eccentric personalities.  Twilight, however, is uninterested in making friends because she is convinced that, as she has discovered in a book of ancient legends, an evil demigoddess imprisoned in the moon will soon be set free to cover the world in eternal darkness.  She is of course correct about that, but eventually discovers that friendship, far from being an unnecessary distraction, is key to saving Equestria.

Because of the huge fanbase and the hype, I admit I was slightly disappointed when I sat down and actually watched this.  I was expecting something along the lines of Avatar:  The Last Airbender.  It's certainly not that good, but it is a charming, funny, and highly entertaining little show.  The pace is quick, the writing is clever, and the musical numbers (only occasional in the early episodes but growing in frequency) are catchy.  Each episode revolves around some lesson about friendship, usually delivered by Twilight in a monologue at the end of the episode and usually involving playing nice with others and the like.  Most of those lessons, although I would rephrase or edit a few of them if I could, are surprisingly wholesome and unpoisoned by Politically Correct claptrap.  To my pleasant surprise, I have not even once had to endure a character saying, "Believe in yourself," even though that content-free non-message would conceivably fit in a few places.  My only complaint is regarding the message at the end of the first-season episode, "Feeling Pinkie Keen," which goes like this:
I am happy to report that I now realize there are wonderful things in this world that you can't explain, but that doesn't make them any less true.  You just have to choose to believe in them.  And sometimes it takes a friend to show you the way.
I am still trying to figure out what the hay that means.

The show is quite episodic; only the season premiers have story arcs that run for more than one episode, and  the writers show no qualms about shifting around details and allowing little discrepencies for the sake of an individual episode's plot.  Although Lauren Faust has said in an interview that she originally conceived of the show as an action-adventure, it is actually more like a sit-com, making it, at least in my experience, unique amongst children's toons.  It succeeds because it has a large cast of instantly lovable characters, good writing, and a lot of zany humor, not to mention goofy speech patterns that a viewer could easily, to his embarrassment, pick up:

That's not what I meant.

The adolescent, adult, and mostly male fans call themselves "bronies," and one of the hobbies with which bronies like to occupy themselves is naming and discussing the "background ponies," the characters without speaking roles who only appear in the background.  Background ponies don't have official names, and the animators apparently construct them for the most part out of a set of prefabricated designs, but that doesn't stop the fans from examining them minutely.  You can see a massive list of background pones here, for example.  Although my personal favorite background pony is a stallion fans have taken to calling Dr. Whooves, by far the most popular is a character named Derpy Hooves.

Derpy first appears in the series premier.  Originally, her face was covered by another pony's flank, but somebody up top decided the scene would look better if her face were uncovered, and so the scene was changed, revealing her face and unexpectedly starting a fan subculture.  As either a mistake or more likely as a joke, she is represented with crossed eyes.  Fans noticed and went nuts, dubbing her "Derpy."

Derpy's First Appearance.
A pony with the same design, minus the crossed eyes, appears in other episodes, and after she mouthed the word "muffins" at one point, fans went nuts again.  It has become a standard part of fanon that Derpy is a muffin lover, and a banana muffin lover specifically, though I'm not sure why.

You ponies have too much time on your hooves.

The creators of the show, upon learning of Derpy's popularity, started inserting her, now with eyes always crossed, into more scenes, usually doing something goofy.  She finally received a speaking role and the official name Derpy in the second-season episode, "The Last Roundup," in which she accidentally destroys Ponyville's Town Hall.  Derpy is therefore the ultimate ascended Internet meme.

No, on second thought, I'm going to stop using the word "meme."  Ideas are not viruses, people.

Anyway, with the ascension of Derpy, the bronies believed they had triumphed, and it really appeared they had.  They gained respectability with an article in the Wall Street Journal, and recently, Hasbro announced the release of some Toys 'R' Us-exclusive toys that appear to be aimed at bronies specifically (or at least the bronies think so), including a toy Princess Celestia more accurate to the show than the earlier version, about which bronies had often complained, and a toy based on a popular background character the fans have dubbed Vinyl Scratch or DJ P0n3, who appears for all of three seconds in the first-season episode, "Suited for Success."  The Hub, the network broadcasting the show, has catered to the peripheral base by making  reference both to bronies and to DJ P0n3 in a remarkable advertisement:

That kind of creeped me out.

Just as the bronies have reached the pinnacle of their apparent success in gaining the attention of the show's creators and owners, it has suddenly fallen apart.  The news is fresh, and rumors on the Internet are flying, so the following comments may be based partly on misinformation, but what is clear is that the episode "The Last Roundup" disappeared for a while from iTunes, and Derpy-related gear disappeared or got altered on, which sells Pony merchandise.  "The Last Roundup" has just reappeared on iTunes, but Derpy has a new voiceover, no longer has crossed eyes, and is not referred to by name.  Some bronies have suggested that this is the doing of Apple, but that cannot be, for Apple doesn't own the copyright.  This clearly comes straight from Hasbro, apparently as the result of complaints that Derpy is insulting to children with developmental disorders or crossed eyes or something like that.  In other words, the Politically Correct thought police finally came for the ponies.  Equestria Daily has posts on the subject.

Because I'm aware of what PC-types are capable of, and of how they can make mountains out of molehills and tempests in teapots, I'm not terribly surprised that they eventually came for Friendship Is Magic, though I am surprised that they came for Derpy, of all ponies.  I actually expected the complaints to center around Zecora the Zebra.  I mean, seriously, when they added an African character to the show, they made her a witch doctor who talks in rhyme.  I didn't think you could get away with that anymore.

Please don't take my Zecora.

I personally own an uncensored copy of "The Last Roundup," but I think I'll move it to my external hard drive just in case the folks at iTunes decide to pull an Amazon Kindle on me and delete it from my computer without my consent.  Because this post is already too long and heavy with YouTube videos, what's say I go ahead and post a pirated copy of the scene as it looked before Bowlderization:

The scene Hasbro doesn't want you to see!

I won't give the edited version the dignity of a posting here.  It's much the same, only with a higher-pitched voice, eyes uncrossed, the elimination of the name Derpy, and a worse voice performance from Ashleigh Ball, who plays Rainbow Dash.  I will, however, give this:

Simmer down, now.

Anyway, as you can see, Derpy is a funny and likable character.  Because she's no goofier than the rest of the cast, it never even occurred to me that she was supposed to be mentally retarded, though she's apparently been interpreted that way by those who make a hobby out of being offended.  Hasbro deserves only a little blame for this:  they of course have an eye on the bottom line, so we can imagine that some suited executives somewhere considered whether they'd rather tick off a bunch of teenage fanboys, or tick off Mom.  Realizing that Mom signs more of their checks, they naturally sided with her and risked subjecting themselves to brony wrath.  Rumor has it (though I haven't been able to find it and confirm it) that the official word from Hasbro is that Derpy can keep appearing in the background, but she will never speak again.

You make Derpy cry!

One of the reasons I have always had a respect, though mostly from a distance, for this franchise, is because it has a certain inherent immunity to the sleaze of the postmodern age.  Hatred of femininity and innocence are built into the ideologies of today's leftists and feminists, but in the midst of a world where British schools teach five-year-olds about sodomy and where everything that makes girls different from boys is derided or denied, My Little Pony has been an unassailable fortress in the storm, mostly because it is built around childishness and femininity and cannot let go of those things without ceasing to exist.  I suspect the people who own it know it:  it is a franchise about pretty ponies who wear dresses.  In remarkably simple and elegant fashion, it encapsulates the universe of the five-year-old girl, who, unadulterated as yet by the world's message that she is supposed to be just like a boy, loves things like princesses and pretty ponies and playing dress-up.  It might look absurd to a grownup, or at least to a grownup who has become too jaded and too convinced of his own maturity, but ponies in dresses are serious business to a little girl.  I know this because I grew up alongside girls who took them seriously.

I suspect this is also the source of the current popularity with the unexpectedly broad fan base, the members of which have probably seen very few examples of unabashed and unembarrassed femininity.  My Little Pony is inherently counter-feminist, and the cartoon adapation of it is for the most part lacking in anything that people today mistakenly call "irony."  Although the new series gives more nods and winks than earlier incarnations (drawing heavily on Internet fads as well as on pop culture icons ranging from Star Wars to I Love Lucy), and though it sometimes appears to be a little too amused with the fact that its cast is made up of talking ponies, it nonetheless usually plays it straight, taking itself seriously enough to avoid being snide, but not so seriously as to become pretentious.

Because I respect and love what My Little Pony is all about, I'm actually pleased with something else Hasbro has done that has cheesed off a large section of the bronies.  That something else is named Princess Cadence.

Lemme give y'all the background here.  According to the setup in the first episode of Friendship Is Magic, the land of Equestria has two princesses (actually queens or even goddesses, but little girls like princesses so we're calling them princesses, darn it), Princess Celestia and Princess Luna.  Princess Celestia raises and lowers the sun every day with her freaky magic powers, and Luna raises and lowers the moon every night.  A thousand years ago, Luna went all bad and tried to bring eternal night on the land, so Celestia opened a can of magical whoop-haunch and shut Luna up in the moon for a thousand years.  Then Luna got loose again and Twilight Sparkle and company had to open yet another can of whoop-haunch.  You got all that?  It's biblical, sort of.  Or Lovecraftian, maybe.

Anyway, in G4, Celestia and Luna are the only winged Unicorns (known as Alicorns in the fandom) and also, apparently, the only immortals.  The toy Princess Celestia has been pink, even though the character in the show is white, presumably because another one of those suited execs at Hasbro thinks pink princesses sell better to the target demographic than white ones do.

A white Celestia is now available, though it's unclear at the moment whether it will completely oust the pink model, but another princess, also pink, is in the works.  That is the aforementioned Princess Cadence, who has a couple of playsets in which she is depicted getting married to a hunk of a Unicorn stallion named Shining Armor.  I have, to my delight, seen at least one feminist go ballistic over this, because feminists hate things like children and marriage, but My Little Pony is for little girls, not for feminist busybodies, and the folks at Hasbro, whatever their personal politics might be, know which side their bread is buttered on.  They also undoubtedly know that little girls like pink, ponies, princesses, and weddings.  Let's face it:  creating a little girls' playset about a pink pony princess having a wedding is an act of marketing genius.

However, Princess Cadence, if she ever appears in the show, will throw the established worldbuilding all to heck.  Friendship Is Magic has shown adeptness at shoehorning in new elements, but explaining why there's a third goddess-princess who's never been mentioned previously will prove difficult.  Rumor has it that Cadence and Shining Armor will appear in the season finale of season 2, and Andrew Francis, who has played a small part in the series previously, has apparently done the voice work for Shining Armor.  This is unsurprising:  it would be strange if Hasbro didn't order the show's creators to stick the major toy characters in there someplace, since one of the show's most important purposes will always, inevitably, be to advertise the toys.  Nonetheless, Princess Cadence has a chance of becoming the Scrappy and single-hoofedly making the show jump the shark.  Personally, I'm hoping she turns out awesome, though I admit I like the two-princess thing the show set up at the beginning.  Considering that both of the current princesses are under-utilized as characters, I can't imagine what they'll do with a third one.

Princess Cadence lays the smack down on all her brony haters.
(Stolen from here.)
One way or the other, the addition of Cadence is a small problem for the bronies compared to the censorship of Derpy.  Will #SaveDerpy tweets be enough to save her?  Only time will tell.

But the important question, as far as I'm concerned, is what Fluttershy thinks of the Derpy and Cadence controversies.  I figure I'll just do whatever she says.

Yes, ma'am!  Whatever you say, ma'am!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sign the Petition to Stop the HHS Mandate

I haven't been posting lately, of course.  Real life has gotten in the way.  Nonetheless, for whoever stumbles by this blog during the lonely time between its last active period and the next, I post the following image, which is also a link, which I encourage you to visit.

It so happens that the announcement that the Antichrist will in a year's time require Catholics to get a new special tattoo in order to buy or sell in the United States comes right at the beginning of the season of Lent.  It is a good time to fast and pray.