Tag Archives: Twilight Sparkle

This week in trickle-down theory

Mea culpa – I’m a believer in trickle-down theory.  Not as it applies to wealth, but rather, the preponderance of nonsense in the world, and in particular, that which is inflicted upon us by those who know better and do so strictly for political and/or monetary gain.  In a democracy that pretends to be educated but usually falls short, it is incumbent upon us to remain forever vigilant, and to expose such professional charlatans at all times.  That is one of the cornerstones of free speech that people tend to forget about – the responsibility to respond, to correct deliberate misinformation, and to shame those who lie blatantly.  Or, as I’ve said before, free speech may give you the right to say things that are stupid and hateful, but it also imposes upon me the duty to call you out on it and tell you you’re being a dick.  On this week’s episode of The Newsroom, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) delivered an inspiring opening monologue whereby he apologized for the media’s failure to do just that.  With that in mind, there are a couple of items floating around the news this week that need to be called out in the same spirit.

As you may have heard, there was a shooting at a summer barbeque in Scarborough a few days ago that left two people dead and twenty-two injured.  Canada’s douchiest federal cabinet minister, Vic Toews, never one to miss an opportunity to pimp his draconian views to the nearest microphone, used it as a springboard to attack judges who had struck down mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes, a rant that I’m certain was a great comfort to the families of Joshua Yasay and Shyanne Charles.  It’s a typical reaction of a privileged white guy who has absolutely no clue what it’s like on the other side.  Toews insists that the prospect of longer mandatory prison terms would have scared the shooters straight before they drew their guns – you know, because in the heat of the moment when you’re drunk, desperate, angry and armed, the thought of jail is always just enough to arrest a murderous rampage.  Proponents of mandatory minimum sentences always miss the central reason why they’ve been an utter failure wherever they’ve been implemented, and that is, when you’re going to commit a crime, you don’t think you’re going to get caught.  Who cares if there’s a mandatory jail term?  That won’t matter, because f*** the police, you’re going to be the guy who gets away with it.  Experts the world over have declared mandatory minimums needlessly expensive and ultimately futile, but that doesn’t matter to Toews, who barely waited until the bodies were cold to throw some red meat to the equally closed-minded tools who keep electing him.  Please, Vic, just go away – go get that judgeship you’re lusting after and pass all the hanging, cat-o-nine-tails and public stoning sentences you dream of late at night when the demons come.

Speaking of red meat to rednecks, Peter Worthington and the Toronto Sun decided this week as well to give a nutcase who spews conspiracy theories on street corners a national megaphone.  A self-proclaimed “cleric” who lectures at Yonge & Dundas next to the wild-eyed weirdo mumbling about aliens and the rapture thinks that the answer to the problem of sexual assault is to legislate that women dress more conservatively.  The Sun ran his photo on the front page with a headline warning about the terrifying restrictions on your freedom that this scary man wants to impose on YOUR FAMILY – propagating Islamophobia in the name of ad revenue.  Peter Worthington even found it necessary to blather a self-righteous denunciation of this guy’s out-there rants in a featured column on Huffington Post Canada, assuring us ever so helpfully that the laws this man is advocating won’t ever happen here (although, if Vic Toews gets his way, you never know).  Thank goodness for your sage and learned wisdom, Peter, because I was under the impression based on the Sun’s coverage that this random guy who yells at passersby as they duck into Starbucks somehow had Supreme Leader-like authority over our government, our courts and public opinion, and that as a result we were one precarious step away from the imposition of sharia law across Canada.  Phew – dodged a bullet there.  Regardless, the Sun’s coverage had its intended effect, which was to stir up the blood of its core readership, spur a metric tonne of “if you don’t like it here, go home” comments, and get everybody hopped up about immigration yet again.  Instead of doing what any sane person not trying to get people to buy a fourth-rate rag of a newspaper would have done, ignore the guy.  And be thankful that we live in a country where women can dress however the hell they want, and that Neanderthal opinions that are law in other parts of the world are only the meaningless ramblings of a twit here.

Finally, Howard Stern, struggling to stay relevant, decided to turn his sad sarcastic guns on the attendees at last week’s BronyCon, sending his staff out to interview fans of My Little Pony:  Friendship is Magic and using both ambush and out of context quotes to make them seem like creepy loners one step removed from the guy in the rusty panel van with “FREE CANDY” scrawled across the side – a line gleefully parroted by one of my colleagues the other day.  I’ve talked at length about MLP: FIM and bronies before, and why I think the show’s popularity beyond its target demographic of young girls is a wonderful thing.  When the majority of acclaimed programs on television regularly feature spurting blood, decapitations, drug overdoses, chopped up bodies and any number of variations of grisly deaths, not to mention a general attitude of “drama” being people behaving horribly to one another, why is it considered deranged that audiences are gravitating towards a show that promotes friendship, tolerance, kindness and understanding – and one that manages to do so with a clever sense of humor and without being treacly or preachy at the same time?  Honestly – in whose company would you rather spend an hour:  Walter White or Rainbow Dash?  We are living in the most cynical era of human history and it is not the slightest bit shocking that people are still turning towards hope, and a reminder of what human beings can do when they are good towards each other.  If Howard Stern wants to make fun of that, then he’s welcome to, but it just reinforces how bitter he must be deep inside.  Twilight Sparkle and friends would probably feel sorry for him, but they’d still offer him a big hug and a cherry-changa.

I’m not under any illusion that what I’ve written here will convince its subjects to change their ways, or that it will even reach their eyes.  What’s important to remember is that this is all a grand discourse, meaning that it’s not just sitting back and accepting what is shovelled in front of us, lapping it up with a grin and asking for more, please.  It’s responding to rants with reason, attacking bias with facts, countering ideology with logic and a sense of fairness.  Calling out the bullshit.  And in particular, it’s ensuring that the small minds don’t continue to set the rules, and by consequence the level on which our discourse is to take place.  We need to raise the debate, and it’s not something that you can do once and then forget about.  It’s like the lat press at the gym – the weights are always going to want to fall back into place, and you have to keep pulling down on the bar.  That’s how you get stronger.  That’s how a society gets stronger – by not letting the weakest minds continue to trickle their inanities down over everyone else’s heads without due response.  As the old saying goes, don’t tell us it’s raining.

My my, little pony

What kind of week has it been?  Occupy Wall Street is spreading.  The GOP presidential contenders are an increasingly madcap circus act absent only the clown noses.  Canada is about to get slammed with ridiculous “tough on crime” mandatory minimum sentencing laws that even Texas Republicans say don’t work.  Carson Kressley got voted off Dancing with the Stars.  And it’s raining so hard tonight that one half expects to spot a bearded man gathering two of every animal.  What better time to talk about… My Little Pony:  Friendship is Magic?

At first you might think that I have finally lived up to the name of this blog and gone, accordingly, crackers.  But the spread of this latest pop culture phenomenon is fascinating and worth some discussion.  Besides, I feel like I’ve gotten awfully serious in the last few posts and I, not to mention readers, could probably use a little bit of fluff to part the clouds.

Last year, HUB in the U.S., formerly Discovery Kids, began airing My Little Pony:  Friendship is Magic.  The animated series follows the exploits of studious young unicorn Twilight Sparkle and her friends:  countrified orchard keeper Applejack, posh fashion designer Rarity, tomboy speedster Rainbow Dash, sweet and timid Fluttershy and basically bonkers Pinkie Pie, learning lessons as they tangle with relationships, responsibilities and the occasional monster.  It sounded for all intents and purposes like just another girly, glorified toy commercial.

But then the series hit the Internet, and like the proverbial wildfire, exploded, as a demographic beyond the dreams of the show’s creators seized upon it and began extolling its virtues on popular discussion boards like 4chan and Memebase.  Episodes were dissected, minutiae memorized.  An animator’s error crossing one of the background ponies’ eyes gave birth to a fan-fiction character, “Derpy Hooves,” with a history and personality all her own.  Teenage boys and even older fans adopted the show’s catchphrases and dubbed fellow enthusiasts “bronies” – a portmanteau for ‘brother ponies.’  It did not take long for fandom to spread beyond cyberspace – the phenomenon became so large that bronies were deemed worthy of mocking (unsurprisingly) on Fox News, Stephen Colbert gave bronies a shout-out on his show, and even President Bill Clinton was quizzed on his knowledge of Friendship is Magic on a recent radio appearance.  (For the record, No. 42 got all three questions right.)

What the hell, the unconverted might ask.  What do all these people see in a kid’s cartoon?

This, perhaps?

Firstly, it’s funny as all get out.  Series creator Lauren Faust has The Powerpuff Girls on her CV, another ostensibly “girly cartoon” that peppered its plots with enough clever pop culture references to amuse any adults who happened to be in the room half-watching along with their kids.  The humor in MLP:FIM doesn’t rely on tired allusions to worn-out zeitgeist staples like say, Family Guy might, but instead manages to find the humor in its characters, often in a wink to an awareness of its own absurdity as a world inhabited by anthromorphic ponies.  Witness an episode featuring a horse-drawn carriage, where the horse dragging the carriage stops, looks back at his fellow horse riding inside it and says “Ok, your turn to pull now.”  Secondly, despite the fantastical setting, the problems faced by the “mane six” are very real, and very relatable.  Unlike so many anime-influenced cartoons where of a twenty-two minute running time, ten of those minutes are devoted to fight scenes, six to redundant transformation sequences and the last few on actual character and plot, the ponies’ adventures often find them simply overcoming jealousy, petty rivalries, xenophobia, prejudice and ignorance, forging tighter bonds of friendship through understanding rather than a super-mega-plus-over-9000-uber-power explosion.

Thirdly, perhaps most of all, the characters are likeable and truly endearing.  Each has a charming quirk that never veers into pretense.  For Applejack, it’s her Southern drawl and her myriads of relatives all named after breeds of apples, from older brother Big Macintosh to doddering old Granny Smith.  Rainbow Dash scores for her Maverick-esque love of and need for speed.  Pinkie Pie’s unpredictable non-sequiturs and never-ending cheerfulness lead her to steal every scene she’s in.  But the most popular has turned out to be the milquetoast pegasus pony Fluttershy (seen above), whose tender voice – performed by actress Andrea Libman – and mannerisms practically dare you not to sigh “awww,” as if you were looking at your umpteenth YouTube kitten video.  Fluttershy’s most notable moment comes in an episode where Rainbow Dash is trying to teach her how to cheer, and Fluttershy can only respond with a pathetic, whispered “yay.”  Of course by the end of the episode she explodes with excitement at her friend’s triumph in achieving the fabled “sonic rainboom.”

If it all sounds awfully saccharine to you, you’re probably right.  Why then does it rate so highly with people who would otherwise dismiss it as childish nonsense?  MLP:FIM has become a shining example of what I referred to when talking about Star Wars a few posts ago, the idea of remix culture – art that is no longer the property of one but is instead shared and shaped by legions.  Indeed, the show’s creators have embraced their internet following and have even incorporated some of the fan creations into their own canon, transforming the series essentially into an interactive experience.  More than that, My Little Pony:  Friendship is Magic succeeds, I think – and why for Fox News its popularity does not compute – because it is completely devoid of cynicism and snark.  When so much of our popular culture and indeed our humor is devoted to mocking the shortcomings of others, MLP:FIM stands apart as a warm, innocent and welcome throwback to a yearning that many of us have buried inside, that our problems can indeed be solved with compassion and without tearing each other down.  Sometimes it’s good for the soul to embrace the sweetness and simply enjoy something on a visceral level without pausing to take the piss.

And if that makes us bronies, then I guess I’d just say, after Rainbow Dash, that we’re 20% cooler because of it.