Thursday, January 26, 2012

Zon: ‘My Little Pony’, Derpy and ableism

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The following is a guest post by Zon.

Full disclosure: I am a bit of a “brony”, myself; I enjoy the show, though I don’t take any part in the fandom.

Derpy Hooves

I've been a huge fan of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic since the middle of the first season. I found the characters creative, real, and endearing, the writing solid and well-planned, and the animation pleasing to the eye. For a kids show, it manages to work quite well for any age group.

The matter that I have decided to chime in on is the first vocal appearance of a well known background pony, named Derpy Hooves by the fandom. I'm going to skip the history of this character, since there is a lot that would need to be said. I was confused, however, when I found out that there were quite a few people who were offended by her appearance, saying that she was perpetuating an ableist stereotype. After reading these posts, however, I have decided that I do not agree.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't be offended by this. I don't care if you get offended by anything, provided that when you start talking about why you're offended, you keep your argument reasonable. I can even understand why Derpy's appearance can be seen as offensive. Personally, I don't think it is, but I can't speak for everyone.

I really think that everyone is reading a bit too deep into this. I can't imagine that anyone from the studio would be so insensitive as to think “Well, let's give her the voice of a retarded person”. As for the clumsiness, I think everyone needs to keep in mind that this is a kids' show; it started as a kids' show, and will continue to be a kids' show for its entire existence. The fact that adults started enjoying it was more of an accident, really. To a kid, clumsy is funny. Ask any parent if they ever dropped something in front of their kid, and if the kid started laughing about it. To a child, it's funny. I remember a moment from my childhood where my father slipped on ice and accidentally whacked my mother with the snow shovel. I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever seen.

These kinds of characters pop up everywhere. Just look at Patrick from the show Spongebob Squarepants. He talked in a low, slow voice, and asked such questions as “Is Mayonnaise an instrument?” and was completely unable to understand that he was working at the Krusty Krab while answering the phone. You could also look at Osaka, from the anime Azumanga Daioh, whose head was always in space. Stimpy, from Ren and Stimpy, who picked his nose, stuck the 'findings' under a table and kept them in a fridge as a collection. Eugene, from Hey Arnold, who was well known as a jinx. Heffer, from Rocko's Modern Life. Dog, from Catdog. Cartoon Network had its fair share of this archetype as well. Ed, from Ed, Edd, and Eddy, the titular character from Johnny Bravo, Cow, from Cow and Chicken, I.R. Baboon, from I Am Weasel, and Billy, from Billy and Mandy. These types of characters are nothing new, and will be continuing to pop up for years to come.

The big thing I see in this case, however, is that we don't have enough information on Derpy to really make any assessment of her true personality. She has shown up for just under a minute of screen time. We see enough of her to know that she is clumsy, something we knew from a scene in season one, where she dropped a variety of objects on Twilight from a flying truck, but we have no more information. She was also dealing with Rainbow Dash, a character who is well known for her impatience. There is not enough here to make a call on Derpy's real self.

To those who are offended, by all means, keep being offended. However, before telling people that we need to understand why you're offended, maybe you should wonder why we are not. Meet somewhere in the middle here, and understand that not everyone thinks the same way, and not everything means one absolute thing. Let the writers and animators do their thing. If Derpy has more vocal appearances, we'll get to learn a little more about her, and maybe then we'll get to see if it's something that is an absolute offensive piece of television.

Hiya, me again. I just thought I’d append a clip of the segment-in-question for you to judge for yourselves:

My transcript: (click the [+/-] to expand/collapse →) []

RAINBOW DASH is hanging up a banner on town hall when she dodges a sudden lightning bolt.

RAINBOW DASH: Now, careful, Derpy!

DERPY is bouncing on a small cloud, sending lightning bolts out with each jump.

RD: You don’t wanna do any more damage than you’ve already done.

The Town Hall roof is destroyed and crumbling.

DERPY: [continues to bounce] I just don’t know what went wrong!

Derpy gets electrocuted and stays still for a moment, dazed.

RD: [sarcastically] Yeah. It’s a mystery.

Derpy flies backwards over Rainbow Dash as the latter finishes nailing up the banner.

DERPY: Nice work, Rainbow Dash!

Derpy bangs into a support beam, which breaks way and falls off the balcony. Rainbow Dash goes after it and tries to stop it, but it crashes through the floor below with her beneath it.

DERPY: [peering into the hole, shouting] You okay, Rainbow Dash? Anything I can do to help?

Rainbow Dash quickly zips out of the hole.

RD: NO! Nothing! In the name of Celestia, just sit there and do nothing.

Derpy sits down hard and the floor gives way; she falls in, pulling Rainbow Dash in with her.

DERPY: Oops! My bad.

[In short: Ponies are assembled to celebrate as Applejack prepares to leave for the year’s Equestria Rodeo Competition in Canterlot, the prize money of which is intended to pay for fixing Town Hall.

DERPY: [leaning over hole] Yeah, Applejack! Woo-hoo!

She falls over back into the hole with a crash. Rainbow Dash rolls her eyes.