• Member Since 7th Mar, 2013
  • offline last seen Feb 22nd, 2018

Midnight Rambler


I spend way too much time writing about writing, and way too little time actually writing.

More Blog Posts18

  • 235 weeks
    For the redditors among you: (Re)introducing /r/CircleClop

    Every self-respecting subreddit needs a circlejerk spinoff, and /r/mylittlepony is no exception. Since the various MLP circlejerk subreddits were all dead as a doornail, I decided to try and revive the one with the best name: /r/CircleClop.

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    0 comments · 350 views
  • 260 weeks
    Have some Bach

    In the spirit of Easter (Easter Monday still counts as part of the Easter weekend, dammit!) I thought I'd post a bit of St Matthew Passion.

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    1 comments · 220 views
  • 260 weeks
    A Very American Season Première

    The long-awaited Season 5 première was very interesting for a number of reasons. One of those reasons was that it clearly showed just how deeply My Little Pony is rooted in American values.

    Read More

    19 comments · 966 views
  • 266 weeks
    Post-Con Report: Hearth's Warming Con 2015

    Yesterday, I attended my first ever fan convention, which was also the first MLP convention ever to be held in the Netherlands: Hearth's Warming Con 2015!

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    3 comments · 712 views
  • 275 weeks
    Raise the Banners!

    Notice something about Fimfiction? That's right: the banner images are gone.

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    2 comments · 431 views
Apr
6th
2015

A Very American Season Première · 4:29pm Apr 6th, 2015

The long-awaited Season 5 première was very interesting for a number of reasons. One of those reasons was that it clearly showed just how deeply My Little Pony is rooted in American values.

The United States have perhaps the most individualistic culture in the world. From a young age, Americans are told how "special" and "unique" they are, and encouraged to stand out, to excel, to compete. If you lose, it's your own fault; if you win, it's your own personal accomplishment, and you get to flaunt your success all you like. And if you win big – be it at business, politics, sports, or entertainment – you might acquire a cult following of sorts, a share of fans who'll never shut up about how awesome and inspiring you are. (See: Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Obama before he actually became President.)

So, The Cutie Map was about the value of individuality and unique talents, and the antagonists were at the opposite extreme: 'the individual is nothing, the collective is everything' – a mindset reminiscent of 20th-century totalitarian ideas. So far, so good. The point is that the idea of individuality as something to be celebrated and flaunted is a specifically American – and to a lesser extent British – attitude. In much of Europe, especially the small Protestant countries, we see things rather differently.

My own country, the Netherlands, is a particularly notorious example. Our unofficial national motto is 'Doe maar gewoon, dan doe je al gek genoeg' – 'just act normal, that's weird enough already'. In other words: you're nothing special, don't try to stand out, don't try to get people's attention. Celebrities, politicians and even royalty constantly have to emphasise how normal and modest they are (for example, ministers often make a point of commuting to work by bicycle). Ambition is allowed, but only in moderation – you don't think you're better than the rest, do you?

To a Dutchman, few kinds of people are as annoying as the streber – a word borrowed from German, referring to someone who tries a little too hard to move up in the world, mostly by currying favour with teachers, bosses, and influential people in general. The kid who always gets high grades, sits on the student council, does the honours track, puts in lots of extra hours at his job, and is proud of those things to the point of smugness – that's a streber. Don't be a streber!

This mindset – which serves as a useful check on ego, attention-whoring and naïve hero-worship, at the cost of stifling creativity and discouraging people from putting in more effort than strictly necessary – isn't a uniquely Dutch thing, far from it. (Do we look like we're trying to stand out?) The Scandinavian countries share it as well. The Danes even have a snappy word for it: Janteloven, the law of Jante. And although the Catholic countries are often much more tolerant of extravagance and individual boasting, Europe in general tends to fall somewhere in the middle between the American hyper-individualism preached by the Mane Six, and the scary, spirit-crushing totalitarianism of Starlight Glimmer's village.

Note that, although I compared the village to 20th-century totalitarian states (and let's face it, the parallels are pretty blatant) there's one important difference. Totalitarianism preached that the collective was everything and the individual was insignificant – except for one individual, the Great Leader, who towered above the masses with his supreme wisdom and skill. (See: Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Mussolini.) Starlight Glimmer, by contrast, pretends she's just as plain and uninteresting as her subjects – and when it's revealed she actually held on to her individual skill and vision, that's what drives them to rebel. In a way, The Cutie Map provides a glimpse, albeit a very brief one, of what a Dutch or Danish totalitarian movement might have looked like.

Cultural commentary aside, I found Starlight Glimmer an intriguing villain. Throughout most of the episode – okay, two episodes, if you want to get technical – I was waiting for her nefarious plans to be revealed: presumably she wanted to use the "harvested" cutie marks to build some kind of magical superweapon, or sell them for an obscene amount of money. (I already know who her first customers would be.) But the big reveal never came. Sure, she used lies, force, and brainwashing to achieve her aims, but she genuinely seemed to believe that stripping ponies of their individuality would make Equestria a better place. In other words, the Well-Intentioned Extremist has arrived in the MLP universe. Starlight Glimmer's backstory – how she arrived at these ideas, and how she became so convinced of them that she was willing to lie, threaten and coerce in order to implement them – should make for plenty of interesting fanfiction.

That's what we're here for, after all.

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Comments ( 19 )

Cultural commentary aside, I found Starlight Glimmer an intriguing villain. Throughout most of the episode – okay, two episodes, if you want to get technical – I was waiting for her nefarious plans to be revealed: presumably she wanted to use the "harvested" cutie marks to build some kind of magical superweapon, or sell them for an obscene amount of money. (I already know who her first customers would be.) But the big reveal never came. Sure, she used lies, force, and brainwashing to achieve her aims, but she genuinely seemed to believe that stripping ponies of their individuality would make Equestria a better place. In other words, the Well-Intentioned Extremist has arrived in the MLP universe. Starlight Glimmer's backstory – how she arrived at these ideas, and how she became so convinced of them that she was willing to lie, threaten and coerce in order to implement them – should make for plenty of interesting fanfiction.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I'm not so sure that Starlight is a well-intentioned extremist. With how vindictive she was, and her reaction to Twilight mastering a spell she had spent months perfecting... She strikes me as someone intensely jealous of everyone better than her, who invented a spell to bring everyone else down to her level, then made up a bogus philosophy after the fact to justify it to herself.

The urge to say "l8" and nothing else is tempting :derpytongue2:

As an American, it's always been extremely obvious to me how American the values promoted by the show are. I suppose I took it for granted how blatant it was, because most American media is like that.

I... have little idea what to say other then.. interesting perspective. And nice viewpoint on that.

I must say, I've always found it interesting how many of the Americans (not all of course, but many) that I talk to struggle to realise that not every culture is an individualistic as theirs. I saw a lot of people talking about how this episode is supposed to be "individualism vs. collectivism", and far too many people talking about the "evils of socialism". Not many seemed to realise that the message of this could very easily be flipped on it's head if the "individualist" side was taken to it's logical extreme and the "collectivist" side dialed back to a friendlier state.

Blargh I am too tired to accurately convey my thoughts. Tell me if they make no sense, and I'll try again in the morning.

2952894 See, like I said, Starlight Glimmer's backstory is full of potential for interesting theories! :twilightsmile:

I'm inclined to disagree with the "bring everyone down to her level" hypothesis, though. She's a high-level magic user – removing somepony's cutie mark can't be easy – so she definitely does have a talent of her own to take pride in (and one that's highly valued in Equestrian society, if episodes like Boast Busters are any indication). I'm thinking more of the lines of bad experiences with egos and fanatical competition in her family or community, which sent her on a crusade to weed out that sort of thing.

I wouldn't say that the "you're special" philosophy is so clear cut. Perhaps it's because I have a Canadian backwater perspective on this, but I feel like it's only presented this way on the surface. Maybe it also has to do with the 24/7 culture merging so heavily with the Internet. In any event, people are told they're special, but not really treated as much. There is a very passive-aggressive fine print clause attached to the whole thing that might take its cues from the Dutch values you mentioned in your post. That is, one is only special if they're instantly successful. Hard work is not seen as something to be rewarded, but looked at as an indicator that the person simply isn't special and talented enough to be an instant success. And one better not dare to express apprehension at said hard work not paying off, because cries of, "LOLTRYHARD!" are certain to follow. This is the face of celebrity-worship culture, where a few get lucky and the rest of the mass-manufactured get lied to and tossed aside.

And it's for that reason that I enjoy the show, as, despite all the dark events that happen in its setting, it's typically a genuine, idealistic subversion.

That's definitely an interesting take on the subject. Though I do feel compelled to point out something: the episode wasn't about the evils of equality so much as the danger of conflating equality with "sameness". The importance of individualism in the context of this episode is less about "You're AWESOME" and more "You don't have the same abilities as everyone else, and that's okay". The episode never really dealt with the nature of ambition or trying to use one's skill to get ahead. It's more about the right for individuals to have skills that nobody else does, even if they're all equal.

If had to sum up what I'd say the moral is, it's basically that you can be equal without being the same. And likewise, being different doesn't make you better either. The whole point is that they can interact as friends and equals even though their skills and interests aren't the same.

2953129

I'm inclined to disagree with the "bring everyone down to her level" hypothesis, though. She's a high-level magic user – removing somepony's cutie mark can't be easy – so she definitely does have a talent of her own to take pride in

It's entirely possible to excel in one area and still resent others for being better in other areas. And "Winter Wrap Up" shows that even the most powerful unicorns can be surprisingly incompetent once you get them outside their area of expertise.

I think if Starlight really believed what she preached, either she'd have been upfront with her followers about the unfortunate necessity of keeping her own mark ... or she would have apologized when her deception was revealed, rather than exploding at the crowd. Hell, she even contradicts her earlier message by ranting about her own exceptionalism:

Starlight Glimmer: The staff is a piece of wood I found in the desert! It's my magic that makes all this possible! You'd all still be living your miserable lives thinking you're better than everypony else if it weren't for my magical abilities! I brought you friendship! I brought you equality! I created harmony!

If you want your well-intentioned extremists, look at the villagers, like Double Diamond. That guy really believed the message. Starlight Glimmer was more a megalomaniac pretending to be an ideologue as a bid for power.

2953284

"Alike and equal are not the same thing at all." -- Madeleine L'Engle

2953932 Hmm, now that you mention it, that quote mostly seems to reveal an extreme form of paternalism. As in, 'these people are all pitiable fools who should be grateful that an actually competent person like me is devoting her time to helping them.'

2953284 Fair point. Reminds me of your writings on cast construction, where you emphasise that the characters in the main cast should be clearly distinguishable, but roughly equal in importance.

2953932
Did you reply to the wrong post? That looks like Rambler's content you're addressing. >.>

2954022 Yeah, he got that crossed. I took it as a cute sign of how close we've collectively grown as a thread – it's like how my dad often mixes up me and my brothers' names :rainbowlaugh:

I'm an American military veteran and even I found the message a bit... uncomfortable... at times. Especially since the equality symbol was recently used, and extensively even in this very fandom, for a gay rights social media rally. I know children's shows don't usually do nuance but I expected something with a bit more follow through, especially on such a complicated concept.

2953946 Exactly.
2954013 I wasn't even thinking of that, but yeah, that does sort of apply. You want them to be of equal importance, but filling different roles.

2952894 That seemed like the obvious implication. Everything about her suggest the Nietzschean resentful, vindictive priest type, the kind of individual that is weak and hates themself for their weakness and envies and despises their betters, and who, instead of aiming to become stronger and transcend and overcome the great, would rather bring them down to their own level or below. They suppress passion, appetite, ambition, competition, pride, and individuality, and promote modesty, humility, chastity, quiet, and obedience.

I don't like them very much. I used to be one.

2952990 It did feel a bit Ayn Rand-ish. This kind of story can indeed very easily be subverted by dialing each side back and forth on the sliding scale of moderation versus extremism. On a double-moderate setting, you'd get, say, six New Yorkers VS a town in Svalbard :moustache:

If you want to moderate it even more, Berlin vs. Munich or Madrid vs. Barcelona.:rainbowlaugh:

Andi if you want to make it double X-treme, Magic The Gathering's White vs. Black, 40K's Tau vs. Chaos, the Cybermen vs. the Doctor, the Borg vs. the Klingon, the Vorlons vs. the Shadows... sheesh, there sure is a lot of those...

2953101 That makes more sense, but some of her facial expressions were definitely those of bitter, hateful resentment, not 'oh no, the horrible thing is happening again', haunted, must-prevent-horror-at-all-costs, altruistic expressions. How about this; she got resentful and hateful in her original context, which involved much more proficient wizards than her. She then extrapolated the resulting hatred of excellence to everything else in a bad case of "when all you have is a hammer" utopian thinking, which is a sadly common pattern. I think this besi explains what we saw, no?

2954936 Good point. There's a lot of equalizing going on in the military, yes? Same haircut, same uniform, same training, same orders, discipline... To caricature:

Hilariously enough, differences between individuals stand out even more, so that there's actually a huge amount of variety.

2954022
2954070
Yeah, mixup. I'm not even sure how I clicked the reply button on the wrong post like that...

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