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Oliver


Let R = { x | x ∉ x }, then R ∈ R ⟺ R ∉ R... or is it?

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May
23rd
2017

Points of Canon: S1x12 - Call of the Cutie · 7:50am May 23rd, 2017

And another one. This is an important temporal marker episode.

  • The school is the only building in town with a straw floor. Actually, it’s the only building ever with a straw floor. Why?
  • The opening shots of the episode are also the first appearance of a globe on screen, right next to the telescope. Another globe appears on the opposite side of the room in the next shot.
  • Much has been said about the equation on the board, so I won’t dwell on that. It’s way too advanced for this class.
  • The class contains: Apple Bloom, Diamond Tiara, Silver Spoon, Twist, Archer, Sun Glimmer, and three fillies which I can’t seem to identify, who have the cutie marks of a magnifying glass, a cupcake and a flower respectively. The latter three might be unique. This list is important, because it changes the next time the school turns up.
  • …They’re all fillies. Not a single colt in this class. Archer has the Scootaloo model and Sun Glimmer has the Sweetie Belle model. And beside Apple Bloom and Twist, everyone in the room has a mark – with the possible exception of Sun Glimmer, whose rump never gets on camera. Later in the episode, Apple Bloom only mentions Twist as the other filly in her class without a mark. Hmm…
  • Apple Bloom is the only one who has a bag personalized with a mark – and it’s an apple. That has to be Applejack’s old school bag, because bags are almost invariably personalized with cutie mark images.
  • Cherilee’s desk has an apple on it. Any particular reason or just her lunch?
  • Diamond Tiara is bored. Well, she has her mark already.
  • Later episodes and even the comics insist that Cherilee was exaggerating: She’s the only one with that kind of hair.
  • Silver Spoon is staring at her hoof in an obvious gesture of inspecting her hooficure, which we can’t see due to the cartoon resolution limits.
  • Apple Bloom’s pencil has an eraser head. Most other pencils seen don’t.
  • “A cutie mark appears on a pony’s flank when he or she finds that certain something that makes them different from every other pony. Discovering what makes you unique isn’t something that happens overnight, and no amount of hoping, wishing, or begging, would make a cutie mark appear before its time.” How did the fandom make the jump from this to “destiny” and cutie Calvinism is something to keep track of.
  • The camera cuts after Diamond Tiara’s prank, but the lecture would have to continue, wouldn’t it?
  • The list of ponies leaving the school upon the completion of the lecture does not match the list of ponies in class, three fillies that weren’t in the initial lineup appear. Notably, one of them is Dinky.
  • Diamond Tiara: “I don’t know why we had to sit through a lecture about getting a cutie mark.” I don’t know either. What I particularly don’t know is why anyone except Apple Bloom and Twist would need one at all, when they already have theirs. Unless there is a legal distinction somewhere between a child with a cutie mark and one without that they need to be aware of.
  • Diamond Tiara makes a statement that she just got her mark, and that Silver Spoon got her earlier – possibly, a lot earlier.
  • 1. Doylistically, I suspect it’s the tiara that gave them the idea to use this, and not some other word.

    I wonder where and how the word “cute-ceañera” originated in Equish.1

  • The party is “this weekend.” Ponies have weekends. :) This also requires the entire episode to squeeze inside a week.
  • Applejack is doing something interesting: She’s picking apples off the ground to put them into a bucket. Typically, when she bucks a tree, they all fall straight into the bucket.
  • Applejack was “the last pony in my class” to get a cutie mark, but at the time she got a mark, she was in Manehattan, wasn’t she? Which class is she referring to? She’d have to go to school in Manehattan at least for some time, wouldn’t she? Cutie Mark Chronicles shows her mark manifesting once she returns, in which case she would be between classes at the moment of getting the mark. Something’s fishy here, considering that Applejack is supposed to be the honest one.
  • According to Applejack, Granny Smith and Big Macintosh were the last in their class to get a mark as well. Only, Family Appreciation Day implies that Granny Smith couldn’t have had much formal schooling due to her family being nomadic…
  • Applejack is selling apples in the market square. Which we don’t see her do anywhere as often as you would expect.
  • Applejack and Apple Bloom are wearing very peculiar aprons, which don’t seem to turn up anywhere else.
  • Apple Bloom smacks an apple with a tennis racket. Notably, while we see rackets turn up occasionally after that, we don’t see ponies actually play tennis, other than the stunt pulled by Apple Bloom here.
  • That unicorn is painting with his teeth rather than magic, which is a bit strange. Learned from an earth pony teacher, I presume?
  • The Doctor pays Applejack four coins for one apple and Applejack says he forgot the change. I’ve tried to come up with a combination of units that would produce a price on an apple, and I’m not sure it works at all, because later, Apple Bloom dumps a whole bucket into Bon-Bon’s bag – at least 30 apples – and demands four bits…
  • Notice that the price would have to be per apple, not per unit of weight. They never weigh the apples.
  • Apple Bloom says, “We take cash or credit.” Some reasonably universal, widely used form of credit exists. There’s no way it doesn’t, if a child knows those words, because she has to be repeating them.
  • Twist says, “I’ve always loved making my own favorite sweets, but it took me some time to discover that it was my super-special talent.” This is probably typical: the mark appears after some time spent acquiring the skill, as part of a realization that the skill is special.
  • 2. I wonder, do ponies over in Estee’s ’verse know?

    Rainbow Dash is the actual originator of the idea of crusading for cutie marks by trying multiple things in quick succession.2 She never gets credited for it.

  • Rainbow Dash says she was first in her class to get a cutie mark, and I’m pretty sure that’s not true. She also says that her mark was her very first race, which also has to be bogus…
  • The list of activities Apple Bloom tries under Rainbow’s direction is: Juggling, hang gliding, karate, kite flying, roller derby. Notably, most of these would not make good career skills, except possibly karate.
  • 3. And probably a lot more effective…

    Ponies know karate. Not kung fu, for some reason. The actual move Apple Bloom executes while training is a flying kick with a hind leg, exceedingly reminiscent of the one humans would do,3 and notice that Apple Bloom can do it at all.

  • You’d think with the mountainous terrain around Ponyville, hang gliding would be a lot more popular.
  • Roller derby doesn’t seem to turn up again. Notably, each of the four hoof rollers has four wheels, when one would suffice and actually offer better control.
  • I think that’s the only time ever we see Rainbow in the vicinity of a checklist, especially one she made herself. Savor this moment.
  • It’s interesting that when Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon are walking past the Carousel Boutique with that wrapped box and talking about the outfit, either they got it from somewhere else, or the box does not contain the outfit – because they are not leaving the Boutique, they’re walking past the door.
  • If Apple Bloom is correct, a cutie mark in eating cupcakes is possible.
  • The water faucet in Sugarcube kitchen has a lever in the back instead of a valve. It almost looks like a pump lever. Strangely, it coexists with a powered mixer that Apple Bloom is using to make dough.
  • Pinkie says, “Please say bingo, please say bingo.” We never see them play it, but ponies play bingo.
  • The list of marks Twilight makes appear on Apple Blooms rump contains: A cart of apples, a kite, three cupcakes, a toy bear, a tricycle, three American football balls, among a bunch of others we do not see. My best theory on what Twilight is actually doing plays into my general magic theory, and is based on Twilight’s statement that “not even magic can make a cutie mark appear before its time” – emphasis mine. I.e. she is trying to stimulate a bio-magical process to complete using a general purpose neural stimulation spell.
  • Apple Bloom says, “I just won’t go to the party, I can’t go. Everyone will just laugh at me and make fun of me and call me names. It will be the worst night of my life.” I don’t understand why the adults ignore this completely accurate assessment. Seriously. But also I don’t understand how did Apple Bloom miss that the party started in the next room over. Neither, for that matter, does she.
  • At least some of Apple Bloom’s cupcakes made it to the party, causing one pony to spit the result out, and later Apple Bloom warns Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle against eating them.
  • 4. If anyone thought saddles have any kind of sexual implications, this is their chance to reconsider.

    There are quite a few adult ponies in there, and at least two are wearing saddles. Diamond Tiara’s and Silver Spoon’s outfits also include decorative saddles,4 and so do the outfits of several other fillies.

  • Notice that while Diamond Tiara boasted how her outfit shows off her cutie mark, it actually completely obscures it.
  • That infamous shot that got Berry Punch forever branded an alcoholic occurs here – she slurps from the bowl as Apple Bloom drags it past her. Only, that’s a child’s party and wouldn’t involve any alcohol, would it?…
  • Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo emerge from hiding beneath a table. Notably, they were hiding together. Again. Also notably they do not know Apple Bloom’s name yet, but they could know each other’s names.
  • 5. You don’t drink alcohol like that, because after a second one you’ll get the third one all over your face. :)

    Punch cups have round handles, but both Applejack and Twilight hold them by the edge with their teeth and drink by tilting back.5

  • Sweetie Belle says “We could form our own secret society!” Secret societies are a thing in literature, because where else would she learn about them.

Chronological placement of this episode is difficult. It is a lower constraint on every CMC-related episode, so it needs to happen early, but it also includes scenes in school. See the chronology project for full notes on that, but basically my theory is that we’re seeing a remedial summer class.

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Comments ( 26 )

Saddles as toy selling elements is often ignored

Cherilee’s desk has an apple on it. Any particular reason or just her lunch?

Clearly, it's some kind of token to denote the influence of the Apple family. They're especially popular in communities where the local Apples have used their strangle-hold on local produce and sustenance to gain municipal power (and in some fringe cases, higher).

I kind of always assumed Applejack was making up the bit about them all being the last in their class, either to make Apple Bloom feel better or because school terminology is the easiest way to make a child understand something.

If Apple Bloom is correct, a cutie mark in eating cupcakes is possible.

Food critic with a specialization.

4543749

I kind of always assumed Applejack was making up the bit about them all being the last in their class, either to make Apple Bloom feel better or because school terminology is the easiest way to make a child understand something.

We know Applejack is not above misleading statements, but she does make a point of them being literally true, doesn’t she?

4543756 Metaphors are super effective against children.

4543757

She had to have meant size class then! :pinkiehappy:

Much has been said about the equation on the board, so I won’t dwell on that. It’s way too advanced for this class.

That drawing underneath the equation looks like a rough sketch of planetary orbit, maybe?

I wonder where and how the word “cute-ceañera” originated in Equish.

I like to think that Equestria has embraced influences from Pony Latin America—moreso than most white North Americans have. I recall a mariachi band showed up twice in season 4, both times at events which didn't have any other Mexican motifs: the Breezies welcoming party in "It Ain't Easy Being Breezies", and a foal's birthday party in "Inspiration Manifestation".

4543779

That drawing underneath the equation looks like a rough sketch of planetary orbit, maybe?

The equation itself is actually gibberish in our syntax, anyway. :) See this page for a detailed treatment.

I like to think that Equestria has embraced influences from Pony Latin America—moreso than most white North Americans have.

Sure. But where is – or was – Pony Latin America?

How did the fandom make the jump from this to “destiny” and cutie Calvinism is something to keep track of.

Rarity going on about discovering her destiny in "The Cutie Mark Chronicles" likely had a lot to do with that, to say nothing of many of the other stories in that episode going along the theme of "I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life." But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Diamond Tiara: “I don’t know why we had to sit through a lecture about getting a cutie mark.” I don’t know either. What I particularly don’t know is why anyone except Apple Bloom and Twist would need one at all, when they already have theirs.

The curriculum is a harsh and unforgiving mistress.

(2). I wonder, do ponies over in Estee’s ’verse know?

I definitely recall Estee mentioning it in the comments of one of her blogs. Something about Rainbow Dash as history's greatest monster; can't find it at the moment and I don't have the time for a dedicated archive trawl.

Roller derby doesn’t seem to turn up again.

Aside from the comics.

And very good counterpoint against Berry's alleged alcoholism. Unless Pinkie thought everypony could use something to counterbalance the extra-crunchy cupcakes.

Rainbow Dash says...

If I was being nice, I would call her an unreliable narrator.

Ponies know karate. Not kung fu...

In the talent show CMC episode, one of them "knows kung-fu" and then demonstrates what look like karate techniques. :rainbowhuh:

...a flying kick with a hind leg...

I gotta say, the thought of getting hit by a horse with that move is terrifying!

The list of marks Twilight makes appear...

Her problem was that she was actually trying for a real cutie mark. She could have painted an apple on AB's butt and called it good.

4544037

If I was being nice, I would call her an unreliable narrator.

Let’s be precise here. She’s an unreliable orator.

I gotta say, the thought of getting hit by a horse with that move is terrifying!

I imagine changelings will agree with you, since Rainbow does this to them on occasion.

Her problem was that she was actually trying for a real cutie mark. She could have painted an apple on AB’s butt and called it good.

But… but that’s not what she asked for! :twilightoops:

I don’t understand why the adults ignore this completely accurate assessment.

Pretty true to life, I think. Lots of adults appear to be amazingly quick to forget the emotions they experienced as children.

Man this takes me back.

A cutie mark appears on a pony’s flank when he or she finds that certain something that makes them different from every other pony. Discovering what makes you unique isn’t something that happens overnight

Here a cutie mark is basically a merit badge awarded by destiny/biology/whoever. It doesn't actually make you better at something, just makes you realize you are already good at something.

How did the fandom make the jump from this to “destiny” and cutie Calvinism is something to keep track of.

Briefly: Starswirl's last spell, TroubleShoes, Starlight Glimmer. People don't lose their skills, personalities or memories if you rip a merit badge off of them, and no one feels forced to bear a merit badge.

Also, as a general rule, everything adults say to kids about cutie marks can be a little suspect, for the same reason we have somewhat sanitized health class lessons. "A cutie mark appears when destiny and a special talent love each other very much...." It sure feels like the adults are trying to reassure Apple Bloom not to worry about cutie marks, rather than give her the facts.

4544337

People don’t lose their skills, personalities or memories if you rip a merit badge off of them, and no one feels forced to bear a merit badge.

Counterargument: A Royal Problem. Swapping around two cutie marks does not result in losing personalities or memories, or changes in non-magical skills.

The only reasonable explanation is that the ill effects observed primarily result from the equalizing action of the = mark.

Also, as a general rule, everything adults say to kids about cutie marks can be a little suspect, for the same reason we have somewhat sanitized health class lessons.

It can be, sure, but I don’t think it necessarily does. Sometimes a banana is just a banana.

4544340

The only reasonable explanation is that the ill effects observed primarily result from the equalizing action of the = mark.

That explains how Starlight does it, but what about Starswirl's spell? That changed the histories and memories of the gals and they didn't get an equal sign, just another cutie mark. I would blame time travel but then the S5 finale showed cutie marks as immune to time travel.

I suspect there's something deeper, like a special talent or magic or whatever you want to call it, and the cutie mark may just be the symptom of that, just a merit badge after all. But then that deeper aspect is definitely affected by fate/destiny or whatever. And when Tirek sucks in a pony's magic, the cutie mark comes along for the ride.

4544437

That explains how Starlight does it, but what about Starswirl’s spell?

I do have a theory, I wouldn’t just make statements if I didn’t think I can substantiate them. :)

Star Swirl’s spell is completely unrelated to cutie marks as such, the cutie mark swap is an unintended side effect. Here’s the full sequence of what’s shown happening:

1. Twilight attempts to cast Star Swirl’s spell. The Element jewelry is in direct vicinity.
2. The rest of Mane 6 get scrambled.
3. Twilight unscrambles them manually by singing a song and calling upon each of her friends to support her in unscrambling the next one.
4. Twilight corrects the spell and casts it, and is transformed into an alicorn.

So what I think is actually happening:

The spell was always supposed to transform the caster into an alicorn.
The spell has always required the use of the Elements of harmony in harmony as a power source. Star Swirl “did not understand friendship” means that he did not understand the proper use of the said joint harmony.
The Elements maintain and manifest on a physical level the abstract interpersonal friendship between the Mane 6. That’s what lets them work in their rainbow-sheet mode at all. That also makes it possible for members to affect each other through this connection in a deeper fashion than they could otherwise.
Star Swirl’s spell in its original unfinished form invokes the Elements in harmony, but because it does not do this correctly, the bearers of the Elements leak into each other, affecting both their own memories and their social environment as a side effect, because harmony is a social phenomenon. Cutie marks just go along for the ride.
After fixing the problem, Twilight corrects for this shortcoming, casts the corrected spell and becomes an alicorn.

I would blame time travel but then the S5 finale showed cutie marks as immune to time travel.

It didn’t.

Imagine that you navigate a labyrinth to one out of N possible exits. If I stop you right as you are about to leave it through one of them, do you have a destiny to pick this, and not some other exit, at this particular moment? Obviously not, it’s just the closest. Did you ever have such a destiny? If I transported you to the beginning of the labyrinth and erased your memory of ever navigating it, there is no guarantee whatsoever that you would pick the same exit out of N, so no to that either.

Exactly the same thing happens in The Cutie Re-Mark. All the important formative events that have lead to manifesting these, and not some other marks, have already occurred prior to the Sonic Rainboom. Since only the Rainboom itself was prevented each time, the difference of a few months in getting a mark could not possibly result in getting a different mark. What the Rainboom created was a connection, it did nothing to change the nature of six ponies, that was mostly settled by that point.

4544437

That explains how Starlight does it, but what about Starswirl's spell? That changed the histories and memories of the gals and they didn't get an equal sign, just another cutie mark. I would blame time travel but then the S5 finale showed cutie marks as immune to time travel.

I'm not convinced that the spell actually changed their histories. Pinkie Pie, for example, got Applejack's cutie mark, and she was somehow convinced that she'd been working on the farm for years. But she was terrible at farming: she had no special talent for it, and not even the regular skill one would build by farming for years on end. It really looks more like the spell gave the ponies new stamps on their butts, and completely fake memories of how they earned those stamps, and nothing else.

rough draft. Already posted my own notesheet. Link ot later. Now.

Rainbow Dash says she was first in her class to get a cutie mark, and I’m pretty sure that’s not true. She also says that her mark was her very first race, which also has to be bogus…

Glideance, she treats as secret that she wasn't always so awesome. So, she's lying here, yes. Also from there she was racing above her age bracket.

According to Applejack, Granny Smith and Big Macintosh were the last in their class to get a mark as well. Only, Family Appreciation Day implies that Granny Smith couldn’t have had much formal schooling due to her family being nomadic…

"age cohort", while more apropos, would not be understood by target audience?

Cherilee’s desk has an apple on it. Any particular reason or just her lunch?

Apples as teacher-gifts/bribes is a common thing here. They are also associated with learning.
typo log: he, have lead, 1 other found 'em again.
4544340 I don't suppose you'd use spoiler tags for s7?

cutie Calvinism

I like that.
4544637
The townsponies forgot that they were otherwise, too, didn't they?

4545417

I don’t suppose you’d juse spoiler tags for s7?

I’ll try to, but for this one in particular it’s going to be difficult, it’s way too far-reaching.

Okay, edited in the link to mine now I'm at a properish keyboard again.
You covered much. That AB can juggle 6 for more than one cycle is pretty impressive, too.

Excerpting the best bits…

♪AJ's stomp on the road(/market square) clanks. Is she hiding a horseshoe under cartoon-resolution?
a Karate dojo, with paper-screen doors, a yin-yang-ish w/spinning Princesses(from opening of S1e1)…

Speaking of karate 「空手」, our etymology is "empty-hand[ed]". Ungulate might be karatsume「空爪」, empty-hoof.

Pinkie's trying to artificially heartsong to get AB into it. It doesn't work. It never works.
Twi has the "make cutie mark appear" spell memorized. About ten casts later, she's tired.

Something’s fishy here, considering that Applejack is supposed to be the honest one.

There were no ponies sharing a class with her that got their cutie marks after she did when she got her cutie mark. By this logic ("from a certain point of view") she was the last in her class to get her cutie mark.
4544337
Good points.

“I just won’t go to the party, I can’t go. Everyone will just laugh at me and make fun of me and call me names. It will be the worst night of my life.” I don’t understand why the adults ignore this completely accurate assessment. Seriously. But also I don’t understand how did Apple Bloom miss that the party started in the next room over. Neither, for that matter, does she.

AB is at the age where trying to get out of something, one throws reasons at the wall like spaghetti until one sticks. Trouble is, others usually believe that this is the case.

4544510

The spell was always supposed to transform the caster into an alicorn.

That does, of course, raise the question of why nopony else reused the corrected spell to alicornify themselves.

It's a reasonable assumption that, since the spell draws from the Elements of Harmony, it can only work on one of the six ponies who are attuned to the Elements. So it would be impossible to alicornicate anypony outside the mane six.

We could also assume it was a one-time use spell.

Alternately, Twilight offered to alicornerize her friends—but they all balked at the duties that would come with the title of Princess, and declined.

4545628

We could also assume it was a one-time use spell.

This does seem to be a thing with Star Swirl’s spells. The unmodified time travel spell can only be used “once,” though Twilight never says if it’s per caster or per victim or what.

I wonder where and how the word “cute-ceañera” originated in Equish.

The quinceañera is explicitly for when a girls turns 15 (it's literally what the word means - quince años = fifteen year old), but I don't see anybody claiming these fillies are 15.

Ponies know karate. Not kung fu, for some reason.

A misnomer in context: 空手 kara te means "empty hand", ie an unarmed fighting style (though it hasn't always had that name). Conveniently though, you can change it to "empty hoof" just by nudging it to 空蹄 kara tei.

Edit: Damn, 4545569 got there before me.

(4). If anyone thought saddles have any kind of sexual implications, this is their chance to reconsider.

Humans can make anything into a fetish.

4544037

In the talent show CMC episode, one of them "knows kung-fu" and then demonstrates what look like karate techniques. :rainbowhuh:

Obvious reference aside, "kung fu" is a pretty generic term for martial arts in China, including the various styles from which Karate was derived.

4544510

the bearers of the Elements leak into each other, affecting both their own memories and their social environment as a side effect, because harmony is a social phenomenon. Cutie marks just go along for the ride.

I agree with this, it also explains things like why Tirek's magic drain took away cutie marks, when he wouldn't actually care about them.

But what that means is that ponies are Calvin-est pawns after all, guided along by their internal magic by harmony or some force or whatever. Cutie marks are a minor symptom of this, not a cause. Twilight's cutie mark was on the Tree of Harmony a millennia ago because her ties to harmony mean she was destined to ascend as an alicorn through the magic of the tree of harmony, her cutie mark was just an ID.

4547350

But what that means is that ponies are Calvin-est pawns after all, guided along by their internal magic by harmony or some force or whatever.

Not necessarily. Because…

Twilight’s cutie mark was on the Tree of Harmony a millennia ago because her ties to harmony mean she was destined to ascend as an alicorn through the magic of the tree of harmony, her cutie mark was just an ID.

…the same would happen if the cutie mark on the tree is an open public offer contract – “A pony who presents this cutie mark shall have many adventures thrown their way, to eventually ascend as an alicorn if they prove up to the challenges given.”

I remind you that cutie marks are known to not necessarily be unique. We have at least one duplicate among the named ponies with lines – Minuette and the Doctor in particular.

Discovering what makes you unique isn’t something that happens overnight, and no amount of hoping, wishing, or begging, would make a cutie mark appear before its time.

Worth noting, since I don't think anybody else mentioned it: Cheerilee says here that cutie marks don't just appear overnight. Except that earlier in this same scene, she claimed that hers did, indeed, appear overnight. So she contradicted herself pretty damn quickly here.

4544337
4544340

Regarding the question of destiny, I don't think we should read so much into the the word itself. Ponies talk about their "destinies," but I don't think they're actually referring to a force that predetermines their paths in life based on a cutie mark, whether such a force exists or not. I think what they're referring to is their personal views of their fundamental purposes in life. Rarity saying that it's her destiny to be a dressmaker is just a poetic way of saying that working in fashion is her dream and that she has conviction she will succeed in it.

I suspect there's something deeper, like a special talent or magic or whatever you want to call it, and the cutie mark may just be the symptom of that, just a merit badge after all. But then that deeper aspect is definitely affected by fate/destiny or whatever. And when Tirek sucks in a pony's magic, the cutie mark comes along for the ride.

The show seems to go back and forth on this.

On the one hand, we know that ponies have their talents already before a mark first manifests, because they discover their cutie marks by doing things that they're already good at. Star Swirl's spell also notably swapped around the cutie marks, but none of the victims got the corresponding talents, so they were terrible at their new roles, and easily slipped back into their natural ones even with the wrong marks. So all this does suggest that talents are more innate than the marks themselves, which would support the merit badge interpretation. This gels well with Tirek as well, since he wouldn't be stealing talents, only the magic to make the merit badges appear.

On the other hand, however, the cutie marks themselves definitely seem to hold some significance. Whenever the talent itself is removed, such as by Starlight's spells, the cutie mark always comes along too. The equals signs do seem to be suppressors of some sort, affecting inherent personality and skills by dampening them, but Starlight was still removing something. If a cutie mark is not a special talent, but it's also not personality or memories, then what was she putting in those jars? Same thing with Celestia and Luna's case. They may not have seen personality or memory changes, but Luna did indeed lose her dreamwalking abilities when she lost her cutie mark.

I like to think, maybe, that a cutie mark is an amplifier for a natural, innate talent, which lends it a magical quality. For example, Fluttershy is good with animals because she has personality traits that make her well-suited for animal care, but with a cutie mark, she can literally talk to them (an ability her human counterpart did not have, we should note). So without magic after being drained by Tirek, she'd still have affinity for animal care, but wouldn't be supernaturally gifted at it. While under Starlight's spell, in contrast, even her natural talent is suppressed by the equals sign, while the amplifying power of the cutie mark is stored separately.

For Star Swirl's spell, the problem would be that the cutie marks are wrong, and are trying to amplify talents that aren't there. In the case of the Celestia/Luna swap, I think that both sisters know enough of moving heavenly bodies to do each other's jobs with each other's cutie marks, and Celestia knows enough about dream-walking to use Luna's magic with her cutie mark, but Luna with Celestia's mark can only lucid dream, but not use her magic inside the dream to any real effect.

At least, that's my theory. I invite you both to scrutinise it and see if it holds up.

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