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Dragon Turtle

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My greatest apprehensions for the new My Little Pony movie & generation. · 5:27am Sep 25th, 2021

Today MLP Generation 5 has been made available on Netflix, and on Saturday I’ll be seeing it with my friends in the Milwaukee Bronies. I’ve had an uneasy feeling about it, and finally putting much of that into words was helpful. It was certainly interesting, and I’d like to share it with other people. I’ve done so with only a few, but I want to put this out there before anyone thinks my opinion is contaminated by either seeing the movie, or something getting spoiled. Tomorrow I may be relieved, let down, or just impressed that I managed to predict so much. Something I’ve definitely kept in mind is that with Generation 4’s premieres, finales, and own movie, the trailers were always cut unimpressively (IMHO). So I tended to be pleasantly surprised with pretty much everything I watch from G4, when I even bothered looking at the trailers. So I’ll be quite happy to be proven wrong this Saturday. Now…

They certainly didn’t intend to be flipping off everything Gen 4 established. No creator ever tries that when they’re brought into a franchise in the payroll of the IP owners. But for their society to regress to this point of segregation? The only thought process I can think of for this bizarre departure are A) The new show staff threw their hands up on matching anything with G4... or B) they came up with a totally fresh setting and timeline, and then some exec or analyst at Hasbro said “Heck no, you are GOING to connect this with our previous money-printing machine. Got it?” And that level of mandated storytelling doesn’t fill me with confidence.

I’ve heard at least one comparison to the Sequel Trilogy, which I expected. True, there’s some notable superficial similarities. It’s decades(?) later, the original heroes are spoken of as myths, for various reasons the world is in trouble, and our protagonist is a disciple-slash-fangirl of what the previous heroes fought for. But this is way more drastic and bizarre of a development.

The conflict in the Sequel Trilogy for the galaxy at large is that the Empire has returned, but rebranded. A new set of new jerks wanted power, teamed up with some of the old jerks, got a bunch of big guns, and held the galaxy hostage. That’s something that just happens in repeated strokes of history. It’s the re-drawing of a bunch of borders. The only moral failing there is being lax with fascists.

Having the Sequel Trilogy retread a plot also isn’t as weird as the My Little Pony franchise. The Force Awakens was made decades after the OT concluded, and the previous Prequel Trilogy took a really different direction and wasn’t received well. Then the franchise got completely new owners. So going back to its roots to start things out was a logical move. It’s only been THREE YEARS between these different shows of MLP, so the repetition doesn’t have much charm. Although repetition may not be the right word, since the setup for this show’s racial dilemma is way more extreme.

Equestria for some reason has gone through a jaw-dropping morale decay. Not only have they embraced division they were fighting against in seasons 8 & 9, they’ve regressed to the level of segregation before Equestria was FOUNDED. The Star Wars equivalent of that would be not only everyone fighting the First Order, they also suddenly don’t allow Wookies and other aliens to drink from the water fountains. Like, how the heck did that turn into a problem?

If the only progress undone from Gen 4 were the relationships with the non-ponies introduced later, that would actually make more sense. Social equality has reactionary backlash, which often occurs immediately after landmark victories. Ponies were the ones that held the most power on the world stage (some kinds more than others in Equestria).

But the WAY bigger issue isn’t internal logic and retcons. I learned long ago to set aside any expectation of a reward or pandering for my years-long commitment to a toy franchise. It’s the potential mishandling of the topic of racism, and I worry we’ve already on shaky ground. The morale of “segregation is bad” feels like bottom of the barrel, kind of copout way of tackling racism. At least, it does for settings that are extremely modern like Generation 5 clearly is. Segregation of people by ethnicity, by rule of law, has fully shifted to obsolesce in the cultural landscape of first world countries. Not even the most deranged lunatics in our government like Boebert or Greene advocate for it (not yet anyway). Stories about segregation can still be done really well of course, but it can’t just be about wiping it off the lawbooks and solving everything. It needs look at why people do this in the first place, who fights for it as the status quo, and what social structures and habits keep the thing in place despite the efforts of good people.

Of course, we still HAVE segregation in society. Not legally, but de facto thanks to economic status and civic planning. And not just physical separation, but grotesque imbalances of power and means. Look at job opportunities, home ownership, insurance evaluations, scrutiny by police, investment in local schools, etc. In G4 it was pretty clear that WAY more unicorns got to live in the lap of luxury or centers of commerce and education. Earth ponies were more spread out, rural, and based on an agrarian existence to feed the country. It’s not that G4 did much with it, but that kind of setup is way closer to modern day inequality, and would be a more fertile bed for those kind of stories. Admittedly, the Pegasi city in the trailer looked absolutely LOADED, so maybe we do have that element in store.

What the trailers and press releases are saying feels weak even as just a segregation story. The ponies separating makes segregation look like a bunch of people moving out like feuding roommates… instead of being put in place by a group of people with WAY more power and money than everyone else. Segregation is portrayed as a mutual agreement, not exploitation. My worry is that they’re going to go to Pocahontas routes, and make the root of racism a select few rich figureheads spreading lies. And undoubtedly, rich people in the private and public sector DO profit off of ignorance and violence, and divert attention from real problems. But when white people in America were treating everyone as subhuman, it wasn’t FEAR that was driving it (at least, not exclusively). For one, it was profit and sheer convenience. Manual labor and the least desirable tasks could be foisted on to ‘lesser’ peoples, and they wouldn’t even require a humane wage. Even if there hadn’t been those empirical benefits, discrimination also brought the sadistic sense of self-importance that comes from standing on someone else’s neck. The imaginary structures of racism let people feel comfortable about their place in the universe.

I wouldn’t call Zecora’s introductory episode all that nuanced, but it was definitely more accurate to real life than the (hopefully hypothetical) scenario I described above. In Bridle Gossip, it’s extremely apparent that the Pony majority of Ponyville are the ones acting like tools, and singling out Zecora for being different. They are the ones obligated to apologize to HER. (Even though it’s of course awkward that they wrote Zecora as a rhyming witch doctor, when she’s meant to represent an African person. It might not be so bad if she wasn’t the ONLY Zebra, and the only creature coded that way.)

Companies and studios will gladly tell their audiences to sympathize with victimized individuals and populations of oppression, and hate the individual acts done upon them. But then they’ll get cagey about making some members of the audience feel any kind of guilt, from distantly benefitting from that system; or maybe even subtlety being part of one. It’s not good for the bottom line to name a civilian population for taking any racist, oppressive or outright murderous actions. No, it’s a single evil dictator (or CEO, or general) and their gaggle of cronies, who just needs to be overthrown. We see this toothless crud play out over and over because corporate entities are either A) that naive, or B) scared of some losers with megaphones losing their minds over the suggestion of self-examination. Some people are SO fragile at the idea of self-examination, or guilt. Because it goes back to having an identity, an innocent and sympathetic self-image.

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