And, to complete the trilogy of "Caswin's blogs about Derpy..."
As of this writing, it has been something like two weeks since the controversy began, and four, five days since Amy Keating Rogers explained why Derpy's first (and, to date, only) speaking role was later edited to change her voice, her eyes, and Rainbow Dash's dialogue.
Fans continue to speak out.
Unfortunately, disturbingly often, they are speaking out with questions that have already been answered and claims that are objectively wrong.
There are legitimate reasons to complain, criticisms to be made, and arguments to put forward.
Given that, we should not have to come up with new reasons.
Now that the facts have been laid out, unambiguously and for all to see, I am getting tired of this self-perpetuating parade of outrage. There are things that I'm tired of reading, not because I disagree with them, but because they are literally untrue, or exist only to inflame a problem that has gone on for too long.
I want to try to explain what I can, to kill any surviving unsubstantiated rumors, and leave us all with a remainder that we can actually act on. I may be overestimating my influence here, but, well, I just said what I want to accomplish, not that I have any great chance of doing it.
Writing this way doesn't do the cause (whatever it may be, usually "save Derpy") any favors. Don't get me started speculating about how the actual staff of the cartoon must feel over this ongoing controversy. After a brief visit to TV Tropes, I've heard the nickname "Derpygate".
You'd be surprised how much disagreement there is on that...
The official reason for the edit -- and for some reason, as I wrote that, I heard a voice putting air-quotes around it as if there was obviously, a darker, hidden reason -- is that Derpy's portrayal drew complaints from viewers that she represented an unfair stereotype of the mentally disabled.
Whether or not she was, especially enough to warrant changing after the fact, is obviously contested. It's worth pointing out -- there are multiple official sources that agree on this -- that she was never meant to be mentally disabled, let alone a caricature of such a condition, to begin with.
However, before we even touch on the edit and the cumulative outrage it represented, that outrage and all those sore nerves (and possibly a strangely personal attachment to Derpy "herself") seem to have looped around to a need to portray those "responsible" in the most incredulous, unflattering, clearly-wrong mean-meanypants light possible.
They must be lying. Or ill-informed. Or... well, let me make a list.
I routinely read posts dismissing Hasbro and the show staff for making edits to the episode "just because" (or similar language) they received a few complaints, when -- and this always covers all of them -- the author believes that every single one of the people who complained...
- ...is a troll, a slanderer, someone with a petty grudge or a general intent to hurt people, out to cause trouble for their own amusement or simply get attention, so they wrote in pretending to be concerned for the people being portrayed in a "Derpy" light. That's it. They were all trolls.
- ...is an arrogant, loud-mouthed, oversensitive bellyacher who thinks that they know what's right for people they don't know anything about.
- On a related note, "Political Correctness". I may have had my dates wrong earlier, but this is still widely treated as if a desire to be "politically correct" was singularly responsible for the change and the attitude itself was a recent development.
- ...is (this is a shrinking minority) simply someone for whom kindness, good intentions, clumsiness or silliness is verboten.
- General note: While I appreciate looking at, say, a seemingly inscrutable decision by a company and asking "Do they just hate money or something?", if you ask "What is anyone angry about?" and you can only think of "Kindness? Friendship? Love? Humor? Sending a positive message?”, that usually means you haven’t thought enough about it.
- ...is straight-up lying or making up offense out of thin air where the name "Derpy" is concerned, the very concept that it could be inappropriate slang for mental retardation, when it only ever referred to "derped" eyes, causing all claims resting on it to be empty and made for no reason.
- "Derp" and its derivatives have a long history of referring to mistakes ("Derp.") and overall stupidity. The Internet took it from there. The word may be made up, but while its description of wall-eyedness is the most promiment these days, its definition as slang for mental disability, while more obscure, also has very real precedent and could easily be on the mind of anyone who had to deal with such a disability. Anyway, finally, every single one...
- ...is simply looking for things to be offended at and finding them, convincing themselves it’s horribly wrong and worthy of complaint.
I see this idea that if they are against us, they must be malicious; if they are well-intentioned and against us, it can only because they are idiotically misguided. (Well, it is an election year.) It's as if allowing the possibility that they are what they say they are would grant them too much credibility.
This whole time, I haven’t heard anyone mock the people who complained against Derpy’s portrayal as parents overly concerned for a disabled child.
And even if you allow that, there's the comment that people with mental disabilities, would -- blanket words -- never be offended at Derpy, and again, working from the "disabled" POV, must have been happy to see someone with such a disability depicted and "accepted" in the show.
Among the viewers using this argument, that Derpy was simply not offensive and they have changed something that used to be unilaterally uplifting, I have seen very few people who actually identify themselves as someone who would identify with her. Mostly, it's people assuming that she would go over well, which would make her original depiction unambiguously right and her change wrong.
Not counting myself -- mild autism -- I have seen four exceptions to this rule, four different users who identified themselves in the position of actually being able to comment from the perspective of someone with a disability.
- Two people with disabilities praised her, like many fans, with at least one note that, yes, they were glad to see someone like her up front and in the camera's view. One promoted a lighthearted view of the whole thing and introduced me to Zach Anner, a comedian with cerebral palsy ("The sexiest of all the palsies!"), for which I am grateful.
- Two people with disabilities saw a pony who came off as mentally disabled, couldn't do anything right, is played for laughs as a silly, derpy buffoon, and is finally told to sit down and do nothing. Then she breaks something. They were offended. I think memories of a difficult childhood were mentioned. (One went into a mode of sarcasm that's become more familiar post-edit: "Oh, thank you, Hasbro, yes, make more jokes at my expense...")
Well, she does spend the whole scene making mistakes and breaking things while Rainbow Dash rolls her eyes and tries to control the chaos, all in the state of Derpy bliss. A positive depiction of being "accepted", no matter what her state of mind, is a bit of a stretch.
It bears repeating that she was never intended to come off as mentally handicapped in the first place. If she did, it might be fair to call it an honest mistake. In addition, while it is also used as an unrealistic exaggeration, there is some truth to the claim that someone will "always" complain.
The fact remains. At the risk of pretentiousness: There was a real basis for those complaints. It was not just people making things up to cause trouble. It does no good to say that it was.
Other "Derpy" Cartoon Characters
A note toward the end there brings me to Derpy in the tradition of being a cartoonish buffoon, a fool, a silly creature. (Could she come across that way, edited as she is now? Open question.) That was the subject of my second blog post, and in a long, roundabout, way-up-late kind of way, I reached an answer. This will be shorter, I promise.
The objection -- or to be fair, more often, the question -- is: Why is Derpy a problem when so many other shows have "derpy" characters? What about Patrick Star, Cheese, Goofy and Ed?
(On a note that I don't think holds up so well, but it has been raised often enough by enough viewers anyway: Don't they set a precedent for "retarded" characters? Uhh...)
First question: Why does Patrick Star, the most common example, get to be a long-running cartoon star while poor Derpy gets edited? Is My Little Pony just not "allowed" to have such a character?
That is a fair question. Like I said in that other post, it really is a question. Nobody does complain about Patrick, to my knowledge. (Another bit of personal advice, which I've learned over time: You shouldn't ask a question like that if the only reason you'll accept is, "There is no good reason," because there may be an answer.)
To revisit an earlier point: Derpy's reason for being edited was out of fear of offending the disabled with what came off as an insensitive caricature. Others -- mostly neurotypical -- defended her by saying that she was an unusual, inspiring character representing the mentally disabled at all. Obviously, the "inspiring, not offensive" part is up for debate.
It also offers an answer.
Patrick Star is dumb. Goofy is kind of dim. Wile E. Coyote is... well, he's fun to watch. Cheese is so off-the-wall random that you can't really judge him by humanoid standards.
Very few (I won't say no one) would have tried to claim that any of these characters seriously represented mental retardation in a larger society, at least not before it became a convenient argument for this event. If you tried, you would get a lot of raised eyebrows, disgusted faces, and, with the right character, probably a few people admitting it's a little uncomfortable -- a caricature, a joke, not an attempt to portray someone with a disability.
Derpy was explicitly never intended to... well, you've heard it enough times by now.
It's clear that something came off as different about her. Otherwise, there wouldn't be a problem. Call it the cumulative effect of her clumsiness, her crossed eyes, the name, and -- this was a production error -- her "slow" male voice on a female character, just close enough to get out of "comic fool" and into "Wait, are they really...?" Real mental disorders are on much thinner ice to make jokes about. This is a children's cartoon.
And then with the breaking and the chastising and the name and the played-for-laughs.
Derpy was different, for better or for worse, than your average cartoon fool. I'm not saying it's a good reason or a bad reason -- but that's the reason.
I mentioned crossed eyes up there. She's had them for at least a year now and no one's complained. (No, really, no one said, "Crossed eyes? On my show?! Get that aberration off of my screen!" If you can prove me wrong, I will grant you a boon of some kind; we can work out the details later.)
Derpy has always been a little "different". But when she actually went out there... this may be worth focusing on. Otherwise, I would be loath to say it again, but: Derpy was not, was never meant to be mentally handicapped. She was meant to be (as she popularly is in fan works, in deference to her crossed eyes being her defining character trait to work from) clumsy, and prone to innocently causing chaos.
Any deeper character besides her personality in those two minutes, and her seemingly preternatural ability to break the floor in front of City Hall by sitting on it, would presumably be on hold until some possible later appearance, depending on the reaction she elicited. As it is, her future is still in question, besides the official word and concrete proof we have that she will stay in her traditional "Where's Derpy?" background role.
That was how she was supposed, and expected, to appear. Clumsy, good-natured, derped eyes, still a bit of the stock character in her.
In response, to the writers' surprise, the cumulative effect of her personal quirks was apparently an image of some kind of mental disorder or disability -- positive, offensive, surprising, whether you saw it before or after the edit took place -- to many people. Not all, obviously, but many. Seeing her as offensive or not, this was not what they had intended. If they knew that she would be read that way by so many, offensive-or-not, they probably would have gone with a different portrayal before it went out the door.
Some people wrote in to protest what they saw as an insensitive caricature. The writer was sympathetic.
Many more wrote in to express their glee at seeing Derpy in the foreground, canonized, with an active speaking role interacting with a major character.
The source of the offense, though unintentional and unfortunate, was obvious. The source of the fans' glee was their favorite, bubbly grey pegasus doing all these things with thought that had been clearly put into her "fanon" inspiration and on-screen appearance.
A caricature of mental disability had never been intended and would be a mark against the show. That wasn't what My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was supposed to promote.
Nobody really wanted to change what had gone up... but Derpy was still Derpy, and the core of her character -- with mostly-underped eyes for this scene, but heck, it wasn't like that was new to her -- was still there, right?
There would probably be frustration, and some confusion that could be sorted out... it couldn't be that bad.
These are the guys whose mantra was a forceful application of love and tolerance, after all.
Two weeks later...
Well, you probably know how that went over.
The explanation was released. Derpy's safety was assured.
The outrage ebbed... but what remained changed its tone while keeping the edge: Political correctness in all its stupidity, caving in to pressure, continued lamentations of the death of Derpy and the very conceit of individuality in cartoons...
There are two recent trends among these complaints that I want to dwell on.
First, the more I read on this, the more I see a correlation between viewers who understand the edit and still object to it, in calm, reasonable terms, and those who say that they still took away the message that being "different" gets you censored.
Derpy did have uneven eyes, and what could be counted, unintentionally, as a speech impediment. Neither is common on television. Now, for the duration of this scene, both are gone and replaced with something more "normal". Apparently, that does send a message. Now that the subject has been raised, I'm all for including similar traits on general principle.
However, understanding why the edit was actually made is important, and as long as intent-versus-interpretation is on the table, the idea that it was actually about being "different" still sounds like a distortion. Individually, those traits might have been little steps forward in children's animation and entertainment in general.
Unfortunately, and I do mean that, they were attached to a pegasus who came across as a crude caricature that went all the way around to risking "intolerance" itself. That image is what they were editing. This may not be my place, but while Derpy may be a special case as a character, if I had eyes like hers, I don't think I would want my condition to be associated with Derpy-class baggage. (Not even if it is her job to deliver things.)
Editing her scene and explaining the real reasons for doing so might have been handled better, but it was a hard situation already. The issue is out there now. Maybe we can learn from this.
And besides all that, bitter, pessimistic grumbling about how "Apparently, 'tolerance' now means pushing people who look unusual out of the public's way" and anything starting with "Dear Princess Celestia, today I learned..." when the real reason for the change has been released is where you lose me and I get back to being annoyed. That, I blame on a trend of a fan hearing someone else say something to that effect (possibly when the reasons for the edit were still unclear), being in a mood to casually assume the worst possible reason as the most likely possible truth, and running with it and spreading it around to everyone else.
And now even I'm conscious that I'm rambling. Back to the subject, and please tell me if I've stepped on any toes...
The Wants of the Many vs. The Wants of the Few
There was one other refrain, newly sprung up after the reason came out, that seemed fairly constant and that seemed to fit in with the facts:
A betrayal of the majority, that loyal audience that had remained steadfast, to appease a few people whose opinions probably didn't matter anyway. (See above. It's rarely just the "minority". I'd say at least half of such comments find some way to write off all concerned as having even that much meaning.)
For this? For those few, they betrayed their integrity, betrayed Derpy, betrayed their loyal fans? Look at this! Was it worth the outrage it provoked?
Cue the sarcasm. "I hope you're happy... I hope it was worth it..."
Do you really think that they expected anything like this? Is it even reasonable to have expected this reaction from those edits?
Is this problem really all it's cracked up to be?
To provide a little self-indulgent context:
I have been in my share of chats and discussions. I've made mistakes, seen half of them burned into cyberspace forever, and, in time, learned from them. I've taken stands for some things, learned when to stay out of others, and in the sphere of communication under the heading of "conflict", and the acts of trolling explicitly meant to inspire it, I have seen many valid reactions and objections to one thing or another dismissed as trivial, immature, "bawww", "whatever", "get off the Internet", or with the simple non-act of leaving the other party hanging.
It's familiar enough offline and even more common in Web-based communication. It's immature, it's a bother, and I don't like it.
In light of that, I mean it when I say...
"If you really want to get offended about something..."
There was very good reason to ask, "Why?"
I won't claim that there is nothing to complain about.
In fact, I mentioned one relatively common complaint against the complainers earlier, which I have made a point of leaving for the end. I only hear it more often now: That if you really want to find something to complain about, that if you want to get angry about something, if you want to be offended, then you will find something to be offended by, you will read things into it that aren't there, you will convince yourself that something horrible has been done, and you will find someone to complain to.
This (you've probably guessed where I'm going with this) is all true.
I can say that with confidence because that's exactly what has happened.
What we have here, on this scale, with this bitterness, rage, and in particular, all of these increasingly tenuous complaints and claims backing up so many of the comments, entirely too much of it looks like the principle of "wanting to complain and making up a reason" in action.
Why So Serious?
In the past few days, I've seen a lot of making up reasons for why what happened with the original edit happened, then treating them as fact. (I have seen comparatively few -- not enough -- that can actually stand up to scrutiny, which is why I'm writing this.) Besides that part where I guessed at what was going through the producers' minds when they made that edit, it's my turn now.
I think I've been there myself. Something like it, anyway:
Joining a fandom-wide controversy already in progress, many members of the "herd" tell each other about this atrocity to art and animation. Each hears the cry and takes it up, taking for granted that we, the people of the fandom must be right in this righteous, burning outrage against this act and whoever is responsible --
And once you start from burning outrage, you can fill in the reasons yourself. Once you've come up with a sufficiently outrageous reason, you can share it with others, and they spread as gospel bad-news from there.
- "The only thing that could justify this kind of outrage is if Derpy were dead. Ergo, Derpy is dead." Or being pulled from the show in general, or being slapped in the face, take your pick. (I saw a minor trend of people refusing to believe that Derpy would remain on the show, even after an animator said otherwise, insisting that Hasbro would override them or something, and when she did appear again, there was an unbelieving "Well... maybe.")
- I think that those increasingly iconic pictures that depicted Derpy, crying, confused, and lonely helped, too.
- Or, this is the result of people who think being "different" should be treated as a crime, and categorically hate differences from the norm. These are not just unfortunate implications at work, but a bigoted agenda of homogeny. (Optionally, because of this, Derpy is dead.)
- It's the end of the creator-driven era in animation. Et cetera.
You'd never think a bit character in a TV show had her name cut from an exchange of dialogue, her eyes edited for one scene, and her one line re-recorded by a different actor. Look at me. I've been going at this for how long?
It's an overreaction, the scope of which has drowned out the elements that are actually worth talking about, and I have at least one more guess as to why:
I never thought it would come to this, but I think there are some members of the fanbase who need to be reminded that Derpy isn't real.
We have been heard. Unfortunately, when reasoning like this and outrage without a clear basis makes up a significant portion of the complaints, our audience has precious little reason to listen.
If we continue to speak out, we should speak out with things that they will actually listen to. A thousand voices basing their protests on something that Hasbro can remind themselves simply isn't true won't get you anywhere.
I have heard that "This is why we can't have nice things." If anything untoward comes of this event, I would sooner blame it on the controversy than the edit itself. Obviously, I hope it doesn't come to that.
I have also heard someone quote the lesson from what I still consider to be one of the best episodes of the show, "Suited for Success":
"If you try to please everypony, you oftentimes end up pleasing nopony, especially yourself."
True enough. That's accurate, reasonable, and actually applies to the present situation.
But as another wise cartoon character once said, finish the quote.
"And I learned this: When somepony offers to do you a favor, like making you a beautiful dress, you shouldn't be overly critical of something generously given to you.
In other words, you shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth."