Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Herp Derp Horses: Ponies and People With Disabilities

Now that the rescued llama is home safe, it's time for this blog to return to its origins: everything horsey. Oh wait, not quite-- today we're also going to make a side trip into human and pony disabilities, and why they should be accurately portrayed in cartoons, dammit. We're going to plumb the very depths of the internet, so stick with me here folks.

First, let's talk about Wry Nose Syndrome.

Since its fairly rare, and doesn't directly affect the humans who write the medical research checks, we don't know a ton about it. We believe that, like Contracted Foal Syndrome, it's caused when a foal is poorly positioned in the womb and the delicate, growing bones and tendons essentially get squished. We're still trying to figure out if it's at least partially caused by poor genes. (By the way, this is yet another reason that breeding horses is not all rainbows and butterflies, and should be attempted only if you're prepared for possible outcomes like this.)

Anyway, back in 2010 a little girl in the UK named Maddison Biddlecombe started an internet campaign to raise dental surgery money for her foal born with severe wry nose syndrome:

Most of the internet reacted like this: "OMG it's totally adorable!" Maddison herself said:

"Diego is my best friend and I don't care what he looks like, to me his face makes him special. He's so lovely. We have a lot of fun playing games and he likes to chase me around the field. I love him lots and he gives me kisses and cuddles. People shouldn't say he should be put down because of what he looks like, it doesn't matter to me."

Everyone agreed this was a wonderful example of tolerance and acceptance, love and sunshine, etc.

Okay, now hold that thought. We're about to jump around here, but I promise, it will all make sense.

Fast forward to 2011/2012. The new "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" cartoon is launched. The show became a huge hit and generated a rabid cult following, mostly comprised of 20-something guys and chicks (I'm one). These adult fans formed websites like My Little Brony (for brothers, or "bros" who love ponies) filled with fan-fic, pictures, memes and inside jokes. Unlike other internet cultists, bronies and pegasisters formed a community that was surprisingly tolerant, friendly and even loving. It seems that we're all just searching for the tenderness of our lost childhoods, or something. 

Anyway, in the very first episode of the new My Little Pony, a mistake led to one pony being drawn with mis-matched eyes. Fans immediately dubbed the pony "Derpy," after silly-faced pictures from another internet meme, and created an entire backstory for her, including a career as a postal worker and a love of muffins.

Then, a wonderful thing happened. Lauren Faust and Hasbro, creators and producers of the show, started to pay attention to their adult fans and to include references to fan-generated jokes in the cartoon. Since Derpy was so beloved, they gave her a cameo in every episode, keeping her crossed eyes. It became sort of a "Where's Waldo" Easter egg. Eventually, they even gave her a brief speaking part* and used the name Derpy!


Fans went crazy. They showered the episode with praise, and hugged each other with joy. Then, because no good thing can remain un-shat-upon, a group of people started a campaign to delete Derpy. They claimed that Derpy made fun of disabled people, and including her in the show was tantamount to celebrating the stereotyping of the mentally challenged. 

The Brony community responded by claiming that "derp" simply meant a silly/clumsy expression/action, and that we all "derp" at some point-- it has nothing to do with any mental or physical disability.

I'm not sure that this explanation is entirely true. Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary both define "derp" as a mocking response to an unintelligent comment. Urban Dictionary's fourth definition also states, "The word that describes a particularly retarded face: A retarded smile, and the eyes pointing in different directions." Finally, the Know Your Meme website says that, "Derp is an expression associated with stupidity, much like the earlier forms of “duh” and “dur.”

I think it's fairly reasonable to assume that "derp" has connotations of mental or physical disability.

But wait just a darn minute. Derpy the pony is absolutely a silly klutz who's been portrayed as making some unintelligent mistakes-- but the Brony community isn't mocking her with meanness. Instead, they love her for her goofiness and odd appearance. They love her for her derpy-ness! Why is this a bad thing? Why shouldn't we have cartoons where mentally challenged people (or ponies) are pictured and accepted right along side everyone else, complete with their unique traits?

These real disabilities are celebrated, accepted and cooed over. "How special and brave!"

This one is apparently discriminatory?

Are we only allowed to portray cartoon disabled people as completely-normal-except-for-token-gestures? What I mean is, on the very rare occasions that cartoon characters with disabilities are included in a show, they're almost totally the same as everyone else-- except that they happen to have a leg brace, or a mild speech impediment. They are never main characters, and their disability never affects their daily lives, or the lives of others. Hardly truthful, or groundbreaking. What's the point then? How are we going to get kids to be more tolerant of disabled people if we don't include them as some of them really are in cartoons? If I ever have a kid, when that kid goes to school and encounters a little girl who's slow in her speech and often makes mistakes, I don't want my kid to view her as totally strange and unknown, a "stupid" person to work around. I want my kid to think, "Wow, that girl is just like Derpy! I love Derpy! Derpy does some silly things-- but she is a worthwhile pony/person."

*Just to clarify: yes, in the cartoon clip above, Rainbowdash is a little rude to Derpy, but trust me, Rainbowdash is a little rude to everypony in the show. She's not just bullying Derpy because of Derpy's derpy-ness. So there.

1 comment:

  1. I completely agree with your standpoint. Great post!