I work in a group home for gentlemen with mental and physical disabilities. I am also a fan of a pleasant, cheerful cartoon called My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.
Mental disabilities and rainbow ponies are hardly subjects I expected to overlap, and I was right. They didn’t overlap.
These subjects crashed together in a train wreck of censure and indignation, a firestorm ignited by a few innocent words from a cross-eyed pony. This strange controversy set me thinking generally about scandal, censorship and the absolute impossibility of pleasing everybody.
In an early episode of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, a character in the background—an unassuming gray mare nearly lost in a crowd of brighter ponies—had unfocused eyes. Her derpy expression was a mistake, which the supervising director thought was funny and kept in the episode.
Well, the show’s fan base, which is equal parts ridiculous and awesome, immediately fell in love with this mysterious, cross-eyed stranger, whom they christened Derpy Hooves.
The show’s creators, amused by the incredible popularity of this incidental character, began drawing her with crossed eyes as a tip of the hat to fans.
Over time, those fans developed persona for Derpy. This mute background pony became a bumbling, cheerful, well-intentioned mail carrier with a passion for muffins. Derpy became a mascot for fans of the show. Without them, Derpy Hooves would not have existed. The cross-eyed gray mare would have been just another silent, cardboard-cutout character in the background.
Then—wonder of wonders!—Derpy Hooves spoke.
Derpy was given a minute or two of screen time and some dialogue alongside a major character, who very clearly addressed her as “Derpy.” In this brief scene, everyone’s favorite background pony was established to be friendly and klutzy and eager to help. “I just don’t know what went wrong,” she admitted sheepishly, having nearly demolished town hall in her attempts to be useful.
Fans were wild with excitement. This was their character. Derpy had a voice!
Then, shortly after the episode’s release, the scene was changed—censored, according to some fans. Derpy’s voice was less… well… derpy. Her eyes were not so acutely crossed, and her name was no longer mentioned.
The scene was altered due to complaints that the character and her name were offensive to persons with disabilities.
A few fans commended the show’s creators for their sensitivity. Many responded with indignation, and several went out of their way to insult the people who submitted complaints. Some claimed the “censorship” of Derpy Hooves was a slap in the face to fans: a misguided attempt to “fix” the quirks of a character beloved for her quirkiness.
In the end, the show’s creators kept the alterations to the scene. The controversy faded away. Derpy has stayed out of the spotlight, resuming her modest appearances in the background and retaining her immense popularity among fans.
Looking back at that strange, messy incident, I can only echo Ms. Hooves and admit sadly, “I just don’t know what went wrong.”
Personally, I wish the scene had not been altered. Even if Derpy were interpreted as a pony with disabilities, she was cheerful and kind. She wanted to help, and other characters obviously respected her enough to let her try.
At the same time, I think the show’s creators did the right thing by altering the scene. It was edited, not censored, to show respect for a group of people who are often disrespected.
The whole business reminds me that some controversies have no easy answer, and many concern things infinitely more important than rainbow ponies. How do we settle political differences? What about conflicts within churches? If so much strife can be provoked by a silly cartoon, how do we resolve really significant controversies?