Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Derpy Dilemma Discussion

(from here)

A bit of a more serious discussion today folks, but also likely to be very thought-provoking, so read on after the break.

Or, if you'd prefer just a short and simple discussion topic, what is your favorite FiM merch that you'll probably never be able to obtain? Lot's of people on other sites mentioned the San Diego Comic Con Derpy Hooves... I guess I'm lucky in that respect, and anyways, any of the plastic toys can in theory be created, or even improved, with a 3D printer... But I'll probably never be able to obtain a full set of those trading cards! Such price for what is essentially cardboard! ... On the flip side, What's the favorite FiM swag have you obtained?

Quite a while ago now, an episode of MLP:FIM, "The Last Roundup", was modified slightly after it had been released. The name "Derpy" was removed and the character that name applied to was re-voiced.

This event was met with dismay from some bronies, who conjectured that some parents misinterpreted the term "Derpy" as offensive and wrote angry emails to Hasbro to have changes made, or that some trolls pretending to be angry parents successfully tricked Hasbro into making that change, or even that the change was made because the voice actor erroneously thought Derpy was a male character when the scene was put together. To this day no one outside Hasbro, and perhaps no one at all, knows the whole story. The conjectures of the bronies and their implications were thoroughly explored, but for some reason no one really brought up the points I had wanted to make. This is the part where I add my two-cents. (After which you add yours.)

On the potential 'offensiveness' of Derpy:
Assuming that Hasbro decided to change Derpy because they thought the character of Derpy was offensive, there's a simple though perhaps counterintuitive alternative course of action Hasbro could have taken. They could have given Derpy more depth as a character, and not less.

The Last Roundup didn't teach us much about Derpy, keeping her almost caricature-like. Caricatures leave room for interpretation and people often fill in the blanks with the stereotypes of the age and end up offending themselves by looking in a mirror as it were. And worst-case scenario, people can view a caricature as poking fun at a subject. The alternative, complex characters like the "mane 6", tend to evolve away from being just a stereotype as depth of character is added. Even the CMC's, who were originally forced into the show to the dismay of the early bronies, were eventually given suficcient depth of character to be genuinely enjoyed.

When adding depth to Derpy's character, there are many routes to take that fans would approve of: Is she a loving mother despite shortcomings? A misunderstood genius? Or perhaps just a well-meaning character who is not necessarily ostracized from society. And perhaps the part that fans would approve of most: to add depth to Derpy's character could imply the creation of a Derpy episode. Whatever route is taken, once Derpy's character is more complex than a charicature, concerned parents and trolls won't complain that Derpy is offensive as frequently, and if they do, it will be much easier to dismiss them as trolling or misinterpreting Derpy.

Perhaps once Derpy has been established as a character, the original version of The Last Roundup could even be restored, since it would no longer be potentially offensive in context. And if for some reason it's a bother for Hasbro/The Hub/DHX to restore the original version of the episode, there's plenty of reason for them to do so anyway. In the long run it would promote the growth and health of the online fan community and increase the long-run profitability of MLP:FiM. Also changing the episode the first time looked bad and was potentially more offensive than keeping it the way it was: returning the episode to it's original might make up for that.

What do I mean when I say the change looked bad and was offensive? Well by not fleshing out what could have been a multifaceted character, the show pessimistically admitted a failure instead of optimistically molding the situation into a success, and the show ended up tripping over and bringing attention to stereotypes of stupidity instead of bringing them into question. Consider this quote from an anon on the internet: "From my point of view, the change sorta carries the implication that clumsy/embarrassing/retarded people are 'not to be seen.' Having a mentally slowed sister myself, the removal of Derpy is MORE offensive to me than having her in there."This anon brings up a good point: The original course of action taken to "fix" Derpy brings with it some less than desirable suggestions. What do you say to a completely innocent kid, not yet exposed to the negative stereotypes and ire of the world, when they ask "Why did they change Derpy?" or "Why is Derpy bad?". I can assure you, they would ask no such questions if Derpy hadn't been changed: it simply wouldn't have been called to their attention. Instead of making it visible to the target audience of FIM that Derpy is controversial, Hasbro should be showing them why she shouldn't be by telling her story and giving her depth as a character: one does not censor because a negative stereotype exists: instead one shows why that stereotype shouldn't exist! Lauren Faust developed the show with the idea of challenging stereotypes: one of the features that garnered widespread respect for the show. But the changes made to "The Last Roundup" go against that idea, and ultimately the change in The Last Roundup came across as a step backwards.

On the potentially offensive properties of the term "Derpy":
Assuming the term "Derpy" was interpreted as offensive, well first of all it's not, and second of all, if it was, the meaning of the term can be steered toward an unoffensive state because Derpy has come to define it:

The terms "Derp" and "Derpy" are still relatively young terms, used most frequently on the internet. For this reason the meanings of the terms are still very flexible, variable, and subject to change. DHX and The Hub, as creators of media, are by definition shapers of culture and language. MLP:FIM is perfectly suited to -and has the opportunity to- mold the meaning of the word 'Derpy' for the better.  Supposedly, around the time Derpy was changed in "The Last Roundup", a single dictionary site was found that directly linked the term "Derpy" to the term "retarded". That webpage still exists, but it is certainly not a particularly reliable dictionary. Most other dictionary sites seem to say the term "Derpy" is more related to "awkward" or "embarrassing", or that it's a sort of "lovable oaf" term.
In fact, look at the online definitions of the term "Derpy" today and you'll find that many allude to the FIM character already. A testament to the power over the term The Hub/Hasbro/DHX could have if they actively tried to change it.

On the "mistakes" of the voice actor:
Well, to be quite honest, the voice actor made no mistakes with Derpy's first voice. Yes, she thought Derpy was supposed to be male, but the voice she used has been applauded as 'fitting the bill anyway' and the second voice is generally disliked. I'll just let the ratios of upvotes to downvotes on each of these youtube videos speak for themselves.

Well that was a mouthful.
Anyways, what do you folks think?