• Editorial: When Does Pandering Go Too Far?

    Oh my Celestia this joke is almost 3 years old. There was a joke in poor taste here, but it has been removed.

    Alright, now that I've done it, we can officially lay the panda joke to rest. Or not, I don't control any of you yet. Pandering is an interesting topic in MLP, considering there always seems to be a different line for everyone else on what "good" and "bad" pandering would be. Some say that there shouldn't be any pandering because it detracts from what the writers are trying to create. On the flip side, others would like their ships validated, background characters given more screen time, or any number of possible combinations. Let's discuss pandas and the throwing thereof after the break. Whoops I did it again.

    "The Last Roundup" would be an interesting place to start, considering the brony side of the internet flared up over the revocation of Derpy Hooves Muffins, After all, Derpy was made with good intentions. She was a gift from Amy Keating Rogers straight to the fans, after we had taken something so simple as a character with incorrect eyes and wrote enough fanfics, music, and drawn enough pictures to drown the staff with our ideas. And then she was changed.

    I agree with the fans that this change wasn't necessary. As I said, Derpy was made with good intentions, and the parents that rioted against her didn't really understand her as a character. They judged her by her name, and assumed that she was simply a character to make fun of mentally slow people. As if mentioning that "Derpy" people exist would victimize them. Sure, her scene didn't paint her in a productive light. She destroyed the Main Hall and forced the episode into action, but anyone who took two seconds to look into her history would understand her, like we all do. It was good pandering. It was a gift from Amy, but it was taken out of context and silenced.

    Some call Derpygate the beginning of the "cynical" period of MLP, since good intentions were unfortunately squashed by enough loud dissenting voices. Around that time I heard the wailing of fans, lamenting that the show was now less fun because of Derpy's censorship. It didn't help that Cadance showed up at the end of Season 2 to give cynics more ammunition for the "MLP is just here to sell toys" brigade.

    In "Rainbow Falls", she came back, albeit without any lines or a name. We accepted her with open arms anyway, because that's how much we love Muffins. Yet, there was still dissension as Muffins began to appear within the foreground of many Season 4 episodes, as opposed to the background: where she belonged. Some thought she wore out her welcome because of this, and that she was being shoved into our face like a mother rewarding us with our grounded Nintendo 64 when the Wii U has been out for years.

    I think we can agree that pandering will never be universally accepted. There will always be someone with an icy heart that will look at that adorable face above and argue that she wasn't necessary. I understand that point of view, since pandering has always been a negative word in my circle. It was what exemplified a show's actions whenever it wanted us to focus on the shiny object rather than their recent screw up. Or when the show needed a boost in ratings, or ticket sales, or attention of any kind. Pandering can be manipulative, which is why it has such a bad light. When used wrong, it's essentially sugarcoating something, much like showing us the shiny new car without letting us read the fine print.

    Here's my main question: can pandering go too far? Is there an objective measure for when pandering was simply not the right choice? I know that we already established that reception to pandering was purely subjective, but much like how everyone raved about Amy's pandering with Muffins in "Last Roundup", can I draw the line between pandering that goes too far, pandering that is harmless, and pandering that is excellent?

    Let's start with this. Within this excellent episode, full of wonderful dialogue, a catchy song that made us sing along at Comic Con, and arguably one of the best performances out of this cast, we have this. Apple Bloom dropping the map idiot ball style because she was singing an unnecessary song. I'm aware that this song is a reference to the many "X-Licious" Youtube videos that started with Tara Strong, but a strong narrative was just weakened by pandering in this case. This is noteworthy, considering the idiot ball trope is what affected (and arguably ruined) two of the fandom's least favorite episodes: "Spike at Your Service" and "Games Ponies Play".

    But I'm ambivalent, because I have a feeling (I can never know) that this pandering was done with good intentions. Our community and the many "Licious" videos get a shout out as a thank you for allowing Natasha Levinger (and by extension the rest of the staff, from animation all the way down) to even have 4 seasons of a show, now going on 6 and a movie. These ten seconds are just one of the many examples of gratitude that the staff has for us. And it was all at the cost of a little narrative focus. Is that a valuable trade-off? I'd argue no, but is it possible that "Slice of Life" made the unfocused narrative worth it?

    Everyone agrees that "Slice of Life" is not a regular episode. It's a memento, a gift to those who kept the show going for so long, whether you were in the target demographic or not. The episode jumps around six different ponies as if they were in Blackburn, Lancashire. Once again, I heard dissensions from fans who said that the narrative suffered as a result, possibly comparing it to "Magical Mystery Cure" due to its pacing. While I don't agree that either "Magical Mystery Cure" or "Slice of Life" were rushed or had poor pacing, because Larson knows how to write a "fast" episode. I have an example of harmless pandering however:

    Steven Magnet. Did that really have to be his name? His canon, confirmed name that is on his toys and merchandise? My apologies for sounding like the "Fun Police", but there isn't really a reason to have his name be Steven Magnet other than "because the fans like it". There's no lore behind it. There's no naming convention for river serpents like there is for ponies or nearly all of the other races that have graced our episodes. It was a byproduct of Larson pandering to the fans, but I doubt that Steven Magnet was going to become a major character which got in the way of current lore because of his silly name. The name is virtually harmless, since it doesn't affect the overall story. Larson provided this name for us, and we have nothing but appreciation to give him. The name isn't a joke, it's endearing. He did it for us.

    I'd never consider MLP or the writers to be cynical with their pandering, considering that we are the ones that built up their show to be important enough to run conventions across the world, and practically enable the Streisand Effect all over the internet. The writers are extremely grateful for the position that they are in, and they never tire of telling us at conventions or on Twitter. I will however consider some pandering choices to be misguided or not perfectly handled. A narrative is a fragile thing that can disconnect fans from an episode in a myriad of ways. Whether it's an unnecessary song, an odd name, or switching focus onto a different character than what is natural, pandering can lead narratives or watchers astray.

    "Slice of Life" didn't have this problem. As Cereal said, this episode had numerous characters simply going through shenanegians at the last minute, which is why every jump cut to the next character felt right. They were all struggling to put something together at the last minute. But much like in previous episodes, other characters distract you. Or you're forced to face your fears. Or there's a goal to overcome. This is the episode that allowed Muffins a chance at redemption after messing up the orders. She started the conflict, but she helped sweeten the marriage even more with the flame-less fireworks.

    I could watch this all day.

    "Slice of Life"'s narrative was all over the place, but it worked because the characters were all over the place as well. If the background six were in any other disposition, it would have felt artificial and the stakes wouldn't have mattered. The marriage needs to happen today, and the planners would do anything to make it happen. And what an amazing marriage it was. From Secret Agent Sweetie Drops, to Vinyl and Octavia being roommates, to the Lebowski ponies, "Slice of Life" was an excellent example of pandering. After all the hardships, hiatuses, and trust that we put into the staff at MLP, we were given another gift. With bated breath, I can't wait for episode 200. Through our belief in M. A. Larson and his belief in us, we were given a gift.

    I'll probably revisit this subject in the future if there is more to say, but I hope that you all enjoyed this editorial. Let me know if there's a subject that you would like us to tackle in next week's editorial. Finally, I leave you with this question: was there an episode or scene of pandering in a show (in MLP or a different one) where you were disconnected from the episode because of it? Or were "Slice of Life" and "The Last Roundup" merely in good fun, and are still not understood? Just like last week, I'll be answering comments on either the editorial or your answers down below. Thank you for reading, and we'll see you next week.