• Let's Review: Friendship is Magic #63

    A fresh Wednesday has rolled around and with it, a new comic! It's time to dive into ponified prohibition as a newcomer tries to end sugar.

    If you wanna get into this review-easy, you gotta know the password. It's "Spoilers".

    It feels like it's been a while since we had a stand-alone story. Which isn't factually true since FiM #60 was only several months ago. As this marks the start of several single-issue stories I'm betting that I'll make the same comment when we hit the next multi-parter.

    Love how many details Hickey and Breckel cover in these images.

    Our story today comes courtesy of Christina Rice and artist Brenda Hickey. This story's setting is limited to three locations: Sugarcube Corner, the outside of Sugarcube Corner, and Sweet Apple Acres. Perhaps its the abundance of reference material but Hickey recreates these locations faithfully and doesn't skimp on ponies to make the world look populated. The settings are vivid and colorful thanks to Heather Breckel's work and it's very rare to miss a background. The few panels that do feature a gradient often rely on warmer colors, which is in contrast to past issues. 

    "I can feel it, coming in the air tonight.
    HOLD ON!"

    She's tasked with creating the "Anti-Sugar League" and all its stern-faced members. Key among them is Temperance Flowerdew, a pony modeled after a real-life figure.

    This presentation was a rally point for both
    action and ridicule.

    That figure is Carrie Nation. In getting ready to review this comic I did some reading up on both Nation and the temperance/prohibition movement. Alcoholism ended her first marriage and thus Nation took an interest in enforcing Kansas' liquor ban. As part of her presentation, Nation dressed in black-and-white clothing and began a campaign that started with singing hymns outside bars and transitioned towards taking a hatchet to bust up their stocks. She was arrested at least 30 different times and eventually made a living through paid speeches and selling mini-hatches to her audience.

    There are some ponies who wouldn't tolerate that.
    Temperance doesn't realize her own luck.

    Temperance Flowerdew opts for a sword instead of a hatchet and limits her destruction to cakes. To her view she is saving the town from the evils of sugar and its consequence to health. Twilight assures both the Cakes and Pinkie Pie that the town won't fall for this rhetoric, which shows both her faith in others but also some naivete. When bombarded by a constant message, people can start to lose their resolve and believe the message regardless of accuracy or moderation.

    Cranky, you are the walking embodiment of hypertension.
    Sugar or no.

    Temperance argues that any sugar is bad while Twilight is taking the stance of moderation. Technically, no one is yet representing the opposite extreme of nothing but sugar. Not yet, anyway. This idea does lead to what I consider to be the issue's funniest joke.

    This caption is just force of habit. I can add nothing.

    A full week passes and it only gets worse. While Carrie Nation did not live long enough to witness the 18th Amendment and the dawn of legal Prohibition, Temperance is on the verge of outlawing sugar within Ponyville. Much like the historical ban on liquor, this attitude against sugar is impacting the local economy. The Cakes have lost customers either by public opinion or intimidation, which in turn affects Sweet Apple Acres.

    Apparently the idea of "sugar-free"
    baked goods isn't possible?

    So here's where Pinkie Pie makes a misstep. She goes to meet with Temperance in an effort to have an open dialog. The problem is that Temprance is not look for a dialog. She's looking to win. Carrie Nation often greeted bartenders as "Good morning, destroyer of men's souls," a line adopted by Temperance. Whether this view was genuine or part of the presentation I don't know, but it doesn't sound like she was interested in persuading them.

    Technically, she can't.
    Whether or not Temperance can force the issue is different.

    Movements like temperance and prohibition often feature speakers who become the cause's face, regardless of whether or not that benefits others. They call the spotlight upon the movement and make enemies, which in turn gains further attention. In terms of a dialog, however, these people have invested their identities and financial success. It's very unlikely that they'd be willing to meet with people even halfway. However, there is a line from Encyclopedia Britannica that stood out to me. "Despite her campaign, the enactment in 1919 of national prohibition was largely the result of the efforts of more conventional reformers, who had been reluctant to support her."

    So which of these five is the more conventional?
    I'm betting on that mare on the right.

    Pinkie is focusing on the wrong target here and pays the price. Instead of trying to connect with more moderate and reasonable ponies, she's trying to win over the absolutist. Yet Pinkie's kindness and her decreased confidence only make her vulnerable to Temperance's denouncements. Using peer pressure and attacks against Pinkie's character, Temperance makes Pinkie a supporter without any thought to how she just treated someone who approached her in good faith. 

    There's a difference between standing up for 
    what you believe and just tearing others down.

    As the whole town falls into two parties, we get our champion for sugar: Applejack. It's not her intent, but in an effort to save both the Cakes and Sweet Apple Acres she becomes the owner of a sugar speak-easy. Much like the Prohibition movement, this sugar shortage has attacked the supply while doing nothing to decrease demand. So ponies that fear sugar's outlaw are stuffing their faces. This actually reflects prohibition's unintended consequences. Rather that curbing people's vices, it actually pushed many moderate people to go further. They were already breaking the law by going to get a drink. Why not go further?

    One of the few times Rainbow Dash looks crazier than Derpy Muffin Mare.

    This scene is probably the highlight of Brenda Hickey's artwork. Every element of this is dialed to the extreme with ponies stuffing their faces while Fluttershy acts as a barroom singer. There's also a sense of contradiction as honest and upstanding Applejack is suddenly the pony stand-in for bootleggers and crime bosses. AJ Ca-Pony, if you will. Without intending it, she's become the proponent of extreme sugar consumption. 

    Torn between Fluttershy and
    Bulk Biceps for silliest image.

    Seeing all this and the excess to which other ponies are driven, Twilight finally goes to have it out. Her goal is to likewise address Temperance, but to her fortune she encounters Pinkie first. Without realizing it, Twilight is focusing her energy on someone more open to actual discussion, which gives her some stability with the crowd before Temperance tries to silence her again. I get a sense of the same straight talk scene from Wings Over Yakyakistan, except now Twilight is the one verbally shaking everyone back to common sense. 

    Wonder how Cloudy Quartz and Igneous Rock would react to this.

    Temperance does try to weigh in but now Twilight has both crowd attention and hard proof. She need only point at how this has affected the town. That's in a similar vein to the historical Prohibition. Proponents had a very idealistic view of how life would improve, but the reality of unemployment, increased crime and corruption, and skyrocketing enforcement costs all contributed towards the 21st Amendment and prohibition's end. 

    Nice to see Twilight taking point for common sense.

    This satire is more idealized as Temperance accepts Twilight's moderate view and changes her tone. In real life, Carrie Nation passed away without having changed her stance. I view this as the weakest part of the story. Energy towards persuasion and education on a topic is better directed at the public rather than trying to "win" against a single speaker. Even discrediting that speaker might set the cause back, but it doesn't kill an idea. So I think this comic's resolution plants the wrong idea on how to approach such situations. 

    Your faith is appreciated, Twilight.
    Don't lose that.

    But what about the story overall? On its own it's fun and silly with some great visuals and unexpected roles for the Mane Six. Yet a lot of how it's received hinges on whether or not the reader understand the satire or parallels. My limited reading helped bridge this gap, but I'm not sure about readers who haven't gotten to cover that section of history. The strangeness might prompt people to read up, or be fun enough to entertain on its own. Then again, it might be so foreign that a reader can't connect and decrease the story's appeal. 

    This is known as an "Appeal to Popularity".
    Just because a lot of people do something it doesn't follow that it is right.

    Carrie Nation herself is a fascinating historical figure. Though her primary aim was prohibition, she also acted as a prominent figure raising questions for feminism, ethics, social advocacy, and debate. Her tombstone reads, "Faithful to the Cause of Prohibition, She Hath Done What She Could."
    Iron stomach, yes. 
    Vessel for evil? 
    Have you really met her?

    I normally dislike the idea of a homework assignment in order to enjoy something for fun. It's why I don't like stories that require you consume separate media just to understand the plot and characters. But this is a prompt to learn about history and real figures, so it's less a marketing move and more an opportunity. The only price is a small investment of time. I recommend doing some reading up on the life of Carrie Nation to increase this comic's appeal. Here are three links that I found helpful in gaining a basic understanding:

    Wikipedia, because that must be true. 
    Encyclopedia Britannica's article on Carrie Nation.
    PBS video on Carrie Nation and "Hatchetation".

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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