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4 March 2013

My Thoughts on Focus

There is a pattern in my reviews, especially the reviews focused around Friendship is Magic. I always start them talking about something that has nothing to do with ponies. I will talk about politics, a TV show from the 70’s, a Michael Crichton book, or llamas. I will talk about something completely irrelevant and the reason behind this is because I kind of like that style of writing. It’s a very fun way to throw off your readers to then bring them back to the subject matter, and it also grounds the article in some sort of reality. It’s easier to talk about pastel colored horses once you have talked about something familiar, or moved the spiky issues out of the way. That’s why sometimes I also start talking about how the fandom has caught fire and burnt to its foundations.

I also do this because I have a terrible problem with focus. You see? Did you see how I did it again? Focus is something very important and it is inherent to both the fandom and the show we all love and enjoy so much. It’s not unique though, every fandom and every show has this issue. It can be good, and it can be bad. It can be intentional and unintentional. And here I am going to talk a little bit about it.

Have you noticed how, sometimes, the element the episode focuses on is not the best thing of the entire episode? Sometimes it goes even further than that, to the point where the element that’s supposed to be the focus works against every other element in the show. I am going to bring the easiest example just so I don’t spend ten paragraphs explaining my point.

"Ah have a bad feeling 'bout this"
By the time season 2 showed up, Applejack hadn’t had an episode for herself ever since “Applebuck Season”, and that was all the way back in 2010. You know how people complain that Rarity didn’t have an episode in 2012? Well, Applejack didn’t have an episode until the second half of season 2, which aired in early 2012. That’s almost two years without an episode. When “The Last Round-Up” was aired everybody was hyped for it, because it was an Applejack episode, but what do people remember that episode for?
"I'm here to crash on your episode, with my butt!"
That’s right, they remember Derpy. We all do. It was a big thing for this fandom, and it still is. Of course we are going to remember Derpy, and we will refer to this episode as “The Derpy Episode”. But that’s no excuse to why Applejack was pushed to the background. Derpy, despite how important she is to our fandom, is just a background character. She was an animation error, and she was ascended to level of cameo for one short minute of air time; a glorious, fantastic and touching minute of air time. But that was it. The rest of the episode revolved around Applejack, and she has been with us for a longer time. We have seen more of her, and she has had a lot more screen time than our beloved wall-eyed mare. So why Applejack did got pushed aside by Derpy?

I think this has to do with how she was portrayed in the episode. It felt like she hadn’t had any growth since “Applebuck Season”. She was still stubborn, she didn’t want her friends’ help, and she just kept doing things for the good of her family. In terms of character development, it felt like she hadn’t moved from square one. So I think the reason why the fans focused on Derpy more than Applejack is because Applejack wasn’t all that interesting. The focus of the episode wasn’t as good as everything around it. Personally I remember other things on top of Applejack and even Derpy. I remember Pinkie Pie going “Chimy Cherry Changa” or “You Pinkie Promise!!!”, or the “I love Lucy” scene, or even the mail pony who had one line of dialogue. But when it comes to Applejack, the one character that the episode is all about, all I remember is her crossing a train track before the train passes by, and I would like to have someone explain to me how that develops her character.

I will accept the argument: "This proves she is a fan of The Dukes of Hazard"
This wasn’t the only time this happened to her as the next episode, “The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000” was not also about Applejack but about her family, and they all got trampled by the Flim Flam brothers and their magi-tech machine. They may not have taken their farm, but they sure stole the spotlight effortlessly. And it happened once again during season 3. After seven episodes during which Applejack proved to be a great character, when she finally got herself an episode with “Apple Family Reunion”, she was more on the silly pony side than on the level headed side. She stopped being the straight mare that we saw her being during the rest of the season to turn into a nuisance. Her family was way more interesting than her constantly annoying them to have fun. I guess that was the point, but still not a good move.

"Why are you so mean suga' cube? Ah thought you liked me"
Let me stop you right there before you think I’m bashing on AJ. I am not. She is my second favorite character of the entire show, only topped by Rarity, and I was amongst those people who complained because she hadn’t had any real development during all of season 2. Like I said before, I am using her as an example because it’s an easy one. At one point she was labelled by many as a background character who had little to no relevance to the episodes she’s in. She is not the only who suffered this, however.

In “Magic Duel” the episode focused on how Twilight gets kicked out of Ponyville by Trixie, and how she seeks help in the teachings of Zecora. That was cool, and it was a very great part of that episode, but when it comes to memorable things the first one that comes to mind is Fluttershy dressed as the bunny version of Catwoman. This is because we spend a lot more time building her up as the only pony that can sneak out of town, than with Twilight and Zecora in the Everfree Forest.

In “Spike at your Service” we finally had a Spike focused episode, and after he and Princess Cadance saved the Crystal Empire together we were really looking forward to an episode focused around this little guy. It was about time we saw more of the best assistant Twilight Sparkle has ever had, the guy who can bake cookies, clean libraries, keep his best friend under control, and being an overall nice and competent guy. And they have him spend the entire episode knocking over everything and making a mess of whatever thing he tries to bake, while everybody else around him stays fairly in character doing far more interesting things than what he’s doing.

In “Putting your Hoof Down” we are presented with Fluttershy’s conflict about how she is going to keep on her gentle ways when the world around her is full of mean ponies who have no manners, but I personally was more concerned about how her friends were being affected by her actions, since my perception of Fluttershy in this episode is that of a bipolar sociopath.

In “Sleepless in Ponyville” the main subject revolves around Scootaloo and her relationship with Rainbow Dash, and even though it was very well portrayed and it was really engaging, there were a lot more things distracting me from it, like Rarity’s over-dramatic over tones and her relationship with Sweetie Belle, Applejack’s straightness, or Princess Luna’s cameo. If we hadn’t had two seasons worth of building up Scootaloo’s admiration for Rainbow Dash, the conclusion of this episode would have had no impact at all.

These examples come from episodes that I personally love. “Sleepless in Ponyville” is one of my favorite episodes of all time, top three for this show, and definitely top ten for all television in general, but that doesn’t mean I am willing to ignore this fact. Sometimes the focus gets diverted to a more interesting part of the story, and this happens to everything, not just ponies. We have seen this in movies, books, comics, and the list goes on. I think this happens intentionally though, it’s not an accident. You all know who M.A. Larson is, of course. He said more than once how his favorite pony to write lines for is Rarity, and this shows in every episode he’s written where Rarity has even the smallest appearance. Authors and creators will always give the spotlight to that thing they like a lot. Sometimes it can work; other times it kind of falls apart. This show is good enough so that we can forget what the focus is, and we can roll with whatever they put on screen for us, whether it’s a fan shout out or the return of a beloved character. It’s just that when I sit down and start thinking about this critically I tend to notice these flaws, and I hate to say it makes the narrative feel lazy, but it does get injured when we are half way through the story and all I can think of is how awesome was Princess Luna during that one dialogue. This goes to show how one very well done element can work up against the entire story, regardless of how good the rest of the show is.

But I’m not here to just talk about focus regarding the TV show, I am going to also talk about focus when it comes to this fandom, and any fandom in general. Many times I’ve been seen praising the brony fandom, saying how many good things we have, and how much good we do out there for everyone. I am unapologetic about it. I love this fandom and I love the bronies. It makes me sound like a disgusting optimist who is blind to the bad side of the fandom, or who decides not to pay attention to it. While I never talk about this side of the Brony fandom (you know, the clopping, the grimdark, the 4chan /mlp/ board, the PonyChan, the Rule 34, etc) I always take it into account. I am well aware of the drama, and the bad aspects of the fandom. I am up to date with the fire status on the fandom, and I am friends with quite a hefty amount of artists who produce Rule 34. I’ve commissioned a couple of adult rated pictures. I’ve read adult fan fiction, my God, I wrote a sequel to Cupcakes when the fandom was just starting. I really enjoy well drawn artwork whether it’s grimdark, sexual, or just plain silly.

I do all of the above. I just decide not to focus just on that.

The show is explicit enough as it is already.
You see, a fanbase is as good as you perceive it. If you only focus on the good aspects of it, you will think your fandom is the best fandom ever put on the surface of the planet, created to lead all other fandoms into an age of greatness and enlightenment. If you only focus on the bad side of the fandom, you will think they are the lowest common denominator of the geek scale, and they deserve to burn in hell with every other fandom that you hate for one reason or another. My advice is to focus on the good side of the fandom, while keeping the bad side into account. Don’t ignore either of them, or else you will never be able to give a better judgement. One can easily be biased towards their favorite fandoms, and I kind of am towards the Bronies, but I will never say they are the absolute best fandom ever in an objective argument. They are a good fandom, and like every other fandom they have a dark side. I have friends who belong to other fandoms who are very nice people, and they are very level headed, and they also have their own “cloppers”, and “grimdark fans” and they too suffer drama over the silliest of things. The Brony fandom is not different from other fandoms, it has become one more in the full spectrum of fandoms out there, and this is a good thing. Whether our fandom is a good one or a bad one that depends on what you decide to focus on when you come to judge it.

Just make sure you are at least impartial.
So last word of advice and you can use this when you are judging your fandom, your favorite TV show, and anything else in life: Focus on the good things, while keeping the bad things into account. I know this is and obscenely positive way of seeing things, but then I am obscenely optimist about everything.


  1. Anyone who describes him/herself as an optimist is a friend of mine.

    Also, I was just thinking about asking for your thoughts on the dark side of the fandom, particularly people who produce Rule 34. At one point, I began to write a short editorial about where I discuss how the design of the main characters has contributed one way or another for someone who isn't into Rule 34 to thinking about it.

  2. Ponychan shouldn't really be considered as part of the dark side of the fandom, because most of the users there are pretty mature. Probably more mature than most places of the internet.

  3. "Focus on the good things, while keeping the bad things into account."

    This is very wise. Staying positive without deluding yourself.