We’re not fans of Gawker chortling up its sleeve at Bronies, but the flipside of that is they have the best coverage of the subculture outside of, well, the actual subculture. Although they’ve kind of blown the whole “Derpy Hooves” story, currently forming into an Internet crapstorm.
Derpy is, of course, an inside joke that took off: an animator crossed her eyes, and fans immediately exploded, naming her Derpy Hooves. This being the Internet, of course, there were immediately people who threw a hissy fit about how it was all a giant retard joke and how dare we be so ableist and, well, you’ve been on the Internet, you know how this works.
In other words, it’s your typical Internet Argument: people who are way too sensitive over something screaming while the people who offended them antagonize them for lulz. If this were any other fandom, nobody who actually owned the characters would care. But Hasbro, being fairly sensitive, has changed an episode that featured Derpy, and Bronies have gone ballistic.
So, who’s right here?
Let’s start with the accusations of ableism. Here’s the unaltered clip of Derpy:
If you’re offended by this, boy, we hope you don’t watch, uh, any other kind of animation.
Derpy isn’t a retard joke as handled here: she’s a fairly standard “idiot” character in animation. She’s Ralph Wiggum. We’re not talking about the fan art here or what people say on message boards: that’s a separate conversation. In the context of the episode itself, this is no different from stuff that airs a dozen times a day across a dozen cable networks. Hasbro no more set out to deliberately offend people than they set out to, say, commit arson.
Similarly, there’s a whole “entitlement” problem here; people tend to conflate what they personally find offensive with something that’s a larger social issue. The reality, though, is that there’s a pretty big gap between something you find personally offensive and something that’s offensive on a larger level.
For example, if Jay Leno went on the air in blackface tomorrow and did a whole minstrel number, Black people would be extremely upset. But while they may find it personally offensive, that’s not the only reason it’s wrong, something honkies like your author can have a hard time understanding. It’s also wrong because Leno would be participating in a form of systematic oppression and institutionalized racism. He wouldn’t just be offending Black people: he’d be actively pitching in to keep the Black man down.
This isn’t to say that in the past we haven’t treated the mentally challenged like crap (or that it doesn’t still happen in the present), or to invalidate people’s feelings: if you’re offended, you’re offended, it’s just total strangers don’t have to care if they don’t want to. And it’s also true that jokes about the mentally disabled can be seen as dehumanizing, depending on their context.
However, first of all, most of the ableism complaints in the Pony community aren’t about that: they’re somebody inflating being personally offended to a wider issue. It’s the guy who randomly shows up on a message board and demands you apologize to him for using the word “retarded” because he has a retarded brother. Secondly, it’s hard to argue a cartoon pony most kids won’t even realize can be construed as mentally challenged until they get to high school is dehumanizing, especially in a minute and a half.
Then again, the Bronies aren’t doing so hot, either.