The purpose of art is to create an emotional experience for your audience. With that in mind, maybe Dave Polsky (writer of this episode, yes I did just look it up) did exactly the right thing. By the time Season Three was in production it was already well known that a sizable portion of the MLP viewership was/is composed of people in their 20s and 30s. If, as I previously suggested, this episode had dodged the extermination bullet by distributing the Pinkies across Equestria I wouldn’t have noticed – just another kid gimmick on a kid’s show. And I’ve read enough GrimDark/pragmatic/survivalist stories about the horror of having to kill someone to prevent ecological collapse that seeing yet another one wouldn’t really affect me. I read Bacigalupi’s “Pop Squad” – about a man whose job it is to kill unlicensed children so the world doesn’t collapse under the weight of overpopulation – and wasn’t very bothered. I mean, it was good, but it wasn’t “The Fluted Girl”-level of awesome.
So maybe this was a guided-missile of a story – designed to go right over the heads of the main audience and smash directly into the morality filter of the adult viewers. I’m not the first person to comment on the shocking aspect of this episode (although the other posts I saw focused on the method used to determine which Pinkies should die, rather than the kill-decision itself) It got in under our cynicism radar by coming in the guise of MLP awesomeness and hitting us when our guard was down. It probably couldn’t have worked in any other medium. It was a rare and (presumably) irresistible opportunity to actually have the emotional effect artists seek to create.
Part of me wants to say congratulations, but I think that’s being too hasty.
There is, after all, a level of consent in art. The audience is seeking out the sort of emotional experience that the artist is promising. Promising one thing and then blindsiding your audience with something else is fraud. For someone with a clinical phobia of heights to go to an amusement park and agree to go on a merry-go-round, only to have that merry-go-round turn out to actually be a 120-foot roller coaster with screaming clowns and live snakes, would be traumatic. One can’t excuse that sort of violation by saying the emotional experience was worth it, and that it was only possible due to the surprise factor. That is not ok. Likewise, someone settling down to a light-hearted comedy shouldn’t be subjected to watching footage of the Rape of Nanking. I avoid horror, and TMPP felt like a horror episode at the end. I’d be OK with that from Buffy. I had not consented to that from MLP.
I think in the end it’s the consent part that bothers me. I’ve read far worse in MLP fanfic (hello Fallout:Equestria!) and I enjoyed it. I knew what I was getting into – atrocity is par for the course in the Fallout universe. Even the disturbing video I linked yesterday with the “real ending” wasn’t as bad in comparison, since I knew it was a fan work, on YouTube, and I always expect the worst from YouTube. Carefree murder in a canon episode of MLP… not so much.