The Anatomy of a Trolling

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Intro

We had a particularly drawn out trolling incident show up on our twitter feed a few days ago that we decided could be an interesting source for discussion. Luckily, we were able to catch up with Adam Sullivan (aka Harmonic Inferno), who runs Adam Sullivan’s Music Theory Blog; and has helped start Team Young Spark, and he was willing to talk to us. The post covers such things as the trolling incident on his twitter account , “pandering” to the fandom within MLP:FiM, media ideologies, and fedoras. Check it out below the break!

(J= Jason Nguyen; K= Kurt Baer; A= Adam Sullivan)

Anatomy Of a Trolling

A: Trolling is bullying and bullying is bad.

The end. 😛

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J: Haha! So, I was thinking, maybe we could start by just laying out what happened that day?

A: Oh, from those ignorant people just going after Inferno?

J: Yep. You had made an offhand comment about a fedora club, and then a bunch of internet jerks descended upon you, as far as I could tell.

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A: Correct! I had posted a few days before about wondering we (bronies) had a club for the fedora lovers in the fan base. Someone who was a brony retweeted and replied to me about it and apparently they had a lot of anti-brony/brony trolls following and they went to attack me.

J: So that suggests a couple of things to me. First, that this other brony had a bunch of trolls/asshats following him, which is pretty horrible for him to begin with, I imagine. But also that these people were, in effect, happy to find another victim in their trolling game. How did you end up handling that entire exchange?

A: Sort of. I went and used my best efforts to defuse the entire situation but one was going through my pictures and making comments, tagging more people into it and more or less trolling. It got to the point where I had to block him/her (assuming him), and report him on all accounts.

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J: Okay, to broaden the scope a little bit: there are moments when the impulse to troll by people on the Internet is a source of great amusement to me, I fully admit. I wrote last month about the 4chan campaign to send Justin Bieber to North Korea, which is in some ways the source of the “___ is best pony” meme, and while doing that research, I was really tickled by the way these guys mobilized themselves to play this naughty prank on the Internet. I’m not sure whether I would call that trolling as well, but it comes from a similar place. From where you’re sitting and having just gotten trolled by a bunch of random folks (though seemingly less sophisticated than anon in their tactics), what’s the difference?

A: Honestly, I feel like they are very similar but the difference between “trolling” and “bullying”, trolling being more of a gag thing than only trying to gain something from it. I will admit that at one point I would consider myself a troll, but not towards one group of people. It was more of a “how to be a smart ass but make sure everyone laughs” sort of thing and that’s how I have gone about defining trolling. The incident we are discussing may be seen more as bullying and trying to instigate something against us.

J: Yeah, and it seems important in a lot of ways to be able to make that distinction, because so much of the fun we have as a fandom includes skills and posturing that can look a whole lot like trolling or bullying if used in particular ways. I’m thinking in particular about the Twilight becoming an alicorn thing and the fairly vicious way some members of the fandom ripped into the creators for doing the worst thing ever to their favorite show. A lot of those actions could be seen as a kind of trolling–perhaps even bullying in some cases–but then it also turned into one of the greatest ongoing gags ever…THANKS M.A. LARSON!

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A: (Laughs hysterically) I know! I think that was a bad idea of them to do to but I understand that they are (or at least SHOULD BE) tending towards their target audience and not serving to us. However, going beyond that point and actually heckling or harassing the creators isn’t the way to go. As you were saying though, I think that her becoming an alicorn could be partially a troll to us as well but it’s all about if you want to see it from that perspective or if you want to see it from “Is this what our target fan base wants?”

J: There’s something rather profound in what you just said: some things that appear to be trolling may be catering to a different recipient of the message. I didn’t really think we’d end up here in a discussion about trolling, but I think the relationship between the fandom and the creators actually is a GREAT way to have a new perspective on what trolling is and how it functions, because I hear/read people say stuff like “they’re totally trolling the fandom” every time some background pony shows up with a fedora or a grumpy cat cutie mark. And of course, fandom outrage can very quickly escalate into these crazy storms where words are being hurled without thought at real people (since I don’t think MLP is being produced by robots yet), and that’s not unlike what happened to you…a snowball of negative rhetoric just all being thrown at a person who may not really deserve it but is perhaps representing something bigger than him/herself.

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A: Right, that’s what I’ve read and seen to. There was a string of episodes from season four, starting with Flutterbat, followed by the episode you mentioned on with the character with the grumpycat cutie mark and then ended with this most recent episode of having “Slendermare” in the background of “Pinkie Apple Pie” and there are three perspectives of all of these cases. From one angle, you have the position on the view of “Man, these writers and animators are only trolling the adult fan base!” or “Geez! When will these guys ever stop fan pandering (feeding pop culture into something just for the reference of that object) the bronies?!”. The problem with that comes from point two, or the position that I feel the DHX staff is viewing it from which is “how can I write for both the adult fan base so they get jokes that they and only they would get while tending to the little ones and giving our signature well received, and well rounded life lesson?” I’m not able to speak for any of them but I feel like they sit at this point because they have actually acknowledged the fact there are two fan bases to their show that wasn’t really aimed at bronies. The last point of view is from the “target audience” which sees everything for face value. The ones that I have talked to, being neices and my best friends’ sisters, all appear to take everything for what it’s worth up front. So for example, there were several cases where my cousins watched the Flutterbat episode and more or less went “Ooh, pretty song! Uh oh, they’re in a dark tree place (orchard). AHH!!!! There’s a bat pony! She looks like fluttershy but fluttershy would never do that! This is scary!” and would preceed to hide from that episode. It’s happen on a couple of occasions that I know of from first person exposure and what I’ve read around the internet and I find it really interesting.

K: Along these lines (although it is yet again a bit of a divergence from our theme here), I think it is really interesting what has fallen under “pandering to the fandom,” embraced as references to the fandom, or not even brought up at all. The writers have done a good job making sure that the references I have caught are, on the whole, things that would probably appeal to both the target audience and the fandom (how many six year olds don’t know about grumpy cat?) and I feel like they have been making these sorts of references for quite a while.

A: Yes, they have been making things like that for a while. I think it started around the end of season one, and the whole “Spiked Punch” joke. Also, it’s probably good to mention that this sort of thing has been going on for a long time now too in other cartoons. I remember off the top of my head Toy Story was a huge cause of wanting to make cartoons meet a point where they balanced entertainment for the child but also had some humour for the parents. Who wants to be that parent who fell asleep with their kid while watching their favorite movie after all?

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J: I’m not privy to older discourses about cartoons like Looney Tunes, but it seems to me that embedding multiple layers of meaning has always been central to cartoons that have worked for multiple demographics. Sometimes that goes horribly wrong–like Bugs Bunny chasing a Japanese World War II caricature around a deserted island–but it also provides possibilities for both uptake by multiple demographics and deniability where it’s strategically useful to do so. And I think there’s an affective–that is, relating to feeling and emotion–component to the clustering of so many references together that people are recognizing and valuating as positive or negative. When you start to reference a BUNCH of things that adults are privy to, it produces a particular kind of atmosphere that only that audience is aware of, in the spaces in between the references. Then those adults start having this conversation or debate and the kids are wondering why are these adults so invested in something that to them doesn’t really have the same level of semiotic density (density of meaning)? My fiancee recently told me about her nieces who want you bronies to be very ashamed of yourselves for co-opting their show.

A: It is just one of those things where there is not a similar level of density between the two groups of fans, or even between parent and child. The best reference to that is the statement I made before about the “spiked punch” joke. Parents do not want to explain why that is funny to six year olds, but yet the ones who get it understand what the pun was about. It really boils down to how the writer chooses to handle the situation. They can choose to make it more up front, such as this case, or they can make it subtle as the case with the apple cider having foam (for those who don’t know apple cider in its “natural” form does not foam. It only foams when you add alcohol to it or you allow it to ferment and turn into brandy).

mlfw2875-Pinkie_Pie_drinkingK: It’s interesting as what gets picked up as being pandering or trolling the fandom and what is considered either acceptable for the primary demographic or humor that may be over some peoples’ heads, but still not pandering. I didn’t notice the “spiked punch,” Big Lebowski ponies, or even the Mad Men ponies in “Rarity Takes Manehattan” catching all that much flak from the fandom (then again, I could be horribly wrong). In the process of analyzing and interpreting the show, things can also seen as references to the fandom that may not have been intended as such. For instance, there has been some debate (I haven’t seen any final answers to it myself at least) as whether the “Dusty Cat” reference in “Pinkie Apple Pie” is actually a reference to Dustykatt, or just something humorous. There was also some interesting disconnect in the same episode with “Apple Bloomalicious,” where many assumed that the reference was a direct shout out to BlackGryph0n, who created the fanon “Twilightlicious” video (and thus a direct reference to the fandom) when it was in fact meant as a reference to Tara Strong (who originally tweeted the lyrics and recorded the audio), and thus in some respects more a nod to Tara (or a nod to her nod to the fandom) than to the fandom itself. Maybe? There seems to me to be an interesting distinction between the two.

I guess my question here would be what not “trolling” or “pandering” to the fandom would even look like. I’d need to re-watch the earlier episodes to bring up specific instances (maybe you could supply some for me), but I feel like the show was initially created to have multiple layers of meaning and humor to appeal (on at least some level) to people that aren’t within the show’s demographic. Now that bronies are such a big part of the fan base and are very adept at reading meaning into the show and analyzing even the slightest references, where does one draw a line between making the show a good show and pandering to the fandom?

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A: To be honest, the answer to your question lies in what we are known for: Perspective. There will always be a way to analyze something as being a fan pander. The best example I can think of from an earlier season would be the ending of Return of Harmony where the Mane Six are walking to Celestia in a marching fashion and it feels like they were replicating the ending of Star Wars Episode VI. The surface level viewing of this thought is that it is a momentous achievement in both cases. In Star Wars, they are celebrating by finally defeating the evil Intergalactic Empire and the end of Darth Vader and the rest of the dark side (until Disney finds a way to bring the dead back to life! GRR). In MLP, the Mane Six has defeated the first “true” evil of Equestria that had been ruling ponyville; Discord. Going deeper into the comparison we can see that they have a symbolic showcase of good versus evil. However, this is where I end the analysis because that is all that I see from my point of view. I love Star Wars to death (even if my knowledge of the Emperor’s name at that point is gone) but that doesn’t mean I see Star Wars in the ending of that episode beyond my previously stated points. People always view things differently and that can be true with nearly anything MLP related.

J: I’m going to make an assertion: one dominant axis by which valuations about pandering/trolling are made has to do with the negative valuation of the internet itself as a source of meaning and meaning-making and positive valuations of other forms of media. References to movies and television that the fandom values (Star Wars, Star Trek, Big Lebowski, etc.) are seen favorably because fans have media ideologies (Ilana Gershon up in this biz-naz!)  that favor those sorts of things having value and adding to the narrative. Much of the fandom that interacts online has a “film critic” bent to it–analyzing this, deconstructing that, etc. Applying that to the show, they are more likely to value intertextuality that brings in material that is meaningful to them. The Internet is, by and large, seen as ephemeral and somewhat trivial and meaningless, even by people who use it regularly for social ends and for meaning-making (oh, the ironies of being human). So if the dusty cat reference is indeed a reference, it is being viewed negatively by some because for them, it’s a referential dead-end: “oh, it’s just some person on the internet.” Same thing with grumpy cat. References to “spiked punch” draw from life experiences, which of course in the (false) dichotomy of real/virtual are valued higher as well.

K: I’m inclined to agree with that assertion. In order to bring things around full-circle from the fedora club, to the show, to our favorite (or not) fedora-wielding grumpy cat Manehattanite, and back, I am still a bit curious about the nature of the trolling that we started out discussing. I’ve seen a bit, but it looks like a lot of it is pretty hard to reach. Along what lines were these people trolling? Was it purely anti-brony? I know there are a lot of negative associations of people wearing fedoras being douches and things along that line, which I find quite sad since I’m a hat buff myself.

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A: It appeared as if they were. One of the guys was trying really hard to be my “buddy” while sharing photos. Another was there just spamming comments at me, while a third was dragging in a bunch of people onto my account which they all responded with calling me a pedophile, and a couple of accounts with Rebel Flags (Southern American flag from Civil War) sharing my photo of Vinyl I bought from the con I was at saying “All bronies do is f___ themselves at this stuff”. So, it varied but I know for sure there was anti-brony actions during the flood of comments and harassing.

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J: I wonder if people would be more okay if we f’ed each other to it. No homo.

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But seriously, I think that there is something useful in, say, comparing the way you were trolled to–if we assume grumpy cat pony is some sort of metonymic representation of the fandom–the way the creators of the show trolled its audience. Which is to say, embedded even in the plot is Rarity’s offering of a flower to the cranky guy in his fedora and the offer of friendship. That’s the sort of playful ribbing that is possible in a relationship of general good will, where conflicts may occur but the assumption is not that the conflict is arising for its own sake. To get at some of my concerns at the start, perhaps that’s the way to operationalize a difference in the “fun” trolling of one another that is part and parcel of the Internet and the bullying that became so viscerally clear the other day.

10 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Trolling

  1. Ah, yes. “Pandering”. A word used so frequently that it’s beginning to lose meaning to me.
    Really, most of the time I see that word being used, I can only read it as “Reference/shout-out I didn’t like”. This is even used in how one person vehemently said that the “Big Lebowski” cameo was not “pandering”, but that the “Grumpy Cat” guy was. Same level of importance within the show (read: none), both easily ignored.

    Having studied film and the business aspects of it, I always tend to side with the creators. All the claims of “pandering” to me tend to be “I thought it’d be funny” from someone on the staff. With all the overanalysis and attempts to read between the lines on things, there times I wonder if we’re all watching the same show.

    Really, I don’t see any “pandering” (a word I’m beginning to detest). If anything, this series is far less reference heavy than some other shows that have aired or now airing. So does that mean it’s suddenly unforgivable sin when they do decide to break one out? No. Because those big “pandering” moments, did absolutely nothing to ruin those episodes, which were two of the best episodes aired so far this season. But when they were revealed a day or two before they aired, some treated these episodes like they’d be 20 straight minutes of reciting memes verbatim. What we got was a ten second thing for both. Hell, the “Apple-licious” thing was treated as awful in-universe because her showboating cost them their map.

    Another thing to point out on these lines is Derpy. A character who owes her very existence to some guys on 4Chan picking her out of the background, noticing the animation error and giving her a name. The same character model appeared throughout the first 14 episodes of Season 1, eyes underped until “Feeling Pinkie Keen” (episode 15 of Season 1) when there she was, derped eyes and all, remaining that way for the rest of the season. Then came Season 2 where it became explicitly “Find Derpy!” if she wasn’t getting a quick gag. Culminating of course, in her getting the name canon and actually speaking in “Last Round-Up”. And most of the controversy over that was just her general portrayal instead of being an explicit “Thank you” from the staff. Season 3 and Season 4 (until “Rainbow Falls”) were full of “Where’s Derpy? They killed Derpy!”. Yeah, if I had to say anything is “pandering”, it’d be the inclusion of Derpy (something I don’t believe anyway). Yet, she gets a free pass. For the most part. “Rarity Takes Manehatten” and “Pinkie Apple Pie” get “Pandering!” accusations, but “Rainbow Falls” gets mostly “OMG! Derpy’s back!”.

    It’s just the way I see it. So what if they want to throw the odd reference here and there? Is it hurting the show? I don’t believe so. Frankly, the day I consider there’s “pandering” is the episode that shows one pairing in the Mane 6 being an explicit lesbian couple. And let’s be honest. For a TV-Y7 rated show about colorful horses, that’s never going to happen. So whatever. If you feel an episode’s completely ruined because one tiny, inconsequential thing, maybe it’s time to step back for a bit.

    As for trolling…well, let’s face it. This fandom’s still an easy target and you always remember in a group of 10 the 1 person making an ass of himself over the 9 behaving themselves. And in something like this, that 1 person inadvertently just made themselves the representative of the whole. Yeah, sometimes, it may just be better to stick with the safe enclaves.

    Of course, I think it’s more a reflection on the one doing the trolling that they feel the need to spam and insult over something that shouldn’t even concern them. Just my thoughts.

  2. I’ve always felt that the difference between trolling/bullying or reference/pandering is one of degree.

    When I think about trolling I imagine situations where no actual harm is going to be done, the Beiber thing being a prime example. He wasn’t really ever going to go to North Korea, but he put up some silly internet poll or whatever, and got a completely unexpected response. He wasn’t attacked personally and there was no harm done to anyone, rather the situation was mocked and subverted. Something very similar happened with Mountain Dew, they had an online poll (with open submissions) to name a new drink. The front runner ended up being “Hitler Was Right” followed closely by “Gushin’ Granny.”

    There’s a line though, and when people begin to seek out others with the intent to do harm, they’ve crossed into bullying. Leaving a response along the lines of making more fedoras out of horse leather and walking away may have been trolling, but invading the whole account to cause trouble is undoubtedly bullying. I guess trolling is more of a hit and run type of thing. It may be annoying but it’s brief and ultimately harmless. When that crosses over to deliberate targeting, things change.

    I feel pretty much the same about the show. In a sense, the very existence of bronies as a thing is a bit of a troll on the MLP staff. It was totally unexpected and (hopefully) harmless. As far as pandering goes, again I think it’s a question of degree. Throwing in a dusty cat or having Flutterbat silhouette against the moon is kinda fun and gives small nods to other things, and in moderation that’s totally acceptable. It’s been a common practice to use double meanings to broaden the appeal of cartoons for decades. I recently went back and watched The Lion King for the first time since high school and it was a substantially different movie than I remembered.

    I really appreciate seeing Easter eggs in the show, that nod to dusty cat was pretty cool. In Rainbow Falls we saw a team of griffons and one was mostly black. These little nods don’t really change the show at all, but do serve as a way for the staff to acknowledge our presence in the viewership. That strikes me as appreciation far more than it does pandering. When an entire episode hinges around a purely referential thing, or we start seeing references in every scene, I could see accusations of pandering starting to stick. For the moment though lets just enjoy what we have. The show staff knows we are here, and they’re doing what they can to wink at us while preserving the integrity of the show for the target demo.

  3. I’m still trying to wrap my head around trolling and pandering being related things.

    I mean, I get it. Both involve trying to get a rise out of someone, and while trolling usually involves pissing them off and pandering involves trying to please them, if your goal in pleasing them is to mock them for being pleased, then sure, it’s a form of trolling.

    But I’m quite sure that the show staff aren’t mocking the fans. I’ve seen enough interviews and other commentary to know that they really like the fans. If they enjoy watching our reactions to things they include, I think it’s more akin to how a person enjoys a friend’s reaction to a really awesome gift. Not to mention I suspect that whatever a specific staffer includes is something that staffer really likes, too. I know that’s true in the MLP comics.

    In any event, using the same word for their inclusion of references intended to please us, and jerks on the Internet flinging hate-filled insults at us, seems like a pretty egregious abuse of the English language to me.

    1. I’m honestly a little surprised how related the two ended up being within that particular conversation. I also tend to view them as being very distinct and different from one another on the whole, but it seemed like an interesting direction to take within the conversation, especially as it did it so naturally while we were writing. Looking back, it happened through a series of interesting jumps between the *actual* trolling incident, relatively good-natured online trolling (including the humorous backlash against M.A. Larson), to the things that the creators themselves did acknowledging the fandom.

      I’m definitely also with you on the fact that the people behind the show aren’t mocking the fans, so much as playfully nodding toward the fandom (or sometimes even just adults in general) with some of their references. In retrospect, looking along the lines that you point out, I think that one of the more interesting things about this post is the fact that the elision we made between those terms/ideas actually happened (as well as how it happened). As Danny suggests, the differences between bullying, trolling, and reference(or whatever) might be one of degree, suggesting an interesting continuum between them that I’ve really not spent much time thinking about. While normally easily categorized as one thing or another, it seems pretty easy to see things sliding in between these different terms fairly easily.

      Here, like you, I’m not too sure that the comparison between brony hate-flinging internet shit and good-natured nods toward the fandom by the show’s creators are all that useful (or at all desirable). What it does do, to some extent, is show how amorphous and fuzzy “trolling” as a term can be. Granted, I think all terms are amorphous and fuzzy and I love looking at what happens when words are stretched in funny ways.

      Anyway… to kind of sum up my view. I think there are generally very clear differences between what is agreed upon as “trolling,” “bullying,” “making a reference,” etc. but I think that they tend to be a lot more related than people tend to think (especially the relationship between “trolling” as a mediating term between the others… sometimes what counts as trolling can be really damaging, sometimes it is hardly even mischievous).

      1. The show was kind enough to give a perfect example of all this stuff yesterday, by giving Flash Sentry a cameo appearance. He had no lines, was never referred to be name, but it was clearly him and he was prominent on screen for a good 5 seconds or so.

        Some people really didn’t like the movie in general and others didn’t like Flash because he ruined so many ship fics. On the other hand, a lot of people really liked the movie, and Flash is the only new character the movie introduced. Did they include him to troll haters, pander to fans, or affirm the continuity of events presented in the movie? I choose to see it as maintaining continuity, but depending on your perspective it could go any way you want.

        1. “Flash is the only new character the movie introduced.”
          Sunset Shimmer is going to hunt you down for that. XD

          I couldn’t believe the level of vitriol his appearance spawned! I’d hate a romance angle in the show as much as anyone, but there wasn’t any romance here! He showed up, stood around for 20 seconds, and left. They didn’t even acknowledge one another. (Of course they didn’t – Twilight and this Flash Sentry barely know each other. Even if she feels she knows him by way of his analog, he doesn’t really know her.) So I also saw it as a nod to continuity, and appreciated it for that. Good continuity is one thing that raises MLP:FiM above more “kiddie” kids’ shows, and they do a great job of including that continuity without forcing people to know/remember what happened before to enjoy the story. But as you say, some people may have hated EqG enough that they don’t want to see continuity with it. I’m just not one of them.

          In this context, Discord’s innumerable references to movies and other pop culture phenomena could be seen as the same sort of pandering/trolling. But here again, it didn’t bother me because it’s Discord. It’s in-character for him, just as it was for his spiritual predecessor, Q, to stick Picard & Co in Sherwood Forest for an episode. If anyone else pulled that many, I probably would get annoyed. (Pinkie can get away with some, but not with that kind of density, IMO.)

          A little fanservice doesn’t bother me, so long as it’s well done, and specifically so long as there’s not so much as to become a distraction. But if one reference happens to fall flat, for whatever reason, I still wouldn’t describe it as “trolling” because the intent was good.

          1. Here’s where I’m at with Flash Sentry ordeal: I don’t think that was him. I think it was a pegasus guard that just so happened to have a blue mane. If that was intended to be a nod towards the fan base and EQG, then so be it but I’ve read articles from Megan McCarthy saying the universe that is the show and the universe that is EQG are seperate and are not continuous. I wouldn’t be surprised if they did cross over, but I feel that if he was really “the” Flash Sentry from the movie then he wouldn’t have realized them seeing he wasn’t the “real” Flash.

            I think I’m over analyzing the situation entirely, but I’m doing it for a reason. Persepective: The thing I drilled into our conversation that seems to not have been mentioned in the comments thus far. Everything that is done towards the fan base from DHX is meant to be funny to us (in a “where’s waldo” or I suppose it should be “Where’s Derpy” sense) and to them. They wait and see if we find what they are hiding and how we would enjoy it. I feel like the day we spent on writing this article was a day that I wasn’t in an open mood and took things a little too harshly. Either way, it isn’t meant to be trolling us. Pandering would be the farthest they could go and the only solid case of them doing that in my opinion was using Slendermane (or Slender pony, depending on what you prefer to call it) but that then isn’t that severe in the scheme of things. I am glad to see everyone’s opinions on these topics though (my site’s been REALLY dry after I took a 2 week hiatus for exams before Christmas).

          2. I can’t believe I forgot about Shimmer… She totally should hunt me down for that. Even still, Flash is the only new one that has a double in Equestria currently =)

            I was surprised as well, this little cameo made way more waves than I thought it should have. I guess there was actually a pretty big contingent of fans who really didn’t like him. Or maybe fans are just reading ‘far’ too much into these little things. Maybe it’s been prevalent all along and I’m just now starting to notice, but it seems like fans over analyze and attribute far more hidden meaning to these little things than they should. If the sky is clear and the water is calm, enjoy the ride and stop looking for sharks.

            I definitely agree about Discord. If anyone would/should have intimate knowledge of the real world, it’s gotta be the spiritual successor to Q.

            Can’t ‘believe’ I forgot Sunset Shimmer…

  4. On the Slendermane matter, I recall seeing a Twitter post (I think it was from Meghan McCarthy) about how Slendermane wasn’t inserted by anyone working at DHX. My guess is that someone from Top Draw Animations added him in. Even if DHX actually wanted the reference in there, I wouldn’t call it pandering. If going by the dictionary description (Merriam-Webster Dictionary to be exact), pandering would mean to give what one wants “even though it is not proper, good, or reasonable.” I don’t see adding Slendermane as pandering because no one, as far as I know, expressed a strong desire of wanting him to appear in the first place and it doesn’t seem wrong if taken at face value. It really depends on how one sees it. Some see it as a harmless visual reference while others are deeply offended at seeing it.

    The same goes with the Flash Sentry appearance in Three’s a Crowd. It’s referencing the film but I don’t see him as the same Flash Sentry from Equestria Girls. To some, he may just be a crystal pony guard who doesn’t have a crystalline coat, especially to those who haven’t seen the movie. There is no doubt that there are people who disliked the film but the vocal majority, at least from what I’ve been noticing since the string of references started showing up, seems to toss the term so loosely that the word is losing its meaning.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t see how adding pop culture references counts as pandering. Adding a reference here and there doesn’t do any harm to anyone. Maybe the reason why fans react so wildly to seeing these things may be a misinterpretation on their part. There is really no conflict intended but to some, it is seen as something else. Some would say the show’s staff is losing originality while others say they are focusing too much on the fandom. Either way, the definition has been bent to make the term sound so negative but there was nothing wrong with the addition of the reference to begin with.

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