...But nonetheless, here's the remainder of Monday's post, in which SS&E tackled, in his trademark roundabout way, the infamous Cupcakes, and looked at what gives it its legs, and what impact its had on the fandom (dang, he's even got me writing run-ons). Click down below the break to see what he thought of a completely different tonally, but equally famous, fanfic's take on Rainbow Dash.
If Sgt Sprinkles couldn't make me vomit, could RobCakeran53 make me cry? Ever since day one of my “MLP Fanfictional Career” (Nietzsche, shoot me now) I have had countless commenters read stuff like Background Pony or End of Ponies or Last Tears of Tartarus and subsequently ejaculate the proverbial “Wow! This is like Cupcakes meets My Little Dashie!” Seriously, is brondyom a mirror to the early millennium? When all critics could do was say “This movie is like Star Wars meets The Matrix!” Maybe comments like these is why I never read, for fear I too will feel compelled to relegate all of my thoughts into one spastic sentence, and realize that I would have said tons more by not typing anything at all. Perhaps, though, that summarizes my fanfictional legacy as a whole, but I digress.
I'm a Dashie; he's a Dashie. Don't you wanna be a Dashie too? Robby Cakes sure did... or at least he wanted to hug one. Really badly. I feel ya, lemur. Dem blue flanks. Amirite?
Going into reading this, it's next to impossible to shrug off some sort of weighted bias. MLD is almost as immortal as MLP on the Bronynet. It's the most favorited story on Fimfic, after all, and there've been countless fanarts, comics, spinoffs, audio reads, you name it. It's like the Citizen Kane of poni poni poni fiction, but instead of bizarre camera angles and faceless reporters, we've got a mind-wiped filly with a fetish for NASCAR and worn-out LazyBoys. There was once an epic meet-up at the 2012 Megacon that I had with Jake Heritagu, the author of Silent Ponyville, where—among a boatload of other things—we talked about famous fics, and he filled me in on the bare bones plot of MLD, about how it apparently involved an adoption system where humans raised ponies through foalhood before giving them back up to the land of Equestria. My response was something akin to a head nod, accompanied by “Wow. Huh. That's stupid.”
Thankfully, the real McCoy turned out to be mostly different. Forgive me, but I'm a fetishist for stories that involve amnesia or mind wipes or selective memory, so a part of me is at least somewhat appreciative of the plot device that MLD ended with. After all, I wrote that one thing that one time... y'know the story... with the mute superhero wielding the wooden sword? What? You don't remember that? Dammit, the shears are over there.
But I can only admit to appreciating the ending of MLD in theory, because the whole execution is just... like a failed cosmonaut rocket launch. Hell, if you built a giant net out of Siberian elk guts and stretched it across the Pacific Ocean, the ending would still miss its mark, making a tiny splash somewhere in the Antarctic, where even the Old Ones would be too bored to bother waking from their sleep.
Okay, so Twilight screwed up a magic spell. Alright, doesn't matter if we've seen that a million times, but it's digestible. So, the spell causes fifteen Equestrian days to equal out to fifteen Terran years. Yeah, alright. Any reason for that? Huh? No? Just because? Well, sure thing. Ahem. So, uh, the cast of the cartoon have all shown up at the dude's front door like it's a photo shoot, because they want to restore Dashie's memories and bring her back to Equestria? Well, that does make some sense. They are her friends after all, and ignoring the wyrdness of a) how they get to the human world of all places and b) how nonchalantly they treat being there, it makes sense that they would want to restore their old Rainbow Dash to normal, even at the price of erasing this brand new fifteen year-old creature standing in front of them—wait, wat.
Hold the phone. I can buy the kaizo fact that MLD's world is a meta one where the narrator is aware of the show, and yet at the same time is able to interact with elements of the cartoon, once they have been “magically” transported to his realm. I can buy the fact that the magic spell—through no explained reason—somehow forced a disconnect in both Dashie's age and in the passage of time between one world and the next. It's all setting up for a potentially dramatic plot device. But when the characters show up and insist that there is only one solution to this situation, and it involves utterly destroying fifteen years of innocent personal development, because of reasons, then I gotta wave a menstrual red flag or something.
The ponies are lobotomizing Dashie. The argument against the emotional repercussions of this are brought up, but what about the ethical? Nopony seems to care about the essential murder that they are committing, and that really shoves the mane six (plus Celestia) thousands of miles out of character. Apparently, this is supposed to be an uber sad fic, but I can't even come close to shedding a tear because I'm too overwhelmed by how ungodly overlooked this act of identity annihilation is. Twilight and her friends don't question it. Celestia doesn't question it. The narrator doesn't... erm... exactly fight it. There's a whole lot of shouting and then a whole lot of crying, suggesting that the characters do not like what is being done, but it doesn't stop them from doing it anyways, and in the end, the act of restoring/erasing Dashie is important to the story's end because it wants to be, not that it needs to be, even though the explanation for it—if there even is one—is hollow at best.
Is the human world bad? I can't tell, because Celestia goes out of her way to compliment the narrator and how he took care of Dashie out of the goodness of his heart. Is it because humans aren't allowed to exist in the pony realm? If that was the case, then why does Celestia sympathize with the person so much that she allows him to retain the memories of his and Dashie's time together? That's not a blessing; that's grounds for psychological torment. I don't care if the narrator plays it off at the end, he's in the same lonely, destitute, cynical situation that he was in at the start of the fic, and in place of the one joy in his life is the memories of a companion he will never again commune with, like some mental sepulcher memorial to something that will forever be missing in his life.
I'd almost wish the narrator did have his mind erased, and then he would have discovered the note that Dashie left, and then thought “What the hell is this nonsense?” and then tossed the scrap of paper away like it was garbage. He wouldn't have known any better, but we—the marsupial alumni—would be left with a sense of dread and tragic ennui, for we have the power to read beyond the boundaries of what is explicitly given to us. But that's not the sort of device this story decided to use. Instead, everything feels... well... forced. It's sad just because. “You see the sad tag, right? This is a sad fic. Read it. It's totally sad, bro. For legit.”
However, it's not entirely fair to judge all of MLD from its ending alone. After all, I wouldn't know anything about that style of analysis, now would I? Fair enough.
Whelp, this fic does the absolute opposite of what I want to accomplish in literature. Namely, it is all about telling instead of showing. Now, as much as I get a word!boner over showing in stories, I can't put down telling completely. As long as the narrative is consistent and confident in the manner in which it gives us a story, then it's quite possible to make something interesting with even a telling technique. All throughout, I felt as though I was being told the story by someone, as if we were sitting in the same room and having an intimate conversation. I say this as a tongue-and-cheek way of excusing the fact that the story switches from present tense to past tense and back to present a lot, and I mean a whole freakin' lot. It's almost as if the story is casually written in someone's journal, and the author can't decide between sharing his present-day feelings or relaying a historical account. Heck, I almost wish the author had gone for a journal entry style of writing, because the story is ripe with that sort of deep-seeded intimacy and sincerity, and most of the segments are separated by time jumps. Also, journal writing makes the whole account inescapably subjective, so that you can kind of forgive breaks in tense or grammatical burps or what not. I should know; I used the technique as a lazy crutch all throughout that pretentious, stupidly long, ridiculously repetitive fanfic you all seem to like so much.
Still, Mr. Cakeran's narrative style just... throws me for a loop at points. This story also feels a bit slapped together, but in a different way than Sgt Sprinkles' Cupcakes is. MLD is essentially streams of consciousness, only not done too terribly well. Since the modernist period, western readers have been foaming at the mouth for a narrative style that interweaves a protagonist's thoughts with her or his experiences. Stream of consciousness is a device that helps enrich the reader's perspective on the character's motivations, misgivings, fears, and aspirations. It isn't, however, meant to be used as a transcription of the character's brainfarts. There were moments in the story where I'd chuckle out loud, moments where the narrator would describe walking home, describe that evening had fallen, describe approaching the front door to his house, and only then felt it was necessary to emphasize the fact that the porch light was on, because—duh—how else would a person be able to find his way home in the dark? Most lemurs (or at least those with editors) would reverse engines and alter the paragraph so that the facts weren't listed in obscure order, or with such bizarre specificity.
I remember reading a spot where the narrator describes his quiet misgivings over a factory possibly being built over the park he frequents with Dashie, but then I remembered a spot way early on in the fic's prologue where the narrator implied a longing for the same kind of factories after they went under and caused the city's economy to tank in their absence. Then there was the moment when the narrator moved to a new house. Why? Because he got a new job. Oh wait, he also found time to go to a casino. Wat? A casino?! It's mentioned once, but then it's never talked about again. Or how about the time when the narrator promises to buy Dashie an Indy 500 ticket for her birthday, but then mentions that she doesn't need it because she could just sit, unseen, on a cloud above the event, but—no, wait—he'll get her a ticket anyways, because it's the thought that counts. I know all of these instances must seem like frivolous details, but they're indicative of the way in which the author writes the entire story as a whole. He'll pause to insert relatively innocuous details before carrying on as if the train was never halted on the tracks to begin with. It's nice to know that RobCakeran53 is so focused on the nitty gritty stuff; he just doesn't seem to believe in the backspace key.
Would changing this fic's style from that of telling to that of showing improve it? No, but rather, it would establish the blueprint for a much longer and much more intriguing story. Through and through, this story feels like it's half-baked. I mean, the plot is actually relatively solid, and though the explanations for story elements (or lack of them) are somewhat goofy at points, it is the making of something that is much better than itself. That is the sort of story that would benefit from a far more visceral presentation, something that should be about five times as long, filled with scenes that focus exclusively on talking, on character development, and on the descriptive details that the author obviously has a healthy hankerin' for. While reading this, I kept wanting, begging, to see the scenes of the narrator and Dashie and just those scenes alone. Could you imagine that? A My Little Dashie written in third person past tense that showed the human and the filly meeting, taking those first awkward steps, sharing lessons on how to talk, cuddling, growing old together, and then reaching the point where they’d ultimately (and dramatically) have to split?
There was only one key scene in MLD that I felt was an example of what I would have wanted to see, specifically where the narrator comes home from shopping to witness Dashie watching an episode of My Little Pony. We have drama, we have suspense, we have dialogue and emotes, we have heartstrings pulled (kind of, sort of), because everything is being shown to us, and we have the foreknowledge of the emotional relationship between these two characters to understand and feel why this sort of an altercation is painful. That's why, in this day and age, it's okay to just write scenes where crud happens and characters do stuff without the narration having to embellish it too much, because the audience isn't entirely dumb as mud and they can connect the melancholic dots themselves.
Vimbert the Unimpressive, ol' candle-stick-head himself, has a slogan that he uses in editing, “Never assume the audience is stupid.” I don't mean to suggest that Robby Cakes thinks so little of the marsupial alumni, and I'm not wanting to pull a Pinkie!Gein on his literary guts, but he seems to get hung up on whether or not to let us witness sad stuff while in motion or to just outright explain it all. Ironically enough, that very scene I mentioned—where Rainbow Dash gets angry at her “Daddy” and flies out of the house in a huff—is ruined by the fact that the narrator essentially summarizes the whole ordeal within the very first paragraph that introduces the entire sequence. If this was indeed a journal entry, that might make sense, but the story doesn't exactly follow that schematic to a T, and what we have here is a scene that could have been awesome, that utilized the swell mechanics of showing us stuff, but was ultimately deflated of all its tension because the narrator still felt the need to tell us everything from the beginning. F'naaaaaa.
I once had a talk with Propmaster, the author of Red Wings and Solem Perditum, about the difference between sad fics and happy fics. Props contended that a happy fic, much like the greek “comedy,” is when there is a goal that the main character wants, and after much strife and setbacks, the character achieves that goal, ultimately relying on the strengths and gifts that had always empowered the protagonist from the get-go. What, then, would a sad fic entail? I suspect it would be the absolute reverse, where the character starts out as having achieved something happy and fulfilling, but then has that stripped from him or her, while being powerless to prevent it, in spite of their inherent gifts.
In MLD, we really don't witness “happy” and “fulfilling” events, but instead we're told that they have happened, through a series of scenes that amount to abridged paraphrases of what should probably have been longer, meatier, and far more intimate sequences. I feel as though the entire story is being fed through a foggy projector, and all the photo negatives have aged with time, much like the protagonist's album will as he sits in his dad's lazyboy for another fifteen years (or thirty) wondering “Huh, did a lot of nice things happen to me in my life? I can't tell, because every time I think about them, I sound in my head like Tolkien trying to write a make-out session with an inflatable alligator.”
To the story's credit, it's vague enough to be relatable to just about everyone. If that was Robby Cakes' intention, than he's a Nietzsche dayum genius, and he deserves even more envy than I have the capability of throwing at his (undoubtedly insanely handsome) forehead. Just go back and look at that stuff: the narrator has no name, lives in a nameless city, is overwrought with generically relevant issues such as loss of parents, urban pollution, ennui with a rat race routine and horribad economic environmental stuff. Dashie's “daddy” is essentially the beta male hero of our age, surviving angstily in the wasteland, right after, I dunno, Barack Obama's grinning poster face smashed through the heart of America like that big stupid starship at the end of Into Darkness. What's more, the main character is a brony, with such intense dependency on pastel colored horses that it borders on downright sickening. Whether or not the protagonist is an extreme stereotype, most of us can still relate to him, at least the portion of us who are brave enough to not only read pony fiction but also to create a Fimfic account and put MLD on our favorites list. My Little Dashie commits the genius act of making itself open and digestible to just about everyone, and in that vein the fic’s relatively tame and vague style of story-telling is undeniably perfect.
However, is it poignant? Does it make me feel as though I've gained anything from reading it? Has it moved me in any way? Regardless of whether or not that's the job of fanfics in this day and age, I still have to put some major emphasis on it, because that's evidently the big deal with MLD. It's supposed to make everyone cry. Just like Cupcakes was the pony creepypasta equivalent of 2 Girls 1 Cup, I suppose it's only fitting to call My Little Dashie the... uhm... pony “crypasta” equivalent of... The Notebook? I dunno.
To be perfectly honest, not only did I not cry while reading MLD, but I can actually think of a moment in Sgt. Sprinkles' friggin’ Cupcakes that was more saddening. I refer specifically to the moment when Rainbow Dash, butchered and bloodied beyond recognition, pitifully mewls “I want go home” to Pinkie Pie. That single line alone, planted in stark contrast in the middle of what is otherwise a laughably gratuitous exercise in nihilism, is something more emotionally provocative than the entirety of RobCakeran’s legendary story.
You wanna know why? Because Sgt Sprinkles' was, for the briefest of moments, a magnificent bastard who knew when and where to inject emotion into his story without having to tell us that he was crushing the bloody little easter egg before our eyes. Hell, he probably planted it there just to be ironic or stereotypical, cuz that's the kind of crap you'd expect to hear in a Hostel-style story where a character's will is being broken, but it didn't stop me from wanting to get up from Sedna, walk across the house, hug one of my mother's cats and pretend through all the fur and the claws that it was a healthy and wholesome Rainbow Dash instead.
It's funny, really, that MLP is beset with so many, many fics in the genres of Grimdark and Sad, and yet the two thematic epochs of such categories are—against the test of time—planted on wet sand at best. Still, are they any less important for where they stand? For what they stand for? For what they have provided the fandom and will continue to provide it?
I'm happy that we have a RobCakeran and a Sgt Sprinkles. I'm happy that we have stories that got successful because the fandom chose them to be successful, just like they chose for MLP to be successful. I'm sure you could ask both authors if they meant for their stories to become so legendary, to become so epitomized in other fan works, to be so viciously and ruthlessly analyzed by hairy basement children such as myself (if you can call all of this an “analysis,” but hey, Floridian basements aren't known for having much depth). Still, both dudes seem to be cool lemurs, even with the popularity that their works have given them, and if there's any standard for fanworks—or creative endeavors in general—it's to pursue bettering ourselves, and making stuff that is somehow superior to and more impressive than the material that has come before us.
Stuff like Cupcakes and My Little Dashie set the bar for a lot of stuff to come later. Whether or not one considers that bar high or low, it's the stuff that people have used to measure many fanfics, including my own. Understanding that and acknowledging that is the first step in finding ways to be different, to be innovative, and to be expressive in such fashions.
Crap's gotta pile up somewhere, even if its only difference is that it's less smelly than the crap packed tightly beneath it. Isn't that right, Mr. Sturgeon? No? Nnnngh... for Nietzsche’s sake, the shears are over there...
....And there we are!*
*Yes, the short signoff after the long articles is supposed to be comically ironic. Look, it's creeping towards 2am as I sit here typing this, I leave tomorrow, and I'm running behind her--under the circumstances, this is as close to my A game as you're going to get.