The Glorious Triumph of Anarchy in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic should actually be called Friendship is Rational because every episode is not simply a story about friendship, but quite an insightful analysis of the mutually—reinforcing benefits of interpersonal relationships. The characters do not simply learn virtue by unquestioned instruction or blind imitation; they learn precisely how consequences result from their actions and attitudes. They see how friendship gives them the opportunity to learn new tricks or to play to their strengths and to depend on others to support their weaknesses.
But what happens when the theory of friendship is applied to all of society rather than merely a small clique? This is what the season 2 episode “Hearth’s Warming Eve” attempts, and the result is absolutely the greatest dramatization of Libertarian class theory that I have ever seen. We see a society divided by a mistrust and hatred propagated by the upper class rulers of each group. We see how this division harms the lower classes, who all yearn for peace and cooperation. And finally we see how harmony is finally achieved by removing the rulers from their positions.
“Hearth’s Warming Eve” is also the Christmas episode of Friendship is Magic. This fact just underscores how brilliant Friendship is Magic really is. The Christmas episode is often one of the most boring episodes of a series because the whole concept of a Christmas episode has been done to death. Yet, instead of some obnoxious rehash of Scrooge, Friendship is Magic gave us something original, beautiful, astounding. It is an epic story, a satirical and subversive history about the founding of Equestria. By tying this story in with Christmas, Friendship is Magic associates anarchy with the lovely personal ideals like peace and love that we are supposed to think about on Christmas. This episode is completely amazing and is by far the best Christmas episode of any series I have ever seen.
Every episode of Friendship is Magic is available on YouTube, so if you wish to watch the episode, go search for it now.
The Three Tribes
I have remarked before on how Friendship is Magic uses parallel situations to depict the consequences of Different choices, almost like a controlled experiment. This leaves little ambiguity as to the message without appearing heavy—handed or simplistic. The characters are quite archetypal but so easy to identify with and so effectively used that their actions do not seem forced. It is as if the episode says, “I’m not telling you what’s right. Just look at the evidence.”
“Hearth’s Warming Eve” takes parallelism to an extreme. The episode is presented as a holiday pageant performed by the main characters of the show for a holiday called Hearth’s Warming Eve. Each of the main characters plays a historical figure in this pageant and represents a different race and class. Rainbow dash plays Commander Hurricane with Fluttershy as her timid Private Pansy. They are dressed in uniforms reminiscent of Romans soldiers and conquistadors. Rarity plays the elegant Princess Platinum in sumptuous royal robes, with the intelligent Twilight Sparkle as a peasant Clover the Clever. Pinkie Pie as the deranged Chancellor Puddinghead, with the hard-working, sensible Applejack as the lowly secretary Smart Cookie.
The main characters can be arranged in a grid. Here they are divided horizontally by their respective races and nations and vertically by class.
Thus, the episode gives us parallel relationships in two different ways. We can compare the relationships the rulers have with one another to the relationships between the underclasses and the relationships that each ruler has with her respective underclass.
In each case, the less sensible pony from each race is the ruler of the other, illustrating Hayek’s principle that the worst rise to the top in a government organization. Of course, none of the rulers are bad ponies in their ordinary settings on the show, but those very character traits which ordinarily make them so delightful turn them into monsters when combined with political power. Rainbow Dash’s athleticism and competitiveness turns to bloodlust when she takes the role of Commander Hurricane. She does nothing but drill Fluttershy all day and complain about how the other races don’t fear her enough. Rarity’s love of wealth and fashion turns into uncontrollable avarice when she is a princess. Her subjects have to dress in rags so that she can wear ermine. Meanwhile, Pinkie Pie’s insanity is just as terrifying as you would expect of a lunatic in control. Applejack is at the mercy of Pinkie’s nonsensical whims and delusions. Her only recourse is that Pinkie Pie is stupid enough to be somewhat manipulable. This is a lovely way of showing how power and ideology can make good ponies do evil.
Each tribe of pony has a different style of government, and each is depicted as oppressive, short—sighted, and beneficial only to the elites. The unicorns are a European—style monarchy, the pegasi are a military dictatorship, and the Earth ponies are a democracy. There is no attempt to make democracy out as somehow the least bad form of government or in any way less oppressive than the others, and in case you are skeptical that such a clear anti-democracy message could end up in a Children’s TV show, at one point Pinkie Pie says, “I was elected because I know how to think outside the box! Which means I can also think inside the chimney” [emphasis mine]. How refreshing to see democracy treated so cynically.
The Reign of Chaos
The Hearth’s Warming Eve pageant begins with Spike the dragon acting as narrator. “Ponies did not know harmony. It was a strange and dark time, a time when ponies were torn apart… by hatred!”
“Gasp!” say the ponies in the audience.
“I know, can you believe it?” Spike says.
Spike then describes the economy of this period of history. He describes a system in which labor is divided along racial lines. The unicorns maintained the motion of the heavenly bodies to produce day and night. The Pegasi controlled the weather, and the Earth ponies grew food that the rest all needed. Yet there was strife. The three races traded their skills only with extreme reluctance. At first, this seems like a pretty bad message about trade and the division of labor, but soon we see that there is more going on: the mutual mistrust between all the pony races is not just free—floating, but incited by the rulers themselves. When the rulers shown interacting with their respective subjects, it is only they who express contempt and hatred for the other nations. The underclasses universally yearn for peace because they are the ones who feel the pangs of hunger when cooperation fails, whereas the politically powerful don’t need peaceful exchange.
Tensions come to a boiling point when a blizzard arrives that destroys all the crops despite attempts by the pegasi and unicorns to dispel it, tensions come to a boiling point. The three rulers meet to try to think of a plan, but nothing gets done. They only blame one another until they all leave in disgust, arguing about who is going to walk out first. One thing I particularly love about this scene is that racism between the tribes of ponies is not presented as some kind of motiveless malignancy, but has an underlying economic cause: each race of pony wants what the other has but their governments prevent free trade between them.
The rulers of each nation independently decide that that climate change has rendered her respective land inhabitable and that the other races are not worth dealing with. Against the urging of their underlings, each ruler organizes a migration in search of a new land. Each journey satirizes the form of government that its leader represents. Commander Hurricane sees enemies everywhere and attacks a dragon-shaped cloud. Princess Platinum trusses up her peasant like a riding pony and rides her over a tiny stream so as not to get her hooves wet. Chancellor Puddinghead leads Smart Cookie in circles and fails to understand the basics of reading a map.
After a long journey, each race finds a lush new land. The pegasi find a land with tall mountains and majestic views which commander Hurricane dubs Pegasopolis. Then the unicorns find a warm land with plentiful gems and other riches which Princess Platinum claims and names Unicornia. Finally, the earth ponies arrive in a land of green valleys with fertile soil. Chancellor Puddinghead claims it in the name of the Earth ponies, and names it Dirtville, until Smart Cookie convinces her to rename it Earth.
Then, in a delightful flourish of cinematography, the screen is split three ways and zoomed around each pair of ponies. Each shot simultaneously zooms out to form a single image that reveals all six ponies to be almost right next to one another! Immediately they argue about who claimed it first. Tensions escalate. Name calling and threats ensue, despite pleas for calm from the underclass ponies. Finally, Puddinghead opens fire with a snowball on both Hurricane and Platinum. Soon all the rulers are pelting one another.
“Wait a minute…” says Puddinghead in a rare moment of clarity. “Where’d all this snow come from, anyway?”
Yes, the deadly blizzard has followed them to their rich new land. “Oh no! Not again!” wails Commander Hurricane!
Before they are all buried, the ponies retreat to a cave. The rulers immediately begin to posture aggressively. Princess Platinum begins by demanding her royal space. Commander Hurricane then uses Private Pansy to draw a line in the sand. In response, the other rulers order borders to be created for their own territories.
In an extremely touching moment, as Clever Clover and Smart Cookie reluctantly draw their lines, their hooves touch one another on the ground and they each turn away from the other in shame.
“What are you doing!?” bellows Commander Hurricane to Pansy. “Don’t go around the rock! Go over it! We’re not giving up an inch of territory to the enemy!”
“That rock is clearly on the Unicornia side of the cave and it belongs to us! (Who knows, there might be jewels inside!)” says Princess Platinum.
“I claim this rock for Pegasopolis!” yells Hurricane as she snatches it away.
“Oh look! You found my rock. I’ve been looking for it everywhere,” says Puddinghead as she bolts off with it.
“Hey! You invaded my territory!” screams Hurricane.
From there, the dispute escalates into non—stop screaming. The three rulers stand at the shared corner of their territories getting louder and louder. Meanwhile, the ice grows to cover the roof of the cave and begins to creep down the walls.
“Look everypony! The entrance!” warns Clover. But it’s too late. The entrance is sealed off with ice.
Even as they are entombed, the three rulers continue to argue. The scene is very reminiscent of the end of Dr. Strangelove. The ice creeps across the floor, up their legs, and over their faces until they are each frozen with an expression of hatred.
The three underclass ponies retreat to the center of the cave as the ice closes in on them. A monstrous roar resounds through the cave and they all three embrace one another in fear. They look up and see that they are surrounded by a whirlwind generated by a herd of ghostly, screaming horses made of freezing air.
“Windigos!” says Clover. “They’re winter spirits that feed off fighting and hatred! The more hate the spirit feels, the colder things become!”
“Then… this is our fault. We three tribes brought this blizzard to our home by fighting and not trusting each other. Now it’s destroying this land too.”
“And soon, our bodies will become as cold as our hearts… all because we were foolish enough to hate!” laments Clover.
“Well I don’t hate you!” says Pansy. “I actually hate Commander Hurricane a lot more than I hate you guys! Actually, I don’t really hate her. I just really really really really really really really really really dislike her” The other ponies giggle sympathetically. The windigos seem to feel pain at the giggle, but the ice continues to creep along the floor and up their bodies.
“Well I don’t hate you guys either!” says Smart Cookie. “No matter what our differences, we’re all ponies!” she says just as the ice spreads over all their muzzles.
At the last moment, a spell explodes from Clover’s horn which dispels the windigos and melts the ice around the three ponies.
The ponies gape, wondering what it was. “Nothing like this has ever happened before!” says Clover. “But I know it couldn’t have been just me. It came from all three of us, joined together in friendship!”
This whole scene is textbook libertarian class analysis. The underclass ponies learn their differences are no reason to be divided; indeed their differences are the very reason they need one another! This is not only a strongly anti-racist but anti—Marxist as well because the three pony tribes are divided racially and by economic role in the same way.
They also learn that they have more in common with one another than with their rulers. Whereas their interests are aligned toward their own cooperation, the rulers’ interests are aligned toward their mutual opposition. Their role is entirely exploitative. If they allowed the lower classes to live and interact peacefully, they wouldn’t have much of an excuse to stay rulers. They created enemies unnecessarily with one another and led their whole societies to the brink of destruction. And only when they have been taken out of the picture is there any real social progress.
Spike concludes the pageant. “All through the night, the three ponies kept the fire of friendship alive by telling stories to one another and by singing songs, which of course became the winter carols we all still sing together to this day. Eventually the warmth of the fire, and the singing and laughing, reached the leaders and they began to thaw. And it even began to melt their hearts! The three leaders agreed to share the beautiful land and live in harmony ever afterwards. And together, they named their new land Equestria!”
The pageant closes with a completely brilliant madrigal song:
The fire of friendship lives in our hearts
As long as it burns we cannot drift apart.
Though quarrels arise, their numbers are few
Laughter and singing will see us through.
We are a circle of pony friends.
A circle of friends we’ll be to the very end!
I am often somewhat dazed after I watch the latest episode of Friendship is Magic, but this episode left me awestruck. It is such an tremendously effective anarchist fable. I’m not sure I can even think of a better one. There is a libertarian message hidden in lots of stories, but “Hearth’s Warming Eve’s” is structured in such a way that it’s hard for me to imagine alternative interpretations. For example, one might try to say that the unification of tribes represents something like the division of powers in a republic. However, recall that the rulers are given no role whatsoever in the discovery of peace and harmony and are never shown providing any useful services at all.
The conclusion is inescapable: government is inseparably linked with divisiveness, exploitation, and poverty and permanently opposed to harmony, friendship, and wealth. The whole thing is so touching, so beautiful that no matter how many times I see it I can’t watch it without tearing up. “Hearth’s Warming Eve” should be a rallying cry for anarchists everywhere. I think I’ll go watch it again right now!
(Originally posted on Analysis is Magic)