AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m a straight white dude, so anything I say here should probably be taken with a grain of salt. If anything in this piece is incorrect or offensive, then I sincerely apologize and will take steps to correct it. There are so many great resources to look at (several I’ll list at the end of this) which should be taken into consideration along with what I’m saying here. Rainbow Rocks has just come out in theaters and is generally receiving positive reviews. However, I’m not here to talk about the quality of the film (look forward to that!), but instead to talk about one moment in it.
First of all, I’m more than likely over thinking this. Maybe you don’t see what I see, or maybe the creators never intended it to be interpreted this way. Still, the face touching, the staring into each other’s eyes, and the come hither look between them is PRETTY suggestive. The show has been moving more and more in the direction of fan service, and this movie in particular is completely filled with it. Derpy* gets multiple on-screen appearances (not just blink and you miss it cameos), and DJ PON3 gets her moment to shine. It was no accident they stuck these two together for this scene, and the reason WHY they’re usually put together by fans makes it hard to look at this as anything other than a direct reference to that ship. While I don’t expect this to become a thing in future Equestria Girls movies, it would be an amazing step for western animation if they did actually show and develop an LGBT couple in a show intended for children. After doing some research it’s clear that LGBT representation in western animation for kids (i.e. excluding anime) has been all but nonexistent, and has frankly been actively stopped a few times. In total (and by no means is this an exhaustive list), I’ve been able to find three couples and one character who are at least IMPLIED to be gay.
Ren and Stimpy (Ren & Stimpy – 1991)
The fans began speculating about their sexuality due to the fact that they share the same bed and sometimes have a husband/wife sort of relationship. When asked, the creator of the show (John K) would answer “I don’t know. It’s none of my business.” Of course, when he made Ren & Stimpy: Adult Party Cartoon in 2003 (which was NOT intended for kids), he made it completely clear that they slept together in episodes like Onward and Upward, Altruists, and Stimpy’s Pregnant. That said, the sole reason for him to clarify their sexuality was to do really cheap and offensive gay jokes.
Adult Party Cartoon was pretty much a mess, but it had its moments. And while it’s depiction of these two characters being gay was pretty lowbrow, it at least stayed consistent with the rest of the humor. Basically, the gay jokes weren’t any worse than the rest of the humor that the show had. Okay, we have the first gay cartoon characters I was able to find, but in their original incarnation, it was only hinted at at best. That’s fine. Ren and Stimpy were pioneers in getting away with stuff on cartoons, and they treated homosexuality the way they treated any other subject that could be considered taboo; Do it anyway, and do it sneaky. What happened though when a show tried to have a sincere representation of a gay character?
Lexington (Gargoyles – 1994) Honestly, I know very little about this series and this character. All I can really do is parrot the research I’ve done on him which basically boils down to the fact that over time the natural development of the character led to the creators realizing that he was gay, but Disney wouldn’t allow it so that aspect of the character was never shown in the series. I don’t know if they were able to hint at his sexuality in the show, but I imagine that the creators did what they could with the restrictions placed on them. The thing to take note of is that in 1994, a cartoon character was on TV that could have that could have spoken to an audience that had yet to be represented in a cartoon, but was denied that because it was too edgy or risky or what have you. As far as I can tell, no one else tried to have a gay main character in a cartoon since, and while the next few on our list are strongly implied to be gay, they never say it in the show.
Kitty and Bunny (Courage the Cowardly Dog – 2002) This show was so amazing and ahead of it’s time that it’s no wonder that one of their best episodes had a heavily implied lesbian romance. The story is about Kitty who was forced to leave her old life and her “best friend” behind after her jelous boyfriend thought they were being “too friendly”. She winds up on the Bagge’s farm and Courage fears she’s dangerous so goes to look for bunny in hopes of finding some way to get Kitty off the farm. The episode is rather dark and poignent with scenes between Bunny and her boyfriend (Mad Dog) showing a pretty spot on portrayal of abusive relationships.
Kitty and Bunny only share one scene together at the end (their escape on a train), but throughout the episode they talk about the other in ways that show how much they care for eachother. Even if the show could never acknowldge that it was intended it to be interpreted this way, it’s kind of besides the point. There can be great stories that speak to an audience that doesn’t have to explicitly spell out what it’s doing (*cough*Frozen*cough*). While this was a fantastic episode, these characters never appeared again in any significant fashion, so it’s not like we were able to spend time with the and get to know them over the course of their “friendship.” For that, we’ve got our most recent example to look at.
Princess Bubblegum and Marceline (Adventure Time – 2010) Adventure Time has been pushing bounardies since it started and with it’s universal success, it can afford to do it even more. Hell, the show gets a TV PG and is STILL the most popular thing on Cartoon Network. I like to call this The South Park Effect, where a show’s popularity can be enough to give it the sort of leeway that other shows don’t get both with it’s audience and with the censors. That said, the show has still remained cagey about whether or not these actually did date at one point. Then again, a lot of Adventure Time’s appeal is in it’s world of almost limitless mysteries, so leaving this one unclear for now might be due to the show runners wanting to keep it a secret as opposed to television standards. Also, we know for a fact that Marceline also dates guys, so that would make her one of the only bixesuals to be in a kid’s show. There’s a clip out there of Marceline’s voice actor (Olivia Olson) saying that they WERE a couple but can’t say so in the show because some foreign markets wouldn’t approve. Now this wasn’t a planned statement (it was part of a Q&A) so I honsetly have a hard time beileving that is the reason why. We make so many shows in the US that get seen in other countries that don’t censor themselves to meet their standards. What ususally happens if there is a major conflict is that the other country (during the translation) will edit scenes to remove the objectionable content. To give you an example, The Simpsons is now showing in Saudi Arabia, and one of the things that had to be changed was that Homer now drinks soda instead of beer.
An even more pertanent example? WE censored Sailor Moon so that a lesbian couple became cousins!
No one from the show has yet come forward to confirm or deny Olivia Olson’s staement (on either the ship or reason for it not being in the show), so we’ll say that it is canon that they dated, and leave it as a possibility for future episodes to reveal. Even without them dating, their relationship is very well done with it’s ups and downs, and is one of the more intresting aspects of the show. So that about covers the extent of LGBT representation in western cartoons. I’ve omited a few like Mystique who are bisexual in their original incarnation (comic books) but were toned down or completely changed for their animatined versions. Still, even if we add in all the exceptions or kinda-sortas or ones I flat out missed, that still would hardly be anyone. This is a huge problem because one of the ways that the LGBT movment has picked up so much steam in the past two decades is due to their represntation in the media. This is by no means the ONLY or even MAIN reason why thye’ve gained so much ground in the last twenty years, but it’s still very important. Shows like Will and Grace and Ellen brought homsexuality into the homes of the average joe and showed them that there’s nothing wrong with being gay. Even today, some of our biggest shows like Modern Family and Glee have homosexual characters which are normalizing homosexuality for a generation of people who never knew any other way to feel abou them. Yet, there’s stil one area where we haven’t made as much progess and that’s with their representation in media aimd at children. Once you use the kid card, you can basically get away with anything to maintain the status quoe. IT’LL FUCK UP KIDS BECAUSE IT’S ALL ABOUT SEX!!! THEY DON’T NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THAT YET, CUZ IT’LL JUST CONFUSE THEM!!! DON’T TEACH IT IN SCHOOLS BECAUSE IT’S NOT NORMAL!!! All that bullshit and much more in the name of protecting children.
We ran into a similar prolem with the Tomadachi Life fiasco where Nintendo claimed that having homosexuality EXIST is akin to a political statement. That idea in a nutshell is what’s probably kept children’s entertainment from representing them. Once a show acknowledge them, the anti-homosexuality people (many of whom claim it does not exist) feel that the show is trying to indoctrinate their kids and show them inappropriate images. No problem with child appropriate romance between heterosexuals, but if anyone else wants the same, then it instantly becomes a problem. This is a tough issue for content creators who may feel that homosexuals should be represented, but understand the risks in doing so. The narrowness and absolute stance that the anti-LGBT crowd means that the most basic acknowledgement is enough to get rilled up over. It’s gonna be something that someone out there is gonna have to take these lunatics head on about and just not listen or capitualte to their outrage. It’ll also take the support of a network who’s willing to suffer the controversy in the name of what’s right. It’s a hard sell for anyone who’s lively-hood could be on the line with something like this, but I’m hoping it gets done one day. This all brings me back to what this whole article is about.
Despite the uphill battle that will no doubt ensue, I think this could actually work. First of all, these aren’t main characters. They don’t even have a voice yet in the spinoff, so background or secondary roles for them would keep the show from having to go any more in depth than they feel they can get away with. This may be a reason why acknowledging Marceline and Bubblegum could be more difficult. They are more or less main characters of the show, so the implications of their (admittedly long dead) relationship would be much more impactful and would put a huge focus on the subject. Another thing to consider is that the Equestira Girl’s universe is centered around a high school that reflects the real world and the presence of LGBT characters wouldn’t be as significant as in other shows. To bring us back to Adventure Time (and My Little Pony for that matter), it’s set in a world that doesn’t reflect our own, so elements that we’d associate with everyday life are no longer mundane and end up demanding more focus than if they were in a realistic setting.
The setting also lends itself to discussing certain issues without feeling out of place or preachy. Meghan McCarthy has stated that “we might explore different aspects of relationships that in the pony world don’t quite work the same as they do when you set it in a high school setting.”** and we can see this in the fact that Twilight has only shown romantic interests when in the Equestria Girls Universe.
High schools have LGBT students and groups. Equestria Girls can acknowledge their existance and make them a regular part of the school without the need to call too much attention to it (if they choose not to). Any claims towards pushing an agenda could be defelcted by the fact that NOT having these aspects of high school life would be disingenous and would make the setting less beleivable. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for right now when it comes to this issue. Every movement starts with small steps in the right direction, and I’d be happy is someone was willing to go THAT far for LGBT representation. To bring it back to the Gay Rights movement, a lot of pro-marriage equality people didn’t want to accept civil unions because they felt it was a half measure and wanted full rights. Still, in Washinton state civil unions were legalized but that didn’t stop LGBT activist from pushing for more. Over time, they kept gaining more and more rights that made civil unions closer and closer to marriage, until finally they were granted full marriage equality in 2012 (I’m sure this applies to other places too, but this is one examlpe I’ve come across). I don’t think it’s fair to DEMAND this from the MLP staff who may not want to encure the wrath of anti-gay nutjobs (and that might be our fault because of all the “fan made content” that they can find), but if they are willing to take that risk, then I think they have a really good chance of pulling it off. Limiting representation to a few background characters may not seem like a lot, but it’ll be enough to get the ball rolling, and for people to realize they should demand this from more of their shows. Hell, I was inspired to write this because of a single screen grab that may or may not be implying anything at all. All of you reading this might have just learned a thing or two because of that. Small steps matter, and while I have no realistic expectations that this will happen, it would be amazing if the staff of MLP picks up on this and truly embraces their motto of love and tollerance in a way that will make a real impact to it’s audience. Either way, we still have an amazing show with an amazing fanbase. Offical or not, Lyra and Bon Bon will live on!
*Side Note: Can we stop using the name Derpy? It was cute at first but we really need to move on. I’m only using it here because it’s the most popular name she has, and the only other one I’m aware of (Ditzy) is not that much better.
**The quote is from the Equestria Girls wikipedia page, but the link to the source is broken, so I’m not able to confirm this with 100% certainty. If I come across out any information that contradicts this quotes , I’ll make sure to give this an update.