Now, if you follow My Little Pony fandom to a certain extent, you're probably aware of some controversy over a certain grey pegasus with bubbles as her cutie mark, largely concerning her name and fandom depiction as mockery of the developmentally disabled. I've been over this song and dance before, and by now anything I say probably won't convince you that she's offensive in that regard if you don't already. What I'd like to talk about is a trend I've noticed from people in defense of their beloved pony.
"'Derp' is an internet meme about doing something dumb or making a silly face. It's NOTHING to do with mental disabilities. Some people need to do their homework."
Here's my homework.
Know Your Meme chronicles some of the first instances of that word in media here.We largely have Trey Parker and Matt Stone to blame for its emergence, though most likely the word has been around for longer before it was popularized. Whether or not it's directly insulting the developmentally disabled is, as I said, something I'm not likely going to be able to convince you of, so I'm not addressing it right now. (Though, for the record: I do, and I refuse to believe that a fandom that created this charming little piece of shit is as innocent of problematic connotations as they like to claim.)
What I'm going to address largely, though, is the idea that calling Ms. Hooves "Derpy" is okay because she makes silly faces. The simple fact is: she doesn't. Overwhelmingly, looking at pictures of her, her facial expressions are completely normal and comparable to any other pony.
|The picture that started it all.|
|Flying through the air with the greatest of ease. Notice that her expression is your run-of-the-mill smiling pony face.|
|Focused eyes, regular face.|
|Again, focused and regular, for comparison.|
|A season two example. Her eyes were unfocused here, but you'd never know it from the side.|
|Aside from having her mouth open more than the other ponies, her face is the picture of just yet another excited pony.|
|With the exception of eyes, their postures and faces are almost identical, yet one of them would be called silly and the other one wouldn't.|
|And just chillaxin' with Blossomforth while she waits for hurricane duty.|
In comparison, here are some pictures of ponies making silly faces on purpose.
|I don't even know what you'd call this one, but bravo.|
|Oops! Walking into Pinkie Pie really throws you for a loop.|
|Pinkie Pie shows us how it's done.|
Notice that their ridiculous faces include more than their eyes. Their mouths are contorted as well, and sometimes the entire face. Their eyes, if unfocused, are only so temporarily (usually to indicate dizziness of some kind, which is a staple of cartoon comedy), and a couple are also drawn out of proportion to the rest of their faces. When they're done making silly faces, they go back to their usual dimensions.
But Ms. Hooves doesn't have her eyes unfocused only temporarily, and the majority of the time, she's just going about her business. What her eyes look like have nothing to do with how silly or serious or happy she's being, they're just there. And there's a word for that.
Strabismus, found on any internet search, is a medical condition that causes wandering eyes due to miscommunication between the brain and/or the eye or lack of coordination in the eye muscles*. It is not an intentional action. It is a medical disorder.
To call an otherwise perfectly general face that features symptoms of strabismus "silly" is saying, in essence, that strabismus is inherently silly. It's a joke. And by treating it as a joke, you are broadcasting that this medical condition exists for you to laugh at. This is not appropriate, especially not in a program aimed towards children. Even if there wasn't a bullying problem in our schools, encouraging the singling out and making fun of people with medical conditions has no place in children's media.
Does that mean there can't ever be a character with strabismus in children's media - or any media, for that matter? No. But they should be treated with respect, like any other character. They should be acknowledged as normal, because people with strabismus are normal. They shouldn't be turned into the punchline of the fandom.
So next time you feel someone has insulted the honor of your pony and you reach for your definition of 'derpy' to fight off their accusations of offensiveness, remember this and rethink what you're saying.
*I have no doubt that I'm oversimplifying, but I'm not particularly versed in the ways of medicine and never claimed to be.