I have a rather complex relationship with the concept of authorial intent, and it’s something I’ve really gotta talk about if I’m gonna keep bringing it up. You may have noticed that in prior videos I’ve simultaneously used authorial intent to drive home my thoughts, while also proclaiming that I’m a fan of the death of the author. It’s not that I’m being inconsistent, it’s that my reading of the show is complicated.
Actually, before I continue that train of thought, I want to address the idea that my videos might be reading “too deep” into MLP. Ordinarily I’d ignore these vapid comments, because obviously I’m doing these videos for fun, and other people are enjoying them, which is proof positive that analyzing this show is worthwhile. Moreover, I can analyze absolutely fucking ANYTHING on this level if I want to. The reason I don’t watch TV with my parents is that when I’m watching, I constantly analyze everything that happens, including all of the commercials, and my parents tell me to shut up, so I get bored and leave the room. I have no off switch for this.
But more importantly, I do TOTALLY think that this show has a ton of thought put into it, and in fact I think that’s true for most shows. A lot of shows are just built on stupid and boring thoughts, more so than they are built on thoughtlessness.
As a creator myself, I know how difficult it is to write something thoughtlessly. When you watch one of my videos for instance, everything that you see and hear is thought out. Even though I write these videos in one breakneck sitting, there’s still a lot of little considerations along the way. I chose my words carefully, I edit my sentences so that they flow well. I read my stuff in a voice that’s easy to listen to, and I edit out mistakes and breaths. I often throw in little jokes, either in the text, in the dialog, or in the editing, and all of these are on purpose. My color choices, my font choice, all of these are chosen with a purpose, even if that purpose is simply, “I like it.”
I also know how easy it is to make mistakes. Every day I get a comment about why Fluttershy raises chickens, and a comment about how I mispronounced femininity. These are things that slip through the cracks. I also fail to get my point across sometimes. I can tell from a lot of the responses to my Destiny video that I did a poor job of clarifying what the word destiny means to me. Even though everything in the video was thought out and not careless, I still made a mistake and didn’t get my point across well enough.
I got onto this train of thought, because the other day I was listening to this excellent interview with Dave Polsky over on Celestia Radio. If any writer has faced accusations of thoughtless writing in the show, it’s been Polsky, and if there’s one thing he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt in this interview, it’s that he puts PLENTY of thought into his episodes. In fact, the things that make his episodes feel distinct are in fact, things he brought to the table on purpose, and even his interests as a math and philosophical science major play a role in his writing.
In this interview, Polsky talks about the message that he and the rest of the staff were going for with Feeling Pinkie Keen. He mentions that in the process of making the episode, no one had really considered the idea that the message could be taken from a religious angle. The story that they’d set out to tell was more about trusting your friends, and trusting in things that are clearly true, even if there isn’t yet an explanation for them. He actually brings up a famous moment in science history as an inspiration for the events in the episode. I’d go into more detail, but you may as well just listen to the interview yourself. In it, he also basically corroborates my ideas about Fluttershy in Keep Calm and Flutter On, as well.
But the reason I’m bringing this up isn’t to say that anyone has been reading the episode the wrong way. Polsky himself recognizes why people interpreted Feeling Pinkie Keen the way they did, and recognizes their reading as valid, even if it’s different from his own. And I feel the same way—I don’t think we should necessarily follow creative intent, so much as our own idea of what’s been presented. I’ve seen cases in which fans consider the author to flatly be *wrong* about what happened in the episode, and that’s fine. Headcanons are fascinating precisely because they allow for individualistic expression in response to given content.
The reason that I find authorial intent fascinating has less to do with trying to read a show the “correct” way, and more to do with the fact that the way I read a show usually lines up with authorial intent *anyways.* I don’t know why, but I’ve always been pretty good at reading through the text into the author’s feelings, and in cases where I can’t confirm that I’m on the mark, I’m always wondering whether or not the author feels the same way about their work as I do. The more I watch interviews with the writers of MLP, and read their twitter feeds, etc., the more I feel like I get where they’re coming from.
My friend Misfortune-Dogged wrote a lengthy expansion of the ideas from my Over A Barrel video, in which he really got into the bones of things that I kind of glossed over in my video, and he actually got Polsky to read it. Polsky found the post to be “very much on the mark.” Meanwhile, I got M.A. Larson to watch my Alicorn Princess video, which he said he’d have liked to retweet, but thought he shouldn’t get involved. Good idea: my video has weird and contentious points in it. I involved my own headcanons about Starswirl the Bearded, and took a relatively forceful tone regarding aspects of canon, so supporting it beyond the sentiment would be kind of dangerous. Nevertheless, I think the sentiment counts.
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about authorial intent for me is that it *is* possible to read through or around it. I’ve done my share of reading through authorial intent into my own headcanons, but I usually don’t try to read around it. Not because I think reading around it is invalid, but because when we enter the realm of personal interpretation, we can go anywhere. I usually try to limit myself to what I see as “THERE,” things that are present in the text to me, so that I don’t end up going off the rails with my canon and making it unrecognizable to anyone who isn’t living inside my own mind. That said, I do think that headcanons can be awesome, and I’d love to see people share their visions of the true nature of the show.