This article is about one of my favorite episode of Friendship is Magic, which is called Green Isn’t Your Color. This is an episode about sadomasochistic sexual experimentation, and throughout the topic is handled in the most nuanced, compelling, and enlightened manner imaginable.
A note on definitions: the word ‘sadism’ are often used ambiguously to refer to a kind of sexual desire or to an enjoyment for committing cruel acts. Similarly, ‘masochism’ can refer to a kind of sexual desire or to tendency of a person to have drives which oppose one another to the extent that they seek out situations which appear to be harmful.
Although the two senses are often confuted, the distinction is as great as that between fantasy and reality. In this essay I use the words according to the first sense, in a way which is ethically neutral. For the second sense I use words like ‘abuse’ and ‘exploitation’ rather than ‘sadism’ and ‘self-destruction’ rather than ‘masochism’.
The major theme in Green Isn’t Your Color is to highlight these very distinctions and to show that BDSM relationships can be healthy. It does this by presenting two parallel relationships, one healthy and one exploitative.
Spike and Rarity
The episode opens with a scene at a spa which tells us about Rarity’s and Fluttershy’s relationship. They have an established connection, symbolized by their regular meetings at the spa. Rarity tells Fluttershy about the big name photographer Photo Finish who wants to photograph some of Rarity’s designs and she begs Fluttershy to model them the next day. Reluctantly, Fluttershy agrees.
The next scene is where the action begins. Rarity is preparing Fluttershy in a ridiculously gaudy outfit for her photoshoot and her friends are helping.
Spike then approaches, crawling on all fours, with pins sticking out of his back. Rarity is actually using a sentient being as a pincushion! She takes some of the pins with her magic and uses them on the gown. She is entirely comfortable in this role and seems to find it entirely to be expected that Spike should not only serve her but grovel at her feet and be punctured by pins for her.
“Doesn’t that hurt?” asks Twilight.
“Thick scales,” says Spike. “Can’t feel a thing! And even if I could, there’s no pain that would keep me from resisting the most beautiful creature in the world!”
The scene is so deliciously kinky, yet played so innocently that I am reminded of the early sexual games of children, games like “playing doctor”, which children invent instinctively to explore innocent desires whose full meaning they do not yet grasp.
Regarding some of my other interpretations of Friendship is Magic, some friends have told me that they come entirely form my own imagination rather than being “really” in the show, but I don’t know how this scene could be more obvious about it and still be a children’s show.
Photo Finish and Fluttershy
Finally, Photo Finish arrives with extreme panache. She seems to be a parody of Anna Wintour and Edna Mode (who was herself a parody of Edith Head). She travels with an entourage of servile ponies who never speak and who cater to her every whim. “Remember, attitude and pizazz!” says Rarity before Photo Finish starts shooting.
What follows is a scene so kinky that it is destined to be fetish fuel for a generation of children. Rarity, stands behind Photo Finish and silently directs Fluttershy by assuming strong, unabashed, confident poses with big smiles. The sort of poses that perfectly exemplify Rarity’s personality.
Fluttershy then at temps to mimic these poses without conviction. “No!” Photo Finish invariably responds. Fluttershy reacts by putting her head down, bearing the side of her neck, leaning her body downward, and other positions that depict shame and fear.
“Yeeessss,” Photo Finish then gasps in a sensual tone. She obviously enjoys treating other ponies like playthings, especially when they react just as Fluttershy does.
I can hardly believe this scene is real. It is so obvious that Photo Finish is getting a sexual thrill out of Fluttershy. After a few photos, Photo Finish proclaims, “It seems that I, Photo Finish, have found ze next fashion star right here in Ponyville!”
“Really?” says Rarity with delight, thinking Photo Finish means her.
“Yes, really! And I, Photo Finish, am going to help her to shine over all of Equestria! Tomorrow a photo shoot in ze park! … I go!”
Immediately she zips off with her entourage in pursuit.
Rarity is enraptured at being chosen by Photo Finish to be the next fashion star. However, the next day we learn that Photo Finish was not talking about her, but about Fluttershy instead! In Fluttershy, Photo Finish finds the embodiment of her sexual fantasies. Later, she is directing her servants to dress Fluttershy and make her up. “Too much blush… not enough… too much blush… not enough… perfect,” she finally decides after an indistinguishably different amount of blush is applied to her.
Fluttershy sneezes daintily. “Ahhh… ahhh… ahh… chu.”
“Ohhh, jes! Even her schneezes are graceful!” exclames Photo Finish.
Photo Finish, in contrast with Rarity, is clearly a manipulative, exploitative sort of dom. She is extremely lecherous and has no interest in forming a more appropriate and supportive relationship with poor Fluttershy.
“Nervous! Don’t be ridiculous!” she says when Fluttershy confesses her fear of going on stage. “You will only be facing a large crowd of ponies who will be watching your every move and silently judging you!”
Fluttershy’s fame grows. Once, she ducks into Rarity’s shop to avoid a lot of ponies following her with cameras and then being dragged away by Photo Finish. “I’m the one who should be mobbed by strangers where ever I go!” Rarity sighs with dejection.
Of course, Fluttershy is no happier. She does not enjoy Photo Finish’s attention and wants to stop being her model. But how will she cool Photo Finish’s feelings?
As we know from a later episode entitled Putting Your Hoof Down, Fluttershy is seen to involve herself in bondage scenarios for surprising reasons, similar to what Fredric Wertham observed of Wonder Woman in Seduction of the Innocent. In this episode, Fluttershy takes a course in not being a doormat from the minotaur Iron Will, but becomes disgusted with the aggression that he has brought out in her. Therefore, she has her bunny tie her to a chair so that no one will have to experience her anger again.
Now who would choose bondage as the very first attempted solution to an unchecked temper? I think that Fluttershy’s bad behavior in that episode should be seen as a strategy to attract attention in the hopes of being punished.
Fluttershy makes a similar choice in this episode. Fluttershy realizes that There are probably better ways of getting out of her job as a model than to publicly humiliate herself, yet she specifically asks Twilight to help her achieve this very purpose.
At the fashion show, the crowd immediately turns on Fluttershy when Twilight’s magic causes her to behave ungracefully. Despite having been jealous of Fluttershy’s modeling success the whole time, Rarity cannot bear to see her being treated so badly. In an extremely heartwarming moment, she cheers for Fluttershy louder than anyone else can boo. She will never stop supporting her friends.
The episode closes back in the spa with Fluttershy and Rarity friends again and with Spike slavishly fanning Rarity.
It is amazing that Friendship is Magic would even take on such a controversial and misunderstood issue as BDSM, but their depiction is so direct, so nuanced, so understanding, and just so brilliant that I can’t stop thinking about how great it is. As exceptional as Friendship is Magic already is, this episode truly raises the bar.
The BDSM themes of a typical mainstream story may only be observed with a subversive reading. My favorite example of this is the film Legend, in which the satanic villain Darkness is obviously a much more romantic and interesting person than the androgynous and tedious hero Will. The heroine spends the first part of the movie acting out against the hero’s wishes in the hopes that he will assert himself against her, and the rest of the movie being wooed by a monstrous demon who both attracts and terrifies her. In the end, she must betray her true soulmate and return to her bland hero so that the story can have, at least apparently, a more socially acceptable ending.
Might I compare the dramatic techniques in Green Isn’t Your Color to those of Shakespeare in King Lear? As in King Lear, Green Isn’t Your Color explores its theme by depicting two similar but antipodal scenarios. This allows the episode to make its statement very precisely, and consequently very boldly, as unambiguous as a controlled experiment. Unlike in Legend, there is no possibility here of confusing a BDSM relationship, neither as a condemnation of BDSM or as an apology for abuse. Fluttershy’s relationship with Photo Finish acknowledges that while BDSM can be abusive, the relationship between Spike and Rarity demonstrates that it need not be. Her relationship with Spike is never depicted as dysfunctional or wrong, and does not get “fixed” over the course of the episode.
Another appropriate comparison is that between Green Isn’t Your Color and The Secretary, a romantic comedy that also attempts to make a straightforward statement about BDSM. Although The Secretary is written for adults and can therefore afford to be much more overt, Green Isn’t Your Color is far more successful both dramatically and as a statement. By focusing unwaveringly on universal themes such as envy, ambition, fear, and exploitation, Green Isn’t Your Color grounds its message in terms comprehensible to anyone, whereas The Secretary is quite narrowly focused upon kinks that are apparently idiosyncratic to the writer or the director, which, I think, makes the characters less sympathetic.
Because The Secretary lacks a real villain, the main source of conflict is internal. This, unfortunately, muddles the message because it ends up seeming quite unmotivated. The characters seem perfectly content to experiment with BDSM at the beginning of the movie, but then inexplicably begin to have second thoughts about it part way through. Is the BDSM their salvation from their emotional problems or is it an expression of those very problems? The movie is unclear. At the end, have the characters at last found love and become at peace with themselves, or are they tragically doomed to remain troubled due to their inability to form a “normal” relationship? In the commentary, the director reports that from questions he has been asked, apparently many people form the second interpretation, which was not his intent. Had he only plotted his movie as brilliantly as Green Isn’t Your Color he would not have had this problem.
I cannot in stronger terms commend the characters in Friendship is Magic, particularly that of Rarity. She is an unambiguously positive role model for a dom, especially here, where she shows nothing but unmitigated support for Fluttershy’s success despite being wracked with envy. She is similarly supportive with her other friends almost all the time, but never in a way that either compromises or is undermined by her aristocratic air or her the particular, refined accommodations she expects at all times.
Yet neither is she, as are so many other depictions of doms, an idealization as seen from the submissive perspective. This is nearly impossible to achieve in a subversive context because the dom must be portrayed as a powerful and evil mastermind sufficient to pose a real threat. Unfortunately, this also objectifies him and turns him into a submissive idealization rather than a real person. This is unfortunately the fate of Darkness in Legend.
Rarity is, on the other hand, is an extremely empathetic character and many episodes have focused entirely on her own perspective. In fact I think she is the most complex character on the show. She is, of course, a highly exaggerated character, but she is exaggerated in a very realistic way, in a way that draws attention to the essential qualities that make her easy to identify with without creating a gross caricature.
Her identity as the avatar of the spirit of generosity is quite appropriate. Doms love to take on roles that allow them to give guidance: the like to be teachers, councilors, and protectors, and they will be very generous with their time and energy in such roles.
She is more characterized by internal conflict than any of the other main characters. She is so effusive that she can rarely restrain herself, and overwhelming emotions often draw her to pursue more than what she can realistically accomplish. Rarity’s excesses have served many dramatic purposes over the course of the show. They have been an object of comedy, a source of conflict, and at other times precisely right qualities for the circumstances. It is truly wonderful to see a dom depicted in a way that is both so endearing and lifelike.
Fluttershy’s charm is that she is vulnerable but guarded against opening herself up to other ponies. She occasionally hints at a complex inner life and a nuanced, individual perspective on things but never reveals enough. Who, one irresistibly asks, is the real Fluttershy?
The first episode dealt with her character perfectly. In this episode, she has great difficulty even introducing herself to Twilight but utterly transforms upon seeing something she needs to know about. She showed us both the depth of her interests as well as her extreme selectivity in revealing herself. Unfortunately, since then, we have rarely observed that charm because the episodes which gave her a lot of screen time put her in situations outside her element. A recent and delightful exception was in the episode Too Many Pinkie Pies, which shows how she behaves under very ordinary circumstances and puts her in a delightfully introverted one-on-one interaction with Pinkie Pie.
If only an episode could focus more upon interactions like that. There are many possibilities. For example, Fluttershy would probably be an excellent psychoanalyst. As a very observant and eager listener, she should be quite capable of telling other characters things about them that they would not have been able to articulate to themselves. Would that a future episode deals effectively with the barely glimpsed mystery that is Fluttershy.
Finally, is there hope for Fluttershy? I believe so: she also learned a very important and relevant lesson in Putting Your Hoof Down. There she learned to be assertive and not to let people treat her like a doormat. This could help her to find more positive BDSM experiences in the future. Rather than exploring her fantasies in such an unhealthy way and relying on implausible excuses, she might now instead learn to talk about her interests and pursue them more openly, without fearing that they are illegitimate.
Friendship is Magic is unquestionably the greatest television show in human history.