Discord in the Doghouse
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
By Andrea Zanin
It’s true, Equestria is immersed in pimped-up ponies singing, sauntering, and socializing in forests wrought with candy canes and heart-shaped confetti (as such) but before you book your summer vacation, dip in to My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and you’ll soon realize that Ponyville is not all rainbows and sunshine. No. The land is embroiled in tempests more than just occasionally. There was that time when Nightmare Moon appeared in place of a missing Princess Celestia and decreed everlasting night in Equestria, and remember when a plague of Parasprites almost ate the whole of Ponyville? We can never forget the time Queen Chrysalis shape-shifted into Princess Cadance as part of a plan to invade Canterlot. Yup, pony life can get pretty cray but with Twilight Sparkle, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, and Apple Jack at the ready, discord is sent to the doghouse every time; OK almost every time.
In Equestria, friendship is posed as the solution to all of life’s chaos. It’s a glittery representation of the teachings of pre-Socratic and Orphic philosopher Empedocles, who declared the originating principles of the universe (the two causes) to be Neikos: strife/discord and Philia: love/friendship. He pitted the two against each other; Disorder versus Friendship, suggesting that wickedness, torment, and detestation are devices of a furious Discord. In converse, Friendship eagerly toils in effort to lead forth, little by little, wickedness from the world; domesticating Discord and his or her (think Eris) minions with unity – or harmony, if we’re speaking ‘pony-ese.’
Under the guidance of Princess Celestia, Twilight Sparkle and her BFFs seem to have the whole vanquish chaos thing down to an art. Simple friendship is good enough for the restoration of day-to-day disorder but on rare occasions, particularly during events marked by danger and anarchy, the Elements of Harmony are used as a last resort to restore and enforce the balance of peace and order. The ‘Elements’ are six supernatural artifacts representing different aspects of friendship – so; loyalty (Rainbow Dash), honesty (Apple Jack), generosity (Rarity), laughter (Pinkie Pie), kindness (Fluttershy), and magic (Twilight Sparkle). They only work if wielded by one who possesses the corresponding trait and if all six are used in conjunction, then the Elements will come together to form the power of friendship. At its most awesome, Friendship is wielded against Empedocles’ Disorder, who is represented in My Little Pony by a crazed “draconequus”; a name coined by show creator Lauren Faust, composed of the Greek word drakon, meaning dragon, and the Latin equus, meaning horse. Discord is described by Cheerilee in The Return of Harmony (Part 1) as a creature with “the head of a pony and a body of all sorts of other things” – namely “a deer antler, a goat leg, a bat wing and a snake tail” (Keep Calm and Flutter On). Princess Celestia explains Discord as “the mischievous spirit of disharmony.”
We first encounter the draconequus in statue form having been imprisoned in stone by Celestia and her sis Luna after doing a junk job as ruler of Equestria – wreaking destruction and discontent amongst everypony. Not cool. Hence the stone thing. Discord is awoken by…discord; invoked by an argument between the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Immediately, he sets to work; making calamity of amity. Creepy Dali-esque bunnies roam the countryside as a torrent of foul weather inflicts itself upon Equestria. As candyfloss clouds rain chocolate (oh the horror!), Discord turns Ponyville into the chaos capital of the world. He is depicted as a puppeteer, pulling the strings of existence; an image that conjures Empedocles’ vision of Discord as the Demiurge – a heavenly being, subordinate to the Supreme Being (Monad), that is considered to be the controller of the material world and antagonistic to all that is purely spiritual (the Elements of Harmony, in the world of Equestria). Even Friendship falls prey to the carnage of Discord’s reign as the pony gang is tricked into the opposite of their true selves – Apple Jack, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, and Fluttershy turning into “the liar, the grump, the hoarder, and the brute,” respectively. But ultimately, Friendship kicks Discord’s ass, turning him back to stone.
Except then Princess Celestia tasks the ponies with the reformation of dear Discord; who she hopes will learn to serve good rather than evil. Getting the critter to use his magic obediently of his own free will is a challenge even for the likes of Friendship but who wouldn’t want to be pals with a My Little Pony? It’s Fluttershy who wins the day, working her kindness on Disord who comes to value her friendship; really value it – a revelation that causes him to revert chaos, volunteering his magic for good, mostly. In this way, Discord claims both Neikos (strife) and Philia (love) as part of his transformed being, making him sort of like Two-Face or Jekyll and Hyde, or even The Hulk. You never quite know what you’re gonna get with Discord. He’s unreliable but not always bad! He may have sided with centaurian foe Tirek in Twilight’s Kingdom but Celestia invites Discord to the Grand Galloping Gala because “imagine how dull it would have been if I hadn’t invited Discord” (Make New Friends but Keep Discord). There’s something attractive about chaos – like chocolate rain; it’s bad but oh so good, all in one – a dual identity, if you will.
Discord’s dualism is reflected in both man and the cosmos, as Empedocles might argue. As well as Ponyville, the philosopher’s doctrine of Strife and Discord plays out in a biblical context; when Adam and Eve, tempted by a snakely Satan (Discord), ate the apple they severed the link between man and God, falling from exemption into a state of dualism. Man was thus rendered mortal in his body but immortal in his divine spirit, and became the battleground in which angels (love) and demons (strife) thrash it out. Princess Celestia and her younger sister Luna’s alter-ego Nightmare Moon (who was originally named Discord, according to Faust) is a great metaphor for man’s dualistic nature. Celestia is Friendship personified, or rather – ponified, and Nightmare Moon is Strife. Equestria is their battleground. Even more poignant is the battle that goes on within Luna herself – Luna or Nightmare Moon (Friendship or Discord)? There never seems to be a winner. And perhaps that’s the greater point; no matter how many times Nightmare Moon is subjugated by the Elements of Harmony, the discord that inspires her character is never completely eradicated. As a parody on real life, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic nails it. Like us, the ponies struggle to do the right thing; to live ethically and in a spirit of love and friendship. The ironic dichotomy of love and strife, true to human nature, is a perennial theme in the show, and sure; friendship and pink sprinkly stuff are utopian solutions to the violence of the real world (to which even Empedocles admitted no resolution) but really, at this stage we’ve not much to lose. Doin’ it the pony way is perhaps, the only way.
Andrea Zanin is the author of pop-culture blog Rantchick.com. She lives in London, where she spends her time writing, ranting, being a journalist and wishing she was Pinkie Pie. Andrea is a regular contributor to pop culture and philosophy books, with chapters in Sons of Anarchy and Philosophy, Hannibal Lecter, Jane Austen, Alien, Wonder Woman, X Files, and The Americans and Philosophy (still in process).
Alex Rivera, “Maricon and Empedocles: The Gnosis of Love and Discord,” The Aeon Eye (https://theaeoneye.com/2015/08/19/marcion-and-empedocles-the-gnosis-of-love-and-discord/)