[trigger warning: ableism, ableist slurs] An Open Letter to Lauren Faust: On the “Derpy Hooves” Character in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
Today I discovered that on your deviantART page, you confirmed that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is going to adopt the “Derpy Hooves” fandom character for future episodes.
I am not exactly sure how much you know about what “derp” means— it is a word from a movie by the creators of South Park in 1998. It has only recently become an internet meme, however. Today, its use is generally to denote “stupidity” or “awkwardness”.
The problem with this is simple: “derp” is ableist. The “derp face” especially so. Some people with disabilities such as Down’s Syndrome, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, and even certain forms of social anxiety have trouble controlling their facial expressions. Some people with disabilities also have difficulty verbalizing clearly because they are not able to control the muscles in their face like other people.
If you search for images of “derp” on google, you’ll find people with their eyes rolling opposite ways, and videos of people saying things like “hurr hurr, derp derp”.These portrayals, whether intentionally malicious or not, contribute to the image that people with disabilities are “abnormal” or “wrong” in some way. I doubt that these images are a simple coincidence— stupidity, lack of intelligence, and other similar ideas have always been cast on people with disabilities.
I don’t often tell people this, but I’ve dealt with crippling social anxiety and depression my entire life. I can’t count the number of times I have been made to feel different or wrong because my anxiety literally affected my body’s ability to relax, to make “normal” facial expressions or even speak coherently. Regardless of intention, there is this social expectation of normalcy that a lot of people like me have to navigate. It is not a minor inconvenience or a simple annoyance; it is often downright terrifying. And every day, there are people out there who are beaten, sexually abused, or driven to depression and suicide because they look and sound “different”.
With the meme itself— I have seen people being bullied for having a “derp face”, back before it had a name. I have heard of people with disabilities being harassed, in public, on multiple occasions, with the “derp” meme (or similar “sounds”). I’m sure that we’ve all seen it happen, long before the meme labeled it— the obviously disabled kid in high school whom everyone picked on for how their face looked or how they spoke. It wasn’t okay then, and it’s not okay now, not even under a different name.
I’ve seen some fans excuse the character by saying that “derpy” means “socially awkward”, but that is only one interpretation. It may not be offensive or hurtful to some people, but it certainly is to a lot of others. The “you’re too sensitive” argument doesn’t apply here when, as I’ve said, the word’s basic use is itself steeped in this idea that looking different and speaking differently is somehow wrong (and, as I’ve noted, there’s plenty of real life examples one could find of this). Making fun of people for not being able to interact and express themselves in the same way as the rest of us is ableist and extremely hurtful for those of us who deal with it every day. It doesn’t matter if it came from South Park or started out in some innocent way— what matters is how it is actually used now.
If Hasbro and the other people in charge of My Little Pony go ahead with this, I will have to stop watching the show. I’d really like to not have to do that— this show has meant a lot to me as a survivor of sexual abuse, and it would hurt to have something that has been a source of healing and acceptance suddenly turn into a source of hatred and exclusion. There haven’t been many things in my life that I can rely on as genuinely safe and loving; the creation of this character would definitely make the show not safe for myself, or for other people with disabilities. It would also be a betrayal of everything that Friendship is Magic stands for if those in charge refused to listen to those of us who experience ableism and struggle with being different on a daily basis.
This word is not some holy grail. It is not going to hurt anyone to stop using it— we can always make up another way to describe things. People are creative and language changes; to think that the loss of “derp” would somehow be a huge blow to human culture is just silly.
It’s really not hard to laugh at life, or yourself, or your awkwardness, without hurting others. All you need is a little imagination— something that My Little Pony has done a great job of so far without needing to be ableist.
I hope that this is enough to convince you.
I would love to discuss this further if you want. I can be contacted on my tumblr here.
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