I’m documenting here the email I sent Hasbro because I want it clear which side of the fence I’m on, and also so I can look back on the email sometime in the distant future when I’ve calmed down a bit and try to judge a little better whether or not I was at all coherent. The problem is that thinking about this issue makes me so furiously angry that I start smoking at the ears and can’t type straight, and I’m afraid my point probably got lost.
I’m writing because I’m concerned about the character “Derpy Hooves,” though I don’t think I’m going to be able to express adequately my horror and disappointment on the subject.
I do not for an instant believe that the MLPFiM team, which in its writing has proven itself thus far to be fairly socially savvy and unoffensive, set out to create a caricature of the mentally handicapped; unfortunately, utterly regardless of the intent behind her, that’s how this character appears. She is cross-eyed, is dangerously clumsy and possibly unintelligent, has a voice that sounds like a deliberate parody of a mentally handicapped person’s, and has a name based on a word used as a slur against the mentally handicapped.
Other fans — primarily the fanbase that came up with the name “Derpy” in the first place — are protesting that “derp” is not actually used as a slur against the mentally handicapped. They are wrong. Whether or not some people use it in a less cruel context is completely irrelevant, given that it is still consistently and vitriolically used to equate mental handicaps with stupidity, failure, and uselessness.
Just because someone has not encountered something himself does not mean it does not exist; in this case, just because the term “derp” is less prevalent than, say, the use of “retarded” as a pejorative does not make it more acceptable or less unkind. Just because someone does not find something offensive himself does not mean it is inconceivable or inappropriate that someone else might. Just because one person is not bothered by something does not change the fact that another person is actively hurt.
Offensive terms are not offensive because someone arbitrarily decides they are, but, rather, because they were and are used to hurt and belittle others and to perpetuate poisonous attitudes. This being the case, they also cannot arbitrarily be dismissed. Much as we would like to, we can’t wish away the unkind context in which certain terms are used, and arbitrarily assigning a new, kinder definition does not in any way change or redeem the other.
This particular character has become more and more troublesome with every new appearance, given that each time we see her she seems to have acquired another characteristic of a mental handicap stereotype and is never portrayed in a positive light. The use of the name “Derpy” is an appalling and almost unbelievable final straw; it’s as if a character had been introduced who was an obvious caricature of a particular race and then revealed to be named a racial slur.
The name “Derpy” will remain offensive no matter what is done with the character, but the character herself could, I think, be less offensive if she were portrayed in a positive light with other characters interacting with her in a reasonable manner, affirming her value as a person and her place in society and emphasizing that unkindness to someone less skilled than you are (whether they are mentally handicapped, clumsy, or whatever the case may be) is poor friendship and inappropriate behavior.
Please consider this. I hope to see the series continue to present positive messages rather than negative, hurtful ones. Thank you for your time.