My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic/Recap/S1/E14 Suited for Success/Analysis
Satire, Intertextuality and Self-Reference in "Suited for Success"
"There is also a need to incorporate fashion play into the show, but only one character is interested in it and she is not a trend follower but a designer who sells her own creations from her own store. We portray her not as a shopaholic but as an artist."
"Suited for Success" is an excellent episode in many ways. One of these is the Satire and Parody woven through the plot and different scenes, and the complex way in which it seems to discuss the issue of Rarity's concept and character. The following analysis may go a little too far in seeing layers of meaning in the story, but it represents a possible way of viewing it, and should have at least some kind of connection with what the creators originally intended.
The key to understanding this episode (not that you need to understand it on this level to enjoy it as a perfectly good story, or even as more generic satire) seems to be the above quote from Lauren Faust, and in general her aims and attitude in creating the concepts of the series, as presented throughout that article. This "fashion play" aspect is mentioned a little defensively and as if the requirement was an imposition. On the other hand, it is presented as something that has been successfully incorporated into the ethos of the show and is now a justified part of it.
Central to this understanding of the story is the two-part song "Art of the Dress", with the first part expressing something quite different from the "Dark Reprise" but obviously having a connection with it. Even its title is telling, equating dressmaking and art, although I admit I have no confirmation it is correctly attributed. The song is even better understood through the original on which it is based, "Putting it Together", although this is another point at which I have to make an admission, namely that I do not know anything else about that song beyond having watched the linked video. There are clearly two intertwined themes in "Putting it Together" as it appears here. One is Executive Meddling. The other is the process of making art (in a commercial context): "the art of making art"—which, specifically, is "putting it together".
This brings us to the first version of Rarity's song. Here, it's very clear that she is making art. For a start, the line that matches "stitching it together" in "Putting it Together" is... well. The first half of the song, then, can be seen as connecting to the "art" aspect of the original. Intertextuality aside, the scene shows Rarity enjoying herself and working efficiently under inspiration such as an artist would hope they could always have. This makes it clear any notions of her interests as the token fashion pony being frivolous are untenable. She's talented, ambitious and successful, and now we see her passion for and enjoyment of her craft clearly. In other words, she's an artist with a career who loves what she's doing. The difference to the "shopaholic" "trend follower" mentioned as the worse alternative by Faust could hardly be greater. Even her superficiality (in this case not to be confused with her love of attention) gains something of a justification in the light of making things look fabulous being her artistic calling.
The second take on the song obviously draws on the Executive Meddling aspects of "Putting it Together". It goes so far as to borrow, adapt and make up lines that make less and less sense in the context of the story, particularly "Make sure it stays within our budget." This could even be seen as meant as communicating that something more than the obvious surface story is going on. That something would be satire, of course. Needless to say, at this point Rarity is no longer enjoying herself and the whole process is a mess. Returning to this side of the original song, comments in "Putting It Together" about how something is not going to sell call up some flashbacks of Faust's account of how hard it had been to find a sponsor for any idea of a reasonable animation show for girls.
The other element besides the songs that rises to prominence for this interpretation are the two similarly contrasting Fashion Shows. It's fairly obvious the story is a satire of executive meddling. The first fashion show complements this with parody. The show is hilariously ridiculous and embodies the negative stereotype of a fashion show many people probably have (I know I do), with pompous presentation of absurd-looking clothes. At this point, the meddling has overcome the art, and the result is not pretty. The second fashion show is the opposite: It's done in the artist's terms, and it's a great scene in spite of now containing no trace of irony. All the ridiculousness is gone, even though it is still a fashion show.
The connections of self-reference that can be seen in how the story is constructed are somewhat brain-bending. (This paragraph especially is where my interpretations can't possibly be proven to really have been intended by the creators in all their complicatedness.) Rarity represents the artist trying to cope with external demands without compromising her vision. On the other hand, she is the product of the creator(s) of the show so coping. Her art is both representative of the art, and the means by which the art is maintained. Fashion is a demand from executive meddling, but in this episode also that upon which the demands are made. As such, it can also be seen as an analogy for girls' cartoons, where the enforced stereotype is highly negative (the first fashion show) but giving creators true freedom results in something better. Then again, Faust's comment quoted above can be interpreted as implying she's not terribly keen on fashion as an idea, which makes the second fashion show also analogous to the whole episode itself—it's a good scene even though it's a fashion show, and the episode about fashion is still great even though much of the success and quality of the show is based on it not being about things like that. Finally, the second fashion show being good also works as an analogy for Rarity herself.
Of course, perhaps the best thing about this episode is that it doesn't need any of the above to work. Even with no satire whatsoever perceived in it, it would still be a good, well told, fun story that makes Rarity more sympathetic than pretty much any other episode in the first season.
- It would be counterproductive to pretend nameless neutrality in this analysis. The best way to deal with subjectivity is to acknowledge it.