Adventures in Subcultures: The Bronies
I’m hoping this’ll be the start of an all-new series on Bad Reputation, where I delve into a misunderstood, secretive, or just slightly odd subculture. Today, we’re going to start with bronies.
Origin of Species
Let’s start with a little background.
Once upon a time (1982), in a marketing meeting far, far away (Rhode Island), Hasbro decided to take on the My Little Pony intellectual property. They marketed it pretty much exclusively at girls. The toys were sold with world-shakingly innovative features such as brushable hair and a unique mark on each character’s butt.
The theme continued with a couple of animated series – in which the ponies partook in such riveting activities as going to school and dating – and even a feature film. This was pretty standard stuff for Hasbro, who had long since realised the value of getting kids involved with a cartoon. My Little Pony continued on form, with few variations on the core premise, until 2010.
My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
Everything changed in 2010. Lauren Faust, animator supreme, was roused from her cryogenic slumber. Her mission: to turn a tedious, gender essentialist franchise into something that would break gender boundaries and interest a whole new generation in animated ponies with magical tattoos.
There’s also the horse porn fanart, but we’ll get onto that later.
Faust lists the things that she hopes to achive with MLP:FiM in her Ms. Magazine article about the issue. To quote -
There are lots of different ways to be a girl.
[...] This show is wonderfully free of “token girl” syndrome, so there is no pressure to shove all the ideals of what we want our daughters to be into one package.
[...] Cartoons for girls don’t have to be a puddle of smooshy, cutesy-wootsy, goody-two-shoeness. Girls like stories with real conflict; girls are smart enough to understand complex plots; girls aren’t as easily frightened as everyone seems to think. Girls are complex human beings, and they can be brave, strong, kind and independent–but they can also be uncertain, awkward, silly, arrogant or stubborn. They shouldn’t have to succumb to pressure to be perfect.
Yes, My Little Pony is riddled with pink, the leader is a Princess instead of a Queen and there probably aren’t enough boys around to portray a realistic society. These decisions were not entirely up to me. It has been a challenge to balance my personal ideals with my bosses’ needs for toy sales and good ratings. [...] 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.
Lauren Faust, I think I love you. And, apparently, I’m not the only one. MLP:FiM gained a fucking enormous audience, across all gender identities. For example, let’s take a look at this video.
Just fucking look at it.
Right, good, so what actually IS a Brony?
Wikipedia will know, right?
Brony is a village in the administrative district of Gmina Krzyżanów, within Kutno County, Łódź Voivodeship, in central Poland. It lies approximately 12 kilometres (7 mi) south of Kutno and 40 km (25 mi) north of the regional capital Łódź.
No, probably not. Let’s try Urban Dictionary and ignore anything referring to a sex act or requiring specialist equipment. It might take a while.
A name typically given to the male viewers/fans (whether they are straight, gay, bisexual, etc.) of the My Little Pony show or franchise. They typically do not give in to the hype that males aren’t allowed to enjoy things that may be intended for females.
That’s better. Pretty accurate, too, though I understand that it’s not a gender-specific term (so pay attention to the word ‘typically’ there).
So what do bronies care about? Why are they bronies? I wouldn’t dream of putting uninformed words in their mouths. I went digging for some My Little Pony forums, and put out a little questionnaire via Twitter and Reddit’s /r/mylittlepony.
I didn’t have much luck finding any insights on the forums, but I found this post very sweet…
…and this reply absolutely hilarious when taken out of context…
…but I digress. I digress pervily, but it’s definitely digression. Let’s move on to the questionnaire.
The Bronies Speak
“What is your gender identity?”
I discovered after putting the questionnaire online that some female MLP fans call themselves “pegasisters”, so there’s potential selection bias in the results. Still, it validates what I was hoping for – that the majority of responses were coming from the male-identified side of the fandom.1
“Were you a fan of the My Little Pony franchise before Friendship is Magic started?”
The community seems to be nearly exclusively focused on the new iteration of My Little Pony, without any pre-existing interest in the older material.
“Would you be happy for most or all of the people you know to know that you identify as a brony?”
The number of positive responses to this surprised me. MLP fans get a hard time online, and it can only be worse in meatspace. Perhaps the show’s message of love and tolerance results in a more optimistic viewpoint, or attracts those already predisposed to one.
“What appeals to you about the show itself?”
I thoroughly enjoy the idea that a show can be feminine, and ‘made for girls’, without being an overblown, over-prissy tea party. The deconstruction of gender binary and gender stereotypes present in the show is admirable and wonderful.
It is refreshing to see a show, even amongst children’s programming, that is completely lacking in cynicism. The show and the characters within it are un-selfconciously idealistic and positive. It provides fantastic role models for children of all genders, and the world it has built feels rich and fully occupied.
– Tim (@trivia_lad)
The entire show just feels right. When I’m watching MLP:FiM, it’s like I’m a kid again and I can enjoy the childishness of the entire thing without care.
– Shawn X (@shawnyall)
The character diversity (for once in a children’s show, the fashionable one isn’t the bad guy) and I’m a sucker for the innocent humour included. The characters also have tragic (in the classical sense of the word) flaws: the representative of loyalty is self-centered, the representative of generosity manipulative, and when the representative of Kindness gets mad, even the Hulk would tell her to calm down.
“What do you dislike or resent about the show itself?”
The vast majority of responses to this question were “nothing, nada, zero”. It seems the community is generally very happy with the show.
It’s a shame Faust had to leave, season 2 was a very different show compared to the first and even though it’s still good something felt like it was missing. I attribute that to Faust’s absence.
– Bret (@the_red_bobcat)
Although strong, not-even-slightly sexualised female role models are a wonderful thing, I am not wholly comfortable with the representation of male characters in the show. With only one or two exceptions, male ponies are represented as stupid, or comic foils, with roles that tend to be service occupations. Unless an episode requires a stallion MacGuffin (See: a Canterlot Wedding, where you get a male character of high social status, though he is very easily manipulated by a strong, evil female character).
– MiaVee (@MiaVee)
“What are you particularly proud of about the brony community? What do you enjoy about being part of it?”
I’m proud of what we do. We start charities, we raise money, we’re so united and loving. Really, I enjoy the love in the brony community. Everyone is just so understanding, caring, and enjoyable. When I first started watching and putting myself into the community, I didn’t know what to expect. But as I opened up more and more, they accepted me without question. They gave my life an entire new part to enjoy, and changed me forever.
– Shawn X (@shawnyall)
I particularly enjoy the community’s openness towards almost every type of person (at least this is true for the Reddit section).
I am proud of the grown men who are not ashamed of watching a girls’ show just because it is for girls. I like the “love and tolerate” message and the lack of outright trolls.
– Meghan E
I think one of the strongest indications of how the brony community aren’t all creepy, socially inept, hygiene-incapable, sexual predators is the eagerness of the producers and actors on the show to engage with them. The Hub ident produced to promote the second series, a reskin of Katy Perry’s “California Girls” called “Equestria Girls” gives a shout out to bronies, Tara Strong on Twitter actively engages with bronies (as does Andrea Libman, to a smaller extent).
– MiaVee (@MiaVee)
“What negative experiences have you had or known about in the brony community? What would you change if you could?”
The only real negative experience that I’ve known about is the discrimination against a sub-section of bronies called ‘cloppers’ – people who fantasize/look at lewd pictures of characters from the show. The cloppers themselves don’t bother me – it’s the fact that most of the fandom acts like it’s this skeleton in the closet and are extremely ashamed of it, when really it’s not a big deal.
– Rpspartin (@rpspartin)
Anything involving shipping. No no no no no just stop. The show is cute and fine without shoehorning madeup lesbian relationships.
The only bad times I’ve seen are all the haters that continue to try to bully us. But I wouldn’t change anything. Some of these people just need a friend and we’re more than happy to be that.
– no name provided
Having people approach you and say “My Little Pony? Are you an 8 year old girl?” is part of being a brony, but you can live with it because once you tell them to watch the show it’s an amazing feeling to have that same person come back to you and say “Yeah, sorry bro. That show is amazing!”. Anything that’s rock and roll enough for Andrew W.K. (who’s hosting a “What Would Pinkie Pie Do?” talk) is rock and roll enough for me!
– Bret (@the_red_bobcat)
There is still a lot of misogyny and ableism. Many bronies seem to think that because it’s good, it can’t possibly be for girls, and thus deny that it’s a girls’ show. Alternatively, many get offended when it’s called a girls’ show because they still equate “girly” with ’bad.“ I’d rather seem them embracing the girliness of it, and responding ”yes, it’s for girls, because girls are awesome. Everything for girls should be this awesome.”
– Meghan E.
I’m reluctant to use the term “brony” to describe myself because in every corner of the internet are snarky non-fans seeking to smear every adult fan of the show [...] as a fandom overall it seems a lot more welcoming, gentle and understanding than the elitist bullcrap you can get around diehard fangirls and boys for any other show/game/movie.
– MiaVee (@MiaVee)
“Free text time! Tell me whatever you think that I should know. Trivia, gossip, you name it. This is your moment.”
The brony community is huge, and rapidly growing. Like any other community of fans, it is impossible to define the composition, interests, and behavior of its members succinctly. I’d ask, gently, that you please keep this in mind while writing your article.
I became a slightly more positive and confident person by watching the show.
All ponies are equal, but some ponies are more equal than others, including Rarity exclusively.
Rarity is best pony. Anyone who says otherwise is just jealous they aren’t as fabulous
The only thing I request is that it be made known that Rarity is easily my favourite.
– Bret (@the_red_bobcat)
“The Derpy Controversy”
Ever attentive to their fans, Lauren Faust and the rest of the team decided to put Derpy in more prominent positions, and even give her a few lines.
This prompted a few equality-minded fans to complain – ‘derpy’ being a reference to presentations of learning disability. From One Survivor To Another wrote an open letter to Lauren Faust on the issue, and followed up with a smackdown to many of the privilege-tastic counter-arguments that were made.
A modified version of the episode featuring Derpy was released on iTunes with ‘fixed’ eyes; however, the original version was contained in the DVD release.
I’m not going to get into the rights and wrongs of this one here – you can read more about Derpy Hooves’ history on Know Your Meme if you like – but my point is simply that there was discourse in the fandom on the matter. There were strong feelings on both sides, but it’s nice to know that at least the argument could be conducted (mostly) reasonably.
What did we learn?
What, other than the fact that anyone who has expressed a preference wanted to be very vocal about their love for Rarity?
Well, it seems that the MLP fandom are extremely accepting. “Love and tolerance” – a term so popular that I presume it’s from the show – is paramount. We’ve seen this before, in communities like furries and otherkin. Don’t get me wrong – it’s an admirable trait – but it does lend itself to being accepting of the extremes of the community without significantly challenging them. Deserving or undeserving, that’s something that can get a community a bad name in general.
There is an undeniable degree of childish naïveté in the community. Potentially expected due to the nature of the show, it does seem to result in marginalising those who ‘clop’ or enjoy fanart/fanfic of the characters in adult situations. Controversial one, this, and this is only a personal view – but I see it as slightly odd but harmless. The fanart and fanfic are drawn and written, and so they don’t harm any real person. If someone wants to pat their flanks to imaginary ponies in compromising scenarios, it doesn’t harm anyone else.
The community seems to revel in the fact that the production team for the show is interested in what they care about, and are willing to name or give cameos to formerly nameless ‘background ponies’ that gain popularity with their fandom.
Bronies – and the ‘pegasisters’ that I’m sorry to have neglected in the survey – seem to be, on the whole, genuinely lovely people that just so happen to like cartoon ponies. Is their fandom a bit strange? Sure. That said, though, how many fandoms aren’t?
And now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to watch the first few episodes of the first season. It might be terrible – it might be great. What I’m fairly certain of, though, is that it’s not going to piss me off.
- Ed’s tiny note: I’m wondering how our trans* readers may feel about the way we’ve differentiated our categories here. On reflection, it might have been more inclusive to label the “male” and “female” categories “cis”. We did want to avoid any implication that someone who is trans* cannot simply have access to the general terms of “male” or “female” – this is not a view we hold! – but we may not have succeeded, and it’s just as arguable here that we’ve done the opposite. Similarly, the question of whether to involve more or fewer ‘categories’ took some ruminating, and Dave took a while crowdsourcing views on this. In any case, I thought I’d say we’re always happy to receive feedback for future surveys. [↩]