Megan Ruggiero
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Bronies: The Unexpected and Unashamed Fandom

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20% cooler than the rest

Take six colorful, adorable, and fun-loving ponies, toss in some catchy original musical numbers, a bit of humor, and a whole slew of universally relevant lessons on friendship and acceptance, and you’ve got a television show that is bound  to make children and parents jump (or buck) for joy. These key ingredients are the foundation beneath My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, a vastly popular animated series produced by Hasbro Studios and currently airing on The Hub Network (the fourth season kicks off in early 2014). My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic premiered in October 2010 and has successfully rebooted Hasbro’s My Little Pony brand with a wealth of opportunity to manufacture and license a wide range of toys, trinkets, clothing, bedding, and books, including a successful line of comics from world-renowned publisher, IDW (even Boston Comic Con will test the waters in the variant comic marketplace in August with IDW’s My Little Pony #6 cover).

Just by taking a gander at My Little Pony‘s core cast, you can get a pretty good idea of the audience that Hasbro is trying to target with this show. What young girl wouldn’t fall hopelessly in love with these delightful little equines? I’m sure you can probably guess that MLP does appeal to young boys as well, especially since one of the masterminds behind the cross-gender appeal of the Cartoon Network hit, The Powerpuff Girls, developed Friendship is Magic and served as an executive producer for Season 1 (all hail the geek goddess, Lauren Faust!). But then there are the Bronies, the audience that Hasbro and MLP show runners were not prepared for.

Pony up! Let me introduce you to the core cast of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (From left to right: Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Twilight Sparkle, and Fluttershy).

If you venture over to Urban Dictionary, you’ll find a whole slew of definitions for “Bronies,” including the good, the bad, and the truly awful (#7, in particular). Simply said, Bronies are adult male fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Most Bronies are between the ages of 18 and 35, with the average age being 21, according to the Brony Study (yes, this actually happened). Contrary to Brony-hater beliefs, most Bronies are heterosexual. Most are also college-educated or still attending high school. Though the term has been adopted by some adult female fans, especially those who dislike the female fandom name, Pegasisters, 86% of Bronies are in fact male. They’re also a particularly proud and vocal group of fans who carry their love for the show where ever they go, including numerous online communities. Brony MLP  talk first exploded on 4chan after the series premiere and took off quickly from there with blogs (Equestria Daily being the most popular), Facebook, Tumblr, Know Your Meme, and YouTube channels and episode mash-ups. MLP draws nearly a million search hits on deviantART.

So why have these guys contracted the Brony bug?

The Bronies band together with anti-hipster notions in mind.

1) The New Sincerity Movement. The New Sincerity Movement can essentially be described as anti-hipsterdom, or pop culture that fans watch, read, follow, or listen to with genuine interest and guilelessness. Bronies watch Friendship is Magic and consider it a pleasure, rather than a guilty pleasure. They’re not watching ironically. Part of this phenomenon is simply because nerd culture is in, but men also believe in the content and ideals behind this show and are unafraid to embrace and discuss what they love. In doing so, Bronies lash out against the social constraints that plague their age bracket and form safe and welcoming communities (see Brony Con and Fiesta Equestria). The Bronies also appreciate the purity and innocence of the characters and find such attributes refreshing in a somewhat dark, dismal, and overly sexualized world.

2) Millennial Escapism.  Millennials are post-9/11 kids. Their worldviews were irrevocably altered on that fateful day, and the Millennial generation is often associated with living in fear, and as a result, trying to extend adolescence. For Millennials, adulthood is connected to the disillusionment they felt after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and other horrific events that followed.

Fluttershy tells this dragon who’s boss and gives him the evil eye, rather than acting violently.

All fandoms do have a sense of escapism attached (Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, and The Hunger Games scream for attention here), but MLP is an extreme case, considering that all conflicts on the show are resolved by non-violent means. Lessons on friendship are included in every episode and cover topics like trust, kindness, loyalty, and of course, love. MLP is an all love and no hate kind of universe.

3) Emotional Malnutrition. Men and boys are not allowed to like pink. They’re not allowed to consume culture that is “for girls.” They’re also not allowed to feel. Lauren Faust’s little piece of genius fights these stereotypes tooth and hoof (sorry…had to). MLP is all about the feels, really. The show’s core cast care very deeply about each other, and they are never afraid to show it. Their actions and values are an antithesis of the “whatever” postmodern attitudes that are slowly becoming “so yesterday” in our public sphere. The Ponies’ relatable and complex personality traits, their catchy tunes and witty dialogue, and their fun adventures draw the men in, and then they realize there is a lot going on beneath the surface. This is the point at which casual fans become Bronies.

Just look how flipping happy they are to be friends with each other!

4) Friendship is Magic: A Universal Message. In the series premiere of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magicviewers are introduced to the Elements of Harmony: Loyalty, Kindness, Generosity, Honesty, Laughter, and Magic. Each member of the core cast represents one Element of Harmony, and in doing so, feeds the bond between these six besties, and each episode drives this point home in creative ways, rather than tumbling into the trap of cringe-worthy didactical  nonsense. One episode, “The Cutie Mark Chronicles,” reveals how each Pony earned their Cutie Mark, an aspect of the show that promotes individuality, embracing talents, and pursuing dreams. These six Ponies discover that they were connected before they even met, as if destiny brought them together. Sure, it’s a cliché notion, but there’s value in it for both women and men, girls and boys.

As a newly hooked and dedicated member of the MLP Herd, I would also like to add that Friendship is Magic is just plain good. I find myself laughing out loud in almost every episode, and I’m consistently impressed with this expansive and detailed world (very Westeros-like, minus the bloody and gruesome battle for the Iron Throne, and insert rainbows and butterflies, literally). It’s an entertaining show, and I don’t think my opinion would change if I was a guy. When I interact with Bronies from all types of cultural backgrounds, I am at peace. The MLP fandom is an easy one to join, and the Bronies are the first to extend a hand, or a costumed hoof, of welcome, and I say, “Stay Brony, my friends!”

If Westeros was birthed by a happier and less sadistic man than George R.R. Martin…

 

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16 Responses to Bronies: The Unexpected and Unashamed Fandom

  1. Joe June 27, 2013 at 5:08 pm

    This is what the world has come to?

    Reply
  2. Joe June 27, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    I’m afraid so, Joe… I’m afraid so… Nice name by the way.

    Reply
  3. Sean June 27, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    The idea of an extended youth based on a post-9/11 disillusionment is a fascinating idea…makes me re-think the idea of the quarter life crisis. Have you talked to Myc about this? You should.

    Reply
  4. Brony June 27, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    This is an amazing article that explain perfectly the MLP: FIM fandom!

    Reply
  5. Megan Ruggiero June 27, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    You are absolutely right. I must discuss with Myc. I want to make sure I brought up Millennial escapism with some purpose behind it. Most people just think we’re whiny isolationists who are too wrapped up in technology for our own good. There is a reason some of us are the way we are and great things happen because of it, like awesome fan communities! And Brony, thanks for your comment. :) I would love to do a follow-up piece on this in a month or so. Any thoughts?

    Reply
  6. Scottbee June 27, 2013 at 8:15 pm

    Interesting how the first two comments are bashful, shows how society simply can’t accept any deviance in the norm. Also, to highlight Sean’s comment, people have sought disillusionment through many different mediums of art for ages. This isn’t a new phenomena that is occurring because of a nations fear, it’s simply the progress of humanity through the slow breakdown of dense and powerful gender identities that have been handed down from generation to generation.

    The original creator of the show Lauren Faust made the show with the intention of making an excellent work of art that people of all ages would enjoy. I understand that many factors have played into making the show as popular as it has become, but the fact remains that a well written television show can appease any audience if it’s well written and possesses an acceptable level of voice work and animation (of which the show also hits the mark).

    Reply
  7. Megan Ruggiero June 27, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    Scott, so true. The voice work and animation on MLP: FiM is some of the best on the air right now. Ashleigh, Tara, Andrea, and Tabitha are perfection.

    Thanks for expanding on the idea of disillusionment. I was addressing the point that 9/11 pulled up the veil of innocence and safety over many Millennials’ eyes. Your thought about disillusionment in regard to gender identities might be the more interesting direction for future pieces on the topic.

    Reply
  8. Kam June 27, 2013 at 8:40 pm

    This show is incredibly meme-friendly. Internet level over 9000.

    Reply
  9. Nissl June 27, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    Since you said you might write more, I have one thought on the first two sections of the article. It’s clear that for many the show is an escape to a kinder, gentler world and an antidote to predominantly hyperviolent and sexual media. But are there ways in which it’s actually less escapist than other more “adult” media that are currently the rage?

    If I go watch, say, Archer, I’m watching an unrealistically difficult group of jerks yell at each other. It’s very clever, but I’ve never cared what happens to the characters and I put it down as soon as I leave the show. Even with dark dramas like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, I generally feel some excitement over the unpredictability and power games, but not much else. I don’t relate to the characters, because I’ve never run an autocratic kingdom where everyone is trying to stab me in the back, nor have I considered going into meth dealing. Sure, there are some scenes of shocking violence in these shows, but after watching a few dozen anime series, it’s pretty hard to actually get to me.

    When it comes to FiM, I find that I’m engaged emotionally by the smart, likable characters on the show; in my particular case, Twilight is probably the closest analogue to my personality I’ve ever seen on TV, both positive and negative. Indeed, much of the show feels pretty similar emotionally to how my circle of friends and colleagues interacts, even if it’s an all-female group of ponies in a magical fantasy land. It makes me care. It makes the show’s subtler messages about life sometimes hit home with surprising power, even if the lesson of the day is something every adult should have learned decades ago.

    Reply
  10. Vincent June 27, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    I never thought such things could be put into words so well…but this is a very intelligent and well-written article. A great interpretation and definitely does the nature of the fandom and its origins justice.

    Reply
  11. Anonymous June 27, 2013 at 11:23 pm

    Since you said you might write more, I have one thought on the first two sections of the article. It’s clear that for many the show is an escape to a kinder, gentler world and an antidote to predominantly hyperviolent and sexual media. But are there ways in which it’s actually less escapist than other more “adult” media that are currently the rage?

    If I go watch, say, Archer, I’m watching an unrealistically difficult group of jerks yell at each other. It’s very clever, but I’ve never cared what happens to the characters and I put it down as soon as I leave the show. Even with dark dramas like Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad, I generally feel some excitement over the unpredictability and power games, but not much else. I don’t relate to the characters, because I’ve never run an autocratic kingdom where everyone is trying to stab me in the back, nor have I considered going into meth dealing. Sure, there are some scenes of shocking violence in these shows, but after watching a few dozen anime series, it’s pretty hard to actually get to me.

    When it comes to FiM, I find that I’m engaged emotionally by the smart, likable characters on the show; in my particular case, Twilight is probably the closest analogue to my personality I’ve ever seen on TV, both positive and negative. Indeed, much of the show feels pretty similar emotionally to how my circle of friends and colleagues interacts, even if it’s an all-female group of ponies in a magical fantasy land. It makes me care. It makes the show’s subtler messages about life sometimes hit home with surprising power, even if the lessons of the day are things every adult should have learned decades ago.

    Reply
  12. Felicia June 28, 2013 at 12:50 am

    Megan! You forgot Tabitha! Rarity would not be too pleased with you!

    Reply
  13. Megan Ruggiero June 28, 2013 at 8:55 am

    Felicia, oh no! You’re right. I swear I meant to type her name too. Amending now. She is super talented as well. Can’t believe I forgot her.

    Vincent, thanks! I think there is much more to be said too, which brings me to Nissl’s point. That’s a great idea for further exploration. I didn’t want to overload this particularly piece since it was meant to serve as an introduction to the fandom. Since my conclusion in this piece makes a somewhat unsupported claim (the show is good), I think that could serve as a jumping off point for a next installment. Why are these characters so relatable? What makes the stories so engaging? I completely know where you’re coming from about Twilight. Rainbow Dash is my double on the show (almost identical), and I think Faust has tapped into some pretty standard personality types and made them complex and multi-faceted, which I think children and adults can benefit from seeing.

    Reply
  14. Nimaru June 28, 2013 at 9:24 am

    It’s just a cartoon that’s good when people expected it to be bad. Bronies aren’t any different than pretty much any other fandom.

    See my graphic comparison here: http://nimaru.deviantart.com/art/The-Problem-With-Being-A-Brony-372768705

    Reply
  15. Joe June 28, 2013 at 9:35 am

    Nimaru, that’s actually a really badass graphic!! Would you mind if we ran it on this site? Of course, all credit would go to you!

    Reply
  16. Megan Ruggiero June 28, 2013 at 9:54 am

    Nimaru, that is a fantastic graphic! We’d love if you would give us permission to use it as a follow-up to this Brony piece. Really nice work.

    You’re absolutely right that the Brony fandom is no different that many other fandoms. That might be an interesting avenue to explore for a future piece on the topic. It could also tie into Nissl’s point above about what makes MLP different. I see a great compare and contrast piece on the horizon.

    Thanks for the discussion, all.

    Reply

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