Bronies: The Unexpected and Unashamed Fandom
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.
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?
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.
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.
4) Friendship is Magic: A Universal Message. In the series premiere of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, viewers 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!”
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Megan works for Hasbro, Inc. and spends her days reading My Little Pony and Transformers manuscripts. Jealous much? You should be. Megan dreams of owning her own publishing house but really just wants to move to a mountainous place, own a slew of Corgis, avenge some book burnings, and wait for the Doctor to bring her aboard the TARDIS. Megan is currently a proud and tenacious editor for The Electric Feast.