If you don’t know what a “Brony” is by now then I’m assuming that you lead a very fulfilling or, at least, active life away from your computer. You probably read books often and have a subscription to a print news publication. But if I’ve piqued the interest of anyone who has yet to hear about this fascinating community, Bronies are adult male fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. That’s right, brony is another one of this generation’s clever portmanteaus.
Friendship is Magic, which debuted on relatively new cable network The Hub in 2010, tracks the magenta, lavender, and baby blue adventures of unicorn pony Twilight Sparkle and her equally cutesy-named hoofed friends (Fluttershy, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and Rarity). The cartoon, like its animated film and TV predecessors produced in the ’80s and ’90s, is based on Hasbro’s toy ponies (Hasbro co-owns The Hub) and targeted at little girls. But, as many of us have discovered in the past couple of months, the show’s most ardent supporters are Bronies; 4,000 pony enthusiasts attended Bronycon 2012, a Friendship is Magic fan convention. That enthusiasm has a lot of people confused, but I think it’s exciting.
These days, adults watch children’s shows; it’s a fairly normal occurrence. Long-running cartoons like Spongebob Squarepants and the more recent Adventure Time revolve around absurd humor with cross-generational appeal. So I don’t think anyone cares that Bronies, many of whom are in their 20s, are fanatical about a cartoon intended for kids. However, the fact that these adults are men and obsessed with what is perhaps the girliest show of all time is something that a lot of people have trouble wrapping their heads around.
First, just to get this out of the way, there is a Brony subsect who are referred to as “Cloppers.” These are guys who tune into Friendship is Magic, drool over the pony hindquarters and create (or just view) some of the most inexplicable pornographic fan art that you’ll ever decide to Google in the middle of reading a sentence that I’ve written. Part of the reason that some find the Brony phenomenon unsettling is because there’s a misconception that this sexual component is what’s driving every Brony – be they Clopper or gentlecolt – to watch the show. But all you have to do is go lurking in the comments section of Equestria Daily, a Friendship is Magic fansite, and you’ll find that that isn’t true. There was an ironic element to the fandom early on, born of pony themed Internet memes, but now there are Bronies who sincerely love this cartoon, listing its music, animation, and promotion of “love and tolerance” among the reasons that they watch.
Others who are struggling to understand what might draw a grown man to this show question the masculinity of the fans. Some fans are probably sensitive (some might identify with timid Fluttershy or the easily excited Pinky Pie), but what’s more interesting is that a whole community, with its own vocabulary and group of undesirables (damn, those Cloppers!), sprung out of this particular show. There’s even Brony music. A lot of it. (My favorite song, at the moment, is “Pony Swag” by Swagberg.) All-consuming fandom has existed forever – even Paleolithic man was drawing horse fan art all over his cave – but this goes deeper than that, this is about people tying their identity to a show. And if Bronies really are taking Friendship is Magic’s message about tolerance to heart and applying it to their every day lives, then a morality system has grown out of this show as well.
A TV show was a rallying point here and it seems to be one of the more significantly sizable movements – a product of the 21st century facilitated by the Internet. Instead of seeing the Brony fad (or lifestyle…who knows how long this will last?) as creepy, I see it as an example of how important TV can be.
Veering away from TV and thinking about pop culture in general, I wonder if the Brony phenomenon, whether conscious or not, is a response to the way that geek culture has been co-opted by the general public. Is it necessary, now that everyone seems to like Star Wars and comics to latch on to TV shows or movies or whatever that are less accessible to everypony?