Introduction & Chapter 1: OMGWTFBBQ PONY
Author’s note: This book has footnotes, listed in parentheses (#). This is a bit clunky to put into a blog (sorry, not good at the html!) but should work well when published in book format.
Our Fandom is Magic
A Yearbook of the Fandom to Date
Riftwing the Pegasus
You’ve seen them: smiling, pastel colored ponies grinning at you from a web comic or forum, seemingly unrelated to what you were just reading. YouTube videos with Ponies. Pony memes. Pony figures on a male co-worker’s desk.
To some, this is a frightening scenario. To others, it causes sheer confusion. Any reaction is possible, from a quiet respect to flaming, baseless hatred. It is indeed an odd set of circumstances that has caused My Little Pony to become not only popular, but to have escalated into a fad in the popular and Internet cultures. It has created a massive and growing fan base far more diverse than the show had ever intended: a fan base whose roots remain a mystery to the general populace.
Through this book, I hope to explain the answers to the questions that Pony fans most often provoke. As you start this journey, remember that even if the idea of Bronies is odd, there are many other crazy hobbies out there (like collecting porcelain clowns [no offense meant to you collectors, though]). Remember that no one is alike, and everyone is allowed to be themselves and express their opinions and affections openly. The Brony subculture also supports this freedom, and promotes ‘love and tolerance’. Yet, these values are meant to be shared by mankind, no matter where you are from or where you are now. Read on, and keep an open mind.
Chapter 1: OMGWTFBBQ PONY
When I was a little girl (or filly as the Bronies say), I wore glasses and was a real bookworm. I was a straight ‘A’ student (except for penmanship) and was very rigorous with my homework. For any essay, teachers always drilled home that if you wrote about the answers to “the 5 W’s”, you would do well on the paper. Such advice seems exceedingly appropriate for this topic of ‘the Brony’. Some questions are very difficult to answer, but I hope that the following responses will serve as a primer for the rest of this study. The answer to the final question, “Why?”, will take up the entirety of this book. It may not be fully answered even then, but I hope that this volume will serve to show just how complex a creature this fandom is.
As a side note, because this entire book will be one long answer, taking quotes out of context may prove a disservice. Please feel free to contact me if you want to quote my work, and I can help you to hone it. On the other hand, if you have an epiphany and can answer the question of “Why are there Bronies?” in one or two sentences, I would love to hear it!
What is a Brony? Bronies are fans of the series My Little Pony (MLP), specifically the new series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (MLP: FIM). This series is known as the fourth generation of MLP (G4), stemming from the original series in the 80’s(1). It was created by the highly accomplished, Emmy Award-nominated animator Lauren Faust and her husband, Craig McCracken(2). The current iteration is being shown on the HUB television network on Saturday mornings at 9am Eastern Standard Time. The series is produced by Hasbro Studios and DHX Media Vancouver (formerly Studio B Productions). MLP: FIM won the CableFAX award for Best Animated Series on October 18th 2011.(3)
Over the Summer of 2011, a critical mass of bronies began to make their mark upon the Internet. By the time the first season had aired, the Bronies had created works about the show, its characters, as well as art, fan fiction, music, and hundreds of tropes. Bronies themselves are considered to be one of the top 10 memes(4) of 2011 according to KnowYourMeme.com(5). If they openly admit they are fans, Bronies express their appreciation of the show in a myriad of ways, which will be detailed in this book. Those who conceal their affections are still called Bronies, though they are usually worried that being known as such a fan would reflect poorly on their character or ‘manhood’. This may be due to a lack of self-confidence, but it is also in large part due to the critical eye of the general population. I urge all of you to accept Bronies, and I hope that this book can convince you that Bronies are normal fans that show their love for the series, similar to how Trekkies (or Trekkers) show their love of Star Trek to varying degrees – from a passive ‘I watch it’, to owning DVDs, figures, posters, etc., to dressing up at their favorite convention.
Who are Bronies? Fans of the show affectionately call themselves Bronies. They can be male or female, straight or gay, young or old. While My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a show ostensibly created for little girls, the ‘typical’ Brony is a straight male in his mid-20’s(6).
The term Brony is generally not attributed to the phrase “Bro-ponies” (with ‘Bro’ being short for Brother), or “boy ponies” but rather many argue that it came from the /b/ random board of 4chan. Hence /b/(R)ony… likely because /b/ony just sounded too immature. Which came first? The world may never know.
Interestingly, although /b/ grew the online fan base, it was the /co/ cartoon 4chan board that originally highlighted MLP. However, it became victim of trolling attacks and there have been periods of time when ponies were completely banned from /co/. This cycle of hate continues on both boards to this day.
Some female fans take offense to the term brony, though a different term for female fans has not yet been agreed upon. Though most bronies agree that ‘brony’ is gender neutral, there are some female fans that don’t like the term brony and instead prefer the term ‘Pegasister’. Being girl myself, I personally loathe that term, even though I like pegasi. Why not just call them Giroanies? Sister Saddles? Ponisters? Bronettes? It seems a bit much to go to those lengths. It is a sticking point, and some defend the need for females to be separate, while others believe that this is actually dividing the bronies into factions which do not accurately reflect the demographics of the fandom. As for me: I’m a girl, and I’m a brony. Deal with it.
On the other hand,Sam Keeper writes that MLP: FIM has done more for the feminism cause than anything else(7). Putting the female debate aside, the fact that males love MLP:FIM show and think that not only is it cool, but it is perfectly fine for a man to do like, makes this ‘girl’ oriented product equal in men’s eyes. This is much like how girls are accepted if they like Transformers or comic book heroes. Will MLP be the beginning of acceptance of men, whether gay or not, that like doing the same thing as women? Only time will tell, but I would love it if that were the case.
MLP: FIM premiered on October 10, 2010, and began picking up steam in the spring of 2011. Each episode is approximately 22 minutes long, and there are 26 episodes in a season. I, along with many other followers, hopped on the bandwagon at this time, due to the emergence of fan websites and podcasts which spread the pony love, and also served as an easy reference link to send to others to introduce them to the phenomenon. Since that time, thousands of Pony websites have emerged, touting news, art, music, merchandise and fan fiction, to name a few things. As it grew, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic became a pure example of the raw creative power of the Internet when it sets its collective mind to something. Many of these topics will be addressed later in this book.
Season 2 is currently underway, and the show has signed on for a third season.
Besides being shown in the United States, My Little Pony airs in dozens of countries, as well as having an Internet presence that spans the globe, creating a universal fan base. From tiny random islands off the coast of Africa to major cities, fans can be found the world wide.
Bronies also have a massive Internet presence that spans the globe. Through their interconnections, they are able to come together not just to nerd out about the most recent episode, but also to do good both in their local area, and in areas of the world that are in need. Though it has not been advertised,bronies are also very active with charity groups. As bronies are generally older and do believe in the spirit of charity (and Rarity, the Element of generosity), it did not take long for charity causes to begin to receive support from Bronies. While local groups of bronies may volunteer at their neighborhood charities, the Internet fandom has also rallied behind many causes, a few of which I will summarize below:
Pony artwork and physical crafts are sold on for charity via eBay donates. For example, when pony merchandise is signed by voice actors, they have been auctioned to benefit Toys for Tots. Other bronies create shirts, calendars, art and toys that are sold to help children in need. Finally, groups of bronies that like to commentate while watching episodes, podcasters and even video gamers will livecast marathons of their endeavours and ask for donations to charities such as the Make a Wish foundation as they progress through the hours.
One of the more successful Brony projects is called the ‘Humble Brony Bundle’. This is based off of the Humble Indie Bundle, which collects money to purchase packs of indie games. Donations go to the Red Cross and Child’s Play, and a smaller portion goes to support indie game artists. So far four bundles have been purchased through Humble Brony, totaling over $15,000 USD.
Your Siblings is a group of activists that work under the ideal that everyone should care for those in need, like they were siblings even if they are far away. They hosted an art drive over the winter of 2011 to support their handpicked charity projects. Bronies for Good is a not-for-profit organization that has created past projects to gather funds for those less fortunate. For example, Smile! A charity music album(8) was able to raise $21,000USD that was given to the Children’s Cancer Association. Bronies for Good and Your Siblings are also teaming up for the biggest charity endeavour yet, called Seeds of Kindness. The goal of this drive will be to earn $10,000USD through the purchase of My Little Remix albums and donations, to be used to build a clinic in Uganda. Following that, they will gather funds for a green village in Burundi.
This answer is exceedingly complex. Every Brony has their own personal reason why the show resonates with them. This book will explore the various aspects of the fandom, each of which draws some fans in.
What about me?
I, personally, was a fan as a little girl. I had curly pigtails and a very active imagination. With two younger sisters, I am certain that back then we would compete to play with our Little Ponies. I enjoyed braiding my ponies’ hair most of all. I used the same barrettes that would go in my hair on the ponies. Of course it got ratty and messy, but it was fun. They were girly toys, to be certain.
I remember that I had a little blue Pegasus with rainbow hair and gemstone eyes that I played with until its cutie mark (pony hip tattoos) of three popsicles was faded off. Thus, when I watched the first episode of the newest reboot, My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic, I automatically associated her with Rainbow Dash (though I thought Dash was a guy).
I’m sure my sister owned Apple Jack, another character that is in the G4 reboot. I remembered her, but I didn’t really like her. She belonged with my sister’s Strawberry Shortcake toys. My sister also got Snuzzle, a white pony with a pink mane and pink hearts as her cutie marks. I think I stole her from my sister more than Applejack. I was such a mean older sister.
Yet, I wasn’t a very girly girl. Although I did have these first generation (G1) ponies, I started to like GI Joe, Thundercats and Transformers more than My Little Pony and Strawberry Shortcake. And while the series itself I watched, I didn’t watch on rerun like I did with the Popples. Somehow, Potato Chip popping into and out of his pouch was a lot neater to girl-me than happy ponies were.
I wouldn’t say it was my loss, but I am admitting that my pony exposure in the eighties is limited. I liked them, and I remember the episodes, but I am not a massive fan like some are, that continued working with model ponies all the way through to this newest iteration of pony. It’s impressive, but I don’t regret leaving my toys behind.
Still, seeing this cartoon brings back a feeling of childhood excitement. I see characters I know and love, I enjoy the personalities of the characters and can relate to every one. I love the music in the show and will sing along with it. I also like to see how everyone else reacts with passion to such a simple idea – ponies that share friendship and harmony, all the while having fun.
This feeling was reflected in the G4 show’s co-creator, Lauren Faust. In past years she had also worked on The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends (both of which also drew me in).
Originally she approached Hasbro with her “Galaxy Girls” toys, hoping to transform them into an animated series. Instead, Hasbro liked her ‘new feeling’ but wanted it to be translated into ponies, not these new-fangled Galaxy Girls.
Allegedly, it wasn’t an easy sell to get Faust to switch, as Lauren herself thought that historically, shows based on girls’ toys usually had little character development and lacked any hint of an exciting plot. Yet, Faust gave it a try and made her spin on My Little Pony include diverse personalities with varying skills, conflict both with friends and enemies, and stories that she herself imagined that her childhood toy ponies should have had.(9)
The more upbeat and interesting way that Lauren Faust presents this series is thanks to her obsessive fan worship of the original series. Yet the re-imagined episodes are not as dark and intense as the old generation 1 show was. While ponies could be enslaved in the original series, the worst thing that has happened in this show has been having the ponies’ magic stolen from them during a game. This is mostly due to a change in television standards. Faust herself has said that darker plot devices would not have passed the concept phase nowadays, which is a bit of a disappointment to the older Bronies. However, as the series has progressed, the ratio of light to dark, humorous to serious seems to be in perfect balance, and the show is a joy to watch.(10)
Lauren Faust’s story ideas and concept art took hold, and Hasbro approved the show with Faust as Executive Producer. They tasked her with creating a (affectionately named) ‘Pony Bible’ to formally pitch the show. She and her team took these ideas and chose DHX Media Vancouver (formerly Studio B) to animate. This was a significant selection, as their Adobe Flash animation gives MLP: FIM its distinctive look and feel.
There is plenty more written about how the show got started, but that is not the main focus of this text. Wikipedia links to many other sites that discuss this creative process at length, and interesting as it may be, we must now turn our focus back to the show itself.
(1) Known as the First Generation of My Little Pony, or G1
(2) Also known for their work on Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends
(4) Memes are defined by Merriam-Webster to be “an idea, behavior, style, or usage that spreads from person to person within a culture”. Generally speaking, it’s something that ‘goes viral’ and becomes popular incredibly fast.
(5) Source: knowyourmeme.com – Best Memes of 2011
(6) Source: bronystudy.com, December 2011 Survey
(7) Source: stormingtheivorytower.blogspot.com – My Little Feminist – Cartoons are Magic
(8) This album contains 77 minutes of My Little Pony-inspired music from various musical genre.