My Little Brony: Understanding the Brony Fandom

broniesThe Internet is home to a large variety of fandoms that dedicate themselves to shows and video games such as Minecraft, Star Wars, Doctor Who, and so on. Most of these fandoms are home to people that are appealed by their targeted demographics. The same can be said for any form of media that targets audiences such as kids, teens, and adults. Usually, people are not bothered by this unless they hear of somebody that watches or plays media that wasn’t intended for them. The concept of targeted demographics has been challenged recently by a group of fans that has come to be collectively known by both the Internet and the real world as “bronies,” or male My Little Pony fans.

To better understand what exactly a brony is, we must first discuss My Little Pony. It started out as a toyline created by Hasbro in 1983, alongside other lines such as G.I. Joe and Transformers, except that it was intended to appeal to young girls. It soon became a success, and would go on to spawn several television shows and other products. The shows, like many others based on toys (Ex. Power Rangers, Transformers, etc.), existed as a means of promoting toys to their audience in order to get them to buy their products. There have been four different shows based around My Little Pony, spanning over a thirty year time period. The fourth show, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, is where the brony craze began. The show was created by Lauren Faust, who is known for having created the shows The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. It’s also worth noting that she also grew up watching My Little Pony as a child as well, so it wasn’t surprising that she accepted Hasbro’s offer to make the show. Friendship is Magic aired on Hasbro’s The Hub channel on October 10, 2010. Keep in consideration that the show up to this point had always been geared toward a young, female audience.

The term “brony,” is a portmanteau of the words “bro” and “pony”, used to describe any male between the ages of 18-25 of any orientation, ethnicity, and so on, that are dedicated to watching and discussing the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Other activities done by bronies include everything from cosplaying to attending conventions to making music about the show. The term originated from 4Chan.

Soon after the show began to air on television, Amid Amidi, a writer from an online website called Cartoon Brew, would write an article that criticized the show titled “The End of the Creator-Driven Era in TV Animation”. In his article, he argued that the show, along with the creation of The Hub, marked the end for “creator-driven animation”, in which animation favored originality over already established material, and that having names like Lauren Faust and Rob Renzetti work on a toy-based series such as My Little Pony was an “admission of defeat of the entire movement, a white flag-waving moment for the TV animation industry.” Ironically, this very article would generate an interest in the show, which resulted in a positive response from viewers. But this was mere child’s play to what would happen next.

4Chan, a notorious imageboard website known for its huge influence on internet culture (both good and bad), was where the first generation of bronies appeared. Discussion about MLP:FiM first started on 4Chan’s /co/ (Comics and Cartoons) thread with low expectations; it was not until the first episode aired that users began to show interest. Fans would soon discover Amidi’s article about the show and proceeded to criticize the article’s absurd accusations. Threads about the new show grew exponentially on 4Chan beyond /co/. Interest in the show got to the point where simple discussions about the show itself would transform into mindless spam and troll posts that would constantly harass those who didn’t take interest, which in turn led to trolling attacks by users from other boards. The amount of pony content was so numerous, and the situation got so out of hand, that it caused the moderators to drop the ban hammer upon any discussion pertaining to the show (even uttering the word “pony” would warrant a ban).

This move however proved to be more beneficial than harmful to the fanbase, as this had encouraged fans to join other sites such as YouTube and Tumblr, and even create sites dedicated to the show such as PonyChan and Equestria Daily. Some sites even had to make sections for MLP because of the amount of content that was pouring into them. The ban on 4Chan was lifted on February 2011, complete with a set of rules that would help to contain discussions about MLP. A year later, the /mlp/ thread was created specifically for the fans, with Christopher Poole (called “moot” on the website) founder of 4Chan, apologizing to the fandom, and saying that “pony fans needed a board from the get-go.” Despite the drama that occurred, 4Chan was a major benefactor in the rise of bronies. The influence of the fanbase would spread all over the Internet and then eventually the real world, with more people becoming fans.

“Reaction to their love of the show usually ranges from disbelief to outright criticism and judgment, suspicion even that there’s a sexual nature to their obsession. Not so, they say – they’re just, in one word, nerds.” ~ Alex Consiglio, 2013

The brony fandom has garnished a mixed reaction from outsiders in both the real world and the Internet alike. A common criticism of the fanbase is the idea of a grown man that watches a show that is normally geared toward young girls. They believe that it is wrong for them to be into a show like Friendship is Magic, claiming that doing so puts their mentality up for questioning. Despite these claims of them being manchildren or pedophiles, the majority of bronies just happen to be normal people. On the other side, people have praised bronies for stepping out of already established gender roles. Even cast members such as Tara Strong, John de Lancie, and Lauren Faust herself have come to embrace this odd yet unique fanbase. The reason for negative comments toward the fanbase can be equated to the fact that My Little Pony had always been known as girl’s show for more than thirty years.

“Shy men credit the show with helping them break out of their shells, especially through meet-ups with other Bronies; others escape through the show’s fantasy and some apply its lesson in life, like how to deal with being bullied.” ~ Alex Consiglio, 2013

Fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic have cited many reasons for why they are hooked to the show. The common reasons are high quality animations for a show that is based around flash, excellent characters that have more personality than the typical archetypes found in girly shows, and a “perfect storm of ‘80s nostalgia and cultural irony.” It should also be noted that Lauren Faust wrote the show to be more gender neutral rather than for a young female audience, to better allow viewers of any age or gender to watch the show. Marsha Redden, a psychologist in Arizona, had conducted a study on bronies through interviews and surveys. She discovered that bronies also get three uses out of the show, which is “socializing, escape/avoidance, and conflict resolution.”

If people can get past the fact that bronies watch a television show that had been recognized as a young girl’s show for almost thirty years, they would come to realize that they are really no different from fans of other franchises such as Star Wars. Like them, they attend conventions, create art and music, and even buy merchandise. Some fans also use the lessons that are taught in the show as a way of improving their everyday lives.

Alex Consiglio Toronto, Star. “Bronies buck trend.” Toronto Star (Canada) 26 June 2013: Newspaper Source. Web. 24 Sept. 2013.
Amidi, Amid. “The End of the Creator-Driven Era in TV Animation.” Cartoon Brew. Cartoon Brew, LLC, 19 Oct 2010. Web. 26 Sept. 2013.
The Brony Chronicles – A Documentary on My Little Pony and Bronies (Part 1). Dir. Saberspark. Perf. Saberspark. YouTube. Youtube, 13 June 2013. Web. 24 Sept. 2013
Matheson, Whitney. “Bronies’ Explores the Men Who Adore My Little Pony.” USA Today. Gannet, 12 Sept. 2013. Web 24 Sept. 2013.
Watercutter, Angela. “My Little Pony Corrals Unlikely Fanboys Known as ‘Bronies’.” Conde Nast Digital, 07 June 2011. Web. 26 Sept. 2013.