A discussion of the documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unlikely Adult Fans of My Little Pony, and the fandom that inspired it
by REBECCA, January 13, 2014
The adult male fandom of the 2010 show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has been fairly well documented in the last few years, with early mentions of the brony (a portmanteau of “bro” and “pony”) phenomenon treating it as creepy and embarrassing. This evaluation mirrors precisely the perception that many bronies are afraid their love of My Little Pony will spark if they discuss it outside chatrooms and BronyCons.
The insults, jeers, and genuine sense of creeped-outness displayed by many uninitiated, however, have been totally de-fanged in the last few years, blasted to cynical smithereens by the sheer power of joy, delight, and genuine caring that is the brony fandom. Now, the documentary that has been floating around the internet for the last year is on Netflix instant and we can all wrap ourselves in the rainbow-colored manes of its positivity (and its cosplay!).
Like many, I came of age with the original My Little Pony movie, tv show, pony toys, and even a puzzle that I did over and over (right; thanks for the pic, mom & dad!). I wasn’t super into it, but I liked the bright colors and the sparkles; as far as I know, though, there wasn’t much to recommend it to an adult audience. The new incarnation of My Little Pony, created by Lauren Faust, on the other hand, is notable for having a solid ethos: the concept that “friendship is magic” underlies the whole show, and with its positive outlook, bright worldview, and varied characters, it’s easy to see why Friendship is Magic has attracted a very different audience than that for which it was originally intended.
That many people find an adult fanbase for a show purportedly marketed to children surprising is one thing, but that is clearly not the real issue at the heart of Laurent Malaquais’ documentary. Though it is titled Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony, it isn’t the fact that these fans are adults that makes people uncomfortable, of course; it’s the fact that they’re men. And, further, that the show marketed to kids stars five female characters, even if they’re ponies.
Why this is confusing to people is simple: sexist and patriarchal culture that assumes:
1.) that only females would ever be interested in female characters.
2.) that men do not value friendship, caring, and sensitivity as positive character traits.
3.) that, therefore, if a man enjoys watching a show about female characters that does value those things then there is something abnormal about him.
But that’s patriarchy 101, and those are assumptions that most of us run up against every day. They are, however, merely the backdrop of Malaquais’ documentary, givens that the featured bronies understand as part of the world they can leave behind when they enter My Little Pony’s land of Equestria. There are some shout-outs to explaining the place of bronies in the post-9/11 world and its concomitant traumatic masculinity by a talking head professor, sure. But the majority of Bronies is dedicated to a celebration of the ways in which My Little Pony fandom has touched the lives of several bronies.
There’s Alex, a teenager from rural North Carolina who had his back windshield smashed in once he put custom My Little Pony decals on it; Lyle, a guy from Bar Harbor who is afraid to come out as a brony to his hyper-conservative father; Daniel, a guy from Northern England whose Aspergers prevents him from socializing until he attends a BronyCon, and Benjamin & Nadine, a German couple who met at a My Little Pony meet-up. The documentary follows each of them around and shows the ways that My Little Pony changed their lives and their experiences with learning that there was such an active fan community surrounding the show. (This is definitely one of the times when the internet is a huge win for humanity!)
These folks (and other interviewees) discuss the way My Little Pony has been a positive force in their lives and how other entertainment doesn’t make them feel nearly as good. Nearly all of them have had to come to terms with, first, their own internalized notions that their enjoyment of the show is somehow abnormal, and, second, decide who they are going to tell about their love of the show. Some are sheepish, some defiant, and some proselytistic, but all of them are distinctly aware that most people will find their fandom weird, and every one of them acknowledges that admitting it runs the risk of being thought of as “girly,” “gay,” “wimpy,” and “unmasculine.”
Lauren Faust (creator of Friendship is Magic), Tara Strong (voice of Twilight Sparkle), and John de Lancie (voice of the Discord and the one with the idea for the documentary) are also featured. As documentaries go, it’s nothing terribly special, but it’s done with such positivity and appreciation for the bronies and their fandom that it put a huge smile on my face. Anyone familiar with fandom will be familiar with the cosplay, fanfiction, fan videos, and fan art that Friendship is Magic has inspired, and Bronies feature several of the fandom’s most popular creators—a musician, a laser lightshow creator, and an artist. That was one of the most inspiring elements of the documentary, as it is one of the most inspiring elements of fandom in general—seeing people with a passion for something creating things for other fans to appreciate.
No single look at a culture can ever capture all its facets, of course, and Bronies is mainly concerned with hitting the high points: military bronies who believe the show’s values are similar to those of the armed forces’; fundraising bronies who contribute to the health care of a young brony with a brain tumor; etc. There is nothing said about the elements of the fandom (and they exist in all of them) that are of a less family-friendly nature, but that’s clearly not the documentary’s goal. It’s sure to make the fans who ponied up (sorry) the funds for its production on Kickstarter thrilled, and as for the rest of us, well, everypony could do with a little more magic in our lives!