Friday, January 31, 2014

Bronies: The Perfect Look at Unexpected and Unaccepted Subculture

So, I watched the documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fan of My Little Pony. It's a good flick. There's nothing groundbreaking in it. Yet, maybe I'm wrong. It's a film that's goal is to demystify a subculture that is discriminated against. And I realized, that it brings to light so many issues that I have problems with in our society.

I have watched My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic. At least, everything available on Netflix. I wouldn't call myself a Brony, but, I enjoyed it. It's a surprisingly solid show. I'd been intrigued by the design, and then the rumors about how good it is, which lead me to sitting down and powering through it. It left me pleasantly surprised. The show is all around excellent. The animation is unique and quite good. The voice acting is spot on. But, it's the writing that carries it. It's very well written, and not just for a kid show. In fact, it's the "kid show" moral lessons that can often hold it back. Even so, the morals are often well worked into the episode so they don't come across as preachy.

In the end, a combination of excellent marketability and good TV makes MLP a runaway success. It's not surprising to me that it would develop a fandom. The backlash against the fandom isn't really that surprising, either. Fandoms have been criticized for years, be it anime or Superman or Star Trek. Though, many, more mainstream, fandoms have become accepted, it seems that the haters have moved onto this one. But, this fandom is pretty unique to a younger generation, and in the age of "bullying," it makes sense that the fans would want to defend themselves. (Also, I can see why John de Lanzi would rally to its cause.)

One of the most interesting things about Bronies is it shows fan culture in a positive light. Whenever I would tease a friend or describe someone as a Brony, I never intended it in a negative way. To me, a Brony is a lighthearted person who was proud to wear a Rainbow Dash hoodie, and was generally above average in intelligence, and probably in his early to mid twenties. My kind of people. I never once though of a Brony being a pedophile, or a creepy guy living in his mom's basement.

A lighthearted person, who is proud to wear a graphic tee of their favorite kids' show, who's smart, and happy describes just about any fan boy or girl. Fandom is about a group of people sharing their love and joy for a single artistic project, be that a book, movie, TV show, or video game. It's an accepting culture, that embraces everyone's differences, because everyone involved in a little bit different too. And there should be no shame in that. We don't shame someone who listens to the Beatles all the time. Or goes to the movie and is a basement critic. Why should we shame someone who goes on to create fan work? Or makes new friends because of a common interest?

Most conventions are happy places full of oddballs who all share in the joy of being oddballs together. And that's what I love about it. Even if I'm not really a fangirl myself. It's a great film to watch for someone who's never been to an Con, and to help understand what goes on there better. And that's what I enjoyed about Bronies.

But Bronies is more than showing a fun and loving community. It goes through a list of reasons why we shouldn't be so against the subculture. And their list falls in line with certain ideals I have.

The first is the idea that children's things are less. So, a lot of backlash comes from the fact that this is a children's show. It's marketed to young girls. Not to the family. Nope, straight up kids. The show wasn't designed to please parents and children alike, like many successful animated films. It's a show with nothing but kids in mind. But, the show doesn't talk down to kids. Nor, does it create sub-par work because of its demographic. Yet, as a society, we somehow think that because it's target audience is youth, it's less important, less valuable, less influential than something for adults.

I HATE this antiquated, Victorian, bullshitty line of thinking. It boils down to the belief that children are lesser than adults. Children are humans too! And last time I checked, they can feel all the emotions an adult can, if not more because they haven't been jaded. Our first feelings are our strongest, otherwise, we would all forget our first love or the first time we lost someone dear. Children are observant and smart and capable of drawing conclusions about the world around them. Dumbing down content for children is stupid. And the assumption that all things are dumbed down so that "kids" can understand them is equally stupid.

Look at children's literature. We have complex and compelling stories for all ages. The Giver, The Hunger Games, The Fault in Our Stars, etc. Children's films work the same way. Look at Up, Finding Nemo, or really any Pixar film. You can't tell me that's not just as complex and compelling at most movies aimed just to adults. This prejudice against children's things exists in all art forms, and frankly I'm sick of it. What we enjoy as youth has just as much impact on our adult lives, if not more, than what we enjoy as adults. Come one, I bet you can remember your favorite show as a kid better and with more fondness than your favorite show from five years ago.

But back to the Bronies doc.

Not only are Bronies "weird" for liking children's things, but it's particularly bad because they're men interested in Girl things. Excuse me? I think that may be the most chauvinistic, back ass comment about the subculture so far! Because the content is feminine, because it features primarily female characters dealing with problems often associated as "womens problems," it's not acceptable for men to watch this. Bullshit. This is just something where feminism dies a little. And don't pretend that the animosity towards Bronies isn't a gender roles thing.

The popularity could come from the fact that the show has just the right mix of adventure and empathy. The documentary even goes into what the show excels at. And those things are genderless. (Though Bronies never comes out and says this, it is implied.) The fact that there are well rounded female characters in almost all roles doesn't mean that only girls can like them. A good character is a good character regardless of sex. (It just happens that there are less female good characters.) Just like children, women are human. We all have the same feelings, regardless of gender.

Yet, nay-sayers complain that MLP can't be a good show, or a show worthy of devotion because it's a LITTLE GIRLS' SHOW. Throughout the doc, the show is repeated described as a show for young girls, little girls. Not children. GIRLS. And that somehow makes it worse. If it were a pirate show geared towards young boys, I guarantee there wouldn't be as much backlash. But it's not. Society views a show aimed at girls to be even less than a show geared at boys. And that is repulsive.

In fact, I think the majority of the backlash against the community comes from the gender issue. It's the unexpected "male" community. It's the fact that grown men are watching, though there are many women who enjoy the show, that seems to be more accepted. The boy issues doesn't particularly surprise me since most fandoms are predominately male. Though, when you read about the Brony subculture, they seem to dance around it.

To me, this just means that there is a generation of young men growing up not viewing women as different, just as human, or pony, and that is something we should be happier about. (And not to forget the Pegasisters, girls who can enjoy unconventional, well rounded female characters.)

The show left me pondering subcultures in general. Wondering about how society views fandoms, and how wrong that is. And at some point I'll have to look at the contrasting gender dynamics in fandoms (strong female characters, but women can't be "geeks"). In the end, it ended up being a very insightful hour and a half of my life, and a doc that I would tell all my friends to watch.


  1. I remember raising an eyebrow when I first heard about this fandom, but have since changed my views. If women can like Transformers (NOT the movies...ugh), why shouldn't men like My Little Pony? Friendship is magic, goddamn it!

  2. I watched that documentary, and liked it. I think an interesting question about Bronies is why MLP seems to fill this emotional gap for a lot of men. My partner argued that a lot of "men's entertainment" is fixated on an almost psychopathic lack of emotion, leaving a lot of men wanting something that allows them to frame the world in a more emotionally nuanced way. I would like to think that there is more out there in the world of media than one show/book/movie that could do this, but maybe not?

    I ended up concluding that a huge part of the appeal is just innocent enjoyment and fun. It's good to like things that are light and silly. I love the darker side of entertainment too, but I get the appeal.