My Little Pony - Why grown men watch a little girl's show - An introduction to bronies
Chances are if you've been on the internet in the last two years, you've been exposed in one way or another to the social phenomenon that is My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Maybe you were browsing Google images, searching for some new desktop wallpaper and you run into Adam Jensen as a pony (he never asked for this). Now you're thinking "WTF, why would someone do that, it doesn't even make sense!", but you go on with your day, quickly forgetting it. Something in your everyday life triggers you thinking about it again. You see a 30 year old man wearing a Pinkie Pie Portal shirt. It starts to invade your thoughts. You go online to browse and everywhere you look there are ponies, and you realize it's secretly pervaded everything. Things you have seen a thousand times take on a new light as you see them ponified and you wonder how something so odd and seemingly for little girls could be so popular.
I hope I can adequately answer all of the questions you may have as I lead you through my (hopefully) comprehensive guide to My Little Pony, its fandom, and why it appeals to grown-ass men.
History of the Franchise
The My Little Pony franchise was introduced in the early 80s by the toy company Hasbro, with the release of the "My Pretty Pony" toy. Because of the instant popularity of the toy, it was adapted and reintroduced as a line of toys and accessories that became wildly popular with little girls - go figure. The toys were brightly colored ponies, generally of the stripe that would most appeal to its target demographic (ie: pink, yellow, bright green). They had marks on their flanks that generally coincided somehow with their name. These were termed "cutie marks" in G3 of the franchise, and became an identifier of their unique personality or special talent that set them apart from all of the other ponies. Several years after the initial release, Hasbro introduced a television series titled the same as the toy franchise. Fast-forward through several incarnations of the show and the show had gained a reputation for being one of those 80s little kid shows with the weird, disconcerting animation filled with slightly uncanny valley (albeit of the horse variety) characters.
Now we step into early 2010. A well-known and highly acclaimed animator named Lauren Faust (one of the lead designers of Powerpuff Girls and the mind behind Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends) has been attempting to get a deal to make a children's show aimed at girls for years, and has been turned down every time, due to girl's shows being considered unsuccessful. She then pitches to Hasbro, attempting to get a deal allowing her to develop an animated series based on her "Galaxy Girls" toys. Instead of the deal she originally wants, she is propositioned for a new reboot series based on the My Little Pony franchise. She is skeptical at first, but takes the opportunity and uses it in an attempt to create complex characters and moral messages that contradict stereotypes about girl shows and girls.
Synopsis of Friendship is Magic or how I Learned to Forget the 80s Show
Forget what you know about any previous incarnations of My Little Pony. Forget the shows, the toys, the fact that the franchise has simply been a long-running product show, shamelessly selling brightly colored lumps of plastic to girly little girls. Come into this knowledge with an open mind, free of preconceptions about the show, the color pink, or ponies of any kind.
Friendship is Magic follows the adventures of Twilight Sparkle and her five friends as they discover all of the secrets of friendship and report them to Twilight's teacher, Princess Celestia. Each of her five friends represents one of the "Elements of Harmony" - honesty, loyalty, kindness, laughter, generosity, and magic - basically the components of friendship (probably minus magic IRL). The show is generally shown on an episode-by-episode basis, with several two-parters, though compared to many other shows that take on an episodic template (see Spongebob), it has heavy character development and highly developed and evolving mythology. Though people who aren't used to reading Douglas Adams or watching Doctor Who may be annoyed by continuity errors in the show, it generally keeps to the theme and the characters act in ways that are conducive to character and storyline development. The settings often borrow from Greek myth, introducing creatures such as a cockatrice and a hydra, as well as giving much substance to the architecture of cities and the language (princesses Celestia and Luna, Equestria). Also, be prepared for a ridiculous amount of horse puns and changes to common sayings (everypony, 4 left hooves, beating a dead... tree).
The Shitstorm Approacheth - The Genesis of the Bronies
As a response to the release of the new reboot, Friendship is Magic, and to seeing many big animation names working on a show considered to be a trite product show, a man released a video entitled "The End of the Creator-Driven Era in TV Animation". The massive image hosting board, 4chan (the birthing place of many memes), managed to find it in their midst and some members started watching the show. They started creating image macros with characters from the show and posting them on the /b/ board (the board for random images and topics. Also, porn). This quickly took off and achieved memetic status almost overnight, spawning a slew of memes with every new episode, and the periphery demographic fans of the show were termed "bronies", not, commonly believed, as a portmanteau of "bro" and "pony", but one of "/b/" and "pony". Many on the site considered these new bronies to be the cancer that was killing /b/ and flame wars ensued. Trolls posted gratuitous pictures on topics devoted to ponies and, amazingly, the new bronies responded in ways that were hardly seen on 4chan - by responding in friendly, non-inflammatory ways (mostly, just posting more ponies).
This reached the breaking point quickly, with the /b/ board descending into petty flame wars. The owner of 4chan, Christopher Poole (aka moot) decided to ban all talk of ponies. This was a ban punishable by a mute at best and a permanent IP ban at worst (and more often than not). If anything, this increased the amount of brony postings and loosened their inhibitions about spamming it. As well, branches broke off, forming their own image boards and fansites dedicated to MLP, including Equestria Daily and ponibooru. Eventually, moot caved and lifted the ban from most of the accounts that had suffered punishment during the war and created a new board, /mlp/, specifically for anything pony related.
Originally, a lot of the bronies that posted on /b/ watched it ironically, in a hipster-like fashion, but the war between the bronies and the mods had galvanized the fandom, as well as making them the only group recognized for fighting against 4chan and winning. Equestria Daily, with a total view count of 253 million as of the writing of this hub, quickly became the largest and most popular pony-related fansite, and the new breed of bronies started to emerge. This new form of the MLP fandom started putting out creative content - music, art, parodies - and trying to take the moral messages of the show to heart.
Reception, Corporate Participation, and Social Backlash
The show has been met with highly positive critical reception with critics praising the beautiful animation, witty writing, element of morality, and well-developed characters, as well as being praised for being a show that parents and their children can watch together without the parents wanting to vomit out of their eye sockets (see The Wiggles). It has also been praised for its popular culture references, making reference to The Big Lebowski, Star Wars, and Metal Gear Solid, amongst others.
4chan isn't the only reason the brony fandom has become so large. Lauren Faust, the voices actors/actresses, and even the Hasbro execs have spurred its development by taking part in elements of the fandom, often going to conventions and other events. As well, Hasbro has taken on a model not often followed by other corporations, allowing fans to use almost all of the intellectual property of the franchise to create parodies, songs, fanfics, and has, on occasion, even taken part in these productions. There have also been many fanwaves in the show itself, such as changing canon names of background characters to their fan nicknames (Derpy Hooves, DJ P0N-3), and even referencing the community in a commercial advertising the show. Hasbro has definitely taken Walt Disney's ideology about periphery demographics to heart, but it has been much less heavy-handed and more nurturing to the community, even after learning of the darker portions of the fandom. All of these factors has given the brony community an outspokenness rare in fandoms that receive large amounts of negative social backlash and has paved the way for loads of unique and creative content.
Due to the nature of the fandom, there has been significant social backlash. Gender stereotypes are often cited, as the brony community largely consists of males and it isn't generally considered manly to watch brightly colored ponies learning about friendship, but the fandom takes much of it in stride and often parodies the backlash. There have also been fundamentalist groups responding in much the same way as with Harry Potter, due to the heavy magical influence and the fact that the princesses are basically gods. Regardless of the backlash, the fandom remains very outspoken and consistent in practicing the messages of the show. Thanks to the brony community remaining relatively calm under pressure and responding in civil ways to outrage and hatred, most backlash is short-lived, and the community has prospered and become one of the largest growing fandoms in the world.
Effect on Society
For a long time, men have been expected to be strong, stoic, to hide the attributes not related to their masculinity. This fandom is a strong example of the changing times and perception of masculinity and gender stereotypes. It's a group of people not afraid to express their feelings and opinions, to forgive and forget and accept one-another regardless of the differences between them. They're both an example of and a catalyst for the changing social perception of masculinity and have become a forerunner and example to men who don't care about being men in the traditional sense. Like it or not, fight against it, embrace it, they're changing society.
It's a show that people from most walks of life can enjoy, whether they have children or don't. It has great writing, not-too-predictable storylines, characters you can relate to regardless of who you are, and if people took the messages to heart, they and the people around them would be better off for it. I'd recommend everyone try to watch a couple of episodes. Even if you don't like it or can't stand the cuteness of it, you can say you tried.
Blunty3000's take on it
Ghost (True Capitalist Radio) HATES bronies
Opinions on this hubSee results without voting
Acknowledgements and Thanks
Thanks to the brony community for being interesting enough to write about and for providing so much strange and awesome content. Thanks to Hasbro for letting the community create that strange and awesome content without suing them. Thanks to anyone who made these random pictures I found!
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