Locating Brony Style
I encountered quite a bit of trouble going into this blog post. Though Bronies do meet up in person to interact, Bronyism is also (and in fact, began as) an online subculture. A review of the literature on subcultural style (see Williams and Kidder 2011) reveals its focus on ‘argot, demeanor, and image‘ (Brake 1985 cited in Williams and Kidder 2011:67) in the ‘real’ as opposed to the ‘virtual’ world. There is no doubt that bronies wear MLP t-shirts, collect MLP dolls, ‘bro-hoof’ one another and so on in the ‘real’ world. But yet, style is also created and displayed online as much as it is done offline. This is not to say that the online and offline are separate and apart from each other. I believe that both in fact interact with one another. ‘Virtual’ style no doubt carries over into the ‘real’ world and vice versa. This blog post will as far as possible talk about both ‘online’ and ‘offline’ Brony style but for the most part, will be focused on that which is enacted online.
Elements of Brony Style
Before identifying what may constitute Brony style, perhaps it is useful to elaborate upon what style is. It was earlier mentioned that Brake (1985 cited in Williams and Kidder 2011:67) identified the dimensions of style as ‘argot, demeanor, and image (i.e. how subcultural members speak, behave, and look).’ In “Subcultural Conflict and Working Class Community, Cohen (1972) identifies 4 dimensions of style: dress, music, ritual and argot. Williams and Kidder (2011) propose an elaboration of Cohen’s conceptualisation of the elements of style, distinguishing between cultural objects and cultural practices. Where Cohen (1972) describes ‘plastic’ elements (dress, music), Williams and Kidder refer to as cultural objects. Where Cohen (ibid) describes ‘infrastructural’ elements (argot, ritual), Williams and Kidder distinguish them as cultural practices. I too distinguish elements of Brony style in this manner.
Cultural Object and Cultural Practice: The Pony Music Video and Bromixing
Apart from the show and MLP dolls, there also exist other cultural objects significant to the Bronies. Most of these objects as I have earlier mentioned can only be found online. Visit youtube.com, type in “My Little Pony music video remix” and your search will be returned with several thousand results. At the Singapore Bronies Society page, not a day passes without a member posting a MLP music video/Pony Music Video (PMV) on the wall.
In Knobel and Lankshear’s (2008) study of Remix, he notes how anime music videos (AMVs) “form a distinct branch of fan music video clips.” (p. 24) Appropriating clips of various Japanese animated cartoons (‘anime’), they are often DIY creations which serve as a form of tribute to an anime or which are “conceptual and focus on a particular dimension of an anime series, such as…values such as strength…” (Knobel and Lankshear 2008:24) PMVs are little different from AMVs. Like AMVs, they too are remixed (“Remix means to take cultural artifacts and combine and manipulate them into new kinds of creative blends.” (Knobel and Lankshear 2008:22)). Through MLP videos, Bronies pay tribute to the anime
or publicise the series’s message of love, friendship and tolerance.
PMVs even constitute opportunities for parody and humour as examplified by this video (which also happens to be a personal favourite).
It appears in the case of parody PMVs, a case could be made that Bronies constitute bricoleurs, in that “they rearrange the symbolic meanings attached to mainstream cultural objects.” (Williams 2011:74) In this case, they create new meanings to Eminem’s song, the Real Slim Shady. But yet, it is difficult to draw this conclusion. The CCCS bricoleur as Williams (2011) notes entails “resistance to hegemony” (p. 74). The video’s creator in fact makes this comment “Oh and remember, don’t take this video seriously. It’s made purely for the lolz.” In fact, I am personally not sure what the creator could be ‘resisting’ through his video. Thus, we see more of the postmodern notion of ‘play’ being at work here rather than resistance.
As Williams (2007) notes, ‘Style is not an essential quality of any of these dimensions…’ (p. 578, italics original) Rather, “What makes a style is the activity of stylization – the active organisation of objects with activities and outlooks, which produce an organised group-identity in the form and shape of a coherent and distinctive way of ‘being-in-the-world’.” (Clarke et al 1976:54 cited in Williams 2007:578) For the CCCS theorists, what made a style was thus its capacity to solve problems (Williams 2007) or represent ideological contradictions. Thus, we now examine how the PMV represents problems or ideological contradictions the Bronies face. Angel (2012) in her article, In Defense of Bronies, notes how “all bronies have a pony they identify with. They see themselves in a character and relate.” In particular, she notes the popularity of one character in particular, “Fluttershy, the shy, kind pony that was bullied in her youth.” (Angel 2012) Angel then goes on to link what Haenfler (2004) refers to as the contemporary crisis in masculinity to Fluttershy’s popularity with Bronies. “This guy, who has spent his childhood in our culture with its conflicting messages to boys about what it means to “be a man!” This young man, who is supposed to hold the weight of the world without crying, identifies with a character that needs friendship to be strong.” (Angel 2012)
Like Fluttershy, PMVs which serve as form of tribute to the series could also represent the solution to the contemporary crisis in masculinity that Bronies could possibly be facing. Beyond reflecting the crisis in masculinity, PMVs also serve to reinforce boundaries of distinction and group-identity. In “Proud To Be A Brony” (see earlier link), the lyricist not only proudly proclaims his insider status but also distinguishes between insiders and outsiders:
“Many try to make me feel embarrassed but their attempts have been in vain,
For though they tell me I’m the one with problems, they’re the ones who are insane!
So for those watch but won’t admit it; well you shouldn’t be like that.
Cause you could be twenty percent cooler in ten seconds flat!”
Bronies (who assert their Brony-ness) thus are not only cooler but in a later part of the song, ‘real’ as opposed to being ‘phony’.
Angel, Rebecca. 2012. “In Defense of Bronies.” Wired, May 27
Haenfler, Ross. 2004. “Manhood in Contradiction – The Two Faces of Straightedge.”, Man and Masculinities 7(1):77-99.
Knobel, Michele and Lankshear, Colin. 2008. “Remix: The Art and Craft of Excessive Hybridization.”, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 52(1):22-33.
McArthur, J.A. 2008. “Digital Subculture: A Geek Meaning of Style.”, Journal of Communication Inquiry 33(1):58-70.
Williams, J. Patrick. 2007. “Youth-Subcultural Studies: Sociological Traditions and Core Concepts.”, Sociology Compass 1(2):572-593.
Williams, J. Patrick and Kidder, J. 2011. “Style.” Pp. 65-86 in Subcultural Theory edited by J. Patrick Williams. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.