“I wonder if this guy’s a clopper”: Howard Stern Labels Bronies

BronyCon is a bi-annual to annual fan convention held in the greater New York City area for fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, among them adult fans of the show, who call themselves bronies. Four events have occurred to date, with the most recent one in June 2012 drawing in over 4,000 attendees.” (Wikipedia 2012) In addition to the fans, BronyCon (much like the other aspects of the subculture) has also attracted significant media coverage. Coverage that has been both good and bad for the Bronies. During the most recent BronyCon, Howard Stern (a popular and controversial American media personality and host of The Howard Stern Show) sent a media crew to interview BronyCon participants about the subculture. The crew, in particular, appeared to focus on several things: Bronies who are “Cloppers” and the opinions of Bronies on the societal reaction to the Brony movement. These interview clips were subsequently aired and discussed on The Howard Stern Show (on Sirius XM Satellite Radio) by Stern and Robin Ophelia Quivers (Stern’s co-host).

What follows is a transcript of segments of the show that I found were relevant to this week’s topic: Labels and Moral Panics. For the full show, give this a listen

Howard Stern Explores The Bronies [Transcript]
Interviewer Wolfie (W): Can you tell me what’s a Clopper?
Interviewee #1 (1): Er a person who enjoys erotic pony art I guess
W: Now you would consider yourself a clopper, wouldn’t you?
1: Mm-mm, sometimes, it depends.
W: So you have pleasured yourself to a My Little Pony image?
1: (sounds embarrassed) Uhhh, I guess, yes
W: How many times would you say?
1: Uhhhh, I don’t know, alot..

Robin Ophelia Quivers (RQ): So the people who dress up as ponies, are they expecting to have sex with the people who like that? (Aaron (A): I.e. the cloppers. It appears that our hosts are unable to differentiate cosplaying Bronies from Cloppers!)
Howard Stern (HS): You know how Comic-Con is sorta for losers, let’s be honest…Comic-Con people are winners compared to BronyCon…

W: What’s the biggest misconception about Bronies?
2: That we all er want to screw ponies.
W: What is the darker side of the Brony fandom?
2: Those would the people who actually like look at the porn of the characters and have actually made like plushies that you can use for sexual purposes…
W: What is a plushie?
2: A stuffed animal (A: Interviewee #2’s response is too abrupt, there’re signs that he said much more than that!)

HS: A clopper is someone who speeds off to My Little Pony. (RQ: Oh) You know like people who watch pony porn but it’s My Little Pony porn.
RQ: Who even knew that existed?
HS: Yes that’s why I’m saying it’s a whole universe out there you don’t know about.

RQ: Where are their parents?
HS: Do they live with their parents?

W: Which pony are you most sexually attracted to?
5: Mmmmmmm tossup between Rarity and Pinke Pie

W: Which pony do you jerk off to most often?

HS: Let me play you the clip that guy (A: Interviewee #6) who talks about living with his folks. (FG: Yeah I wanna hear that, I wanna meet thse parents.) He’s like 28…Poor parents have got a kid living in the basement who’s (inaudible) a man. He’s into My Little Pony.

HS (on Interviewee #6’s background): So there’s no girls (A: 6 stated in the interview with Wolfie that he had no girlfriend at the moment), no apartment, that’s a bleak life.

W: Who is your favourite My Little Pony character?
7: Princess Luna, absolutely without a doubt she’s the one that I can most identify with. I know exactly what it feels like when she’s trying to get out there and make friends and have people just be absolutely afraid of you.
HS: I don’t know I can’t take this much more, do you wanna hear more of this?

W: Now why do you feel people are afraid of you?
7: Well it’s unfortunate but I’ve always been a fairly tall person, um I have a tendency to have a very serious sort of appearance to my face I don’t smile very easily so it tends to make people a little bit skittish, there’s actually a time someone actually reported me as a potential terrorist just for going into a store and shopping
(HS and FG laughing in the background)

W: Now what would be harder for your father to hear: you coming out of the closet as a gay man or coming out of the closet as a Brony?
7: I think he would have trouble with the Brony because he won’t be able to look past the idea it’s for little kids, he wouldn’t be able to see past that, that anyone can enjoy the show

HS: This one interests me I think, “Depressed Brony” (A: Interviewee #8) it’s labelled. Here’s the first guy making sense.

W: What do you do for a living?
8: I’m currently unemployed.
W: What do your parents think of your obsession with My Little Ponies?
8: Er they don’t seem to care. Er that’s not the first weird thing I’ve latched onto (HS and RQ: Oh WOW, what else!).
W: Do you think they’re disappointed in you just a little bit?
8: I think maybe sometimes…
W: Well, how motivated are you to get out of the house and find a job?
8: Er….er I’ve been suffering from fairly severe depression but actually coming here is really helping and bringing me out of the rut

W: Isn’t it really one of the goals in life to get laid?
9: Nope, just to have fun. Have fun, enjoy life and watch My Little Pony.
W: If you had a choice, would you rather attend Brony-Con today or have sex with a supermodel?
9: Quite honestly, I’d rather be right here at Brony-Con ponying it up. I just love it so much that it’s just better than anything. It’s just better than everything.
W: What’s the biggest misconception about Bronies?
9: That everybody’s a Clopper.

Stop this Horsing Around! The Brony-Clopper Moral Panic
Evidently, a specific stereotype/impression of the Bronies is not only being formed here but being presented for public consumption as well. Let me summarise part of this stereotype for you in a few sentences: “Bronies are real or potential Cloppers (MLP fans who masturbate to MLP related media). They engage in unnatural sexual practices as a result of their sexual attraction to animated horses. These sexual deviants might be something to be anxious about.” 

Cohen (1972) in Folk Devils and Moral Panics notes how societies experience periods of moral panic from time to time. During such a period, “A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests” (Cohen 1972:1). As illustrated by the example of The Howard Stern Show, the Bronies have evidently been defined as the latest in a long line of youth culture threats to society. The Bronies’ “nature is presented in a stylized and stereotypical fashion by the mass media” (ibid). Though there exist a multitude of practices, beliefs and in a Klappian sense, social types within Bronyism, Howard Stern and co. attempt to limit Bronyism to just a few practices, beliefs and one social type in particular, the Clopper. As earlier mentioned, Cloppers are MLP fans said to masturbate to MLP related media, often erotic pony art. They have favourite ponies they “clop” (masturbate) to and they do so frequently (W: So have you pleasured yourself to a MLP image?…How many times would you say?). Contrary to Howard Stern and co.’s claims, Cloppers do not constitute a majority amongst Bronies. As mentioned earlier and elsewhere in this blog, Bronies enjoy watching MLP for a variety of reasons besides sexual pleasure (which may even not be a reason). For instance, Interviewee #7 mentioned how the show’s emphasis on the difficulty of making friends resonated with his life experience. Similarly, 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.” Evidently, it is the thematic appeal of the show that resonates with both Bronies and Cloppers rather than just sexual pleasure.

Beyond constituting a minority in the Brony fandom in terms of beliefs and practices, Cloppers also constitute a minority within the fandom’s power structure. Though tolerated by most Bronies (see image below), Cloppers continue to be subject to various “social controls” by other non-clopping Bronies. For instance, in the case of the Singapore Bronies Society, posting erotic pony art is banned. Members who flout this rule have their posts removed as well as their membership in the group temporarily revoked. In addition, talk about clopping is restricted to the private sphere, to Personal Messages (PMs) between Cloppers. It is evident from this that whilst Cloppers may be Bronies, not all Bronies are Cloppers. Clopper beliefs and practices are not characteristic of the fandom as a whole nor does this minority occupy a powerful position with which to influence the fandom as a whole.

In addition to stereotyping Bronies as Cloppers, Howard Stern and co. stereotype and label Bronies in other ways as well. Bronies are “losers”, in fact a worse kind than geeks/nerds/cosplayers who attend ComicCon. Bronies lead “bleak lives”, having failed to achieve “what’s important in life” (HS: So there’s no girls, no apartment, that’s a bleak life.). It should be noted that up till now, I have yet to demonstrate how Bronies have been defined as a social threat. What I have done however is to illustrate how the mass media’s portrayals of them are highly stereotypical and often obscure reality. In what follows, I shall demonstrate how and why they are social threats.

The perception and construction of Bronies as social threats no doubt has to do with the stereotype of them as Cloppers, as sexual deviants. As Becker (1963) notes, “deviance is created by society…social groups create deviance by making the rules whose infraction constitutes deviance and by applying those rules to particular persons and labelling them as outsiders.” There are several “rules” that the Bronies (and the Cloppers) infract. First and foremost, the Bronies break the gender rule that “Boys cannot like girl things”, in this case, a cartoon associated with young girls in social memory. In liking MLP, Bronies are thus seen as gender traitors. They are not doing what “real” men do. In addition to breaking gender rules of what boys can like and dislike, Bronies or rather Cloppers (and thus by extension, Bornies) are seen to break rules on sexual conduct. Despite the Sexual Revolution of the 1940s and 1950s, masturbation continues to remain somewhat a taboo practice in society. In the case of the Cloppers, it appears that the deviance is not so much to do with their masturbation but rather that these young men are masturbating to animals.
HS: A clopper is someone who speeds off to My Little Pony. (RQ: Oh) You know like people who watch pony porn but it’s My Little Pony porn.
RQ: Who even knew that existed?
HS: Yes that’s why I’m saying it’s a whole universe out there you don’t know about.
It is written in Leviticus 18:23 of the Christian Bible, “Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it. A woman must not present herself to an animal to have sexual relations with it; that is a perversion.” Durkheim (1972) in his study of religion, notes its various functions, one of which is as a source of morality. Religious rules specify the proper conduct towards a tribe’s totem and in that the totem represents society, a crime against the totem is thus a crime against society – it is an act of deviance. That the Christian’s physical body represents the temple of God (it being made in God’s likeness), sexual relations with an animal would thus constitute an act of deviance, a crime against Christian society. Though society has since secularised, yet such moral notions continue to permeate society. Those manning the moral barricades such as Howard Stern (it should be noted that Mr Stern is no saint whatsoever – after all, he prides himself on being radio’s “shock jock”) in turn apply these historical rules to the Bronies and thereby label them as outsiders.

On a final note, I would like to make some other observations that I found interesting.
1) As much as Howard Stern and co. try to shape impressions of the Bronies, it was interesting how (and perhaps for Bronies listening in/who subsequently listened to this) they could not distort everything about the Bronies. Consider what Interviewee #7 said.
7: Well it’s unfortunate but I’ve always been a fairly tall person, um I have a tendency to have a very serious sort of appearance to my face I don’t smile very easily so it tends to make people a little bit skittish, there’s actually a time someone actually reported me as a potential terrorist just for going into a store and shopping
Interviewee #7 became a Brony for the very reason (and which Angel has (2012) noted) why many young men have become fans of the series i.e. their real life difficulties in making friends which the series captures. Thornton (1996) has noted how “rave participants authenticated themselves through the negative news coverage they experienced…” (Williams 2011:123) In the case of the Bronies, Interviewee #7’s “testimony” (which while mocked by Howard Stern and co.) has in fact served as a rallying cry and source of pride amongst Bronies.
2) I found it interesting how the question “Where are the parents?” is often brought up by the media during moral panics. Shall think more about this over the next few days.

Bibliography
Angel, Rebecca. 2012. “In Defense of Bronies.” Wired, May 27

Becker, Howard S. 1963. Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. USA: The Free Press.

Cohen, Stanley. 1972. Folk Devils and Moral Panics. USA: MacGibbon and Kee Ltd.

Durkheim, Emile. 1972. Emile Durkheim: Selected Writings edited by Anthony Giddens. UK: Cambridge University Press.

My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fandom.” 2012. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved September 01, 2012. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronies)

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6 thoughts on ““I wonder if this guy’s a clopper”: Howard Stern Labels Bronies

  1. Prof P says:

    “Stop this horsing around”….? If sociology fails you, there’s always stand-up comedy.

    I guess it’s fair to ask whether Howard Stern is actually engaging in the creation of a moral panic versus just trying to fill another 30 minutes of his radio show. In other words, is a panic emerging or is this just about entertainment at the expensive of subculturalists?

    Provide your reference list/links!

  2. Dart says:

    There’s no need to ask if somebody is a clopper or not. Cloppers will always let you know, and it takes divine intervention tpmget them to stop.

  3. Kevin says:

    Seth Green is a brony

  4. Lukua says:

    I have nothing agaisnt bronies neither howard sten haha but this is kinda sad its obvious this HS just told the bad partes of the interview to humilliate those bronyes or bronies but well thats what interviewers do its their job stereotype, but let me say thats pretty lame i can’t help but laugh

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