Will a “real” brony please stand up? Discord and Disharmony within Equestria

Echoax (Opening post of “What is a “real” Brony?”):
What is a “real” Brony?

 I’m curious what other people call a “true” or “real” brony.
Are “real” bronies the ones that know every detail of the show and the fandom.
Are “real” bronies the ones that only watch the show.
I’m gonna stop that now because I’d have to go on forever like that. All the things that happen in this fandom, things like *insert c word*, the racism, the sexism, the bronies that insult haters, Etc etc. You know what happens in the fandom.
What do you guys think a “real” brony is?

I must admit to something. I admit to feeling overly confident about writing on the Bronies and the concepts of “Authenticity” and “Identity” prior to beginning the research for this post. Having blogged for several weeks about the Brony fandom, I felt pretty sure I knew enough to write about the Bronies and identity. Looking back on the research and literature review process, I have definitely been humbled. Williams (2011) writes that “Early sociologists…tended to assume that the identities they assigned to people, including subcultural participants, were real and accurate.” (p. 127) This however, he notes elsewhere, is “problematic because it concretizes “dominant” definitions that may arise through interaction among members of subcultural networks or from outside actors (e.g., the mass media)…” (Williams 2006:177) Discourses of “real”, “authentic”, “essential” identities constitute claims “made by or for someone, thing or performance and either accepted or rejected by relevant others.” (Peterson 2005:1806 cited in Williams 2006:177) Evidently, discourses of identities and authenticity are not timeless and unchanging. Neither are they held equally by all members within a subculture. Authentic identities are social constructions (Williams 2011). In initially believing in and conceptualising an “authentic Brony identity” as being about showing love and tolerance for others, I am guilty of nearly having taken the easy way out, privileging one discursive position amongst many others. Thankfully, subsequent research has reminded me that this should not be so. Whilst there exist multiple discourses regarding an “authentic Brony identity”, I focus on two particular discourses. The two discourses may be referred as to 1) “Real Bronies are simply fans of My Little Pony” and 2) “Authentic Bronies live the Brony lifestyle”. Trivial as they may sound, both discourses have generated significant debate within the fandom. In the following paragraphs, I will elaborate how “Discord* [on identity] plagues the Brony fandom”. (AndtheyshallknowwhoisCelestia 2012, personal communication, additions mine)

Research Site and Method
As a result of the growth of and increasing access to information and communication technologies such as the Internet, it is perhaps unsurprising that fan cultures and subcultures are increasingly going online. It is within Internet-based subcultural sites that subculturalists interact, “construct and affirm meaningful collective identities based on norms and beliefs that are personally important and that are supported by others.” (Williams 2006:178) Evidently, it is also within these sites that claims to an authentic identity are also contested. These sites include weblogs, domains, forums, Facebook pages and so on. To understand the debates surrounding Brony identity, I studied two Internet forums. Both forums fit Denzin’s definition of an online community, both having “norms…rules (netiquette)…emotional vocabulary – guidelines for posting, acceptable subjects, regular users, leaders, oldtimers, and a constant circulation of newcomers.” (Denzin 1998:99-100 cited in Williams 2006:180) Within these two forums, I focused on forum member initiated threads surrounding Brony identity. A search of both forums brought up several threads related to the issue of Brony identity. For the purposes of this post, I focused on 3 threads:
Thread #1 What is a “real” Brony? (27 posts)
Thread #2 Why the idea of a “True Brony” doesn’t work (27 posts)
Thread #3 What type of fan are you? (62 posts)
As Williams argues, the posts within these threads constitute cultural artifacts “amenable to empirical content analysis” (Williams 2006:180).

Confound These Bronies! Competing Discourses Regarding Identity and Authenticity

“Authentic Bronies live the Brony lifestyle.”
Analysis of posts within the threads revealed a number of competing definitions of an “authentic Brony identity”. As earlier mentioned, I choose to focus on two discourses, in particular. The first of these discourses may be referred to as “Authentic Bronies live the Brony lifestyle.

B-dog1996 :
A brony is someone who is part of this fandom.
 [But] A real brony is someone who takes the values from the show (love and tolerance) and actually puts it into practice…You could say that being a brony is like being a Christian. You can go around saying you’re a Christian. You can even “officially” be a Christian. But the only “real” Christians are the one’s who put the Bible’s teachings into practice.

I have noted elsewhere that one of the key messages of My Litte Pony: Friendship is Magic is that of love and tolerance. As suggested by B-dog1996’s post, a Brony is merely a fan of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic but a “real Brony” is one who believes in and practices love and tolerance in his everyday life. From this, one can see the distinctions being drawn here. The former (like being “officially” designated a Christian) is merely a social label or as Williams (2006) terms it, “social identification” (more will be said on this later) (p. 177). However, what matters more, as B-dog1996 suggests, is something more individual: embracing the show’s message of love and tolerance and putting it into practice, what I term “the Brony lifestyle”. I found B-dog1996’s comparision between “real Bronies” and “real Christians” particularly interesting and worth discussing at this point. Comparisions between Bronies and Christians in fact abound throughout the threads that I followed during the course of my research. For instance, “Bandmaster” Trey writes:

Christians follow the same Love and tolerance code. We’re trying to make ourselves good people, not better than anyone else.

According to B-dog1996, Christians were only “real” if they “put the Bible’s teachings into practice.” This as well as other similar posts brought to my mind Weber’s (2001) description of the Protestant Ethic and how the Calvinists (and even some present day Protestants) sought to “live a godly life in every aspect, every moment of the day.” In comparing Bronies to Christians, it is evident that what B-dog is suggesting here is that an “authentic Brony” is one who lives by (in other words, maintains a personal commitment to) an ethic of love and tolerance a.k.a the Brony lifestyle.

Williams (2006) notes that there are several dimensions of the “Authentic Self”, one amongst them being that which he calls the “personal dimension of authenticity” (p. 178). According to him, “From this perspective, the authentic self is one that commits to a personal life project and is not controlled by outside influence. Subculturalists may identify in terms of a life-long commitment to a subcultural lifestyle, for example, even if that lifestyle commitment precedes or follows subcultural affliation.” (Williams 2006:178) An example of such subculturalists would be for instance, the net-straightedgers Williams highlights in his study of an online straightedge forum who “tended to focus on their affiliation with straightedge in terms of a personal commitment to a straightedge lifestyle.” (Williams 2006:189-190) For the “lifestyle Bronies”, living the Brony lifestyle very much reflects the “personal dimension of authenticity” that Williams (2006:178) writes about. I would thus argue that Bronies such as B-dog1996 promote a definition of authentic Brony identity that emphasizes on the “personal dimension of the Authentic Self.”

“Real Bronies are simply fans of My Little Pony.”
As earlier mentioned, the notion of authentic Brony-hood attained through living ethically (displaying love and tolerance in one’s everyday life) is not universally shared within the fandom. In fact, it is hotly contested by a rival claim of authenticity, a claim that may be summed up in one sentence, “Real Bronies are simply fans of My Little Pony.” Let us consider the following posts:

Mist (Opening post of “Why the idea of a “True Brony” doesn’t work”):
Most attest the idea of being a brony meaning you follow love and tolerance or the teachings of the show. This is NOT TRUE. To be a brony means you simply enjoy the TV show: My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Nothing more, nothing less.

Placidzone:
the term Brony doesn’t refer to any type of person who does something a certain way. It’s just refers one who is willing to give themselves a chance to enjoy a show and its subculture.

marston:
Honestly, I don’t think that their [Bronies who live according to an ethic] is a “True brony”. A brony is someone who is a fan of Mlp Fim. Not much more complicated then that, really.

From Mist, Placidzone and company, a “true Brony” is a fan, someone who enjoys the show. Simple as this may sound, advocating the fan discourse of Brony authenticity also (and necessarily) involves the disparaging of the Brony lifestyle discourse of identity. It is through this criticism that we can see how identity and authenticity are contested within the Brony fandom. One line of attack is particularly interesting. “Fan Bronies” have utilised the lifestyle Bronies’s allusions to Christianity, accusing them of “holier than thou” attitudes towards the rest of the fandom.

Mist:
But it creates a sense of elitism. Basically bronies can’t seem to grasp the idea that they are not holier than thou if they follow their precious love and tolerance rule. They actually think themselves higher than other bronies for it, which defeats the purpose of love and tolerance. It’s a broken philosophy that just can’t work.

“Bandmaster” Trey:
Those who follow it are trying to set a good example, not make themselves holier than thou. Christians follow the same Love and tolerance code. We’re trying to make ourselves good people, not better than anyone else.

Mist:
Yes, but let’s not forget a lot of Christians think they are better than people for being Christians, or think themselves better than other Christians because they are following their “code” a bit more closely than others.

Same thing happens with everything. It’s common for people to get so smug and full of themselves when they think they are doing better than everyone else. Sure some people are doing it to be good, but it’s obvious everyone isn’t. It’s just something humans do.

By accusing or suggesting that lifestyle Bronies display “holier than thou” attitudes, fan Bronies set themselves off as authentic Bronies. Through their criticism, fan Bronies “reveal” the illogic of living the Brony lifestyle, in that it gives rise to a real or imagined elitism, the exclusion of members and feelings of superiority that conflict with the show’s (and lifestyle Bronies’s) message of love and tolerance. This in turn portrays fan Bronies as authentic, that they are more tolerant and loving in that they accept members regardless of whether or not they make a personal commitment towards practicing love and tolerance in their everyday lives. Moreover, unlike the lifestyle Bronies with their strict “stipulations” and “philosophies” (Mist), for the fan Bronies, the rule for authentic Bronyhood is simple:

Be a fan of the show.

It is also through the simplicity of this rule that fan Bronies advocate their definition of authenticity whilst insinuating that the lifestyle Bronies are people who have somehow “missed the real reason” “ (Williams 2006:190) for being a Brony. In emphasizing that “real Bronies” are simply fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, it may be argued that fan Bronies are advocating what Williams (2006:177-178) terms the “social dimension of authenticity”. Where the “personal dimension” of authentic Bronyhood refers to a lifestyle or a personal commitment to showing love and tolerance everyday, “the social dimension of authenticity refers to how individuals claim insider status in a social category.” (Williams 2006:178)

Peterson argues that the construction of “authenticity is not random, but is renegotiated in a continual political struggle in which the goal of each contending interest is to naturalise a particular construction of authenticity.” (1997:220 cited in McLeod 1999:147) In this post, I have shown how notions of authentic Bronyhood are constructed and contested by two interest groups, the lifestyle Bronies and the fan Bronies. This has been expressed through two discourses; one which privileges an authentic identity rooted in a personal lifestyle and another which emphasizes the importance of the social network in defining authenticity and identity.

Bibliography
McLeod, Kembew. 1999. “Authenticity Within Hip-Hop and Other Cultures Threatened with Assimiliation.”, Journal of Communication 49:134-150.

Weber, Max. 2001. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. London: Routledge

Williams, J. Patrick. 2006. “Authentic Identities: Straightedge Subculture, Music, and the Internet.”, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35(2):173-200.

Williams, J. Patrick. 2011. “Identity and Authenticity.” Pp. 126-145 in Subcultural Theory. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

“Love, Tolerance and Other Myths. – The Round Stable: Pony News” 2012. http://www.mlponies.com. Retrieved October 28, 2012. (http://www.mlponies.com/2012/06/20/love-tolerance-and-other-myths/)

Bronyspeak
Discord: Discord is a villain in MLP: FiM. A pony-dragon hybrid known as a “draconequus,” the character is introduced in the show’s second season premiere as a cunning manipulator with powerful magical abilities.

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