“The virtual scale may even be seen as post-spatial as digital media break down the significance of space and place-based identities entirely.” (Williams 2011:163)
“The term “scales” comes from geography, where it has been used to spatialize the social world into nested hierarchies (e.g., local, regional, national, global).” (Williams 2011:146)
In this post, I focus on the notion of “scales” within which we can make sense of subcultures in general. Williams (2011) in his chapter on the said matter, distinguishes several “scales”. For instance, there is the category of “sociological scales” (Williams 2011), which can be further divided into “micro”, “meso” and “macro” scales. Then there are the “spatial scales” (ibid) – the “local”, the “trans-local”, the “global” and the “virtual”. The virtual scale is one particularly relevant to the Brony subculture. Elsewhere, I have mentioned that the Bronyism is also (and in fact, began as) an online subculture. It brings to mind Bell’s notion of “new, distinctly hybrid cyber-social groups rooted primarily in technology.” (Bell 2001 cited in Williams 2011:160) The Brony subculture is very much rooted in IP technologies such as Internet forums, YouTube, Facebook, 4chan and so on. Williams (2011) distinguishes between previous and recent considerations of the virtual scale. In what follows, I will explore first previous considerations of the virtual scale as examplified by the work of scholars such as Hodkinson (2002) and Bennett (2004). I argue that recent considerations of the virtual scale more adequately fit Bronyism.
Previous Considerations of the Virtual Scale
Previous considerations of the virtual scale can perhaps be summed up in one sentence: it considers the ways in which “members of local and trans-local scenes utilise new media technologies to enhance their subcultural participation.” (Williams 2011:158) For instance, Hodkinson (2002) notes how three kinds of insider media within the goth subculture reproduce the subculture virtually and trans-locally in “an efficient and effective way”. (Williams 2011:159) These three kinds of insider media include goth fanzines, flyers and the Internet. According to Hodkinson (2002), the Internet reproduces the goth subculture virtually and trans-locally and enhances the culture in various ways e.g. spreading information about trans-local events, linking up goths from around the world who may have never met. Undoubtedly, the Internet serves a similar function for the Bronies. Let us consider the example of the Bronies in Singapore. Through their Facebook page and internet sites such as Equestria Daily (http://www.equestriadaily.com/), various information or what Thornton (1996) would call “subcultural capital” is shared amongst members. The Internet in fact enables the dissemination of other types of insider and “virtual” media such as season premiere spoiler clips.
These clips are particularly important for the Bronies in Singapore given that the local screening of the cartoon series lags that in the US by one season. The above clip is taken from the series’s third season which is to be launched on the 11th of November. In spreading and viewing such clips, it enhances the subcultural participation of Singaporean Bronies, enabling them to speculate on the direction of the series together with their fellow Bronies in the US by being on the same page. It thus reproduces the subculture trans-locally. However, I would now like to return to my argument at the beginning of this post. With regard to Bronyism as a whole, framing the Bronies (and even the SBS) within previous considerations of the virtual scale is somewhat problematic.
Recent Considerations of the Virtual Scale
My issue with previous considerations of the virtual scale has to do with their focus on the notion of “subcultural participation enhancement”. Implicitly tied to this notion of “subcultural participation enhancement” is the notion of the local scale, that in going online, the subcultural participation of individuals in local scenes are enhanced. This is for instance evident in Hodkinson’s study of goth, “Hodkinson’s third media example, the internet, is the most obviously virtual of his examples, though it similarly functioned as a medium for communication among individuals dedicated to local or trans-local goth scenes.” (Williams 2011:159, emphasis mine) As Williams (2011) notes, rather than “demonstrating much of the potential that new media possess in creating virtual subcultural scenes……Hodkinson’s study, and others like it,……[give] primacy instead to traditional scales – local, trans-local and global…” (p. 160, addition mine) Following Williams (2011), I argue that the Brony fandom constitutes a virtual subcultural scene and not an extension of a local scene online. This virtual subcultural scene does not merely enhance subcultural participation but redefines it as well. Williams (2006) in his study of identity and authenticity in an online straightedge forum notes “the emergence of a new type of subculturalist…- one whose subcultural participation is limited to the internet.” (p. 173) Where the Internet is but a supplement for “music-straightedgers” (Williams 2006:183), it is “a primary or exclusive subcultural resource and medium” for “net-straightedgers” (ibid). The latter, as Williams writes, contest the necessity of involvement in face-to-face straightedge music scenes (ibid).
A face-to-face scene does not really exist for the Singapore Bronies. Though the Bronies may meet up periodically for gatherings (karoke or simply just hanging out) and even attend anime conventions such as the upcoming Anime Festival Asia, much subcultural participation is done online. One does not have to attend these gatherings or conventions in the physical world to be considered a Brony. The Singapore Bronies do not have a clubhouse. And unlike Bronies in the US, there is no yearly BronyCon at the national and town levels. In fact, it is somewhat difficult to imagine their online participation being taken offline e.g putting together a pony music video (PMV) and posting it on the SBS page, on one’s YouTube channel etc. I would argue that a face-to-face scene (if one does exist for the Singapore Bronies) is but a supplement to the virtual scene, in a sense, a reversal of the situation of Williams’ music-straightedgers. Evidently, besides enhancing subcultural participation, for the Singapore Bronies, participating on the Internet itself constitutes subcultural participation. For some members, it is the only form of subcultural participation since they don’t attend the periodic gatherings and conventions (In fact, these are often attended by the younger members of the SBS, aged between 14-18. In my conversations with so-called older Bronies like myself, they often mentioned fears of awkwardness when interacting with the younger Bronies in the flesh or the “realities of older adult life that prevent them from attending”. For them, merely participating online was enough.)
Bennet, Andy. 2004. “Virtual Subculture? Youth, Identity and the Internet.” Pp. 162-172 in After Subcultures: Critical Studies in Contemporary Youth Culture edited by Andy Bennett and Keith Kahn-Harris. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Williams, J. Patrick. 2006. “Authentic Identities: Straightedge Subculture, Music, and the Internet.”, Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 35(2):173-200.
Williams, J. Patrick. 2011. “Scales.” Pp. 146-164 in Subcultural Theory. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
And that’s how Equestria was made: In episode 23, “The Cutie Mark Chronicles”, Pinkie Pie explains how she got her cutie mark. She ends the story by saying, “And that’s how Equestria was made”. The phrase is commonly used in forum boards.