The Bronies Were Always A Fandom: On Related Fields

Until this post, I have studied the Bronies from a subcultural perspective. Yet as I have mentioned in my first post, the Bronies are very much a fandom. Jenkins in his study of the Trekkie fandom offers a definition of “fandom”. ” “Fandom” is a vehicle for marginalised subcultural groups (women, the young, gays, etc.) to pry open space for their cultural concerns within dominant representations; it is a way of appropriating media texts and rereading them in a fashion that serves different interests, a way of transforming mass culture into a popular culture.” (Jenkins 1988:472) Beyond this definition however, Jenkins (1992) also offers a conception of the fandom based on five levels of activity. According to him (1992:277-280), these five levels include:
a) A particular mode of reception
b) A particular set of critical and interpretive practices
c) A base for consumer activism
d) Particular forms of cultural production, aesthetic traditions and practices
e) Functioning as an alternative social community

In my study of the Brony fanculture, I have noted how they in many ways reflect these five levels of activity. In this post, I will consider the second level of activity: a particular set of critical and interpretive practices. As Jenkins (1992) notes, “Part of the process of being a fan involves learning the community’s preferred reading practices.” (p. 278) Fan criticism is “playful, speculative, subjective.” (Jenkins 1992:278) Fan criticism is evident for instance in the random musings and discussions often posted on the Facebook page of the Singapore Brony Society following the release of a new episode of the show. It is also evident even prior to the release of new episodes when individuals “in-the-know” release spoilers and then speculate based on that information. Following the release of Season 3 Episode 5 “Magic Duel”, SBS members speculated the significance of a returned antagonist in the series, the unicorn and travelling magician known as Trixie. In that episode, Trixie, a known braggart and travelling magician of cheap tricks (though she constantly exaggerates her prowess) returns to Ponyville where she defeats Twilight, one of the six protagonists in MLP. SBS speculation ranged widely – from debates about her natural magical powers (which apparently have never been revealed till now), to how dystopic Ponyville would subsequently look like under her “rule” (this is an example of true fan speculation given that the typical ending of an MLP:FIM episode always ends with the 6 protagonists banding together and winning).

every pony would be her princess leia. she would build some ark and they would go travelling around equestria on that ark

It should however be noted that there are limits to the degree of speculation and play. Jenkins (1992) notes that as much as fans are engaged in “playful, speculative, subjective” critical and interpretive practices, they are also very much “concerned with the particularity of textual detail and with the need for internal consistency” (p. 278) not just across program episodes but also works produced by members of the community as well. Thus following the release of the 3rd season, significant criticism with regard to the portrayal of one character, Fluttershy, has been building in the community.
Screen Shot 2012-12-05 at 7.37.14 PM

Fig. 1

Various plot holes are also frequently identified by Bronies (see below).

Screen Shot 2012-12-05 at 7.37.55 PM

Fig. 2

A limit to the degree of play and speculation also exists as a result of what Jenkins (1988) terms the “moral economy” (p. 472). These “constraints, ethical…and self-imposed rules…are enacted by the fans, either individually or as part of a larger community, in response to their felt need to legitimate their unorthodox appropriation of mass media texts.” (Jenkins 1988:472) I found this concept particularly interesting for the study of subcultures. Could we apply the notion of a “moral economy” to the study of subcultures given that like fandoms, subcultures too are distinguished by appropriations and reworkings of various cultural artifacts?

Jenkins, Henry. 1988. “Star Trek Rerun, Reread, Rewritten: Fan Writing as Textual Poaching.”, Critical Studies in Mass Communication 5(2):85-107.

Jenkins, Henry. 1992. ” “In my weekend-only world…”: Reconsidering Fandom.” Pp. 277-287 in Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge.


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