I remember the first time I heard about My Little Pony (MLP). I was online, searching for interesting mods (‘modifications’) to a role-playing game I play when I chanced upon a My Little Pony version. I then remember ‘youtubing’ the mod and watching cartoonish pegasi (instead of the game’s original dragons) flying around within the game world, squealing all the while (today I’ve learnt that the squeals are actually a pretty famous line from the series). Dismissing it as a tribute to another game which featured flying pegasi (‘Mr Toots’ from Red Faction), I closed the window and moved on. That was probably my first encounter with the children’s cartoon series, My Little Pony and its global community of much older and interestingly, male fans known as the Bronies (short for Bro Ponies – female fans of the series are known as Pegasisters).
So who are the Bronies? And why might they be worth sociological study? Perhaps it would be best to begin with a brief introduction to the My Little Pony cartoon series. First created in 1982, MLP began as a toy figurine created by Bonnie Zacherle in 1981. Then known as My Pretty Pony, it was produced by Hasbro and marketed as a toy for young girls. In 1983, the toy was redesigned and perhaps most importantly, renamed as My Little Pony. Sales of the toys took off and since then, a total of 4 generations (Wikipedia 2012) of MLP toys have been sold in the US and around the world. The first MLP cartoon series was broadcast on television in 1986. Running for a year, the action/adventure series consisted of 63 10 minute episodes. A second cartoon series, My Little Pony Tales, was launched in 1992. It ran for 6 months and was significantly different in terms of genre (‘slice of life’ (Wikipedia 2012)) and target audience (‘older pre-adolescents’ (ibid)) from its predecessor. For the next 18 years, there would be no MLP cartoons though the toy line would see significant changes.
In 2010, Hasbro brought on animator Lauren Faust (who previously worked on another famous cartoon series, the Powerpuff Girls) to reboot the cartoon series. Titled My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, the cartoon tells the story of six ponies who embark on a quest to save the land of Equestria from evil as well as spread the messages of love, friendship and tolerance. Under Faust’s direction, the animation and art styles of the series were updated. A new storyline as well as new characters were introduced. Perhaps the greatest change was Faust’s conscious decision to steer clear of the ‘usual gender stereotypes, such as equating girls with pink’ (Ann Zechariah 2011) and keeping the show gender neutral (ibid). Evidently, these changes have worked, attracting not only more young girls aged between 6 to 12 but new and unexpected audiences as well – by this, I am of course referring to the Bronies.
So who are the Bronies? In short, they are a ‘worldwide community of fanboys, from tweens to grown men, who have fallen in love with the show’ (Ann Zachariah 2011:2). However, Bronies do not just merely watch the show. Their love for the show is expressed in a wide variety of other practices which range from buying dolls of their favourite pony to writing fanfiction and even attending MLP conventions. But one may ask, aren’t there other worldwide communities of fanboys who have fallen in love with other cartoons and who display similar behaviours? How do they differ from your fanboy who enjoys The Clone Wars series or Avatar: The Last Airbender? As Rebecca Angel (2012) suggests in her column entitled “In Defense of Bronies”, Bronies have evoked strong negative reactions from certain people (in Angel’s article, certain other Wired writers). Their comments range from “pedophilia, to escapism, to gender and age bias, to delayed maturation’. Perhaps the most common reaction have been those that accuse them of emasculation, that bronies are not masculine and not straight either because they like “girl” things (Angel 2012). It appears that despite Faust’s decision to keep the show gender-neutral, collective memory continues to ‘gender’ and view MLP through other coloured lenses. Bronies thus constitute a subculture in the sense that they are considered non-normative and possibly occupy a marginal position in the overall male gender structure.
As earlier mentioned, the bronies can be found throughout the world, even in Singapore (Ann Zachariah 2011). The Singapore Bronies Society (a Facebook page set up in August 2011) represents the local community of bronies. The 834 members (as of 2nd September 2012) of the SBS represent both genders (although it appears a significant of them are male), the 4 races and several nationalities. In my survey of its membership, it appears that most members would be considered youths in terms of age. Like most Bronies around the world, the Singapore bronies also create fan-art, fan-fiction, create remix videos, cosplay amongst other fan practices. They have also organised gatherings. Somewhat inspired by the series itself, the SBS pledge is to “Pledge ourselves as one united group. Regardless of parasprites, manticores and hydras. To build an awesome society, based on dedication and more awesomeness. So as to achieve honesty, loyalty, kindness, generosity, laughter and magic for our group!” (Singapore Bronies Society 2012)
Angel, Rebecca. 2012. “In Defense of Bronies.” Wired, May 27.
Ann Zachariah, Natasha. 2011. “Pony posse.” Straits Times, October 30.
“Singapore Bronies Society: About.” 2012. Singapore Bronies Society Facebook Page. Retrieved September 01, 2012. (https://www.facebook.com/groups/singaporebroniessociety/members/)
“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fandom.” 2012. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved September 01, 2012. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bronies)
Welcome to the herd: After an individual gets hooked on the show, other fans often formally welcome them by saying “Welcome to the herd”. This is commonly combined with an image macro featuring the character Pinkie Pie with hypnotic swirly eyes. Other variations of welcoming have also been created along with various catchphrases. A popular derivative of this is“You shall be assimilated”.