It saddens me to occasionally have to write posts like this, but today has been One of Those Days when you just want to pick significant portions of the Internet up by its collar and shake it about a bit.
Put simply: don’t be a dick.
Put more specifically: don’t make sweeping generalisations that might upset or hurt people.
This is good advice for interacting with the rest of the human race in general, and it applies to numerous situations on the Internet, the most common of which is the increasingly frequent discussions surrounding gender — and rightly so.
But that’s not the only place where these sweeping generalisations can hurt people. Those who have found solace in certain forms of entertainment and/or subcultures should not be ridiculed for the things they enjoy, so long as they’re not hurting anyone. Those who sport a particular type of headgear should not be automatically assumed to be sex pests. And on the rare occasions when someone from a particular subculture does step out of line or do something stupid, for heaven’s sake don’t get on your high horse and start painting the entire subculture as some sort of disgusting deviant cult.
Those who have been following me for a while will now that I identify as being on the periphery of the “brony” subculture — that is, adult-age fans of the TV show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I count myself in this collective due to the simple fact that it’s an excellent show, and the extent of my fandom is that my desk is adorned with a few figures, my wall is adorned with a giant Rainbow Dash picture that Andie bought me for Christmas, and Andie and I enjoy playing the My Little Pony collectible card game, which is actually a really solid and enjoyable little two-player game. I don’t really engage with the rest of the community any more than that; I had a brief stint posting on a pony forum, but that shut down temporarily and I never went back after the relaunch. I don’t make videos, I don’t write fanfic, I don’t make pony-related art, and I’m not into “rule 34″ stuff. (If you don’t know, for heaven’s sake don’t Google it.)
Which is why I was so upset earlier on to be greeted by a tweet from someone I follow that simply read “destroy all bronies” (in that slightly annoying, all lower-case, unpunctuated sort of way that a lot of people seem to be favouring these days) without any sort of context. It turned out that the tweet in question was to do with an unpleasant (and, it turned out, seemingly debunked) story that had been circulating regarding a recent pony convention: a Tumblr user had claimed that an unaccompanied 11 year old girl was being stalked by an older dude (oh, and he was a fat guy, too; how convenient!) and this subsequently degenerated into a discussion of how bronies were the scum of the Earth, how they were corrupting something “meant for little girls” and all manner of other nonsense that assumed everyone in the entire fandom behaved in exactly the same unpleasant manner.
I’m not going to deny there are some aspects of the fandom that delve into territories I’m not interested in exploring — see the aforementioned “rule 34″ — but the fact is that the fandom as a whole is a large and diverse one made up of both men and women, and the creed it holds itself to, on the whole, is “love and tolerate”. Which, in my experience, it does. Tarring the whole lot with the same brush is completely unhelpful, and of course people are going to get defensive if you start lumping them in with perverts, deviants and outright criminals.
The irony of today’s few “bronies should just leave My Little Pony for the little girls” discussions is that also in circulation today was an article, video or some other piece of “viral” media explaining how men shouldn’t be “gatekeepers of culture” for women and girls; if that’s the case, it works both ways, surely. Just don’t gate off aspects of culture at all, regardless of gender or age. Girls can be geeks. Boys can like My Little Pony. And, as one post I read earlier pointed out, it’s actually kind of cool for kids and adults to have something they can both engage with and enjoy together rather than deliberately segregating themselves from one another.
All this happens with anime, too. You only have to mention something vaguely moe for the “anime fans are paedophiles” crowd to come out and start making wild assumptions and accusations. I had a brief but interesting discussion with a Japanese otaku on Twitter the other night who was surprised, confused and disappointed to see that Western mainstream media discussion of the moe side of anime culture largely seemed to paint it as some sort of sexual deviance for perverts rather than simply what it is: an aesthetic designed to elicit an emotional reaction, and not necessarily sexual at all. (This isn’t to deny that there is sometimes a sexual aspect to moe, but to make it all about that is a gross oversimplification.)
What I find infuriating about a lot of the times you see ridiculous discussions like today — whether they’re about the creepiness of bronies, the paedo factor of anime fans, the rapey nature of men who choose to wear hats or whatever else Tumblr is angry about today — is that they often stem from people who are the first to jump atop the soapbox the moment there’s a perceived injustice against women, or people from non-white ethnic backgrounds, or transgender people, or those with a disability, or any number of other groups. It’s important to fight for justice in these areas, but doing so doesn’t give you “social justice credit” to be spent on being a dick towards groups of people who gather together based on something they enjoy or something they have in common. It’s a different situation, of course — you can choose what you’re a fan of, but you can’t choose your gender, race or all manner of other aspects about yourself — but the principles of love and tolerance still apply. People are different and diverse, both in terms of their non-negotiable characteristics and the things they choose to identify with, and that’s wonderful. Celebrate this diversity rather than trying to tear it down.
To put it another way: don’t be a dick, and I hope I never have to write a post like this again.