I’ve been delving a little into the Brony community recently. As an open and “out” fan of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, I felt it behooved me (no pun intended… all right, maybe a little) to actually try and engage with the wider community of fans. As such, I Googled for Brony communities and came across the Friendship Is Magic forum, which I promptly signed up for.
I haven’t been an active member of a forum since, ooh, about 2006 or so, I guess, when I was a relatively well-known member of the Times Educational Supplement forums. They were a good place to blow off steam about educational and general life issues as well as just chatting to like-minded people from a pretty wide variety of backgrounds — albeit usually with an interest or involvement in the teaching profession. I haven’t logged in there for a very long time now for a multitude of reasons, just one of which is the fact that social media has mostly taken over the functions that dedicated online communities once had.
But I was determined to make a go of it on Friendship is Magic. I introduced myself in the relevant section and started replying to a few threads. While I don’t think I’ve made a “name” for myself as yet, I like to think that my relatively few contributions so far have been noticed — and meanwhile, it’s given me a good opportunity to observe the Brony community from within.
You see, I had no idea what a “Brony” really was. Who are these people? Are they actually anything like me, or is the only thing we have in common a love of a show that is ostensibly for little girls? I was hoping to find out through joining the forum — and, as an aside, keeping an eye on the results of the intriguing Brony Study research project, which has been aiming to clarify attitudes both towards the community from without, and towards various pertinent issues surrounding the fanbase from within.
Thus far my (purely anecdotal) observations have been interesting. Bronies cover a wide and diverse array of human beings — young and old, male and female, and varying degrees removed from what society would deem “normality”. Some Bronies use 4chanesque dialect (“newfags”, “copypasta” et al), others use a clear, straightforward and polite means of communication. Some Bronies like to act “in character” and roleplay their original pony creations on the forum as a means of escapism; others are simply themselves; others still take the middle road and incorporate Ponyville dialect (“everypony”, “fillies and colts” et al) into their posts. Some Bronies love the show and actively participate in the huge creative community that has sprung up around it; some simply appreciate the content that others have created; others have no interest in it whatsoever.
In short, there’s not really a single unifying characteristic that it’s possible to point to and say “that’s a Brony” — besides an appreciation for My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, of course, and a seemingly-genuine sense of tolerance, acceptance and understanding, regardless of a person’s background and regardless of the depth of their affection for the show and its surrounding subculture.
Then, of course, there’s Rule 34, the aspect of the fandom that tends to get the most attention from outside. (If you don’t know what Rule 34 is, you need to brush up on your Rules of the Internet. Borderline NSFW and will probably offend everyone. No porn, though.) Indeed, when radio personality Howard Stern set out to explore the fandom in a recent show, an undue level of attention was given to certain parts of the community who generally prefer their activities to be kept behind a closed stable door, shall we say. This naturally and understandably upset those Bronies who don’t participate in that particular aspect of the fandom, and even prompted voice actor Tara Strong (who voices series protagonist Twilight Sparkle) to defend the entire community (and particularly the “Rule 34″ crowd) on Twitter.
While the “Rule 34″ stuff isn’t to my taste, I’m not about to denounce anyone for either enjoying or being involved in making it. It’s easy enough to avoid if you don’t want anything to do with it, and it’s there if you do. If it’s not hurting anyone, then knock yourself out, I say. Live and let live. Stern’s logic was based on a flawed assumption: the idea that if one fan likes something that is seen as “deviant” in some way, then clearly they all do! This is clearly, as I’ve seen even in my limited dealings with the community at large, absolute nonsense. Bronies, just like any community, come from a wide variety of backgrounds and each indulges in their passions to a varying degree. No-one’s approach to their fandom is “wrong” — assuming it’s not causing anyone (including the person themself) any distress — and if it’s a good outlet or means of getting away from the stresses of the day then, well, keep on cloppin’.
…wait, clopping means what?