If you have no idea what a Brony is, check out this article by Madeleine Davies over on Jezebel. It’s actually the impetus for this post, though I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a long time. The linked article is a pretty thoughtful and in-depth look at the culture of the Brony fan-group, one done with humor that manages not to denigrate or ridicule the group looked at (all too rare particularly when the media turns its eye on the men who love My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.)
Anyway, it got me thinking again about MLP:FiM and the non-child fandom surrounding it, and how my moral issues with certain aspects intersect with the optimism the fandom inspires in me, particularly in regard to my own small son. I should say, at the outset, we are a My Little Pony family. Every member of our little household actively enjoys watching the show. I’ve personally been a fan of Hasbro’s My Little Pony line since I was little, and one of my very next cosplays will be Twilight Sparkle (more on that soonish I hope!), though I don’t identify as a Brony or Pegasister or whatever. For us parents, it’s a welcome break from the endless repetitions of Curious George (an admirable show in its way, but I’ve seen it so. many. times.) or Sesame Street (also admirable, but not designed to capture the adult interest). For my son? Well, he likes ponies and pretty colors like pink or purple or blue, and dragons. So he learns about friendship and being kind to those around you and we get to enjoy a cleverly written cartoon.
But here’s the thing. Not a single one of us are the target demographic for that show. Nor, might I add, do we NEED the show. We all are targeted heavily in our own demographics by a slew of shows which appeal to us in some of the same ways as MLP does. Curious George (among others) teaches friendship and kindness with a little boy protagonist for my son. I have a slew of anime with cute animations and female friendships to enjoy. Firefly and Supernatural provide my husband with hours of entertainment with snappy one-liners and clever visual puns. But little girls often don’t get a lot of media directed at them, and much of it isn’t very good here in the west. More importantly, the media they do get directed at them is considered lesser, regardless of the actual quality of it. It’s silly-little-girl stuff, no substance, no important messages, no inherent value that the rest of us should applaud and/or enjoy. No one is lauding Dora the Explorer or Doc McStuffins (Btw, both pretty good shows of their kind, both celebrating even more underserved populations, little girls of color) as the next “Thing.” Because something only becomes culturally relevant if men and boys enjoy it. Then, suddenly it’s noteworthy.
Most troubling is the darker side of Brony culture. Many Bronies deny it exists, or take a #NotAllBronies attitude toward it, but very few actually address it, or call people out on the active misogyny and grossness exhibited in some corners of Ponydom. The insistence that Ponies are for Them, not little girls. The simultaneous dismissal of women and girls as lesser while taking ownership of our media. The pornification of cartoon-characters* aimed at little girls. These are deeply deeply gross. Are they the sorts of things that happen in any large fandom? Yes, yes they are. But just because “everyone has this problem” does not give you a free pass on confronting and attempting to eradicate the issue in your own house. This isn’t about “every other fandom” in the world. This is about THIS fandom right here. Address the issues, don’t sidestep them.
But there’s another side to my feelings about Brony culture and MLP:FiM. That is hope. The surge of the good parts of Bronydom gives me hope for the future and for my son. Maybe the fandom of the little-girl show is taken over by adult men, but it’s still a show aimed at little girls setting the current cultural trend. Men are still appreciating and celebrating “girly” things, and celebrating other men and boys who enjoy it. Men and boys are being allowed (in certain narrow but widening spaces) to enjoy things that don’t play into the traditional “manly” narrative. Things such as pink and purple ponies, female-centric casts, friendship, non-violent conflict resolution, and silly songs are being allowed for them. My son’s current favorite color bounces around (toddlers: attention spans of gnats!) but he fairly consistently chooses purple. In many places and not too distantly in the past, the mere choice of that innocuous color would have singled him out as “gay” (because colors have gender and sexuality…) or a “sissy-boy” and most likely would have gotten him bullied and/or beaten if he persisted in choosing that color later in life. Spreading the Magic of Friendship has helped to dispel some of that BS, and as the population of self-identified Bronies continues to grow, so too will the acceptance.
Meanwhile, there’s an enjoyable show that I can share with my son to make sure I raise him not to be part of that bullshit statistic of “boys don’t consume female-led media, because ew cooties.” He enjoys Ponies, and he learns that girls and female characters can have fun adventures, and exciting stories, and not be centered around boys all the time. Maybe he’ll retain the lesson enough to realize women often have fun adventures and exciting stories and he is not in fact the center of every story.
I guess my point is: like what you like, do what you do. But don’t use the excuse of liking something to push others out of spaces meant for them in the first place, realize just because you enjoy a story doesn’t mean it’s for you, and that’s ok. It’s ok to enjoy or appreciate a story for someone else. It helps build empathy with people Not Like You. But it’s not ok to trick yourself into thinking the story is about you. Most importantly, don’t ignore prejudice and ickyness in your peer-group just because you share a common interest. Shared interest in something awesome is not a Get Out of Jail Free card for being a giant bag of dicks. This applies to any community, not just ones created for underserved groups like women and minorities, but it’s especially true there. You are your Brony’s keeper, that’s how we make sure everyone can access and enjoy the benefits of the Magic of Friendship.
*I’m not getting down on cartoony-porn, in fact that’s one of my preferred forms of sexy-media. I’m condemning the sexualisation of an entirely non-sexual story/character aimed at little girls. Our culture has already walked too far down the road of sexualizing girls. Every step we take further down that road is another step away from equality and stopping the violence perpetrated every day against women and girls of all ages.