The Guy Watching is HOW Old?

Curator's Note

Children’s cartoons have long been considered niche programming but My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (FiM) is itself aimed at a very particular niche in children’s television, little girls aged between two and eight. Despite the creative team’s careful targeting FiM has developed a cult following among adults, in particular men in their twenties and thirties, who are called ‘brother ponies’, or ‘bronies’. The bronies say that the appeal of the show is down to the great storytelling, quality character designs, and the involvement of Lauren Faust, who worked on The Powerpuff Girls.

Due to their age, stronger written articulacy, and internet presence the bronies effectively represent a very vocal niche audience for FiM. Their desires do not align with either the show’s target audience of little girls, or those of the producer Hasbro.  The bronies’ interest in FiM is clearly transgressive. It is considered odd by many for grown men to like a cartoon made for little girls and this is reflected in the numerous news stories about bronies, including this one. However much the bronies argue that the programme is a high quality product that can be enjoyed by a large audience, there are insinuations that their fandom is a perversion. This is particularly the case when non-fans encounter activities such as ‘shipping’ between ponies because it inserts sexual activity into what were perceived as innocent children’s narratives. Although few bronies engage in shipping, those that do, confirm an unspoken suspicion.

Despite this, the bronies are being actively courted by the writers of the show and the channel, The Hub who air FiM. For example this promotional trailer by the Hub, parodies Katy Perry’s California Gurls. It states that the ‘bronies hang out too, because we’re awesome fillies’. Although fun, this isn’t really aimed at the little girls who are supposed to be watching the show. Fan creations like Derpy, the clumsy cross-eyed pony who delivers mail, have been adopted by the show as canon and incorporated into episodes after becoming popular among the Internet forums. This suggests that these niche fans have more power over FiM than the show’s main audience. In addition the Bronies have demanded specific merchandising aimed at adults such as complete seasons on Blu-Ray DVDs and collector figures of popular ponies.

Comments

Caroline Ferris Leader's picture

The 'perversion' jump by brony critics

I’ve heard a lot about bronies before and your article convinced me to surf YouTube and see what the bronies had to say for themselves. To me, bronies seem to represent more of an offshoot of gamer/manga fan culture, finding FiM through animation memes and technofile blogs.

Critics who deem bronies ‘perverse’ are making an uncomfortable jump. They are transfering the group’s interest in the pony narrative into a desire for the intended audience, young girls. This logic is haphazard at best. It stigmatizes and potentially criminalizes subversive fan culture. It also dismisses adult interest in children’s media, which does exist (adults do write these shows, after all). Finally, it makes an assumption about audiences at large-that one fan group derives the same meanings out of the text as every other. If so, we’d better stop audience research now.

Great commentary, Rachel. This is an important area to discuss.

Rachel Mizsei Ward's picture

Evidencing the perversion assumption

 I can see a precedent to the bronies in the mid 1990s manga/ anime fan communities where male fans were consuming shojo franchises such as Sailor Moon. Shojo is similarly aimed at girls, with stories about female friendship and romance. I find it interesting that men wanted to consume something that was so gendered feminine. From personal experiences of some of these fans, who were consuming not only Sailor Moon, but also romantic comedies like Ramna ½, Maison Ikkoku and Revolutionary Girl Utena; they never admitted to me that these were romances and that was one reason why they enjoyed them. However in a sense I think that was even more problematic in many people’s eyes than FiM. Watching anthropomorphic ponies isn’t the same as watching Sailor Moon where the core characters are 14 year-old girls.

Although we can see the subtleties in the ways different audiences consume and understand material like FiM, I’m not sure that the popular press does. The article in Wired last year presents the bronies as curios and freaks, while Time feels it essential to point out that the FiM fan site Equestria Daily is “run by a man”! The Huffington Post talks about "public fascination with this curious subculture", and uses this as an excuse to cover a fan convention, where bronies can be presented as figures of fun and the Wall Street Journal thinks its important to confirm that the majority of bronies are straight, (this in itself making unacceptable assumptions about the gay community). I feel that its this kind of public discourse that makes audiences like the bronies look perverse and transgressive. 

Aca-Bronies

Rachel, this is so interesting . Thanks for posting your thoughtful take on this phenomenon, as well as the links in your follow up comments which really usefully contextualise your observations there.

I first became aware of this "bronie" phenomenon about six months ago when it was explained to me by a peer who was drawn to it both by intellectual curiosity and his own fandom, although he was evidently wrestling with a certain amount of self-imposed tension between these two modes of engagement. What I mean by this is that while he talked about it as something he was interested in researching in the first instance, when he subsequently professed his fandom, he adopted a slightly defensive position: "Well, it is a really good show." This of course is commensurate with the fans’ claims for the show’s quality that you mention, but also seems reactive to the public discourse positioning of the bronies as transgressive that you go on to discuss, and that Caroline also referred to.

ethan tussey's picture

Is it an artistic statement?

Reading your interesting post, I kept thinking of Pee Wee Herman and the 1960s Batman as famous examples of children’s programs celebrated and read transgressively by adults. In both those previous examples there was some claim to high art (for Batman their was the pop art movement and for Herman a celebration of post-modern style). Many of the comments about the show suggest it is "good" but is the fact that it is not linked to a respected art movement part of the reason that the popular press is creeped out by bronies? You mention that the niche audience is acknowledged by the shows producers but is there a higher artistic purpose?

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