Explaining the Brony Phenomenon
Update: Thanks so much to Equestria Daily for the link!
This is now my most popular post ever! =)
In 2010, an animated series entitled My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic debuted on cable tv. It was praised by critics for its humor and moral outlook, and attracted an audience of young girls, as the producers had expected. What wasn’t expected was the other audience, a massive group of fans calling themselves “bronies” and consisting mainly of young men. (“bro”+”pony” = “brony”)
Let me just say that again: There are guys out there, who are not gay, who are not 4 years old, who openly adore a tv show called My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. And not just a few guys; there’s a lot of them.
This is big. How big? Well first off you can look at all the brony fanfiction, but it’s bigger that that. There’s also brony art and brony comics, but it’s bigger than that. There’s a major trend of pony music videos, so songs like Bohemian Rhapsody are sung by ponies on YouTube. There are also songs from Weird Al and the opening song of the cartoon show Freakazoid with parody lyrics so now it’s about ponies. Then there are the songs from the show itself, and the remixes of those songs, and the hoards of bronies making sing-along versions of the songs. People have produced whole albums of original music somehow connected to the show. The bronies have already made a high-quality rap song about being a brony. In fact there’s so much music out there that you can now listen to it 24 hours a day over at Celestia Radio.
But it goes beyond music. There’s also a trend of using ponies to dub movie trailers, so Forrest Gump becomes Rainbow Gump and Watchmen become WatchPonies. There’s a Pony Bebop and a Samurai Applejack. There are also multiple abridged series out there, which means fans are redubbing their own voices to make affectionate parodies of the show. But it’s bigger than that.
Bronies have taken random background ponies and imagined all sorts of details, creating characters like Derpy and Doctor Whooves, both of which have their own dedicated fan projects. And they’ve made random phrases from the show into popular memes, such as “20% cooler”.
Bronies are even setting up a charity group called Bronies for Good. Somebody rewrote “We Are the World” to be about ponies so it could be used in brony charity drives. (Oh wait that was me. And I’m also voicing a character in a Doctor Whooves radioplay, and I’ve just been accepted as a cast member for Magical Pony Theater 3000.)
People have made pony playing cards and pony video games. There’s a pony mod of Super Smash Brothers Brawl, a game called My Little Investigations, a pony spinoff of pokemon, a 3D pony racing game, a seperate 3D pony game, a pony dating sim, two pony MMO’s, a high-quality fighting game, and a flash game called The Fiends from Dream Valley which features actual professional voice actors. (Most of these aren’t complete yet.)
All of this is fan-based. None of it was funded or officially sponsored by the actual owners of My Little Pony.
Did I mention that the show has only aired one season so far, and the next season is still months away?
The brony phenomenon has gotten so big that the fans need dedicated aggregator websites like Equestria Daily just to keep track of it all. And don’t forget all the activity at ponychan. This thing is huge, at least considering the original intended audience of the show.
The question is: Why? Why would a show aimed at little girls attract such a large audience of non-little-girls? Most bronies would give a simple answer: “This show is awesome”. But it goes deeper than that.
Clearly it’s a good show, with good characters, good writing, and good animation. But that hardly explains the scale of the brony phenomenon.
The big factor is the brony community itself. The community sustains and expands itself, and the show has become a proxy for a variety of values and relationships that are much more important and fundamental than the actual show. Allow me to explain:
Though we don’t often realize it, young men (approx. age 13-29) are constrained by a variety of social norms. (The same applies to any other demographic, of course.) We tend to enjoy badass things like superheroes and martial arts. (Well we’re mostly internet nerds so we don’t do much martial arts, but we watch martial arts movies etc.) We spend a lot of time playing Halo or Modern Warfare, killing aliens and terrorists. This is all fine; we actually do enjoy this stuff. But for most of our lives, we have been socially prohibited from enjoying anything cute, pure or innocent. (Even our comedies are crude.) This prohibition is so strong that we don’t even realize it’s there; we don’t even think about various styles of entertainment which don’t fit within our social norms. (And those who deviate are often derrided as “fags” etc.) This has created a kind of emotional malnutrition; we have not allowed ourselves to consume as much cuteness, pureness or innocence in our media as we would actually like to consume.
MLP:FiM contains all of these elements in spades, with the strong bonus that it’s a well-made show overall. With the advent of the brony community, young men have collectively granted each other permission to rewrite our own social norms and relieve our malnutrition. The existence of the community encourages new bronies to “come out of the closet” as it were, not to admit that we are gay (which we typically aren’t), but to admit that we enjoy these elements which are typically regarded as feminine and/or socially prohibited to us. Thus the community enables our enjoyment of the show, and the exhilaration we experience at successfully changing our own social norms is one of the primary feelings that we share with each other. (Though most people don’t think this through in such detail, and reduce the entire phenomenon to “This show rocks!”)
A side note: young men often use “gay” as an insult, but the bronies have decided that Rainbow Dash is gay (though this is not canon within the show), and this is not meant as an insult. Rainbow Dash may be the first (allegedly) gay character whom young men allow themselves to enjoy and admire. So again, we’re changing our own social rules for the better.
The other half of the community factor is the way community members treat each other. A lot of us come from forums and websites where nastiness is expected, with plenty of insults and flame wars. The brony community, inspired both by the show and by our desire for change, has embraced “tolerance and love” as defining features. Perhaps it’s no surprise that the brony phenomenon began on 4chan, which is particularly known for nastiness and whose members are probably most in need of a more tolerant online community. (Though not all 4chan participants took kindly to the bronies, who later formed a spinoff site at PonyChan) As a sociology student recently pointed out, various community discussions exemplify the sort of thing that young men can do with fellow bronies that they cannot do with their other peers. We have collectively granted each other permission to be nice to one another, and we love it. Once again, it all depends on community.
(By the way, the community would not have grown half this large if Hasbro had taken the standard hardline legal route, issuing takedown orders against youtube videos etc. Intra-community communication and expression would have been greatly hampered in that case. But Hasbro has done quite the opposite; in fact they even acknowledged bronies in a recent advertisement.)
A thread on ponychan reached similar conclusions, and included this quote:
“Shame” is an interesting word. I think the cuteness and childishness appeals to our original innocence, and innocence knows no shame.
Ponies are not the beginning either; /b/tards [users of the particular 4chan forum where the phenomenon started] have a history of embracing cute and innocent things. That was Boxxy’s appeal. Then there’s cats. Rozen Maiden. Robot Unicorn Attack. The list goes on. What’s interesting is this runs parallel with the /b/tard reputation for being the most vile, wretched goblins on the entire interbutts. I think they’re connected. I think in order to get a disgusting perverted adult, you have to start with a kid just oozing innocence, and beat the [crap] out of them. Feed them lies, then laugh at them for believing you. Watch the disillusion sink in as their innocence is torn from them in childhood, seared out of them in school, and then are cast out into the world to be bachelor frogs. So they [..] struggle with major depression and they rage and they do all the things damaged people do. But somewhere deep down they remember what they were. Maybe part of them is still that way. They see ponies, and damn society’s gender roles, they like them. [...] they continue to watch the show because it reminds them of something good and pure they had before the hardness of the world robbed them of it.
Clearly, this is more than just a tv show to us.
Yes, the show is good, but the biggest reason to watch the show is to join the community. Yes, the mash-ups are fun, but the biggest reason to watch or create mashups is to become part of the community. By these activities, we’re not just enjoying the actual content, we’re enjoying the ideals behind that content, ideals which go beyond the original intentions of the show’s creators.
That is why the bronies are awesome. That is why I’m a brony.
A small sample of brony media:
Fall weather friends poster: http://timon1771.deviantart.com/art/Fall-Weather-Friends-Poster-209707240
Drawfriend Stuff #139 http://www.equestriadaily.com/2011/07/drawfriend-stuff-139.html
Equestria Election: http://equestria-election.deviantart.com/
Album Covers: http://xfizzle.deviantart.com/gallery/31413814
Colbert Pony: http://www.ponychan.net/chan/pic/src/131235152554.jpg
Pinkazoid intro: http://kinkyturtle.masemware.com/pictures/ponies/pinkazoid-song.jpg
Fluttershy Origins http://dreatos.deviantart.com/#/d427j7f
SUPER MY LITTLE PONY BROTHERS http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_mDOCQdq3o&feature=related
YTPMV: Pinkie Pie is INVINCIBLE http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIQK_RRSJ3E&feature=related
Barrel Roll Pinkie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ktpuiNHE29E&feature=related
Double Rainbow Dash http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1GRj6CNSGg&feature=related
MLP – Fluttershys 20% cooler version – Fireflies Parody http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxoGmVjAsmE&feature=related
KeepOnRockin’ – Friendship is Magic http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=_5ElVSviTfA
Eurobeat Pony: http://www.last.fm/music/Eurobeat+Brony
Art of the Dress: http://soundcloud.com/user8596531/artofthedress-prop2
Friendship Is Magic – Brony Appreciation Medley (500 sub video) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=urnUYQt-9bc
Brony [Cover] rap: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbAbH9T1ul0&feature=related
Pony Swag (Clean Radio Edit) rap : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1IFiyhffP0&feature=related
MLP PMV – I’m Awesome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K6dq_tbapBY
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Bohemian Rhapsody AMV http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4zc4aPGOubE&NR=1&feature=fvwp
Pinkazoid! TV Intro http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9srCxUtK1U
Pinkazoid latin (Pinkazoide español latino) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyePGKxPVPQ&feature=related
[MLP FiM] – I’ll make a man out of you http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmHAqgAFt6E
Rainbow Dash is Gay (or European) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yW-Hx78N9k
My Little Pony AMV Epic (7 Artists) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=irQ_d78feMA&feature=related
In Celestia We Trust http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GytIOETD8IU
DJ P0n-3 takes a request from Doctor Whoof http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aftGF6PIfBo
My Little Bad Horse http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xS9JcYR1uPw
Dr. Horrible + MLP = Bad Horse http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNWi5T7khoo
Play Like Pinkie Pie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UXGEbaP5Ug&feature=player_embedded
Avenue eQuestria: If Rainbow Dash Was Gay http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eASBYf7GbYA&feature=related
Filly to the Future: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgPmTGfHk98&NR=1
MLP PMV – Perform This Way http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IIq7P0jBfRQ
Bronies United – Stitching it Together (The Art of the Dress) Singalong: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzjhu0QY7yo
Bronies United – Winter Wrap-Up (Singalong/Cover) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjpnRdIl9Mw
Super Ponybeat: http://odysseymusic.bandcamp.com/album/super-ponybeat-vol-1
Movie Trailers etc.:
Rarity is seduced by the one wing http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P09sr01_wZE&feature=related
Ponycraft 2 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJbAT1wzS8U
The Rainbow Knight http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sfu_Zn5zkX4
300 Ponies http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VTlGYS6rAfA0
Rainbow Dash – The Movie [Unofficial Trailer] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0C9fDFuaruA&NR=1
Camaraderie is Supernatural – Episode 01 – Mockery in the Moon http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Nv8gZ8jGAA
MLP: FiM Abridged Parody Episode 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApJayBaGtmU
MLP – FiM- Twilight meets Fluttershy fandub http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwJbzEl2w0I&feature=related
Chinese Friendship is Magic Demo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INMcYwliQGc
Pinkazoid latin (Pinkazoide español latino) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyePGKxPVPQ&feature=related
MLP Zero-Race GM Base Test https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEajgWrptJQ
Story of the Blanks: http://onemorelevel.com/game/story_of_the_blanks
The Fiends From Dream Valley – Update 5 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9ZQogD4ego
Savage Worlds: Pony RPG Campaign Transcripts (Update Part 8!) http://www.equestriadaily.com/2011/05/savage-worlds-pony-rpg-campaign.htm
Super Smash Ponies: Friendship is Magic (Beta Download!) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukhrjzW3FOw&feature=player_embedded
The Legend of Celestia (Fully Playable 1st Draft) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9eggioShxc&feature=player_embedded
Pony playing cards: http://chromadancer.deviantart.com/art/MLP-FiM-Playing-Card-Deck-215800803
Equestria Online – Demo (Stage 1) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSQzWYWP0qY&feature=player_embedded
Sonic Rainboom – Touhou Danmakufu http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m7i-IEpZmo&feature=player_embedded
Equestria Online – http://www.equestriaonline.com/
Derpy Delivery – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XR5XG7vFf2I
Lack of Social Awareness Pony http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNyjPS-OZLs&feature=related
“Pony-Net” An exploration into pony recognition algorithms. http://www.ponychan.net/chan/collab/res/12343.html
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic provides a realistic representation of life in Ponyville http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zHZj8Xp-Ik
Inside Pinkie’s Brain – A Newcomer Appears http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yJoVQ0O6bg&feature=related
Real Bronies of Genius:
Twilight Jenkins http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mCojSVaji4&NR=1
My Little Leeroy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKs-MHFil0k&feature=related
Music Reviews: http://www.furaffinity.net/view/6188588/
Creating a movie posted for every episode: http://ponies.timondesign.com/?category_name=uncategorized
Pinkie Pie Likes Space http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKmZFPvs-zw
MLP FIM FanFic http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5x8bZJPovUQ
Doctor Whooves – Allons-y http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_8FEjV6pBo
Pony PSP Theme http://www.equestriadaily.com/2011/07/pony-psp-theme.html
Darth Fluttershy http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=MsC4k72TqBs
Pinkamena Vader Pie http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=uRYE9mVcNh0
Solidarity is Illusion: The Political Economy of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic http://www.overthinkingit.com/2011/02/24/my-little-pony-political-economy/
Better Copyright Through Fair Use and Ponies http://tech.slashdot.org/story/11/07/28/0124213/Better-Copyright-Through-Fair-Use-and-Ponies
Poll Results: Which Pony Looks Best in Socks? http://www.equestriadaily.com/2011/07/poll-results-which-pony-looks-best-in.html
Derpy’s Great Muffin Adventure http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvtYOLe6Gh8&feature=player_embedded
Bronies for Good: http://www.equestriadaily.com/2011/08/bronies-for-good.html
The Brony Show: http://www.equestriadaily.com/2011/08/live-brony-show.html
Celestia Radio: http://ponify.me/
Doctor Whooves All of Time and Space: http://doctorwhoovescomic.com/
Ponychan Brony Changes His Legal Name To Rainbow Dash: http://www.equestriadaily.com/2011/06/ponychan-brony-changes-his-legal-name.html
The Most Interesting Pony in the World http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SiPIY9yHCsg&feature=related
Bronies New Zealand: https://www.facebook.com/groups/210280865689888
Knights of Canterlot: http://www.youtube.com/user/KnightsOfCanterlot
Rarity gets no respect – Pony Parody #1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9xSPQPM-Rc&feature=related
My Little Boredom http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PL86vt9tqGk
ASDF Ponies http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrV22tsF5V8
Just Another Pony Video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jHnTgz1HEU
Pony Parody – Oh My God A Giant Rock http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzW5c-c3XkE&feature=related
Who is in Equestria? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WjG0t3p_CAQ
My Little Pony – Rainbow Dash – You’re Gonna Go Far Kid [Explicit] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVCFV7jT9ho&feature=related
It’s okay to not like My Little Pony (A response to anti-bronies) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaH4wFL7P8c&feature=related
Celestia is the final boss (Now 20% more cooler, maybe.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXXkafQd_bg&NR=1
http://www.equestriadaily.com/ (The biggest site)
The Surprising Cult-Popularity of My Little Pony http://www.totalmediabridge.com/the-surprising-cult-popularity-of-my-little-pony/
My Little Pony Corrals Unlikely Fanboys Known as ‘Bronies’ http://www.wired.com/underwire/2011/06/bronies-my-little-ponys/
My Little Bronies: Why the Internet is Magic https://asociologist.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/guest-post-my-little-bronies-why-the-internet-is-magic/
Pony Up Haters: How 4chan Gave Birth to the Bronies http://www.betabeat.com/2011/08/03/pony-up-haters-how-4chan-gave-birth-to-the-bronies/
Why is Friendship Magic? An analasys of the Brony Subculture. http://www.ponychan.net/chan/dis/res/4281.html
Copyrighted work used under Fair Use
Yes, it was actually me who posted as “Sonicsuns” at http://community.wizards.com/pony/go/thread/view/121441/28100751/=D?pg=last and http://www.mlponies.com
I’m also known as “Sonicsuns!!DjAGx2LmRj” at ponychan.