The Brony Phenomenon
Leigh Walsh (aka Cork electro artist Takeshi and the Kid) decodes the Brony phenomenon dividing the internet, as well as the greater contexts it inhabits.
Chances are if you’ve spent a lot of time on the internet, you’ve run into the word “Brony” or seen character art and videos from the new My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic cartoon. Some people get very confused, or assume it’s a joke.
So what is the “Brony” community and how did it attain so much popularity? It’s a very modern phenomenon. It largely owes its existence to the free-flowing nature of internet culture. I myself was roped in after seeing a couple of well made music videos on Youtube, and it seems such clips were effective in piquing interest in others. I’m going to focus on the gender roles aspect of this, as I believe it to be the secret to this iteration of the franchise’s success, and the most interesting discussion to have, before talking about my my own experiences with the community.
Traditionally, girls’ cartoons, girls’ toys, everything specially made for girls was viewed with derision from the denomination that currently makes up a large portion of the “Brony” community. It can’t be viral exposure alone that made it. The truth is that while it does have some girly and cutesy elements, it doesn’t feel that much like a traditional girls’ cartoon – while still being a girls’ cartoon. How did this come about?
One answer to this is the series creator Lauren Faust, who’s a kind of mother figure to the Brony community, and regularly replies to comments on her Deviantart. She’s known by animation geeks for previously being involved with cartoons such as The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. Faust played with Ponies as a child, but didn’t want to repeat the sickly sweet nature of the old cartoons. Being a lifelong feminist, she brought a more feministic approach to the idea of “how to make a girls’ cartoon” – something still severely lacking in the media. Her work on MLP echoes a popular sentiment of a recent campaign for more diversity in girls’ toys – “There’s more than one way to be a girl”.
In a blog post on MsMagazine.com; she explains the following -
“I have been a lifelong feminist, and as an artist working in the animation industry for more than 16 years I have striven to do right by women and girls in the animated projects I have been part of. I try to bring sincerity and depth to the female characters I’ve animated and have fought in development and story meetings to make female characters more than just the typical girlfriend, Mom or sex symbol. I’ve even fought to see that there was more than just one girl character in whatever project I was working on. Sometimes I swayed my coworkers (often it was easy, to their credit) and sometimes I lost. My goal, as an artist and as a storyteller, was to one day have a show of my own for and about girls.”
This is represented in the cast – you don’t have to be a traditional pink pony, you can also be an unruly tomboy like Rainbow Dash. But you don’t have to be a tomboy either – you can still be a classy lady like Rarity (a personal favourite, as she’s pretty much lifted out of an Absolutely Fabulous episode). And even the pink one isn’t a traditional girly girl – she would be perfectly at home with the cast of Animaniacs.
Having a cast with diverse characteristics like is a big part of the show’s appeal. I’m reminded of another “girly” property popular with geeky males – the bullet hell shooter series that spawned a general multimedia sensation; Touhou Project. It’s cute as hell, ridiculously popular in Japan and catching on in the west, and has a wide variety of characters. Everyone has a favourite. It differs from a lot of similar properties – as My Little Pony does from girls’ cartoons – in that while the characters look cute, they’re not bland stereotypes, and all have individual traits and personalities.
The average male would normally not want to be associated with anything girly – and even worse something “feminist”. Yet somehow the combination of the two has lead to a far reaching audience; as the byproduct is a world and cast of characters that can’t be easily pigeonholed. As properties like LEGO take a huge step backwards with their “LEGO Friends” line, such a refreshing take on what something “Made for girls” can mean was bound to garner some positive attention. Add to it quality writing, viral music videos on youtube, a strong online community churning out remixes, fanart etc., and it’s not hard to see how it’s become such a success.
I had the chance to join in with the Irish Brony group up in Dublin at the start of last month. The group first met outside Burger King and made their way to Merrion park for a picnic. There was a group effort at singing “Winter Wrap Up” accompanied by Ukulele. It was rather surreal – I’m still not sure how much I fit in there, despite having been a fan of the show for some time. There was a large and somewhat diverse group of around 30 people, of all shapes and sizes, one or two even came in cosplay. And there were at least as many males as females.
Afterwards we made our way to the toy shops off Jervis street – the plan was to stock up on MLP toys to donate to the local Supervalu. I believe at least 25 toys were bought and donated, which is quite an admirable feat. I left just before they handed them in, after they stopped off at McDonalds, but I understand they went out for more food and drink later in the day. Overall people were quite friendly and accommodating. This has been a constant for the Brony fandom – like every fandom, it’s not perfect, but it’s nice to see one with a relatively positive attitude that doesn’t reject people for having difficulty mixing.
The group will be hosting a panel at Akumakon on the 22nd, in NUIG Galway at 11am. If you’re thinking of going to the con, be sure to drop along!
Tags: My Little Pony