Nothing Phony About Bronies
In 2010, an epic war of good vs. evil was waged. You may have missed it. The battle was fought in the land of Equestria, where its denizens — ponies, unicorns, and pegasuses with names like Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash, and Pinkie Pie — managed to stop the evil alicorn Nightmare Moon from casting their homeland into everlasting night. Their weapon: Friendship. And though the looming threat of eternal darkness has come and gone and been forgotten, the young unicorn and war hero Twilight Sparkle remains on special assignment from Equestria’s reigning monarch, Princess Celestia. Twilight Sparkle has been ordered to remain in the nation’s capital, Ponyville, to continue studying the magic of friendship.
Yeah, it’s a television show for little girls. But despite what you may have assumed, “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” has transcended its demographic and cultivated a fan base of grown-ups, including grown men, with a diehard passion for the cartoon ponies and their whimsical misadventures. These particular fans, called “bronies” (an amalgamation of bro and pony), don’t just watch the show, they bleed it. There are dozens of online forums dedicated to bronies, several annual conventions spread across the continent, two news websites, and countless works of fan-fiction, artwork, and remixes based on the show.
“It’s not really an –ism,” Kristie Bush, 19, tells me. “I like to use the term ‘herd.'” Bush, a Visual Arts student at Vancouver Island University, says that she was first turned onto the show by her boyfriend, who had a few pals over to his house to watch the show.
“I thought it was a little weird at first,” Bush recalls. “I was like ‘why are you guys watching this?’ But he convinced me to watch a couple episodes. I watched the first one and didn’t really click, after the second I was like ‘Okay, I still don’t get it.’ By the third episode I started enjoying it more. I finished the first season pretty quickly and it suddenly hit me: ‘Oh my God, I like ponies!’”
Bush found herself drawn to the show’s relatable characters and surprisingly mature humour. And, as an artist, the quality of the animation resonated with her. It was clear to her that this wasn’t the “half-hour toy commercial” she had watched as a child. Bush’s confused attraction to the show soon turned into an unfiltered passion, and naturally she wanted to share this with others. She wanted to find her herd.
She did some research and connected with BronyCAN, an online community of Canadian bronies.
“I got in touch with them and told them that I wanted to do stuff,” Bush says “so they were like, ‘Here’s some stuff to do!’ I did some artwork and organizational work and when they announced that they were planning a convention, I got bumped up to a head member.”
She is currently working as Head of Guest Relations for BronyCAN’s first convention, which will take place in Vancouver, B.C. on an undisclosed date in summer 2013. The convention is entirely crowd-funded and has raised $12,440 in donations from dedicated supporters, more than double the initial goal of $5,000.
Brony-not-ism has even inspired epic fiction. Tony Genovese, 25, a Creative Writing student at VIU and fellow member of the VI Brony Club, recently completed his 150,000-word fan fiction novel Repercussions after over a year’s work, posting each chapter online. (By way of comparison: The Fellowship of the Ring has just over 170,000 words.)
“[Friendship is Magic] has attracted a lot of artists,” Genovese explains. “The simple characters lend themselves to fan fiction, and the art style is easy to emulate.”
Pony fandom isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Bronies have become a punchline for some people; Howard Stern did a bit on them in 2012:
“It’s easier for me to explain to people [that I’m a brony] since I’m a girl,” Bush adds. “The only question people have is ‘How old are you?’ For guys it’s a bigger deal, it’s like they have to ‘come out’ as a brony. I know one guy who was kicked out of his parents’ house because he came out as a brony. A lot of people just don’t understand it — they link it to pedophilia, which isn’t true. [Bronies] are normal people who just share a common interest.”
“I think that the shows, and bronies, are helping to break gender stereotyping” Genovese says. “I know I’m not part of the demographic for a show about ponies, but good quality doesn’t have a demographic. I don’t see myself as a fan of a girls’ show, I see myself as a fan of a good show.”
Bush has also taken the reins of the Vancouver Island Brony Club. The club holds meetings in Nanaimo regularly, where they discuss the latest episode or edit each other’s fan fiction.
In its mere three years of existence, the brony community has developed into a mini-industry. While the official Hasbro line of toys remains popular, a plethora of fan-made content, everything from costumes to cookie cutters, has popped up online. Brony musicians are not only numerous, but some have even been able to sell their work online. Fan-made “plushies” are also popular, and Bush says that they can sell for up to $600. “If you make art just for bronies, those bronies will bid the shit out of it,” she explains. Bush herself has been commissioned to create brony fan-art, though she isn’t looking to make a fortune.
All television shows, no matter how dedicated their fans, must come to an end. Will the bronies trot on after the finale, as trekkies have, and continue to add to build their community? Or will they move on to other interests?
“When it ends, I won’t really be heartbroken,” Bush admits. “But I will always love those ponies.”
Below: Bronies step up