"Neck-beards", "no life", "autistic", are words often linked to the Bronies. Bronies are fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and as you might think, this is indeed a show originally created for little girls. The Brony fandom exploded and has between 7 million and 12.4 million followers .
This article tackles the stereotypical idea of the Bronies by researching them with an emic and etic approach. I will use a (digital) ethnographic approach (Varis, 2016) when studying several Brony fan pages on social media and the Brony forums. Since these accounts are anonymous and the forum is open for everyone, I will use them for my research, of course with consideration. I will avoid using posts on sensitive topics, and I will avoid all posts that could harm or lead to easily identifiying someone. I am aware that public profiles are only a part of the whole community (Varis, 2016). I mostly will observe the online context, but also offline activities.
My Little Ponies and the Bronies
The concept of My Little Pony originated in 1981, but the television show "My Little Pony: Friendship is magic" was released in 2010. Lauren Faust is the creator of the show and it originally targeted young girls as its audience. After the first episode an unlikely group of fans made its entrance: the Bronies.
Adult men created fan pages on the website 4chan, and shortly after a counter response followed from the anti-Bronies. The discussion escalated and 4chan soon banned any user who mentioned My Little Pony. 4chan has welcomed the Bronies back, but because of this exile Bronies created their own sites like Ponychan.net and Equestriadaily.com. Because of the creation of their own sites, they are not active on 4chan anymore.
The Brony fandom is often seen as a fandom that is dominated by adult men. Although most of them are indeed men, in 2014 around 17,7% of the community were women.
The word “Brony” is a contraction of bro and pony. Since women are not really called bro’s, they have a different name. The women in the Brony community are called Pegasisters. Pegasister is a contraction of the words Pegasus and sister. Because the Pegasisters are the minority of the Brony community, I will only use the words Bronies and Brony in this article. When mentioning the Bronies, I also mean the Pegasisters.
Bronies as a micro-population
In order to come to grips with the phenomeon of the Bronies, it is useful to understand them as a micro-population (Maly & Varis, 2016). Their globalized niched culture is mostly found on the internet. The Brony community developed on the Internet, primarily on 4chan, but have since then expanded.
One of the forums the Bronies are active on is mlpforums.com. What is special about this forum is that users can earn different kinds of awards. There are event badges, you can earn these badges by logging in or passing a challenge during an event. Bronies can also create creative content and earn a badge for that.
The word “Brohoof” is used by the Bronies on different forums and sites. It can be seen as a greeting in chats or discussions. On mlpforums.com, you can see how many brohoofs a Bronie has. You could compare it with the Facebook likes. If you like a post, you press the “Brohoof” button and the site monitors how many Brohoofs you have.
A documentary was made in response to the emerging Brony community. The documentary is called "Bronies: The extremely unexpected adult fans of My Little Pony." Lauren Faust, the creator of My Little Pony: Friendship is magic, also contributed in making this documentary. She made short videos that are shown in the documentary.
The short videos can be found combined into one video on youtube. In the video we can see a pony professor explaining to his students what bronies are. He is talking about moderators, hipster bronies and creative bronies. The moderators are the ones that control the forums, the hipsters are the true brony fans and the creative bronies make music, art and stories, inspired by the show. The video explains the Brony community very well and after watching this, you might even consider becoming a Brony or Pegasister.
Becoming a part of the Brony community depends on your personal conditions, material conditions, and knowledge. First , to be a Brony is to watch My Little Pony and have a certain knowledge of it. You need this knowledge to be a fan: if you want to join a forum you have to know what you are talking about. Most Bronies also like to collect merchandise.
The material condition is about living close to each other or meeting other bronies at conventions. Although the community is mostly online, they also organize events. These events are called Bronycons. "Bronycon" is a contraction of Brony and convention. During this event people can buy My Little Pony merchandise, dress up as their favorite character, share music, and talk about the episodes. Some bronies even fly to other countries to visit Bronycons.
Bronies as deviants
The Brony fandom is not the typical type of fandom. Why would adults like My Little Pony that much? When asking regular people about Bronies they often see them as friendless, autistic, obsessive, and sexual deviants. Bronies are thus seen as outsiders by mainstream adults, who are not fans of My Little Pony. As Howard Becker explains in his book about outsiders, an outsider is someone who doesn’t obey the rules of a certain kind of social group (Becker, 1963). It is not that the Bronies are breaking a law, but they are doing something that is not socially accepted.
The mainstream would say that My Little Pony is a show for little girls. Bronies do not follow this mainstream thought, because they are adults who like the show. As little children enjoy the show because of its cartoons, the Bronies mainly enjoy it because it addresses adult issues. One of the episodes description says "When Twilight becomes friends with an owl who helps her with chores around the house, Spike gets jealous and fears he will be replaced." A child would enjoy watching the episode without questioning the hidden message behind it, but a Brony would apply it to his own life.
“A society has many groups, each with its own set of rules, and people belong to many groups simultaneously. A person may break the rules of one group by the very act of abiding by the rules of another group” - Howard Becker
This picture is content created by a Brony. This picture shows the stereotypical view that the mainstream has when they think of Bronies.
Although at first sight it may seem that the Bronies are a homogenous globalized micro-population, there are different subgroups connected to different (online) spaces. One aspect that all Bronies share is their love for My Little Pony. It is the way in which this love is expressed that matters.
Bronies as a micro-population
The Brony community is polycentric and this is also something that they really want to point out. The mainstream often sees Bronies as a stereotypical man who creates sexual content based on My Little Pony. Of course there are Bronies like that, but every fandom has extreme fans. The "normal" Bronies, the ones who just really enjoy the show and like going to Brony conventions, do not agree with the overly sexualized Bronies.
At first it might seem like all Bronies are the same and there is no difference between them. In reality there are five kinds of Bronies, as described in following image.
This image is content created for a My Little Pony forum. The image explains the different types of Bronies. One could say that the "Clopper" and the "Ponyfag" are seen by the mainstream as the stereotypical Brony, whilst most of the community consists of "true Bronies".
The closet Brony is someone who is too shy to tell people about his love for My Little Pony. One of the advantages of the Brony community is that it is mostly online and you can create anonymous avatars on the Brony Forums. This type of Brony will most likely not collect My Little Pony Merchandise out of embarassment. This type of Brony should not be confused with someone who is new to the community. Someone could be a Brony for years and still keep it a secret. The closet Brony really does not want anyone to find out about their obsession. This is why they do not collect anything and create anonymous accounts on Brony platforms.
True Bronies are the ones that go to Bronycons, create fan art, make music and do not make it a secret that they are a fan of My Little Pony. The Clopper and the Ponyfag are the ones seen as deviant both by the mainstream and also by other My Little Pony fans.
Gurony, the bronies' troll
A Gurony is not the same as someone who hates the Bronies. Altough it might seem like it, they are Bronies because they enjoy My Little Pony. A True Brony would make acceptable fan art, go to the Bronycons and just enjoy talking about it on a forum. A Gurony however takes pleasure in making violent content, something a True Brony would despise.
Anti-Bronies are those who do not like the Brony community. As mentioned in the introduction, in the past there have been online discussions between Bronies and Anti-Bronies that spiraled out of control. Anti-Bronies still exist, but they do not form a coherent community. They are found in small groups on forums and social media. The community was the biggest in the year that the Brony fandom emerged.
Anti-Bronies confront the Bronies with pejorative questions like “why do you like a little girls show?” There even is a wikihow on how to deal with Anti-Bronies as a Brony. The best way to deal with Anti-Bronies is to remain passive and nonchalant. Many Anti-Brony comments can be found on Youtube videos, but one really caught my attention. Beneath a anti-Brony video on Youtube Isaac Roberts states the following: "if I had a choice between cutting my own eye out and helping bronys I would rather lose my right eye." For the Bronies, the Anti-Bronies can be seen as outsiders. They hate My Litte Pony and that is in full contradiction with what being a Brony is.
If I had a choice between cutting my own eye out and helping bronys I would rather lose my right eye
The Bronies can be seen as outsiders by the mainstream. However, within the Brony community, one can also find mainstream and deviant Bronies. The mainstream Bronies are those that enjoy watching the show, talking on forums about it, and avoid doing anything that might offend someone. There are also deviant Bronies, they do not obey by the unwritten rules of handling My Little Pony content like the mainstream Bronies do. The deviant Bronies use and createcontent that is offensive to mainstream Bronies and non-Bronies, the mainstream of society.
Don't judge a book by its cover
In this article I wanted to explain the way in which the Brony fandom sees themselves. I came across weird and disturbing content made by Cloppers and Guronies, but also made by Anti-Bronies. I cannot exclude the fact that there are some Bronies who keep the stereotypical view alive, but most of them just really enjoy the show and love going to Bronycons. This fandom is a typical "Don't judge a book by its cover" fandom. Although they might look weird, they really enjoy the show. Sometimes it is difficult for Bronies to tell people that they are fan of My Little Pony, because it is not a typical show to be a fan of. Some people are big music fans, go to concerts, buy merchandise and have posters in their room from their favorite artists, and so do the Bronies!
Varis, P. (2016). Digital Ethnography. In A. Georgakopoulou & T. Spilioti (eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Language ad Digital Communication (pp. 55-68). New York: Routledge.
Becker, H. (1963). Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: The Free Press
Maly, I. & Varis, P. (2016). The 21st-Century Hipster. On Micro-Populations in Times of Superdiversity. European Journal of Cultural Studies, 19, 637-653