The Brony Report: Traits of the Brony Community
guest post by adri persad!!
this week, instead of a post that i have written, i have a wonderful guest post from Adri Persad, whom you may know as @36_chambuhz (Adrizzle) on twitter. i am very pleased to have his writing on the blog. the way he captures a particular moment in internet history is excellent, and he has definitely inspired me to write more on the way participation interacts with platform/venue in the future. enjoy!
An internet phenomenon unfolded on image boards, blogs, and forums in the early 2010s. Newly minted fans of the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (MLP) began to appear well outside of the target demographic; rather than young girls, a surprising number of teenaged and young adult men began to support the cartoon. My quick research now shows that a specific review of the cartoon becoming discussed on 4chan was the epicenter of the fandom, but speaking as an outsider of the spectacle as it unfolded, it felt like it exploded out of nowhere.
There is a lot to be said about the following that the show accrued, their behavior, and reasons for enjoying the show. However, I am far from the only Internet anthropology hobbyist, and so a lot already has been said. There’s even a fairly comprehensive Wikipedia page for the fandom of the show, as well as on wikis dedicated to particular websites and online communities.
For that reason, won’t write in detail about the frequently addressed topic of why the show was able to sustain a greater interest than what irony alone could have provided, which boils down to it having more mature themes than one may expect as well as humor that would appeal to any older audience members. This is a writing tactic that has been used before, as with the Genie impressions in Aladdin going over the heads of its young audience members but entertaining their parents watching with them. This viability to older audience members combined with the simple charms of a children’s show, as explored by Gundwyn in her post Models for Participation Pt. 1, created a suite of entertainment capable of producing genuine interest in the series among some young men.
I also will be placing any discussion of the not insignificant sexual interest in cartoon horses firmly outside of the scope of this writing. If you would like to research that on your own, I have heard it is quite easy to do so.
Instead, I want to comment on the unique traits of the fandom, primarily how the layout of the internet shaped its members and its ability to attract new recruits. Its model of participation is one that has been uniquely facilitated by the state of the internet at that time. I am speaking specifically of the way that the community was ubiquitous to the point of being an annoyance to many internet users at its peak.
As the created fandom had no predesignated space to occupy, it had to carve one for itself. While its roots were on 4chan’s western comics and cartoons board (“/co/”), the off-putting nature of the interest in My Little Pony combined with its explosive popularity meant that posts pertaining to the topic were limited to avoid alienating the userbase interested in other board-related topics, leading to spillover by overzealous fans to other boards on 4chan, and eventually to other websites such as Tumblr, YouTube, and even chat rooms such as Omegle.
This led to an intense amount of early visibility for the unusual fandom, which may not have happened if the Internet had been in another state. It would take about a year and a half for 4chan to dedicate an entire board to contain just My Little Pony, and Reddit was not popular enough for the fandom to make a subreddit and migrate to more cloistered posting space. This meant that as the fandom pushed itself into spaces occupied by other subjects, they created unignorable awareness of themselves to the general population to which the current state of the internet is not conducive.
Additionally, many posters on 4chan and elsewhere seemed to revel in the disruption and annoyance that posting memes in unrelated discussions produced, and posting memes featuring the characters of My Little Pony became a popular means of trolling. It was indeed difficult to tell how many “actual” fans the show had, and how many were just using it as subject for griefing.
These two prongs of interest in the show, both sincere and irksome, combined with the conditions to create unprecedented exposure to the unorthodox fandom, shaped a very powerful presence on the internet. In short order, a new reason to try the show out emerged that sustained the shows prominence for multiple years: one of the main reasons to start watching MLP was that it was so visible on the Internet.
In a way, watching the show and joining the fans was a voluntary assimilation with the borg, a reference I am able to make without watching any episodes of Star Trek: Voyager. That is because pop culture is so all-pervasive that I’ve learned about certain aspects of that show, and many other pieces of media, I’ve never seen by virtue of existing in the moment and maintaining certain basic tethers to the culture of our society and more specifically, the internet. It is exactly the ubiquity of pop culture media that can explain the draw towards a particularly salient facet of it, whether it’s the My Little Pony fandom or something even more mainstream, such as Star Wars in the late 70s and 80s or Game of Thrones in the late 2010s. One of the main reasons many blockbusters reap the profits they do is largely due to this snowballing second-hand advertising.
These works of media serve as a uniting zeitgeist of participation that enables the viewer to participate in an otherwise mysterious community. Once you have watched the shows, you can discuss the show with others and laugh along at the inside jokes. The sense of community being advertised ends up becoming a powerful asset in that dynamic, with the actual content of the media being on equal footing with the show’s community for some viewers, provided a certain threshold is met in terms of quality.
The brony phenomenon does not show any signs of repeating. The show’s popularity waned in its later years, along with its primacy in the corners of the internet that allowed the fandom to develop. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic finally ended in 2019, but the landscape of the internet that had cultivated the brony fandom had been weathered away gradually for some time. Currently, it is hard to imagine a significant fandom developing outside of the target demographic for a work of media on today’s internet, but it is not entirely out of the question. After all, the original community took everyone else by surprise as well.