Culture

The Brony Testimonial: How One Gets Sucked into My Little Pony Fandom

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If you’ve been anywhere on the internet in the last couple of years, there’s probably a good chance that you’ve heard of Bronies —older, typically male fans of the children’s cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. There’s also a good chance that you may not have seen them in the best light. Often Bronies are presented as socially awkward, slovenly, and generally pathetic for liking a show for little girls. But is there more to the show and its fans than one would assume based on first glance? I called up a friend of mine, Adam Young, to ask him what led him to become a Brony and just what it is about this seemingly saccharine show that could inspire its legions of older fans to have such devotion to it.

Adam is 28 years old and resides in Champaign, Illinois. He attended Illinois State University and graduated in 2007 after obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Studio Arts. He is a huge fan of several movies and television shows, including Star Trek, Star Wars, The Simpsons, and Back to the Future. He is also an avid gamer, enjoying several Nintendo titles in the RPG genre such as Pokémon, Earthbound, and Paper Mario. Adam currently works for an outdoor specialty retailer.

How did you become a Brony?

Well, it was a very gradual process. I go to a lot of message boards on the internet for artwork and games or whatever. Around probably winter of 2010, maybe spring of 2011, I kept seeing all these strange memes, image macros, and user-avatar images of these weird horse-looking things popping up all over my message boards that I go to frequently.

At first I just kinda thought that was weird and didn’t think too much about it, and then the more they kept popping up I thought: “What the hell is this? I gotta figure out what the hell this is.” The art style was very reminiscent of either Genndy Tartakovsky or Craig McCracken, or any of the 1990s Cartoon Network people. First I iMDB’d Craig McCracken, the Powerpuff Girls guy. He had recently done Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, and it looked quite similar. I saw that his name was not on the credits list for this show, but, coincidentally enough, his wife Lauren Faust was. She was the executive producer of Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, and she got her start in the industry working on Powerpuff Girls in the later seasons, so I was familiar with her work.

After seeing that she was the one who developed My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, I was like, “Well that’s kinda weird, I guess she really needed money or something.” I left it at that because of the preconceived notions a show like that would have attached to it, being based on a line of dolls for little girls and all.

So I really didn’t think too much about it, and then later I subscribed to a lot of YouTube channels, especially ones that review cartoons, video games, and anime. One of the channels I subscribed to was because they were doing reviews of the series Madoka Magica, which I was watching at the time. I really liked their Madoka reviews, and one day out of the blue this really, really long video of theirs, almost an hour long, popped up in my subscription feed. It turned out to be about the new My Little Pony show that I had seen all over the internet, and I was like, “Okay, if these guys are reviewing it, I guess it’s worth a look.”

So I went to YouTube and did a search for My Little Pony, and by that point most of the first season was already over, but there were still a few episodes left. I immediately tried to catch up as soon as I could, and after giving it a fair chance, I turned out to really, really enjoy the show. After watching all of the first season, I was like, “Well, I guess I’m not really allowed to judge a book by its cover ever again.”

So what exactly about the show appeals to you?

Um, well, like I said, I was already familiar with Lauren Faust’s previous work since I was a big fan of Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s. A lot of her signature styles of humor and the look of the show were unique to the projects she was on, so it automatically appealed to me from the beginning. The more I watched it, the more I noticed that a lot of effort was put into all aspects of the series, especially the writing and animation.

It would be so easy for them to produce a cartoon that just exists to hawk toys and dolls to little girls, half-assing it to get their paychecks and move on with their lives, but it’s obvious that the people who make this show enjoy what they do. It has well-written characters, really good music, and the animation is beautiful to look at. It’s some of the best animation on television right now actually, in my opinion. The show is also genuinely funny in ways that appeal to older viewers; it has lots of dry humor — I don’t want to say “adult,” but rather more sophisticated jokes that you wouldn’t expect to see in a children’s show. There’s also a lot of pop-culture references that I’m aware of, but would fly over the heads of someone in the target audience.  I mean, what 6-year-old girl is going to know who Benny Hill is, or get a reference to A Clockwork Orange? I love references like this because it reminds me of cartoons I grew up watching in the early ’90s, like Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs.

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Okay, so the appeal comes from the quality of the show and a sense of nostalgia…

Uh-huh.

Is there anything about the show that you don’t like?

Um…well…I mean —  I know that this is basically gonna come off as a nit-pick, but it kinda comes with the territory of the show being made for the primary audience it’s targeting. It’s just that as intelligent and well-written as the show can be, there’s times where you notice that stuff has been slightly dumbed down or is obvious. Or sometimes there’s these blatant things that exist solely for plot convenience that in a show for an older audience would seem really stupid, but you have to accept it because it’s the result of the show being aimed at a younger audience than you. I mean, [kids] haven’t seen enough television or whatever to be aware of clichés and common storytelling tropes yet.

There’s that, and sometimes certain characters can come off as annoying, but they’re common to children’s animation, like the super-annoying sidekick character. I know kids like that stuff because I liked it when I was a kid, but it can be somewhat grating at times. Fortunately the show is self-aware enough to actually point out these things when they happen and call out these characters for being obnoxious or when something is contrived and stupid but necessary because of the setting and story.

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Bronies, since the phenomenon gained mainstream attention, haven’t been portrayed in the most positive light. What would you say is the most frustrating thing about how you’re perceived by people outside of the fanbase?

Well… I guess it’s not that big of a shock to me because basically ever since middle school I’ve been familiar with a lot of these fandoms, like Star Trek, gaming, anime, whatever. Being part of a periphery demographic to a show that’s not intentionally marketed to me is nothing new to me. I grew up watching Sailor Moon and other girls’ cartoons simply because they were the only thing on at the time. I continued watching cartoons intended for children through high school and well into college, and it’s a habit that has yet to leave me. A lot of this negative feedback does have some truth to it in certain cases—I’ve been in various fandoms long enough to know that not everyone in them is going to be a shining example of what you would want to represent you to the public. Unfortunately, it’s just a reality of being part of any group of people.

You’re going to have people that, quite frankly, will flat out embarrass you, but you put up with it because, at the very least, you know that you’re part of a group of relatively normal, like-minded people that understand why you’re into what you’re into, and that’s basically how these big communities grow.

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So if you were going to recommend this show to someone who hasn’t heard of it or might be somewhat skeptical — which episodes would you recommend they watch to get a feel for the best the show has to offer, and why?

Well, logically I should be saying to watch the two pilot episodes, but I’ve seen them so many times, and it’s gotten to the point where they’re not the best examples of what the show is about and what people love about it. Honestly, they’re among the weaker episodes. I mean, you could start at the beginning, but if you’re really that interested, I’d say to look up an episode guide.

If that gets you interested enough to learn more, then take whatever ones seemed worth watching and look them up on Netflix. It’s kinda hard to recommend specific episodes because ultimately it comes down to personal taste, and depending on what you like to watch I could easily recommend a couple episodes due to the sheer variety the show has to offer.

If you’re more interested in the humorous episodes, I’d start off with “Applebuck Season, Look Before You Sleep” —one of my favorite characters, Rarity, actually gets some character development in that one… “A Dog and Pony Show”…

Why?

It’s an episode about Rarity, and she’s one of those characters that on any other show for girls you’d expect to be an overly stereotypical feminine person, a flighty damsel-in-distress type. “A Dog and Pony Show” basically plays with that trope, and to hilarious effect. It ends up showing you that [My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic] isn’t your typical girls’ show and that it’s intelligently written — and that these characters have far more depth to them than one would want to give them credit for based on appearances.

…Any others?

If you’re more into adventure stories, then definitely watch the 2-part pilot. Any of the 2-part episodes are good for that. They do go back to the “epic adventure” format on occasion, but the show largely sticks to “Lesson of the Week” type episodes because of studio mandate, which is fine, I guess.

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So, wrapping things up, is there anything you’d like to say to someone who might be unwilling to give the show a chance?

Other than that I think that it’s stupid to completely dismiss something based on appearances and preconceived notions—and I have been wrong so many times doing that – you miss out on a lot of good things by not taking the time to give things a real chance.

Yeah, I missed out on a few things by not giving them a fair shot myself. I’d like to thank you for your time, and I appreciate you going out of your way to do this interview.

No problem at all; it was a pleasure. Take care.

*****

Well, that’s one way to become a Brony. Adam and I have a few mutual friends who are Bronies, and more still that tried out the show, but concluded that it wasn’t for them. As for me? Well, I’m watching the first three seasons of the show as part of an experiment set up by Adam himself. He wants to see what will happen to my opinion over time, especially since I don’t care about the show in any way, shape, or form (unless I’m being paid). If you’re interested in my own take on My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, you can read about it at http://apathypony.blogspot.com. Fair warning though — the language is quite…vulgar. Hopefully this interview has convinced you to give Bronies a second look, if not to give MLP a first look. Who knows? You just might like it…