Monday, August 19, 2013

What Is a Brony?

Matt Labash sees it as a sign of the end of Western civilization. Try as I might, I cannot dispute his judgment.

Recently, Labash attended a convention of what are called Bronies. 8,000 of them gathered in Baltimore to share their love for all things My Little Pony. I learned of their existence yesterday—h/t to LT—and, to be honest, I was not prepared for this.

If you missed the story, Bronies are a cult of mostly young men who have gotten in touch with their inner girl children. They are all enamored of a television show and line of toys called My Little Pony… to a point that is beyond bizarre. They dress up as Brother Ponies and prance around with their fellow Bronies.

If you ask yourself what kind of man would feel a need to mimic the behavior of an eight-year-old girl, any reasonable answer will get you sued for defamation.

I believe that Labash was doing God’s work when he spent three days at the latest Brony convention, so allow him to describe the scene:

In the near future, historians will struggle to locate the precise moment when civilization’s wheels finally, irretrievably came off. By then, there will have been too many such moments to pinpoint one with any certainty. But I’ll mark the day as having occurred on a recent August weekend when, standing in the concourse of the Baltimore Convention Center, I watch grown men with problem skin and five o’clock shadows prance around in pony ears, rainbow manes, and braided tails lashed to their belt-loops, doling out “free hugs,” starting “fun! fun! fun!” chants, and spontaneously breaking into song. “Give me a bro hoof,” says one, trying to knuckle-bump me.

In one sense, the culture made them do it. But who would have imagined that when the culture told men to get in touch their feminine sides it would spawn a cult of Bronies. I suspect that in their wildest dreams they did not expect this:

But one is never truly alone among the Bronyhood, discovering the magic of friendship with bros whose fondest wish is to show off their pony plushy toys, picking their favorite according to which pony’s personality most matches their own. (“I’m a Fluttershy .  .  . but today Im feeling more like an Applejack.) I encounter a mustachioed man taking a smoke break on a convention balcony. Hes in pony ears and tail, holding an MLP lunchbox. The name is Moonlight Blossom, he says (his pony alias). Mr. Blossom is a 37-year-old senior network administrator.

Labash offers an analysis of the phenomenon:

Much has been written about the infantilization of the American male, which for a change is not media hype. The average age of video-gamers is now 37, and 2011 census data show roughly a quarter of 25-to-34-year-olds still living with their parents. By some counts, more adult-leaning superhero/comic-book movies have been made in the last couple of years than in the entire decades of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s combined.

But Bronies represent a novel variation on the theme: Like so many American men, they wish to be forever suspended in childhood. Except this time, they want to be 6-year-old girls. Bronies have, in fact, come to embody what pop sociologists call the New Sincerity Movement. The thinking goes that the smirky ironic detachment of recent decades—pretending to embrace low-culture totems for laughshas grown stale. Now that the Internet has fragmented the culture into a million pieces, helping every maladjusted shut-in to realize his natural level of eccentricity, the only way for a self-respecting hipster or a Zuckerbergian alpha-nerd (the tribe that now runs the world) to distinguish himself is to enthuse over his enthusiasms without detachment or apology. Even if that means grown men writing Twilight Sparkle fan fiction or cutting bad electronica songs with titles like, “I Might Be a Brony.” You might find it funny, but they’re not joking.

I take Labash’s point about American men being infantilized, but really, this is about being feminized.

Obviously, it has nothing to do with sincerity. When you pretend to be something you are not—and an adult male who behaves like a 6-year-old girl qualifies—you are not being sincere. You are being a fraud. The fact that you are willing to advertise your aberrant behavior in public makes it worse, not better. It shows, as Labash explains, that Bronies are unapologetic and shameless.

Naturally, academics have glommed on to this phenomenon, not as a symptom of cultural decline, but as a sign that some people have overcome gender stereotypes. In truth, more than a few people have taken academic ideas about gender bending a little too seriously.

To judge these academic theories, you do not need to read the silly pseudo-theoretical texts. You need merely to look at what these ideas produce when implemented. They produce—Bronyhood.

Apparently, those who belong to this cult no longer care to be respected, no longer have any self-respect and no longer care what their antics say about themselves or their communities.

Creating a cult to Bronyhood is a way to avoid shame. When your habits deviate from the norm you can overcome the sense of shame by joining together with others who share the same aberrations. Does that make your behavior any less shameful? No. But it numbs you to the pain.

As LT explained when he sent me this article, the Bronies have created an alternative reality, one that is radically detached from the normal way that people deal with people in the real world.

In the past such behaviors used to be limited to celebrities like Michael Jackson who could afford to create his own private Neverland, filled with the kind of toys and animals that a little boy would love. Since no one really thinks ill of Michael Jackson, why should there not be a cult of people who emulate his fine example.

You may not recall the old days when feminists explained that it took a real man to get in touch with his feminine side, or better, that only a man who was completely secure in his masculinity would walk around in dress.

It was a dumb idea then. It’s dumb idea now. Like it or not, Bronyhood fulfills its wish.

Army drill sergeant Jacob Hughes happily claims that his behavior is perfectly manly:

At ease about his Bronydom, Hughes is an enthusiastic booster. A gregarious performer-type, Hughes says ponies helped him shed once-crippling introversion. “A good part of the appeal is that wholesomeness and innocence,” Hughes says. “And so we’re shining a light on the fact that, yes, I am a man. But at the same time, I enjoy what I enjoy.” He seems sincere and well-meaning, so I don’t want to harsh his Pinkie Pie mellow. But the Care Bears are wholesome and innocent, too. Yet you don’t see Army drill sergeants traipsing around in Funshine Bear costumesat least not as of this writing.

Labash correctly calls out Hughes on his claim about wholesomeness and innocence.

Perhaps it’s not so amazing, but these people are blinded by their self-esteem. They believe that they have the power to create themselves exactly as they wish. They do not question their motives. They have no sense or no interest in how they look to others.  

Many of those who traffic in these ideas would not approve of Bronyhood. And yet, this bizarre cult enacts many of the worst ideas in our culture. As Labash says, it is surely a bad sign.


10 comments:

Leo G said...

Jeez, too bad Freddie Mercury is dead!

Anonymous said...

There is even some science. If somebody like a scientific researches voila:
http://www.bronystudy.com/id1.html

Lastango said...

Images floating to mind:

** Mr. Labash walking back into his hotel room at night, laying down on the bed, and feeling utterly spent.

** Young women reading Labash's piece, as a white-hot terror rises within them.

** A Bradbury or an Asimov contemplating writing, six decades ago (or even one decade ago), a piece of Brony-oriented futurism -- and rejecting the scenario as an ungrounded, unextendable absurdity.

** A Campus in California, some years from now, sprinkled with cosplayers going about their daily business as they express the anime-ish character they feel closest to on that day. Some are students, others are professors and administrators. You can cut the tolerance with a knife.

** High-quality animation software that lets people easily create, live in, and share their own worlds. So they do -- in large numbers, starting from an early age. It becomes the basis for their socializing, and their socialization. Experts are astounded at the addictive power of this rapidly evolving style of existence. (Fewer cosplayers are seen around campus, because virtual existence has become so absorbing that we hardly notice anyone else around us anyway. The body we see isn't the "real" them. We only truly meet the person when we engage with their virtual characters.)

** New forms of legal-status unions come into being between virtual communities and players... i.e. my character(s) "marries" your character(s), and we make a virtual life together. There are protections, obligations, and privileges. It becomes possible to commit a crime against someone's virtual characters. A vigorous virtual life is a resume-enhancer, the lack of same deeply suspicious.

** We end, with a whimper.



Leo G said...

"** A Bradbury or an Asimov contemplating writing, six decades ago (or even one decade ago), a piece of Brony-oriented futurism -- and rejecting the scenario as an ungrounded, unextendable absurdity."

Samuel R. Delaney - Dhalgren

If I remember right, late seventies, early eighties.

Georg Felis said...

Asking Matt Labash to define a Brony is a little like asking Madonna to define Virginity: Both have experienced the phenomena for a few hours, and consider themselves to be experts on the experience.

About a year ago, I might have had much the same opinion as Matt, as I had only been exposed to the older generation My Little Pony dolls as collectors items and TV commercials. But then I watched one of the shows over my kid’s shoulders one evening. And my reaction was about the same as every other brony out there when they first saw the show.

“That’s My Little Pony? Are you sure? I don’t remember it looking like this at all.”

So with one episode watched, I decided I could at least watch another one. And another one. And another one…

These were not the Ponies of the Past. They were… good. You could watch the show without feeling like your brains were dribbling out your ears. The world concept was fascinating, the scripts were solid, the voice acting clear and understandable, the animation crisp, the characters believable (for a cartoon), the music and songs stuck in your ear and made you hum all day.

Now I’ve been working on a Swords and Sorcery novel for years, and probably have about 20,000 words written on it. I read a few of the fan-made stories about ponies and said, “Heck, I can do that.” So I sat down and doodled for about a week on a story idea in my free time. Which stretched out to two weeks. Then three.

A month later I published a 17,000 word fanfic, which was very close to the amount of writing I had done in the last two *decades* of work.

Over the next few months, I wrote more per month than I had written per decade, and with each story, my writing got better. I’m not perfect, by any means. There are authors in the FimFiction.net site that make me break the 11th Commandment regularly. (Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Talent)

And here I am, one year and over a quarter-million words of fiction later that range all the way from a Bolo crossover to Finance to Romance to a complete Alternative Universe.

Yeah, I’m a little weird. ‘Normal’ and ‘Creative’ are not found next to each other often.
And I like ponies.
And that’s OK.
-Georg
http://www.fimfiction.net/user/Georg

Anonymous said...

You wasted your time, and the time of your readers, writing a rant that is a second-hand retelling of an obviously biased blog post by someone who admits to not knowing what he was talking about. You don't just have no idea what you're talking about; you've never even met anyone or read anything by anyone on the subject who knew what they were talking about. You've never even met a brony, and yet you're denouncing them.

I'm not in favor of persecuting minorities, but if you're determined to do that, you ought to stick to persecuting minorities you've actually met.

Anonymous said...

bwhahahaha.

[ Frowning/Determined/Captain Kirk voice-over]:

"Must.Defend.The.Brony.Flag."

Josh said...

"These were not the Ponies of the Past. They were… good. You could watch the show without feeling like your brains were dribbling out your ears. The world concept was fascinating, the scripts were solid, the voice acting clear and understandable, the animation crisp, the characters believable (for a cartoon), the music and songs stuck in your ear and made you hum all day."

Even if a show aimed at prepubescent girls has high production values and good writing, it does not therefore follow that the time of adult men is best spent watching it. Even if a particular adult man is inspired to write his own fan-fiction for it, this does not change. We live in a dearth of masculine virtue and knowledge of things more complicated and important than that "friendship is magic".

===

"You wasted your time, and the time of your readers, writing a rant that is a second-hand retelling of an obviously biased blog post by someone who admits to not knowing what he was talking about. You don't just have no idea what you're talking about; you've never even met anyone or read anything by anyone on the subject who knew what they were talking about. You've never even met a brony, and yet you're denouncing them."

Does this make your comment an obviously biased third-hand account of rant that is a second-hand retelling of an obviously biased blog post?

That's all I can imagine your comment is, because you don't say anything substantive. You're just mad at an opinion that isn't yours.

Martel said...

"Even if a show aimed at prepubescent girls has high production values and good writing, it does not therefore follow that the time of adult men is best spent watching it."

Yet even if it somehow possibly could be worth an adult man's time to watch it, there's NO WAY IN HELL that it would be worth an adult man's time to dress up like the characters and fly to Baltimore (of all places) to spend day after day interacting with other men who wear pink manes and wings.

Watching the show from time to time could be a guilty pleasure, a quirk. Being a Brony is simply disturbing.

J. Gagnon said...

ok ill start this by saying i'm biased i'm the stereotypical brony college aged male etc but had a point I wanted to interject here. Since when is being a nerd a terrible end of society thing? san diego comic con and anime conventions are both on the same level as a brony con. its people of all ages who enjoy similar things gathering and sharing this.

as for the content itself you love it or you hate it but what most of you don't realize the creators of these types of things have wanted this to happen for YEARS. look at classic disney movies again years later theres a lot of highbrow humor that only an adult would get, so when they rebooted this show they go a E.P. that would be able to do that granted they most likely did not see it going this far but it has due to parents, babysitters or older siblings watching tv with a child and thinking that this is kinda Cool which is how I fell down this rabbit hole so to speak, which made me feel like a freak and still kind of does at times when i see some stupid parts of the fandom.

but at the end of the day bronydom is just another fandom which should be left alone if it isn't hurting someone, last I check saying "love and tolerate" and spreading pretty pastel ponies across the web didn't hurt anyone nor against the law no matter how fopa I or anyone else believes.