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 I’m feeling more like an Applejack.”) I encounter a mustachioed man taking a smoke break on a convention balcony. He’s 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 laughs—has 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 costumes—at 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.