Written by Karen Gellender Friday, 21 September 2012 00:00
Many phenomena that spawn on the Internet deserve to stay there. For example, if you have no knowledge of the “Double Rainbow!” incident from 2010, it’s probably just as well. Short version: it was a waste of everyone’s time.
However, the ascendance of Bronies— or males who watch My Little Pony and are proud of it— is a subject where a good 99.5 percent of the dialogue by and about them takes place exclusively online, so I have to break my typical rules about leaving Internet culture alone. You may wonder why, in this time of elections and natural disasters you should care about males watching My Little Pony. I think it may be illustrative of an encouraging social trend, but let me explain and then you can be the judge.
Back in 2010, the toy company Hasbro introduced a TV station called The HUB. With the launch, they also introduced a retooled and rebooted MLP cartoon called My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, which served as its flagship program. Insanely popular among little girls in the ’80s (believe me; I would know), the MLP toy empire limped through most of the ’90s and early ’00s, still making respectable sales but never approaching the success of its heyday. Similarly, animated shows based on the ponies continued, but many were low quality, direct-to-video productions. The new cartoon, with a modern art style and a stable of experienced voice talent, was a return to form for the once-dominant franchise.
This was good news for little girls, but for some reason, there are a lot of young males online whose only joy is bashing something that someone else loves. Guys gathered on various online forums to insult the show, talking about how it was bound to be the cheesiest, most embarrassing girls’ show ever, saccharine and trite. Many said they planned to watch the show, just so they could ironically mock it.
And then the impossible happened: the show premiered, and it was good. Characters were distinct, zany and lovable, the jokes were actually funny, and even the musical interludes were more clever than groan-worthy. After a brief pause, the guys who gathered to mock the show sheepishly admitted, “Okay, this really isn’t so bad.” An episode or two later: “Seriously, this is pretty good.” And then: “The new MLP is AWESOME and I will punch anyone who doesn’t think so!”
Thus, the “Bronies” were born: combining the masculine slang “bro” with Pony, Bronies are men (usually, but not always, young men) who not only watch the show, but proclaim themselves fans. And not just casual fans; they write fan-episodes, draw art of the characters, and even create their video games based on MLP.
Of course there was a backlash, with some males declaring that Bronies were pathetic and any guy who would not only watch MLP, but admit to it, was un-manly; many Bronies in the U.S. Army beg to differ.
Where this gets interesting is that the original ’80s TV series actually had some appeal to males as well, only no one knew it at the time. The creators of the show were obviously big Dungeons and Dragons fans, and despite the “girly” style, they got away with putting in lots of old-school fantasy horrors. While a lot of it was corny, the fact is that the Ponies had to combat as many existential threats to their existence as their cartoon peers on GI Joe did. If it wasn’t an evil troll or a wall of creeping poison, some monster was always trying to turn fair Ponyville into a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Only the Ponies, with their wits and magical powers, could save the world again and again.
If more than a handful of males had watched the show at the time, they probably would have found a fun fantasy adventure show buried under all the rainbows and sparkles. However, this never happened, because no young male at the time would have been caught dead watching a girls cartoon.
True progress toward gender equality may manifest in small ways, like a 17-year-old boy who isn’t ashamed to watch a girls’ cartoon—with or without his little sister.
Karen Gellender is editor of the Syosset-Jericho Tribune and Plainview-Old Bethpage Herald.