Aug 07 2012

An Attempt to Get Inside the Mind of a Brony

Published by at 12:00 pm under Editorials,Television

I wrote a short post last week which drew more of a response than I was expecting. In it, I asked what exactly the deal was with “bronies,” a group of adult males who for some reason are very much invested in the animated kids show, “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.”

Many bronies, far more than I expected, showed up on both the post and on Twitter to tell me the various reasons they loved the show. Their reasons didn’t seem insane or creepy as one might initially imagine, but I figured the only way to actually attempt to understand the phenomenon was to check out the show for myself.

I’ve watched the first six episodes of My Little Pony at this point, and I think that’s enough to make a somewhat informed judgment about the subculture. In short, I actually, sort of…get it, and as such, this is not a takedown piece of a seemingly strange subculture. It’s more of an exploration.

Going into the show, I had a few preconceived notions of why the bronies liked it. I thought that maybe this was a kids show that wasn’t really a kids show, and perhaps it was full of funny innuendos that were going over seven year old girls’ heads. Perhaps it was secretly dark and therefore amusing to this particular group. As it turns out, this isn’t remotely true, and there’s barely an ounce of evil in the entire series. It’s as sweet and light as TV can possibly get. No clues there.

Then I figured it was just some big inside joke. It’s admittedly a little bit funny to go on Twitter after a MLP episode and say “God Applejack, will just ASK Twilight Sparkle for help picking apples? I know she and Fluttershy would be willing.” I mean, it’s not super hilarious past the first few times, but I understand how a certain group could find humor in ironically loving a show meant for little girls. The average brony is 21 and heterosexual, and this sounds like something he indeed find hysterical.

I think that may be where this whole trend started, but it’s certainly not where it is now. Perhaps after watching ironically for a few episodes, they actually started to like it. And really, I can sort of see why. The show has great voice-acting, is well-written and has an incredibly appealing art style. But more importantly I can imagine a deeper reason as to why it legitimately attracts adult males as a fanbase.

All TV, movies and video games are escapism to some degree. It’s a break from the real world and you can dive into an entirely new one that’s usually far more interesting and extraordinary than your every day life. But My Little Pony actually serves as escapism FROM this kind of escapism.

What I mean is that if you’re a guy from 18-25, chances are you have a list of favorite shows that reads something like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Dexter, The Walking Dead, Louie, Always Sunny, Sons of Anarchy and so on. The video games you play are Call of Duty, League of Legends, Starcraft, Halo, etc. Your favorite movies of the year so are The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and 21 Jump Street.

What do all of these have in common? A certain…lack of innocence. Across every single one there’s either a language, violence or sex. We’ve all been consuming this type of media for so long we don’t even notice.

But that’s where My Little Pony comes along. It’s an oasis of purity in a sea of carnal sins. Such adult topics might make for great TV, but I can understand why men could be exhausted of these types of shows. In My Little Pony, it’s just 22 minutes of pure, distilled happiness as one commenter said aptly. There’s nothing else quite like it on TV. Even other kids shows that it’s possible for an adult to get into like The Clone Wars or Young Justice are still at their core, centered around violence.





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20 responses so far

  • Jadis

    have never seen this new version of the show. I watched the original 80′s one. Going by this article, other than the art style (which I like less) what’s the difference between this and the 80′s t.v. show?

  • Filosoraptor7

    Great article. This whole bronies culture was a very bizarre enigma for me. Glad to be more informed now.

  • Ugo Strange

    As a Brony and a devoted fan of Unreality Mag, I salute you Paul, thanks for giving us a fair and shake! =D

  • Seth

    I’d say fairly accurate… I’ve liked the show for about a year now, picked up during season 2. I’m slightly out of your age bracket at 28, although i wont lie there’s a ton of cartoons i still watch. I do think you partly nailed down why a lot of folks watch mlp though. I like the whole hearted approach that they take, which is a nice breath of fresh air even for the new generation of cartoons. I will admit as well most of the main stream tv shows out there i do not care for. Anything with even the slight base of reality tv i can’t stand to even listen to let alone watch. When a friend of mine mentioned this show to me i laughed at first thinking like you… hmm something must be going on here. I watched it and fell for it pretty quick. All the reasons you state are what keep me watching… generally i’ll like a show if it’s got at least a few things going for it. Be it animation quality, voice actors/script, store lines, etc… if they can hit about two out of those three alone i’ll most likely like it. Now like you mention about going to bronycon and the sort… i don’t fit in that bracket. About the only things i do is watch the show and go on the mylittlebrony meme base. There are a good deal of funnies there that i get a kick out of. However there is some fantastic fan art floating around deviantart.

  • trashcanman

    I grew up in a house where I loved Transformers and my sister watched MLP, which was the natural enemy. It amuses me to no end that a few decades later the worm has turned and Friendship is Magic is cooler among geek circles than what Transformers has become. Like I previously said, I just watched the two-part pilot and called it a day on MLP for now since my entertainment schedule is full. But I’m still down with most of the brony community although I’m not a part of it. If I can deal with the insanity that American otaku culture has become, I can surely find some room in my heart for Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy fanatics. Way to pony up, Tassi.

  • Galahad

    I think he gets it. I started out seeing all the funny pony memes and mashup videos and got curious, expecting something subversive but instead I just got a half hour of pure positive energy every week and got to looking forward to it.

    It’s just a nice lovely little break from all the grimdark and hardcore and other such macho compound words we have floating around.

    It;s cute, harmless and fun, and it makes me feel just a little bit better. I watch it and I smile and feel like a human being for a while.

  • http://hyperblogianism.blogspot.ca hyperferrianism

    Awesome. Paul, you perfectly described why I’m a brony. And just for the record, I’ve never dressed up as a pony or been to a bronycon.

  • http://remycarreiro.com/ Remy Carreiro

    I am the Adventure Time version of a brony, and I understand it completely. Some innocence in a very ugly world is sometimes needed. Great piece, Boss-man!

  • aaron

    please dont start posting constant my little pony stuff, i have friends that are bronies and they dont shut up about it, they always try to get me to watch it, thats why i hate bronies

  • Ctil

    It helps that there is continuity in the series. While there isn’t a story arc like anime the ponies remember things that happened in previous episodes and apply them to their current problems. They aren’t stupid and they don’t need the help of a human girl of the age 13 as the ponies did in previous generations.

    I’m a brony, 25 and proud of it. Of course, I’ve been watching and playing with My Little Ponies since the late 80′s early 90′s. I was hesitant to jump into this new generation of ponies, but now I freaking love it.

  • David

    A fair assessment. Well put.

    -A Brony

  • Mark Miller

    Oh I get it now, my 15 year old sister has just converted and my best friend has been a brony for a while now but neither can explain why they love it so much. Personally I can’t watch anything less innocent than the Pokemon anime but I’m fine with other people watching stuff like this especially since bronyism led to the creation of one of my favorite you tube series hotdiggedydemon’s MLP serires.

  • Akhenaten

    You absolutely nailed it. An excellent read. There’s good and bad parts to every fandom. Likewise, every fandom has the casual fans and the over-obsessing ones. This one is no different.

  • http://cheezburger.com/The_Fool_on_the_Hill The Fool on the Hill

    Paul, I just want to say that I really appreciate the fact that you decided to give the show a chance and try it out, unlike many others who just hate the brony community for no real reason whatsoever.

    I think you pretty much got it right with the article. The show is really just a nice alternative to the typical entertainment that the people of this age group are surrounded by.

    I even agree with you on the whole point that there is a limit. I would definitely consider myself a proud dedicated brony, but like Seth above me, my devotion pretty much ends with the show itself and the My Little Brony website on Memebase. I don’t go to the conventions, I don’t read the fan fics, I’m definitely not into the cosplay, etc. Of course I have nothing against the people that are into that stuff– it’s perfectly fine. They’re all entitled to their own interests. Just don’t think that you absolutely have be into all that stuff to be a brony.

  • D-Money

    Fantastic Article. I’ve been confused for a long time as to what bronies actually are and how the show was appealing (I have not taken the time to watch the show itself), so your article was very well received. Really, fantastic job.

  • Chronoss

    My initial ideas about this whole craze were like yours – maybe it’s really a cartoon like South Park or Simpsons, but the “adult” humor is concealed cleverly with colorful animation and characters for children. Or maybe they’re just watching it for the sheer irony (that great word is so cheap these days) and to generate new memes.

    But I think you’re right – watching this cartoon is an expression of yearning for innocence, longing for childhood that passed, better times.

    And I actually think that’s sad. I’ll be bashed for this, but I think that such widespread fandom of a cartoon about ponies is a product of overfeminized culture. Whole generation of pampered man-children with first world problems hankering after the time they had even less problems.

  • Cameron

    I thought at first that Bronies were a joke; then when I found they really liked the show, I assumed it was sort of like Adventure Time or Ren & Stimpy with adult undertones that made them appeal to a huge audience, not just the kids.
    I think Chronoss hit the nail on the head for me.
    It’s all a little too bizarre for me and I don’t expect to “get it” any time soon, but learning about it makes me feel a little more comfortable. I will never understand all the pony porn, though. That stuff just ain’t right.

  • http://nope hallamq

    Ok, I finally get it. I can’t believe it took the internet so long to provide me with this exact type of article.

    However, if that group of males really want the simplified joy that ponies provide, out of nostalgia or whatever, in order to escape from their real life problems and violent entertainment, I think we should consider the possibility that a big chunk of this generation turned out to be really soft. But since that’s the way it goes, it does seem pretty understandable that they like ponies, and way more “normal” than I thought before reading this article.

  • th3ophilos

    “It’s an oasis of purity in a sea of carnal sins…”
    This is exactly why I watch MLP.

  • jtnebulas

    Watching this show actually takes me back to my own childhood watching Ducktails, Tailspin, Gummy Bears, and all those other shows that were super well written and innocent to the core. I’m 24 and if the average age is 21 for bronies then most of us grew up on Disney Afternoon television shows. I can’t recall how many times I’ve said and heard said, “Man! TV isn’t like it was when I was a kid!” My Little Pony is a return to that sort of quality we were used to. Perhaps that could be a reason as well?

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