Monthly Archives: November 2013

Hetero-normative Maleness and Bronies

I’ve just finished watching the documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony, which was enjoyable just for the original animation and voice-acting, but of course also for the insight into the lives of people who consider themselves bronies.

The particular genre conventions and representational decisions made in this documentary will probably be an object of a later post, but what it really made me think about was how heteronormative everyone is. For a bunch of people who are imagined by everyone else as effeminate, sexual deviants (not my categories, just phrasing I’m borrowing from others), male fans of MLP are overwhelmingly straight and largely perform male selves in line with what I imagine most people visualize for the average young adult male.

Genres of Fandom: How Does One Brony?

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I’ll admit that I’ve never really considered myself to be a part of any fandom.  I’ll often obsess over a game or a television show and I’ll often find myself creating works—be it art, music, or some sort of game—around these media. However, beyond maybe talking with a few of my friends about the shows/games/movies/whatever, I’ve never really joined in any sort of group of people devoted to any of these things. To be honest, I’m not quite sure why that is.

Coming into this particular study, I am very interested in the expressive works—art, music, memes, costumes, stories, games, videos, etc.—that are coming out of the fandom (which are totally sweet, by the way) and the stigma that is often attached to being a brony (which is the opposite of sweet). Since Jason’s last post begins to deal with the latter of these issues, I’ll think I’ll make my first official post on the former.

Looking through sites such as Equestria Daily, checking out fan art, listening to music, and spending way too much time playing Canterlot Siege 2 when I should be grading, I became very interested in the ways that the different genres/types of creations that bronies make and consume are similar to or different from the types of things created in other fandoms.

Ponies+Tower defense game= Glorious time vampire
Ponies+Tower defense game= Glorious time vampire

While the work created within the brony community is original/awesome, the forms and genres that these works take conform in many ways to those that arise in other sorts of fandoms. For instance, fanfics and fan art take somewhat similar shapes regardless of specific fandom; cosplay is pretty well a universal sign of fandomness; and it even seems like there is at least one tower defense game has been created for every game, show, or movie out there (which is very unfortunate for my productivity… this post was supposed to come out yesterday by the way).  Even being able to talk about (and study) fandom as a general “thing” suggests to some extent that there are specific ways of being in (or, perhaps “doing”) a fandom that have developed over time and, as people become fans of different things, they continue to express themselves in ways that are associated with being in fandoms in general—cosplaying, writing fics, etc.

My questions along these lines, other than perhaps whether or not my observations hold water, are about how the content created around/by the brony community relates to other fandoms you have had experience with (beyond the fact that the MLP:FiM community focuses on MLP). How does one brony? How are the things that people are creating similar to those of other fandoms? How are they different? For instance, I’ve noticed that several previous comments on this blog have talked about the music that bronies are creating (this is particularly awesome to me, as a musician and music researcher). Where several people have commented on the musical aspect of the brony fandom and Equestria Daily (which has been one of my major resources in checking out brony creations) has no fewer than six different music sections in its “media” menu, I haven’t seen as much emphasis on music in other sorts of fandom sites that I have been to. I also found it interesting that Equestria Daily didn’t have a cosplay section until this past August, which certainly doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a lot of cosplay going on, but is still interesting.

Also, on a somewhat related note, I am hoping to write at least one of my next posts on music being made by bronies and will thus be listening to a LOT of music in the very near future. Any suggestions, thoughts, or comments as I go about this would be awesome. What are your thoughts on the music coming out of the brony scene? Which genres do you like to listen to? Who are the best artists? What are the best songs/works? What are the worst ones?

Thanks for reading and for any comments that might come out of this. It’s been great to hear everything you’ve had to say thus far. I think I can also speak for Jason when I say that we’re very grateful to all of you for everything you’ve done to help get this blog started.

-Kurt Baer

On Being Called a Brony…the little things that make us anxious.

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From the researcher’s personal collection

I’ll admit it. I have an aversion to being called a brony, even though I really do love Friendship is Magic. Fluttershy is basically my favorite thing ever. DJ Pon3 was my Facebook cover page for a really long time. I have a small collection of the McDonald’s PVC ponies underneath my Transformers Hot Rod/Rodimus Prime display. Feeling that it needed something more, I even switched out the tiny McD’s Celestia with one of the larger ones so the scale would be more show-accurate. So, presumably, my actions would belie something rather brony-ish.

But before you bro-hoof me, STOP!

(j/k about that — I totally accept your bro-hoof)

But seriously, on a very visceral level, I just don’t consider myself a brony, and when people suggest that I might be one, I have in the past quickly corrected them–“I watch the show, but I’m not a brony.” I don’t know if it is connected to particular anxieties about masculinity (I don’t think so, since I’ve watched magical girl anime like Sailor Moon and Fushigi Yuugi since I was a kid) or perhaps it’s tied to the etymology of the word fan–as in fanatic–which I have to admit makes me a little bit nervous because of its suggestion of psychological deviance.

That’s all surprising to me, because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the average brony at all. I mean, to the extent that all groups have people who do questionable things, sometimes you find a brony that is involved in something that makes you raise an eyebrow. But, on the whole, one might say that there’s nothing particularly weird about being a Brony, since it follows in a long tradition of social groups built around enjoying mediated performances of one sort or another–shows, movies, books, whatever. And as a fandom, the built-in emphasis on friendship just seems…nice. Admirable even.

And yet, to further my admission, the sense of a particular deviance is what draws me to doing research on this community. It’s my own knee-jerk reaction to being called a brony that makes me wonder why this thing that seems to me so innocuous and yet creates certain anxieties for people. It raises in them a particular sense of a transgression of social norms. Maybe that’s not fair…but it is most certainly true.

It’s okay to like these things, the little voice inside my head seems to say, but liking them together feels super weird. There’s something about that–not the fact that a man might like a cute thing, like the Viking who takes a shining to a bunny he found in a field; it’s the fact that a whole bunch of Viking dudes decided to all keep pet bunnies and started to write odes about their bunny companions to share with each other.

That’s weird to me. But I don’t know why it should be.

I’m not necessarily looking for an answer here, unless you have one, which would be great. But if you don’t have much of an answer, that’s great too.

Instead, let’s see if we can build a collection of experiences. Share something of your own personal anxieties about the show and/or fandom. Did you ever feel, in yourself, that there was something different going on, and perhaps something that you weren’t entirely comfortable with? I’ve shared that moment for me as being linked to the labeling of group identity itself, to the group affiliation that the term “brony” directly indexes in its etymology (via the word “bro”) and in its brief but spirited social history.

But where are your moments of feeling anxiety about yourself in the fandom? Is there some part of the fandom that still feels alien to you? Do, say, furries creep you out (to be clear, I’m not picking on furries here–we be cool, yo–just mentioning something that I know gets a lot of flack)? Does anyone else have anxieties with the word “brony” like I do? Or maybe you want to just tell me my anxieties are dumb and that I need to embrace the word.

– Jason R. Nguyen

Hi everyone!

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Welcome to Research is Magic! This is a research blog started by Kurt Baer and Jason R. Nguyen at Indiana University. We’re interested in creating a venue where fans of the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic — or more affectionately, bronies — can share with one another and with scholars the value of the community that you have built around this show. More specifically, we’re interested in:

  1. What it means to be a brony;

  2. The creative works that MLP:FiM fans make for one another; and

  3. How bronies come together to make friendship/magic.

Unlike a lot of research, where “field research” is done within a community but “THE Research” (the paper you publish) is back in the university, we think they’re kinda the same thing, and probably the first is even more important. In other words, if you contribute to this blog, you’re doing research! (ooOOOoooh!!111oneoneoneeleventy-one!) More specifically, we’re asking you to respond to us and to one another as we raise questions about what it means to be a brony.

So, thank you for stopping by, and please introduce yourself and let us know why you love FiM in the comments below!

P.S. Everything on this site is covered under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License–that includes everything WE write as well as anything YOU contribute. You can also get more study details.

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