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.
When they DO visually display their involvement in the fandom, they often do it in ways that recast images and ideas from the show in more heteronormative ways: clothing, accessories, or other body adornments are remixed with a series of other male-oriented stuff (memes, games, toy properties, pop culture, etc.) to construct a visual identity that, on first glance, is totally a “bro” (perhaps tending towards geeky, but still…) but strategically bears markers of inclusion in brony culture. And it’s not just true of clothes. Manners of speaking, forms of socialization, posture, etc. — all that stuff is, for the majority of bronies, drawn from the world of “manly” things.1 But in the land of social theory, we’ve largely deconstructed gender, as in this bit from Judith Butler:
If the inner truth of gender is a fabrication and if a true gender is a fantasy instituted and inscribed on the surface of bodies, then it seems that genders can be neither true nor false, but are only produced as the truth effects of a discourse of primary and stable identity.2
There is a very specific gender play/negotiation going on here for these bronies between that which seems very fixed and that which is more fluid, in which they continue to maintain certain norms of maleness all while feeling a great need to express their deep adoration for a show supposedly for little girls. Here are a few strategies that they use to balance that:
- Male fans will often adorn themselves with images of characters that are gender-ambiguous or obviously male. Thus, background characters like Derpy, Big Mac, DJ Pon3, and even Scootaloo provide a more “male” palette of colors as well as characterization that is known to be less obviously “girly.” Rainbow Dash, as one of the Mane Six, also figures prominently, with the most ambiguous gender of the group, though her necessary rainbow palette is often mitigated with t-shirts featuring sharp and bold lines. And the phrase “20 percent cooler.” Like this post just became.
- Memes draw heavily from geek and popular culture coming from male-dominated spheres. 1337-speak references the largely-male hacker culture, and stuff like “The Maretrix Reloaded” (parodying The Matrix) and Obey/Resist poster parodies move MLP imagery both into the realm of males and of adults.
- As the documentary references, many fans maintain an ironic stance towards their own interest in the show at first (what the documentary calls “Hipster Bronies”). Even when some of these fans start to lose this ironic stance relative to the show itself, as the documentary points out, they maintain it in terms of their knowledge that what they’re doing is somewhat deviant. People like “The Manliest Brony” play up this irony.
- At one point during the documentary, I wrote in my notes: “There are a lot gutteral noises being made for a girl’s show.” Male bronies largely strike heteronormatively male stances in the way they speak and carry themselves. The Bro-Hoof (a fist-bump in any other context) is a prime example.
I could continue, but I imagine you largely get the point. These are largely heteronormative males choosing to explicitly extract what are to everyone else signs of femininity3, and use them as parts of their performances of individual identity.
So the question on the table is–why? The majority of the commenters have mentioned the gendered stigmas that basically closet your enjoyment of the show…and yet many of you push on. Is it worth it to get called freaks and sexual deviants and whatnot for a cartoon?
To what extent are you thinking about these gender norms when you do MLP stuff? Do you feel you are resisting pre-existing gender norms, or is that not even on your radar?
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!
I don’t wish to exclude bronies who do not consider themselves heteronormative and/or male, but I position myself in this particular post against prevailing stereotypes about bronies and thus that is my focus for now. ↩
Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble. p. 137 ↩
here, I am using the word “sign” in the semiotic sense of “something that stands for something else ↩