Interview with Brony Researcher Joshua Reyna

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About
Joshua A. Reyna is a 1st year sociology Master’s student at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He received his undergraduate degree in sociology with a minor in women’s studies, and his research interests include culture, death, theory, criminology, and deviance. He became interested in bronies during the early 4chan days but has only recently had a chance to look into the fandom. He began his field study on bronies this year during his maymester class, “Special Topics: Pierre Bourdieu,” which revitalized his interest in the fandom.

Jason [JRN]: Can you briefly describe what you have been working on in your brony research?

Joshua [JAR]: I am currently working on the habitus, or in other words the habits of the bronies. How they are formed, when are they used, and why they are important. I have found that by watching and partaking in the fandom of My Little Pony the bronies have made an entirely new habitus that rejects the usual male habitus (showing no emotion, being rough and tough) for one that embraces love, affection, and friendship. That is what fascinates me, and how they combat the negativity produced by the media and close minded people. Note the next part of my research might cause a little bit of anger in the group. While studying the habitus, I noticed that there were in turn fields or (areas of struggle for resources) in the fandom. Now I understand the weight of what I am saying but from general observations there does seem to be a struggle. I have generated at least 6 economic, prestige, cultural, artistic distinction, gender, and media. The problem with using field as a concept is that there can be an indefinite number of fields, so I tried to concentrate on what I thought was the most important. Now each of these fields has struggles over different types of resources. Economic being money, cultural being goods, and knowledge, prestige being status, artistic distinction being between what is obscene and what is sacred, gender is self explanatory, and media being who is viewed, and who has the most degree of freedom. Although there might not be a struggle that is seen, it is taken for granted. But like I said this is merely an explorative study where I am merely exploring the conflict, it is still up for debate on whether I am witnessing this or just making something out of nothing which is a critique of Bourdieu himself. Either way by doing this little paper for class I was able to take my first steps into the bronies!

Sidebar: What's habitus?

Kurt [KB]: Jason and I have both talked about Bourdieu quite a bit on this blog and in our papers at conferences, but have focused more on habitus, doxa (to some extent), and general ideas of distinction than on the concept of fields, so it is really nice to see you working with Bourdieu and with this concept. It is certainly a useful tool for looking at the different areas of conflict that arise within areas of the fandom (Down with Molestia comes to my mind here as one of the more striking examples) and the way that different types of capital (social, cultural, economic, etc.) can circulate within it (allowing people to become “fandom famous”). In your paper, you mentioned that you distinguished these six fields; could you go into a bit more detail about how you saw things playing out in/between these different fields?

Josh Reyna - Bourdieu-style fields

JAR: The way I saw things happening played out in very basic manner. Of course there are hundreds of variants on how to draw fields, so i went with the basic square and rectangle approach. As I had mentioned before there is the dominated, and the dominators. So at the top of the field we have the bronies. Now in order to find most my information on where if any there was a struggle I had to quickly grab it off of websites. I found a few places that indicate that there was a struggle for legitimation by the female fans aptly named “pegasisters”. In some cases new viewers as well.

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JRN: Since most of our readership probably hasn’t read much Bourdieu, can you tell us a little more about what a “field” is in your own words? Why not some other terminology? Context? Social frame? etc.

JAR: The problem with Bourdieu which I learned from my colleagues and professor was the nature in which he based his work. In an effort to distinguish himself from other theoretical frameworks he developed different terms that more or less sound like other ones. Fields is one of his concepts which is just a social area where struggle happens. It can be anything really which is another weakness we found. The kitchen in Mcdonalds where manager, customer, and crew member work together can be seen as a field. Struggle in this case means resources. Now there is an assumption that struggle is taking place.

Sidebar: More about fields

JRN: Can you talk more about your conceptualization of “struggle” here? Different scholars have had different ideas of how different groups of people with unequal “power” (that is, unequal distribution of capital based on whatever measure of capital you’re interested in) interact with one another. Struggle, resistance, and conflict are different than, say, Gramsci’s idea of hegemony, in which the different groups maintain the social order in mutually reinforced ways but in which the dominant group has ideological primacy. Moving away from scholarship, somes bronies would say that whatever it is they are doing, they are expressly trying to NOT struggle against one another. What do you make of the ideological claims of bronies for friendship and camraderie vis-a-vis your model of struggle?

JAR: Working with Bourdieu, I stuck with his notions of struggle, which in this case would be over capital. Whomever has more of a certain type of capital has more power. I think even some of the struggle happens from SOME wanting to sort of keep the Brony subculture as a private members club. Again in this case the culture portion of the square represents that. The more knowledge for example the easier it is to get inside. Culture can than be translated into economic gain by selling things, or running a successful youtube channel.I chose to work with Bronies after reflecting on what type of thesis I can produce, so i stowed this project in my mind for quite a while until I got a chance to work with it. Going into this class, I knew how hard it would be to find struggle especially since the “friendship is magic” is one of the core ideas. I point that out actually in my paper that field may be weak when concerning the bronies because of this. There seems to be some struggle in areas like the fanfiction, or who sees it at least. From jumping back and forth between equestriadaily, and the mlp board on 4chan I began to notice how two popular types for fanfiction were viewed. On one hoof you have the clean art, and the other hoof you have fetish art. People could be banned for attempting fetish fan fiction, while the more clean art was given lots of views. Going back to the Bourdieu this would mean the art was obscene, but not the normal sense of the word, but here obscene meant it got a limited amount of views. This is presented in my drawing of the fields by having so-called obscene art, and consecrated art separated on each side.Now forgive me my ignorance of much of the sites, I didn’t have much time to do some hard core research as I would have liked. By far gender was the hardest one to work with. As i would have preferred to find or interview more females, but had to settle on small journal articles, and quotes.

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JRN: Speaking of your research, could you talk a little bit more about your methodology?

JAR: My preferred method at the moment is Quantitative analysis, but I am a jack of many trades. For this one, had the project been longer i would have developed an in-depth survey of which I would have interviewed several bronies. But I had to settle with content analysis. Which means i scanned several websites for the content posted, the language used, and what was being talked about. Since I was somewhat familiar with bronies, their language, and a little bit of the show it really helped. It also helped that I had two close colleagues advising me every step of the way. The worst thing had to be citing my information. I found this really good article about sexism in the fandom, but the creator did not put his name down. I eventually tracked him down on deviantart but he never got back to me. That is actually would lead me to the stateoftheherdcensus, and in turn you guys.

KB: So… you watched the show, you took a close look at different websites and message boards, and you found these six major fields that you see.

JAR: Actually it was more but I could not find a way to shoehorn them in. For example I was going to put one dedicated to media. At which point I felt like my paper was becoming a bit cluttered.

KB: As you said, you can draw innumerable fields within any given context. There are also only so many things that you can talk about in a term paper.  I’m assuming that you chose these six because they interacted in ways that you thought were significant and worth talking about in the limited space that this particular paper provided. You’ve mapped them out quite nicely as well. What do you feel that looking at the fandom through these specific fields provides us in terms of a means of understanding the fandom and what is going on within it? Is it the ways that they interact with each other that you are looking at? If so, what were you able to discern?

JAR: Honestly I feel this does a disservice to the fandom. Basically i had to find, and in a way to create struggle There might very well be select males who want to keep it all male. Just as well artists are more than likely not competing, but things like “artist of the week” kind of implies a certain competition. Being a collector myself of movies, and statues I can sometimes be a little combative when it comes to knowledge. But that certainly is not the case. The class agreed that I could have enhanced this paper with a clip from the show. But when I presented the paper everyone was more intrigued on how someone could be attracted to a pony, which was such a small section of my paper. Yes, I wanted to see how they interacted. Once again it was kind of hard reading these words, I would have much rather listened at a convention or gathering. My city has a local meetup group that plays the tcg but they didn’t have a meeting scheduled that would have allowed me to observe them.

JRN: You seem to be implying that the broader public (academic or otherwise) are particularly confused about bronies because they read them as fetishizing these ponies, but it’s unlikely that bronies understand themselves the same way. Where do you think this disjuncture comes from (the difference between bronies and non-bronies)?

JAR: Well the funny thing with that is, it only came up once I hit that section which compared fetish and not fetish art. Much of the class was confused because i did a particularly crappy job with my powerpoint. In this way i mean i only provided a picture (let me go find it), no youtube clip, and went straight on in. But many were wondering what was the appeal of the show. I could not come up with an answer myself. My colleague Jorge likened it to male Sailor Moon Fans. We all had a discussion on the appearance of the show, the bright colors, the voices, and even comparisons to the Power Puff Girls, American esque giant eyes. I think open mindedness has a lot to do with it. I will be honest, I am a denizen of the internet. I have seen so much thanks to this new medium that i am pretty unfazed by a lot of things. But my upbringing in culture makes me appreciate and become intrigued by the differences. My colleagues from that class had all sorts of questions on the Bronies. Who were they? How old were they? Why this show? Social class? Country of Origin? It dragged a normally 15 minute presentation to 50 minutes. I will also say we did not spend much time on the deviant portion, we quickly moved onto watching a clip for the show since everyone wanted to see what the show was. Latching onto the deviant portion aside, I think that happens in a lot of cases to many other things. Of course since no one knew about them I had to explain what they represented. My other job outside of school was at a movie theater, I worked with a brony and a pegasister. It was the funniest thing they never spoke to each other, and she even proclaimed how she felt segregated from the males. The male was such a nice guy, he would doodle and draw fluffy pony artwork at the ticket drop and my coworkers would make fun of him. Coincidentally I was going to put the entirety of the brony field within society. This is the image I used to show what my little pony was.

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JRN: When setting things up on axes of feminine/masculine or deviant/non-deviant, one useful question to ask ourselves is for whom do those axes exist and in what configuration? For example, it appears on the surface for many people that My Little Pony is unquestionably a girls’ show. But at the same time, all the shows you’ve mentioned were things I and many other young men and women grew up with and probably didn’t see as gendered, or if we did, it didn’t keep us from viewing them. Powerpuff Girls in particular had a fan-base that well exceeded the “intended” demographic. Given that, no boy who watched PPG and now watches MLP is going to think of MLP as a girls’ show, even if everyone else around him does. How do we separate out the axes of distinction of bronies themselves from “everyone else”?

JAR: Hmmm good question. Well the first thing that comes to mind is how society pretty much decides what is appropriate for “boys” and “girls”. Even within the bronies themselves there are distinctions. Distinction defined by taste/like in a particular pony. If i had a favorite pony it would be Rainbow Dash, that would conflict with someone who likes AppleJack.

KB: And both of those conflict with the truth that Fluttershy is best pony.

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JAR: If i knew how to do that upward arrow in word, i would do that right about now. It comes at actively participate in recreating them. What’s truly incredible in my opinion is how the creators have responded to this influx of male fans. By tossing in shoutouts, or cameos they actively invite the male audience. To me that is huge.

What I dislike is the fact that taste for one comes with a distaste of another. With the bronies at least, there is not much in fighting over who is “best pony” but i think just typing that will create some good dialogue in the comments. Going back to fields, I feel like i have highlighted the most adequate ones, and any thereafter would create some clutter. Finally at the top lies gender, which encompasses much of the fandom. After all they aren’t called Bronies  for nothing. For me at least, and my colleagues it served as an excellent way to understand the fandom, by introducing some areas of conflict that is, and how people translate their knowledge of the show, or in some cases artistic qualities, and possessions into economic gain, or even fame within the community. Obviously there is much more of a complex system here than many would give the fandom credit for.

KB: So, just to wrap things up, you’ve just started your work with this community and, from the sound of it, are hoping to start getting more in-depth and settling in on what you want to look at and how you want to look at it. You finished this paper and it sounds like you are thinking about moving in a different direction with your future research. Where are you planning on going from here? What have you learned from this past project and how is that informing what you are thinking about looking at in the future, both topically and theoretically?

JAR: Yes, this was my first step into the world of fandom studies, and I must say it really opened my eyes to things. To be honest i will probably go with my original idea of performing a full integration into the culture, of the My Little Pony fandom. From there depending really. Like i mentioned before culture, although one of my larger interests takes a side position to my main (the sociology of death and dying). But I am always looking for ideas for papers. Kind of one of the bad sides of being in academia, is you have to cater to your advisors’ interests, in this case for me quantitative work. Rest assured I won’t leave this behind I had way too much fun between interacting with you and Jason, or just learning about the community it was a real blast. I think i may move into the more deviant side, or even maybe looking at the gender ideology portion, but the best thing is how many things can be done. The sky is really the limit here. Hopefully we can start recruiting more Brony academics. I look forward to seeing big things from you two.

Case closed

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We’d like to thank Joshua Reyna for taking some time out to chat with us!

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8 thoughts on “Interview with Brony Researcher Joshua Reyna

  1. Disclaimer: I’ve done my best to soften this up but it still comes across as very harsh and critical. I apologize for that as it is not my intent to beat up on Joshua, but rather to steer him in a direction that ‘may’ be more productive depending on what his ultimate goals are.

    I’ve read this twice now and given it about an hour to process, and I can’t shake the feeling that Joshua is approaching this the wrong way. It seems to me like he genuinely wants to learn about and understand bronies as a group, but he’s approaching from the stance of someone external, bringing external bias to the table and examining the group through that lens alone, rather than trying to look at things the group considers important. Maybe that’s the point and I’m misinterpreting things, but it doesn’t strike me as the most productive method to actually get to know us.

    Joshua acknowledges that trying to examine bronies through the lens of conflict or struggle is a challenge because we actively try to distance ourselves from such. Why then try to force such a difficult task rather than focus on other things? For example, one of his 6 major points is struggle in artistic distinction. I would argue that the pursuit of artistic distinction is a hallmark of artists going back to ancient Greece and isn’t necessarily a qualifier of bronies as much as it is of artists in general. However, brony artists have an unprecedented level of collaboration compared to any other group of artists anywhere in the world. It would seem to me that trying to understand why so many brony artists choose to work together when the great majority of artists the world over do not would make for a much more interesting topic of study.

    He also mentions that he will probably narrow his focus to deviance and gender in the brony community, and honestly I find that a little upsetting. This is the primary reason I feel he is bringing external bias into the equation rather than examining what’s actually within the community. According to the 2013 herd census, only 17% of bronies identify as furries, and I would imagine that only a portion of them are into the pony fetish stuff. Why focus on something that less than a fifth of the fandom does as a means to understand the fandom as a whole? Fox news has that covered already.

    As to gender, I’ve said it before on this blog, and will likely end up saying it again… and again, but I do not feel gender is as big an issue within the community as those outside the community seem to want it to be. I have never encountered any instance of gender bias or discrimination during all my dealings with bronies. I’m certain that some exists, but Joshua pointed out himself that it is a very small subset of the whole that may have strong gender opinions. I feel that many of the issues that are present exist because of the general gender boundaries created by society, and not those created by bronies. As an example, I’ve heard female bronies say they are nervous or afraid to go to meetups fearing they may be the only, or one of very few, women. I would argue that this issue would arise in any social situation where a woman fears she may be the only woman among many men and is completely unrelated to bronies specifically. This speaks more to our society in general than it does about bronies.

    I dunno, maybe I’m grossly misreading all of this. If I am, I apologize for doing so. It just seems to me that his approach is focused on the negative, trying to ferret out strife and conflict among a group of people that actively resist succumbing to such. He also has chosen to focus on the two biggest negative stereotypes that society at large holds against us. Maybe he’s looking to overturn those stereotypes and show them to be false, but if that’s the case he needs to make that very clear. Upon reading this, my impression is that he wants to ultimately write a paper about sexism and deviance among bronies, and trying to ‘fully integrate into brony culture’ with that kind of agenda is going to be impossible.

    I also feel that choosing to focus on strife within the fandom is focusing on what makes us exactly like everyone else, and has more to do with being a person than being a brony. There is always going to be some level of conflict among any group of people; but choosing to focus on that when examining this particular community seems to be missing the point. Yes, certain conflicts exist, but that doesn’t in any way differentiate us from any group of 3 or more people on the planet. The thing that sets us apart is how we try to overcome those conflicts on a daily basis, in everything we do. If you’re looking to truly understand us, you need to be looking at .

  2. Hello Danny,

    I have read your comment. Thanks for the input. I knew what i was getting myself into. One of the downsides of using fields like i said is to find conflict. That was not my intention to find strife, but rather explore the potential for it to appear. One of the things I hate about using fields, is the construction of conflict. Also about me going into deviance, and gender ideology within the fandom. I apologize if it sounded like i was intentionally trying to find these occurrences, but those are just some of my research interests. Naturally i gravitate towards them. Deviance fascinates me as well as gender conflict. One of the sad things about academia is that if you cannot find much info on certain things you cannot well research them that well. Maybe i should have also put more on how i would like to study it for subcultures sake. But if you would like to chat with me more i would be happy to hear it, as i am always looking for new arenas to explore, and hearing from somebody so passionate about the fandom would be an awesome way to get some ideas! One of the things we did not go into that much compared to fields (because my main point was on fields) was the habitus of the fandom. Where i brought a lot less negative, or potentially stereotypical arguments into it.

    1. I think Danny raises a lot of great points, especially regarding studying deviance in the fandom. The fandom does not need, nor do I think it would respond well to, people looking to talk about sexual deviance in the fandom and how weird it is that pony porn or furries or whatever else exist. However, I honestly feel that further study about deviance and the fandom could be super beneficial if done right, namely because I don’t find the fandom deviant. Coder and the Brony Study folks have done a gray job giving the numbers there to help the argument that bronies are really no more deviant than anyone else and I feel like there is a lot more room for people to take up that same banner.

      I certainly agree with Danny that, for the most part, these issues are not specific to the fandom, but are rather larger societal issues present just about everywhere. The gender issues are reflective of larger societal issues (and are actually better in the fandom than a lot of other places), the sexual “issues” are MUCH less pervasive than people think, and conflict within the fandom is much like conflict in any other group of people. The beautiful thing that, in my opinion, studying deviance in the fandom can do, in my opinion, is show these facts. Pat Edwards and the brony study people are starting to work toward these ends, arguing that fandom is actually prosocial to disciplines that find it deviant and taking the argument that being a fan of MLP is no different than being a die-hard Steelers fan in disciplines such as psychology, where the little research on fandom that does exist is fucking whack and almost pathologizes fandoms (Gerbasi et. al have even gone so far as to suggest that furries have “species identity disorder”). I think there is a lot that scholars can do to normalize the “deviance” of the fandom and point out that much of it is either a) omnipresent in society, b) blown crazily out of proportion by the media, or c) something that actually goes against larger societal problems. I feel like there is a lot of good to be said for the fandom and, talking to Joshua, I feel like his ultimate goal is not to portray the fandom in a bad light (hence the unhappiness with that first research paper and the use of “field” as a theoretical backing).

      I also feel like I should mention that I think looking at conflict within the fandom and even using the idea of “fields” can be super beneficial, especially because the brony community tries to be so open and accepting which creates some very interesting dynamics when conflicts do arise (also, fields don’t necessarily need to be places of “actual” conflict, they are more like playing fields where social interactions take place according to certain rules). Here to, however, there is the challenge of trying not to make mountains of molehills regarding the practices of bronies (FOX news has already done that quite enough) or even striving to show people that these molehills are, in fact, molehills instead of mountains.

      So yeah… that’s my two cents worth, I suppose.

      1. I absolutely agree that there’s some room for great research into deviance and gender in as much as we can attempt to deconstruct the stereotypes that already exist, but that goal needs to be stated upfront and often. This fandom has suffered for years under these unjustified stereotypes and it will not take kindly to anyone attempting to further them, or even appearing to further them.

        I’m not saying not to study these things, but be acutely aware when you do so that you dance upon a raw nerve, and a misstep can quickly spell disaster. We already exist on the fringes of society (in the public mind) and we just want to move more into the middle. Not necessarily be mainstream, but not be immediate targets of public ridicule. Keep that in mind and you’ll do alright.

        1. There is an incomplete overlap between what a group believes in its discourse about itself (the things it says, thinks, and understands about being a group) and the interactions between members or between that group and others. That’s not to say that the group is WRONG about what it believes, but that there are potentially other factors and interpretations in addition to their own understandings. For bronies, I think one source of tension is with areas of social capital, such as the arts, that our society generally DOES view as competitive, but most bronies would feel ideologically compelled to present as non-competitive. There is, after all, no way to say that so-and-so is the best brony musician without inviting comparison, and in my experince, bronies say superlatives all the time–X is best pony, Y is best musician, Z is best episode, etc.

          As for deviance, I’m not sure everybody does want to move into the middle. I don’t think we have to think about deviance negatively, nor do we have to have a limited view of deviance overall. If we follow the herd census, then 17% identifying as furries is surely a couple orders of magnitude greater than in the general population, so that has to mean *something*, if not something bad. It’s worth studying, as long as it’s handled respectfully.

          In fact, deviance/acceptance of deviance is often good. For example, this fandom DOES leave an incredible opening for transgender people to explore their identities in relation to a fictional world where gender roles are more malleable than in society at large. So, the fact of greater deviance is, after all, a positive for people seen by the rest of society as deviant.

          I recently read an article in the guardian where the author argues that the passing of same-sex marriage laws around the U.S. hasn’t done anything to queer the institution of marriage, but it has mainstreamed gays and lesbians into traditional relationships…which may not be a good thing: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jun/29/same-sex-marriage-straightened

    2. Joshua, I’d be happy to have a conversation with you if you think it would help your research. I think there’s a whole lot of interesting stuff involving this fandom and an academic can find very fertile soil for study; but you gotta be so careful dealing with the deviance and gender stuff as those stereotypes have been used to bludgeon us for years.

      Anyhow, if you want to arrange a conversation or other correspondence, I’m available to help as much as I can.

  3. All really good responses and comments.

    Danny of course. I have a million ideas running through my head but this of course extends to Kurt and Jason. I’d be happy to collaborate anything with yall.

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