Here at Research is Magic, we take the ethnographic methodology called “participant-observation” really seriously. REALLY seriously. And what better way to start participating in the fandom’s favorite past-times than to draw something.
So here it is, a team-up between Saddle Rager from “Power Ponies” and an RiM inside joke, Scootaroids — based on the gag scene in “Flight to the Finish” with the CMC and the roided up character “Snowflake.”
I fudged the background and just grabbed a vector based on show environments. The actual ponies are all me though.
Tag Blog is inspired by TAGJournal and Dr. Susan Lepselter at IU. We write blog entries about the fandom, then “tag” a new author to continue the chain. There are currently two concurrent series (Series 1 and Series 2). This is a guest post from Series 1 by Michelle Turner and follows “Being Different, Being Hated” by Benjamin Turner.
My entrance into the MLP: FiM fandom seems fairly typical among other female fans who grew up in the 80s — I had a small collection of the 1st Generation toys and watched the original cartoon, though I honestly couldn’t tell you much about it. When I heard that they’d resurrected the series, and that it was attracting adult fans due to quality, I was skeptical.
I was even more skeptical when I found out that the adult fans were mostly men; this just didn’t seem like something I’d be into. But my husband Ben watched the entire first season in something like a week, and suddenly wouldn’t shut up about it. There was no way I was going to be able to carry on a conversation with him dropping in MLP references every so often without going completely insane. (I hate not being in on the joke!) Finally, after a bit of prodding, I sat down to watch.
The end result? I liked it. Just… liked it. To this day, that’s still more or less my opinion of the show, and I daresay that if it weren’t for my husband Ben’s fannishness, I would watch the show a bit more idly than I currently do. I might not even own any merchandise. But with a Brony husband to enable me, I have somehow amassed a small collection of pony swag. Sometimes when I look at our living room, which otherwise looks much like the living room of a responsible adult, I have moment of mental disconnect when I look at the shelf covered in ponies. There is a part of me that instinctively wonders if I am failing adulthood by co-enabling my husband to collect vinyl pony figurines and plush toys. Sometimes I wonder where we’re going to put the art we picked up at the last convention we attended — there are only so many rooms in our house, and I do feel compelled to decorate most of them in a fashion that will not garner odd stares from our non-fannish visitors. (My husband points out: “What non-fannish visitors?” to which I Say, touché. Everyone’s fannish about something.)
Still, I find myself in the odd position of knowing a lot about this fandom, its culture, and its notable content creators, all without feeling as though I’m really a part of the fandom itself. In some ways, this is good — I don’t have to spend a lot of time trawling the internet to find things I’ll like; my husband knows my tastes and will forward along content that he thinks I’ll find interesting. I miss all the fandom arguments — does this fandom even have arguments? — because I’m rarely in the position of having to read the comments.
In other ways, I feel like an imposter — like the mythical “Fake Geek Girl.” Dressed as Rarity at a recent fandom meetup, I wondered if I was doing it for the right reasons. (What even would those be? Are there really ethical dilemmas involved in dressing up as a cartoon unicorn?) I sometimes feel like I don’t really have the knowledge to comment upon my experiences in this fandom, because I’m not entirely sure I’m a part of it. I consider myself neither Brony nor Pegasister, but merely “someone who enjoys My Little Pony.” At the same time, I’ve finally, at Ben’s urging, started building a website for my “BronyWife” persona, which is meant to be a semi-humorous account of said experiences. Am I just in a massive state of denial because I feel that at least one person in my household needs to maintain a semblance of responsible adulthood? (Probably, though I’m already failing at that one, given that I’m pursuing a career as an actress. Pretending to be other people isn’t a great way to convince anyone that I’m a grownup!)
In the end, I suspect I’m just not as comfortable as my husband is with being different in a way that receives so much outside criticism. I fended off the “geek” label for years because it was a label I shed as a young woman after years of being harshly teased, and even as an adult I find myself hyper-aware of how I might be viewed by others. I sometimes think that girl-geeks sometimes have it harder than guy-geeks in terms of how we’re treated growing up, and so I think some of us adopt the “Fake Geek Girl” persona as a way of potentially shrugging off criticism from non-geeks. Others admit fannishness of only relatively “safe” fandoms — who doesn’t like Doctor Who, for example? Or The Avengers? I don’t think twice about wearing my TARDIS shirt out of the house, but I’d cringe if a friend dropped by unannounced only to find me in my Derpy Hooves PJ pants, drinking coffee out of my Pinkie Pie mug. (And wearing Hello Kitty slippers. Oh, yeah, I’m a grownup, all right!)
I know from personal experience that I’m not the only woman in my circle of acquaintances who feels this way about liking the show, so speak up! Where are all my BronyWives? I want to hear more from women who like the show while their partners LOOOOOOVE the show. Do you find yourself falling into the fandom largely by accident, like I have, or did you eagerly jump in with both feet?
We here at Research Is Magic are really happy that the fandom has given us such a warm welcome. A little while ago, Capper General tweeted us this awesome graph:
It’s neat to see how interest in the show has skyrocketed, while “brony,” at least as a search term, has continued to be about as periphery as it always was. That’s not unexpected: who outside the fandom would be interested in searching for bronies, and who inside the fandom needs to search for bronies? Stated otherwise, if you’re a brony, you probably have your social network already, and you probably get to those networks in ways other than searching for the word brony).
There was some discussion on Twitter about how the fandom is becoming irrelevant based on this graph, but I’m not so sure. /mlp/ has held steady — perhaps it’s dipping a little, but that’s expected: as the show gains a more mainstream audience, 4channers will most likely move on to the next obscure thing that solidifies it as a community (because it excludes people who are not in on the joke/lingo/secret/whatever). The fact that /mlp/ became a thing and is doing well is pretty remarkable as it stands.
Outside of that, the fandom instantiates itself in hashtags and other discrete moments of shared attention. That #MLPSeason4 trended during the premiere of “Daring Don’t” was pretty amazing, and I think it’s useful to remember that when a new episode airs and thousands of people are tweeting with the same hashtag, that’s a fairly specific group of people with similar levels of devotion to the show (at least relative to everyone else), regardless of how they label themselves.
Beyond that, I’ll need to think a little more about what all this means. The changing role of /mlp/ and the historical role of 4chan more broadly in the history of the fandom needs further investigation. Furthermore, the fandom has always grown from disparate threads of people coming from multiple directions and subcultures–it’s not like an original TV show like Breaking Bad with no previous history, where the fandom must have had one set moment from which it began and the demographic that loved it was largely the demographic for which it was intended.
It’s like, ‘We don’t want the girls because the girls won’t buy toys.’ We had a whole… we had a whole, a merchandise line for Tower Prep that they s***canned before it ever got off the launching pad, because it’s like, ‘Boys, boys, boys. Boys buy the little spinny tops, they but[sic] the action figures, girls buy princesses, we’re not selling princesses.'”
So what does this make you think about bronies? Their penchant for buying little pastel colored ponies? The nods that the creators have made towards this fandom? Why does it seem more difficult to go in the other direction, to make shows for boys that nod towards “girl stuff”?
Or to put a bit of an edge on the question: how come the girls’ show you love has four seasons, and the boys’ shows girls love have been canned?
Updated 12/16: Added the “Pony Korea is Best Korea” meme and subreddits like /r/MyLittlePyongyang.
[x] Is Best Pony: Not About Grammar
I code-switch in and out of a lot of Englishes. Growing up in a Vietnamese American household, there was my dad’s wholly functional but somewhat stilted English versus my mom’s uber-precise “standard” English. In school, I was a a favorite of English teachers because I had an easy knack for “proper” grammar. But I grew up in North Carolina, where aint’s and y’alls were crucial. And by the time I was in high school and immersing myself in underground hip-hop culture, African American vernacular was the coin of the realm.
That’s all just to say that I’m not here to tell anybody that they’re speaking English wrong(ly!). Different contexts call for different rules of grammar, indicating different social groups and alliances1, and the grammar of “proper” English is only correct because it’s the English of people who hold sway over public opinion. So when we hear a phrase like “[x character] is best pony,” with the grammatical article “the” removed (as in “[x] is THE best pony), we can understand it as a demarcation of an identity through the playful use of grammar, though it comes at the risk of others painting it as signaling stupidity or something like that. As Tia Baheri notes at The Toast, “Conventional wisdom portrays this form of linguistic flexibility and playfulness as the end of intelligent human life”2.
So, today’s topic: where did the phrase “[x] is best pony” come from?
Still, that doesn’t explain where it came from. That requires turning to the deepest recesses of the Internet.
Best Pony: Origins
When I asked about the “[x] is best pony” formula on Twitter, a few people told me that it was probably 4chan. Considering the storied history of /mlp/ on 4chan, they were almost certainly right, but that wasn’t enough for me. Surely, the transformation wasn’t simply:
"[x] is the best pony" >>> "[x] is best pony"
I guessed that it was probably something more like:
"[x] is best [y]" >>> "[x] is best pony"
Still, was there an original [x] and [y]? Were 4chan’s denizens really that invested in calling things “the best” of whatever category? 4chan loves its superlatives, but that seemed like a really stupid thing to be invested in. There’s always a logic to 4chan mayhem, tied to absurd humor. Whatever the original [x] and [y] were, they weren’t just random things that people earnestly thought were the greatest things ever. Then I thought about the premiere of Friendship is Magic: October 10, 2010. What 4chan antics were in the zeitgeist right before that—say, in the summer of 2010?
Bieber x North Korea: A Love Story
As chronicled pretty well by KnowYourMeme, 4chan began its Project North Korea is Best Korea to send Justin Bieber to North Korea to perform after his promoters made a webpage where fans could vote for a country he would perform in—with no restrictions on the countries. 4chan being 4chan, they quickly decided that they’d spam the vote and send Bieber to North Korea.
That was the missing link! The campaign got coverage on a number of big news websites, and therefore the general tech/nerd crowd outside of 4chan would have been privy to the humorous idea of “North Korea is Best Korea” and excellent images like this one:
In fact, that image dates back to at least May 26, 2009 when it was posted to Flickr, so the phrase “North Korea is Best Korea” probably has an even older pedigree on 4chan. The oldest reference I’ve found is a North Korean propaganda video uploaded to YouTube on June 29, 2008:
So, the meme “North Korea is best Korea” was already circulating, and remixing it n various ways was already a familiar source for humor in online circles. Thus, soon after Friendship is Magic became a phenomenon, the following meme people called “Pony Korea is Best Korea” hit the Internet, as early as February 20113 :
More recently, I discovered a number of subreddits, with sporadic activity, that continue the link between “Best Korea” and My Little Pony:
That’s where my story ends, though the social life of the phrase itself will continue to evolve and adapt to circumstances. Recently, I’ve witnessed a few times when somebody in a non-brony context will say “[x] is best [y],” and a brony will chime in to say that the phrase originated from his/her fandom. In some cases, somebody will tell the brony that he/she is wrong and that the phrase originated from 4chan, though I have yet to see a clearer attribution than that.
So, is my etymology correct? Did I miss anything? Are there other terms of brony-speak with ambiguous etymologies? Why do you think bronies even have these terms specific to their fandoms? What does it mean that many of the terms originate from other geek subcultures? Comments please!
linguists call such groupings based on linguistic features “speech communities” ↩
Tag Blog is an idea inspired by TAGJournal and Dr. Susan Lepselter at IU. We write blog entries about the My Little Pony fandom, then ask someone else in the community to write a follow-up and tag the next person in the chain. There are currently two concurrent series, one started by Jason (Series 1) and another by Kurt (Series 2).
I can’t say I was able to collect any of the same lessons from Sailor Moon that Jason mentioned in his post. You see, I mostly watched the North American dub, where Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune were recast as cousins (and Zoisite as a woman). It’s interesting that audiences here wouldn’t tolerate gay characters in a children’s show, while in Japan and elsewhere it was no problem. For all the talk of how our American society values individualism, certain differences are still not widely tolerated.
I’ve always felt as though I was different from most people. I’ve been a geek as far back as I can remember. As a kid, my favorite musician was Weird Al. (He’s still in my top ten, of course.) I started playing RPGs in middle school. (Amazingly, that’s how I finally got the girl – I know there’s a lesson for the kids there.) And I finally discovered (and rapidly became obsessed with) anime in high school. These are just a few of many, many examples. I never felt alone because there were always other geeks who I was friends with, but we were a tiny minority. And although I was self-confident enough, thanks to my loving and accepting mother, to largely ignore it, I was not oblivious to how we were disdained – by some other students, by mass media, and by society in general.
All that said, I’ve also always been a straight, white, middle-class male. “Trekkie” and “Dungeons & Dragons” might have been looked down upon widely enough to be the punch lines to jokes, but they were not the sorts of things that would elicit really serious prejudice. No professor ever suggested I couldn’t have a future as an engineer. No one shoots dirty looks if I hold hands with my spouse. I’m not watched like a hawk while just out shopping. People might have thought I was a bit strange, but no one was going to judge me as worthless to society or inherently damaged because I own a replica of Xena’s chakram1.
Then I became a brony. Suddenly, mainstream2 news outlets are reporting on what a creepy scumbag waste of space I am. I see in the documentary how bronies in some places are threatened with physical violence. There are people who truly hate us. And I would argue that it’s not for what we choose, but for who we are. Yes, we choose to continue to watch the show, buy the merch, and participate in the fandom, but we didn’t choose to love it in the first place.3 That’s just part of who we are.
What I have chosen is to take a positive lesson from this hate by refusing to perpetuate it. I’ve never really been one to judge people for being different from me, but I now make a concerted effort not to, and even to call out those who do. So you’re a furry, or a Twihard, or you prefer D&D 4th Edition? Okay. That’s not my thing, but so what? Not only has what I call “geek-on-geek violence” got to stop, but more generally, too many people spend too much time hating others just for being different, then trying to justify that hate with bullshit excuses. I was getting pretty sick of this already, but nothing drives a point home like personal experience.
By the same token, it’s made me less tolerant of intolerance, and a bit more confrontational where that’s concerned. (This is probably good, because I’m often far too non-confrontational.) The reason I want to wear MLP swag, for example, is just the same reason I want to wear Star Trek swag: I like to express myself and my interests through what I wear (also Pony is so happy I like having something from it around at all times). But the reason I allow myself to do so is because if someone has a problem with it, it’s their problem, not mine. To me, they’re simply being small-minded, and I have no interest in accommodating that. It may not be likely that I’m going to change anyone’s mind this way, but hiding who I am is a sure way not to do so.
As far as personal growth, I’ve gotten some things out of the show and I’ve gotten a lot out of the fandom. I guess, loath as I am to admit it, I’ve even gotten something out of the haters. (Namely, that they should knock it the hell off!) It’d take a better man than me to know why humanity needs these constant reminders: “Do unto others…” “be excellent to each other,” “if you embrace each other’s differences, you just might be surprised to discover a way to be friends after all.”4 But I’m glad there are people out there willing to keep giving them.
The good one from Creation, not the crappy one from Icons! ↩
The majority of these have a clear conservative slant, but at least by circulation, many are pretty mainstream. ↩
Tag Blog is an idea inspired by TAGJournal and Dr. Susan Lepselter at IU. We write blog entries about the My Little Pony fandom, then ask someone else in the community to write a follow-up and tag the next person in the chain. There are currently two concurrent series, one started by Jason (Series 1) and another by Kurt (Series 2). This is the first post of Series 1 by Jason.
How do you teach the magic of friendship?
(featuring Sailors Uranus and Neptune)
by Jason R. Nguyen (ResearchIsMagic.org / Indiana University Bloomington)
People in the fandom talk a lot about the values of the show and about how it teaches people what friendship is and how it even helps the more socially awkward of us to have models for healthy socialization. But when we use the word “teach,” we can sometimes get tunnel-vision about how we actually learn behaviors in the world. We don’t learn how to be better friends because Twilight Sparkle tells us a one-sentence secret about what friendship is. Sure, the lesson reinforces something, but what exactly is that, and how?
A related story: long before I learned what “queer theory” was, the magical-girl anime Sailor Moon showed me through the lesbian pairing of Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune that gender and sexuality were fluid categories. The show didn’t provide me with a theoretical vocabulary for discussing those topics, but it helped open me to a possibility—to the very basic humanity of people with different sexualities and genders than my own—and that receptiveness would later serve me when those concepts were taught.
Everything about their relationship seemed familiar to me—their suaveness as a gorgeous pair of people, their genuine concern for one another, the occasional sexual joke—except that they were both girls. And since the fact that they were lesbians was the one thing that little Jason felt to be “unnatural,” it was less mental effort to shift my heteronormative worldview than to shift my positive inclination towards these two characters.
I intellectualized it later, but more importantly, their normalness—signalled by how their homosexuality was a non-issue to everyone else in that universe—justified them to me on a visceral level. More than teaching me how to act, Sailor Moon taught me how to react to and interpret sexualities different from my own. In other words, the best lessons of social behavior are ones that shift your ability to interpret social worlds—ever so slightly at first—to a different position that makes more sense with the people and objects from the world in which you’re invested, be that “real” life, Sailor Moon, or My Little Pony.
MLP:FiM’s underlying premise—that a group of young, four-legged, multi-colored women are interesting and fundamentally good and that they value their friendships despite obvious differences—permeates every other aspect of the show’s narrative. If one accepts that premise, just as I accepted that the Sailor Scouts were compassionate and good people, the conflicts within the group and the individual flaws of each of the characters become normalized as problems that good people/ponies have.
Twilight Sparkle’s obsessive personality and need for validation from authority figures become recognized as parts of a protagonist’s struggle. Rarity and Rainbow Dash have occasional bouts of vanity, but they are linked in the story to their skills and confidence in their respective fields. Fluttershy’s social anxiety is accepted by the characters and by viewers as a part of her personality and, while something to struggle against, not something to be ridiculed. Etc…
If there is any lesson about friendship and inclusivity here, it is less tied to aphorisms and end-of-episode lessons and more to 1) the ways these characters have complex personalities that remind us of real people’s emotional struggles and difficulties and 2) our acceptance that these struggles are the problems of fundamentally good people/ponies. As with my acceptance of homosexual romance in Sailor Moon, I imagine that MLP:FIM doesn’t so much teach bronies how to act as it performs on their screens the strong bonds between ponies across a wide emotional and personality spectrum.
A lot of our posts begin with Kurt or me waxing poetic and describing something that we’ve observed and eliciting your responses to our ideas. We love writing those posts and we’ll keep doing them, but it’s still pretty top-down, which runs counter to the reason we started this blog. To remedy that, I want to start a series of posts that flips the script, so to speak. We’ll probably reply in our usual long-winded fashion, but we want to begin with your observations of a broad topic.
Today, it’s “pony fandom news.” Anything you can think of having to do with news in the fandom. Some seeder questions:
Where do you go?
What do you choose to follow?
Do you submit news yourself?
Who/what makes the news? (both in the sense of creating/writing news and being the topic of news)?
…and whatever else you can think of having to do with the topic.
Looking forward to the places you go. Also, please suggest new Open Topics!
P.S. We’re on Twitter now, so follow us and we’ll follow you! It’ll help us dig deeper into the fandom and we can become friends along the way! (Like us on Facebook too!)
Nothing super important here, but now that I’m back from India (I’ve been there since Nov. 15th), I’ve gotten a chance to check off some site stuff that I’ve been wanting to do:
Bug fixes. There were occasional error 500s. Those should no longer be a problem.
Post Subscriptions via email. You can now subscribe to new posts with the “Subscribe to Posts” widget box (on the right on the full site) and we’ll email you when new posts go up. You can also import our RSS feed wherever you’d like (like Feedly or Feedburner).
Comment Subscriptions. At the bottom of the comments, you can subscribe to the comments for an individual post by email. There is also a separate RSS feed for comments too.
Facebook and Twitter. I started Facebook and Twitter accounts for the blog. Gonna decide what to do with them later, but for now, they’ll definitely be ways to find out about new posts if you don’t like the email options above.