All posts by Jason

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.

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

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