Hello everyone, and apologies for the lack of a recent update. Jason is currently halfway through his second set of exams and I’ve been finishing up school and finalizing plans for the summer. Fortunately, we’ve got an excellent post on the intersections of religious studies and fandom studies by Dr. Andrew Crome, a professor at the University of Manchester and fellow brony academic, that we are able to share. Check it out below the break!
So we have been discussing the fandom’s music production, particularly through Twitter and in our marathon study sessions at Starbucks. And we really just want to know what you guys think of fandom music, period. Here are some possible seeder questions (but as always, go wherever your heart desires):
What do you make of the wide range of production skill?
What qualities do you look for or value in music coming out of the fandom?
What brony music do you listen to? How do you find and listen to it (BronyTunes, Youtube, EQD, a Brony radio station, etc.)?
What do you think of the genres that fandom music tends to be made from? Why those?
How does it compare to other music you listen to? What else do you listen to?
Great news everyone! Indiana University’s Institutional Review Board, which helps to insure that “human subjects” are not abused in some way during academic research, has accepted our application. That means that this blog is now “officially” an academic social research study, and it even gets an official study number at Indiana University.
Up until that point, we were primarily doing our due diligence by making sure all posters/commenters were aware of the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution License we covered the blog under. Very little is changing for you, except maybe you can trust us a little bit more as a legitimate research project (ROFL!). Still, it’s a pretty big deal for us and we wanted to celebrate with y’all. It’s also been important to us that we make the academic world as transparent as possible to contributors and visitors, so this post continues along that path.
Party Time! (Okay, not really. We’re freakin’ out about finals over here!)
We’re submitting an abstract for consideration for the 2014 Ray Browne Conference on Cultural and Critical Studies, meeting February 21-23 at Bowling Green State University based on the work here at Research is Magic. If accepted, our paper will discuss our approach to this blog/study as a research method and means of critiquing current anxieties within cultural studies about the internet and other technologies (and the conference theme). Check it out below (pardon the Academese…we did add some footnotes in this version for anybody who wants to wade through it) and feel free to post your comments and thoughts.
We’ll be sure to keep the paper/presentation updates coming.
Jason and Kurt
Knowing How to Live/The Magic of Friendship: Ethnographic Methodology and the My Little Pony Fandom
While technologically-mediated interfaces are often understood as producing a different order of anxiety about human socialization, we wish to denaturalize the notion underscoring this view: that media interfaces are strange, foreign, and mysterious in a particular way unique to modernity. Are current media ideologies categorically different an interface than the vernacularization of biblical knowledge spearheaded by the Gutenberg Bible1, the encounter between the colonial west and the non-west2, or the Cold War promise/nightmare of atomic power3? While historical and cultural specificity must be maintained, the encounters are surprisingly similar: early-adopters integrate and mediate the interface as part of their social habitus just as others have their ideologies and ways-of-being jilted by the very same possibilities.
In this paper, we counter Henry Jenkins’ notion that “[n]one of us really know how to live in this era”4 by insisting that people are remarkably adept at living their lives, technologically mediated or otherwise. Technologies result in new ways of doing old things—expressing oneself, forming communities, and interacting with others—and while these new forms can be troubling for some, they quickly become home for others. Using our collaborative ethnographic project with fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (or more affectionately, “bronies”) as a point of departure, we argue for an ethnographic methodology that emphasizes not the strangeness of media technologies to those in online communities, but rather their mundanity and everyday-ness. Our blog, Research is Magic, represents an attempt at participant-observation5 that collapses the boundaries between academic and interlocutor based on those grounds—that we need not “do” the Internet in different ways and places than our interlocutors, and that a more productive way to interact with ethnographic subjects might be to theorize, create, and write with them, in their midsts, rather than far away and long after the ethnographic encounter.6
As the first book printed in the West in any kind of major scale, the Gutenberg printing of the bible made church leaders anxious since it represented a threat to the church’s power in social life. ↩
The colonial gaze and colonial power changed the ways people on both sides understood themselves and others. ↩
Views of atomic power were utopian on one hand, since it meant this amazing new form of energy, and dystopian on the other, since the destructive power of the atomic bomb was scary for everyone involved. ↩
Participant-observation is a form of research that involves deep “hanging out” with the people you want to understand: both participating and observing. ↩
Anthropologists have traditionally had a tendency to go to some far-flung corner of the world, live with the people there for some number of years, and then return and write books that the people they study never come into contact with. ↩
Today, we’re trying a different format — a conversation.
Warning: Contains Strong Language and Dumb Jokes
Kurt: So… Yeah. Female Bronies. They are a thing.
Jason: They are a [redacted]. But seriously, the way they are treated in the Brony documentary is as a parallel mirror image of the documentary’s brony typology of hipsters, moderates, and creatives — with vaginas. Also a minority.
Kurt: Parallel mirror image? WTFuck?
Jason: Oh fuck you.
Kurt: For those of us [me] that still haven’t seen the documentary [I’m workin’ on it]. What do you mean by mirror to the typology?
Jason: So basically, once the documentary established the three types of bronies, it made a point of showing how the typology only represented male bronies. In the doc’s animated segment, a number of female bronies — each a hipster, moderate, or creative — argues for inclusion in the fandom and the narrator is forced to amend his explanation to include them. When I refer to them as a mirror, I mean that, as represented in the documentary, there is no variation in the types of fans between the two genders. That’s weird to me, since I can count at least one type of fan over-represented among women and girls and all but non-existent among men and boys — the nostalgic collectors of G1-G3 MLP.
Kurt: You have a point there. That could make for some interesting dynamics, and certainly a new possibility for that typology—Nostalgists (what the fuck do you call someone with nostalgia?). I’m not sure I have heard much talk of this group of people, although I have trouble imagining that they do not exist within the fandom (or even, possibly, their male counterparts). I do like the documentary’s typology a lot… it seems like it might be useful.
Jason: It should be noted that nostalgia also plays a large part in male Bronies’ enjoyment of the series, though it seems to take on a more intertextual form1.
Kurt: Nostalgia for X show that FiM is reminiscient of… nostalgia for a specific time period or worldview or something that might be associated with this, mayhaps. Several people talk about the way the MLP shows a more positive outlook on life/way of being that differs from the ways that they see things before.
Jason: I think the parallels to Star Trek: The Next Generation that some blog commenters are making speak to this. But to get us back to the sistas, should we be distinguishing between these kinds of nostalgia along gendered lines, or is that unnecessary or even wrongheaded?
Kurt: I guess that is the problem with typologies… nothing is ever so neat. I’m inclined to make the distinction, as I am not sure how well it fits into any of the three categories you mentioned.
J: What would make the distinction clearer to me is whether there was some kind of friction or at least boundary work between fans of MLP from the “old days” and the fans brought in explicitly through FIM.
Kurt William Baer: True dat… I guess the issue might lie in the fact that this particular typology is focusing upon the main reasons that people are drawn into the fandom. I’d imagine that very few people fit neatly into the categories and, should our MLP Gen 1-3 fans be in this particular fandom, they might fit into other categories as well. Also, where would that friction be?
J.aegerbomb: I am thinking boundary work comes closer to what happens, since the underlying premise of FIM makes open conflict difficult to reconcile with fandom membership (in fact, I want to make a future post exploring fights in the fandom). For example, the lack of an engaging story in early MLP means older fans fall more into the category of collector of pony figures. This may also align with female collectors often being the craftspeople of the brony community, since they have the experience working with the figures. They aren’t fighting over the division of labor per se–but the fact of a roughly-gendered division of labor is significant.
***ENTER THE DOM***
K-Money: Ladies and Gentlemen, Dom Tartaglia—folklorist and pop culture deity who happens to be at the same Starbucks as the two of us.
Jrizzle: And guy I want to punch in the nuts.
Dom: Fun fact: Kurt fb messaged me “Fucking look left, dammit!”. Terrified, I looked to the left, and there were Kurt and Jason, now here I am.
Also, just goin’ off, I would just like to brag that I have that limited edition t-shirt of Pinkie Pie as Andrew WK with a nose bleed; that is my greatest brony accomplishment.
Kurt: So Dom, since you are now here. Female brony: brony or pegasis(ter)?
Dom: I find it hard to separate the “creatives” from the Bronies themselves, because Bronies have such an active creative side in the fandom. If the general rule of the internet is “pics or it didn’t happen”, I think the rule for internet fan communities is “fan-art, or it isn’t happening”. So I feel those early 4chan image macros were the first and most notable step in making a community out of a property. Those early creatives were in many ways, the “first real Bronies”.
Now, infamously, those first “mods are asleep, post ponies” bros were deemed, bros- bronies. That’s not to say they weren’t females; who knows who you are when you post as “anon”.
J: Oh come on! You know 4-chan is a bunch of dudes!
Dom: Well yes, Jason, it’s mostly neckbeards, but it’s impossible to say it wasn’t ladyneckbeards. What I guess I’m saying is, from behind a username, brony is both male and female, at least to me.
Kurt: That’s a good point, and one that I have seen argued before on several internet sites that I’ve checked out (that will remain nameless because I forget them now). I’ve also heard that brony is a gender neutral term because, apparently, the early 4-chan stuff was under [b]rony and thus it wasn’t actually “bro” somehow.
J: Of course dudes would refer to dude terms as the neutral ones.
K: Yeah… that’s what I was getting to. It is interesting how charged the term “brony” is in terms of gender. I think “pegasis” is clever, but a little awkward and divisive.
J: Also since we know what “pegging” is 😛
D: Can’t unsee
J: But seriously, I don’t think we’re gonna get away from everything that the word “bro” has attached to it. Frat boys, mostly. Brah-nies.
The difficulty for the inclusion of women in the ranks of bronies isn’t necessarily the word itself though, but rather the gendered habitus2 of precisely those 4chan fans from the early days (though the word is probably a good trace of the gendered origins). Those fans produced a strain in the fandom that celebrates a heteronormatively ironic adoration of the show that connects it to largely male interests and needs3. Furthermore, there’s a tendency to understand those male ways of inhabiting the world as being natural and UN-gendered, when they are clearly indices of heteronormative maleness.
K: Your mom is heteronormatively ironic.
J: She’s IRONic cause she’s [Fe]male.
D: K: Yeah. I’d like to talk a bit more about this “difficulty for the inclusion”… It feels like a really interesting kind of difficulty that is totally there, but, as you said, more at the level of habitus than anything else. There is a disposition toward things being that way, but a disposition is just that. I guess what I am saying is that there are female bronies, many of them thrive in the fandom, and many people are genuinely encouraging of women in the fandom. Mute point, perhaps.
J: But the existence of the term “Pegasister” or any other qualifier (even “female brony”) by itself suggests at least enough of a clash with the standards of the fandom that such a discursive move is necessary. Otherwise, they would just be bronies and not feel the need for qualifiers (as many do, I’m sure, but not all).
K: Yeah… gender is a thing that exists. Even on the internet.
J: That’s a bold statement on the internet.
K: Perhaps. YouTube comments tend to back me up though… unless everyone has a schlong on the interwebs.
J: This place is tits!
K: The viewpoints of people who aren’t dudes would be very beneficial here… this is a bit of a sausage fest (hint, hint, everypony). Hopefully our musings can get something going in this regard. Even numbers-wise, if y’all like that shit, “the” Brony Study (www. bronystudy.com) took a big-ass survey sometime around 2011 and found 14% of their participants were female. I’m guessing the percentage might have grown since then.
J: That means 42% of the three of us is female! That’s almost half a boob!
D: You guys, I have to admit something…
K: Are you 42% pregnant?
D: Yes, and I don’t know who the father is.
Anyway, some of the debate, at least on r/mylittlepony, indicates that:
female mlp:fim fans dislike the label “pegasister”
openly male bronies want to call all pony fans “bronies”.
a fancy brony should be called a “pegasir”.
I’m kinda unsure how the term pegasister came to be, if no one likes it.
Pegasister kinda feels like “dudette” to me: it only means “girl version of this guy term”.
K: And the term “woman”? The point is not that “pegasister” isn’t somewhat contrived, but that the male term is naturalized and is a male term4.
J: The politics of the term is somewhat complicated. On one hand, there are a number of people on Reddit who rail against it on grounds like Dom is saying, that it is the girl version of the naturalized boy term. On the other hand, there was at least one person who said: “To my fellow bronies: Why I’m A Pegasister ( and why that doesn’t mean that I’m a man-hating feminazi ).” She doth protest too much! The unprovoked denial suggests a pre-existing linkage between the term pegasister and “feminist,” at least in some circles.
But overall, I think it’s pretty bullshit that for an ostensibly female property, there’s a term for the female fans that is understood as the female version of the male fan and not vice versa.
K: Yea, verily
D: Well I think at the end of the day, this show/fandom is about love and tolerance for everypony. And I hope we get to a point where we can love and tolerate each other past gender squabbles and get to the real issues:
What are the actual rules of becoming a Princess? Do you just need a horn and wings? Speciesist much?
Trixie; who really wants more of her?
Remember when Pinkie Pie morphed her face into a gen 3 pony? Has she always been able to do that?!
Shit is speciesist… look at the zebras and bison. Problematic representations much? I do love them though.5
* * * * *
That’s all folks!
-Jason, Kurt, and Dom
“Intertextuality” is a termed coined by Julia Kristeva, linked to work by scholars like Mikhail Bakhtin. In short, it refers to the ways in which different “texts” — for our purposes, any cultural object that can be understood as a bounded thing — influence one another. ↩
We’re borrowing the word “habitus” here from the work of Pierre Bourdieu (see The Logic of Practice, p. 53), which refers to the embodied predispositions people have that structure how they understand the world and yet are themselves structured by the social worlds they inhabit. ↩
Kurt is referencing ideas of “patriarchy” –a social system in which men are deemed authoritative–and cultural “hegemony”–the idea that people in positions of power produce systems in which the values that keep them in power are naturalized ↩
Speciesism, like racism, is the assignment of different values to different categories of beings…in this case different values to different species ↩
Okay, we’ve got a confession to make: neither of us have seen Equestria Girls yet.
We’re planning to remedy this situation though and we thought that it might be a good opportunity to interact with everypony in real time.
Here’s what we’re imagining. We’re planning on watching it this Thursday, 5 December at 8:30pm (EST) and we’d like you to join us in a viewing/discussion if you are interested. On Thursday at showtime, we’ll post a link on this post to the video through Sync-YouTube, which will allow anyone tuning in to watch the show in sync with us and talk about it with their chat feature. We will then talk about the movie and whatever else comes up and post the discussion to the blog.
We’d love it if you would join us! (Leave a comment if you’re planning on do so!)
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:
What it means to be a brony;
The creative works that MLP:FiM fans make for one another; and
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!