Bronies and ultra-cult fandom

In a Wired report on the Brony Thank You Fund -- a project of My Little Pony fans, AKA Bronies, that used a homemade commercial to raise money for toys for the children of military servicepeople -- delves into the unlikely Brony fandom. It gets interesting when Wired's Angela Watercutter talks with an expert who describes Bronies as part of a new "ultra-cult" era:

Charles Soukup, associate professor of communication studies at the University of Northern Colorado, said that in today’s cultural landscape — where heretofore “cult” topics like science fiction and comic books have become mainstream entertainment — brony-ing up might be the best option for creating a unique identity and nerding out.

“It appears we are moving toward the ultra-cult era in which media consumers discover extremely unexpected and obscure media texts to cultivate uniqueness and distinctiveness for their mediated identities,” Soukup said in an email to Wired. “Bronies are a kind of perfect storm of this new ultra-cult media consumption as they combine an intense unexpectedness (adult male fans of television programs designed for little girls) with the status afforded arbiters discovering undiscovered or under-the-radar media products.”

But My Little Pony fans likely won’t stay under the radar much longer, and twenty-something female scientists might be the beginning.

Bronies’ TV Spot Shows Changing Face of My Little Pony Herd


  1. I’m really glad of where this project has come. It started out as an 100% wank-fest, where the commercial was literally just going to be a block to thank the writers and nothing else, *and they were still getting money*. There were immediate outcries from many fans commenting on how idiotic it is to waste money on a commercial thanking the writers on a channel that is only watched by children (the show is usually watched online on youtube, etc.). Suggestions about putting the money for charity, instead, were submitted, but were troublesome because many people had already donated money for an unrelated cause. I think this makes a decent compromise. 

    1. Yes, it’s terribly sad when people like things you don’t and have fun. How crazy we all must be.

        1. Let me know when you’ve watched an episode or three and then still don’t understand why people like it.

          You don’t have to like it, but if you can’t recognize why other people might, then I can’t really help you understand.The actual fan culture of it was going to grow naturally from large numbers of people recognizing something special that talked to them who wanted to find like-minded people, the same as Firefly or Doctor Who fans.

          1. Ah, now this is different.

            I can totally get why someone might enjoy the show, I enjoy A LOT of shows.  But Bronies don’t just seem to enjoy watching the shows, they’re fetishists.  I would feel the same way about someone that into Transformers, or Adult Swim cartoons.  To be that obsessed with something like this must involve some element of irony and tongue in-cheek; if not then it’s psychologically troubling.

          2. Interesting parallel I hadn’t considered. If you’re referring to the documentary then I certainly am (although I’ll remain flattered).

            I’d like to say that I understand an over attachment to Star Trek (Science! Communism!) more than to My Little Pony – but that’s likely due to my own interests.

          3. Well, there you go then. This is the exact same thing, really; a bunch of very different folks coming together from different angles to share their enthusiasm  over a show. Only this time it’s “Friendship! Magic!” instead of “Science! Communism!”

          4. “Bronies don’t just seem to enjoy watching the shows, they’re fetishists.”

            and this is why they’re so freaking creepy — at the end of the day, they’re a bunch of furries lusting after pastel cartoon ponies based off of a little girl’s toyline.  the nsfw “fanart”/porn/plush speaks for itself.

          5. @boingboing-09ad8f6b692717316913809f9903fd08:disqus 

            I’m afraid I still don’t think they’re the same thing, even if they share some common ground.

            There’s still something inherently creepy about Bronies (actual Bronies, not just people that like the show, distinction has now become crucial).

          6. Sometimes I play on a brony oriented TF2 server.  There is this weird phenomenon where people come by every once in a while to tell the bronies how they’re deviant for, “watching a cartoon for little girls”  It’s always the same thing.  Nobody takes the bait, dude micspams for ten minutes or so and then leaves.  It’s always the exact same thing.

            So as long as we’re passing judgement on groups of people, what’s up with the brony trolls?  I mean, what drives a person to lash out at strangers like that?  I am starting to wonder if it is not merely the troll projecting his own sexual confusion on those he perceives to be more open or liberated.

          7. For that level of rejection I totally agree. I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way to belittle someone for simply enjoying something I don’t. I think it’s important to understand though that to an outsider being exposed to what are probably the more extreme aspects of Bronie’ism that it’s a pretty creepy deal – which still only explains confusion and uneasiness, not funnelled hate.

          8. I’m a girl, and I’d like to thank you all for perpetuating all the negative stereotypes about liking girly things in our society.

            The insistence, despite all evidence to the contrary, that all bronies are perverts is just another way of associating liking female things with being wrong. It reveals a default assumption that the only way a boy could like girl things is if they were broken.

            Ponies aren’t my primary fandom right now, but I do like them a lot, and I consider myself a brony. Most of the pony stuff I encounter is happy and cute, not fetishistic. Is there some sexualized stuff? Sure, rule 34 applies to this, as it does to all things. But it is a pretty damn small slice of the fandom.

            I’m looking at the front page of a pony tumblr right now, and the pictures are: a beautiful sketch of a winged girl, an awesome rainbow-wigged cosplayer looking super satisfied with herself, and a cute sketch of my favorite character in footie pajamas.

            How… psychologically troubling.

          9. “But Bronies don’t just seem to enjoy watching the shows, they’re fetishists.”
            Beware of selection bias.  The more extreme displays of fandom are the ones that get spread by the media, word of mouth, and social media.  

          10. I can totally get why someone might enjoy the show, I enjoy A LOT of shows. But Bronies don’t just seem to enjoy watching the shows, they’re fetishists.

            Stand between the television and 90% of the population of the UK when DWTS is on and tell me how long before you get out of the full-body cast.

        2. You don’t actually know much about modern animation, do you? Nor about how thoroughly the cast and crew of this show — not to mention Hasbro itself — has embraced its adult fandom.

          You date yourself, old man. Welcome to the New Sincerity.

          1. A bronie AND a furry?! You’re currently  listening to Q Lazarus’ Goodbye Horses while working on a special sewing project, aintcha?

      1. I think I agree with both sentiments, personlly.

        Sane people can be on the dull side.  Grown ups that identify themselves via a TV show about brightly coloured ponies are fruit loops.  They don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

      1.  I’m right along with you on this– I was skeptical about how interesting the show would be, but I was absolutely hooked after the first episode. I loved Powerpuff Girls, and I recognized the similar humor right away, though I wasn’t aware there was any formal connection. It’s a good show, with a good message, and some sincerely hilarious moments. I don’t see anything strange about enjoying it, and it’s a pleasant surprise to discover that there are a bunch of people out there who also don’t bother letting dopey hangups like age or gender dictate one’s own harmless fun.

        1. One thing I’ve noticed is that there is a lot of crossover between MLP fans and other animated shows that are “for kids”.  A lot of Bronies like Pokemon, for example.

          1. The common pattern is that they like joy. They value the ability to just be happy and sing songs and not be dour and grim… for just a little while.

            These fandoms can be seen as a vacation from the negativity and cynicism that infuses modern life.

          2.  I hardly know anything about Pokemon, but you might be on to something– I found some Pokemon figurines at a yard sale, and bought them because I thought they were cute and fun. I keep them on the windowsill where I wash dishes. Sad that Mr. Hornby here has to be such a Debbie Downer about it all.

    1.  Ok, that is what is know as a Pony Mod, which is a crafting hobby phenomenon that predates the new cartoon and the whole Brony thing by many years.

      You can find repainted ponies based on every imaginable theme or popular character, many of the people who make them have no interest at all in the new show.  I’ve always loved Pony Mods myself but haven’t gotten into the show even though one of my partners is a Brony.

      That one is particularly adorable, but then again I also love bondage kitsch.

  2. Seriously, are Bronies actually real?

    I have gone this far, assuming that their ridiculous fandom is at least partially ironic.  If it’s not then shouldn’t we be getting these poor people some help?

      1. I didn’t mean to offend though, and I appreciate my comment was snakier than I probably even intended, and I can be snarky.

        It was a genuine realisation though. I’ve skimmed over many posts on BB about Bronies and ignored them because I didn’t get the joke. But the point is I’d always thought there was at least some element of irony involved (which was actually why it didn’t interest me).

        There’s a difference between being a fan of something, and being unhealthily obsessed with it – if I understand Bronies correctly they fall firmly into the latter.

        1.  it doesn’t sound like you understand Bronies correctly.

          which is cool. You don’t need to, just please be aware there are more important things to hate out there.

          1. Woh there cowboy, I don’t hate things I don’t understand – in fact that’s a harsher judgement than any I’ve made here today.

            Maybe I don’t understand them, I only had time to briefly research them – maybe they’re just misrepresented.

          2.  I actually started a list of the core philosophies of the pony fandom. It’s not complete, but here they are. Maybe they’ll help you understand.

            1. Don’t be ashamed of liking the things you like.

            2. Not everything you like is “for” everyone.

            3. The best way to respond to trolling is to show kindness, keep calm, and keep doing what you’re doing.

            4. Colors are awesome. All of them.

            5. Friendship is magic.

            Also: girls can be bronies too. While the term nominally only describes male fans, the vast majority of female fans have adopted it as well.

        2. My kids and my wife (and most of our high school robotics team) are Bronies. They aren’t obsessed with it any more than they are obsessed with any other thing they see on the web. I’d say that they are healthily obsessed with it.

          I don’t quite understand it myself, but then I don’t have the patience to watch TV episodes of anything (except Monk) these days.

          1. After some Googling it appears that ‘Bronie’ is used to describe male adult fans of the series. Not sure how true this is but might be worth reassessing the title for your female family members :)

            I guess it does depend on how you apply the term though. I’ve seen enough images of men dressed as glitter laden ponies (2, to be precise) to feel a bit squirmy about the whole thing. But that makes it difficult if people identifying as Bronies are people that just like watching the show – as my comments about mental stability end up on the laps of people that just ‘like’ a show on TV. There’s a difference between being a fan, and being a fan.

          2. Sure, my wife is technically a woman, so she doesn’t count. The rest are teenage boys. As with anything, there are those who take it to extremes, but they’re in the minority. As far as I can tell, Bronyism is like everything else that the kids these days get into.

            MLP FIM is totally unlike any other girl-oriented program, in that the creator applied the Powerpuff Girls mojo to the show. It’s not about glitter and shopping, it’s about interpersonal relationships and badassery. All teenage boys like to learn about badassery, and they need to (and secretly want to) learn about interpersonal relationships. The fact that they have to do so ironically while watching a show ostensibly aimed at girls is just part of manning up in the 21st century.

          3. I feel pretty sappy saying this, but I think the Brony fandom has taught me a few valuable life lessons. The one I’m thinking about now has to do with the difference between a fan and a /fan/, henceforth called a fanatic.

            I started out like many people, watching the show out of curiosity. After watching all of it, I shared it with my friends, and they loved it, too. Our games nights quickly became populated with discussions and predictions. I pushed on past most of my friends, and started participating in online forums about MLP, mostly reddit. It wasn’t long before I found myself with some merchandise on my hands post-birthday. I ended up doing a MLP costume for halloween 2011. That’s about as far as I went. I haven’t paid too much on merchandise, and most of the stuff I have has been handmade from friends or myself for fun. I consider myself to be a “moderate” fan, neither casual or a fanatic. I also used to judge the fanatics severely. I’ve talked to them online and in person, and even I couldn’t understand there angle. However, I eventually decided that they’re having fun just like I am. What I’m doing is almost as weird, and I’m doing it and ignoring what most people say because I enjoy it, and their opinions for the most part don’t matter. That’s basically when I decided that, despite how cripplingly awkward it can be to be in their presence sometimes, the fanatics have every right to exist and have fun, and I have no right to judge how they get their jollies. 

            So that’s the lesson I learned, that I can’t put the “normal” brony fans over here, and the “crazy” ones over there, and say one is okay and the other isn’t. I think everyone is just having to have a good time, and there’s no reason we should discriminate against that.

            I have had a few very long conversations with my friends about things like this, but I don’t want to write a complete paper, plus I just woke up and words aren’t flowing too well right now.

          4. Well said. At the end of the day if your activity isn’t hurting anyone else then who cares?

            But as you pointed out yourself, you understand why the extreme end of the scale attracts a fair few odd glances.

  3. So this is the future of nerds. Army types talking about their love for little girls’ toys and being subject to the attention of 20-something female scientists. As this is the internet, there is some porn involved along the way.

  4. The Bronies are an interesting lot to be sure.  I just hope we don’t let fascination with the fandom overshadow the fact that it is a really good show on it’s own merits.

    1. I think this is a really good point. What really gets me is people dismissing bronies for liking “a little girl’s show.”

      Yes, it’s a show which was primarily designed to appeal to little girls. In addition to that, it’s a great show with fantastic writing, surprisingly deep characters, great animation and is often hilarious.

      No matter what you want to say about weirdness in the fandom, the show is really GOOD.

      Also, people should realize a lot of the costumes and things you see are pictures taken at conventions where it’s always been generally all right to play dress up no matter what. You’ll see just as many costumes at a Star Trek or Transformers convention.

      1. Personally, I disagree.  I’ve seen on the order of 40 or more episodes of it and it’s really not that great a show by my estimation.  It’s certainly not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but the writing and characterization is really mediocre at best.  Especially in comparison to some of it’s contemporaries such as Foster’s Home, Avatar, and Adventure Time, the characters seem as though they’re downright cardboard cutouts.

        It does have some enjoyable original songs and reasonably good animation, and I’m very pleased that it’s increasing the variety of female characters in children’s media, but overall I don’t understand the high praise this show gets.

  5. It’s interesting how this point is coming around now. We’ve had a panel ( My Little Bronies: An Online Fandom Phenomenon ) about this idea for the last 2 years at our con Intervention talking specifically about how Bronies show off a new way for fandom to come together online that’s very unique.

  6. The ‘n’ spondee at the start of that title confused me. Needless to say, I did not read the second as ‘cult’.

  7. Let me just make one correction.  The designated charity for the ad is The Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, which gives toys to all underprivileged children, not just those whose parents are soldiers.

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