In 2010, an epic war of good vs. evil was waged. You may have missed it. The battle was fought in the land of Equestria, where its denizens, ponies, unicorns, and pegasi with names like “Twilight Sparkle,” “Rainbow Dash,” and “Pinkie Pie” managed to stop the evil allicorn Nightmare Moon from casting their homeland into everlasting night. Their weapon: friendship. Though the looming threat of eternal darkness has come and gone and been forgotten, the young unicorn and war hero Twilight Sparkle remains on special assignment from Equestria’s reigning monarch, Princess Celestia. Twilight Sparkle has been ordered to remain in the nation’s capital, Ponyville, to continue studying the magic of friendship.
Yeah, it’s a television show for little girls. But despite what you may have already assumed, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has transcended its demographic and cultivated a fanbase of grown-ups, both male and female, with a die hard passion for the cartoon ponies and their whimsical misadventures. These particular fans, called “bronies” (an amalgamation of “bro” and “pony”), don’t just watch the show, they bleed it. There are dozens of online forums dedicated to bronies in addition to several annual conventions across North America, two news websites, and countless works of fan fiction, artwork, and music based on the show. Tens of thousands of adults around the globe have been drawn into the land of Equestria—into bronyism.
“It’s not really an -ism,” Kristie Bush, 19, tells me. “I like to use the term ‘herd.’”
Bush is a Visual Arts student at VIU. She says she was first turned onto the show by her boyfriend, Jacob, who was hosting a few friends at his house to watch the show.
“I thought it was a little weird at first,” Bush recalls. “I was like ‘why are you guys watching this?’ But he convinced me to watch a couple episodes. I watched the first one and didn’t really click, after the second I was like ‘okay, I still don’t get it,’ by the third episode I started enjoying it more. I finished [the] first season pretty quickly and it suddenly hit me ‘Oh my God, I like ponies!’”
Bush found herself drawn to the show’s relatable characters and surprisingly mature humour and, as an artist, the quality of the animation resonated with her. It was clear to her that this wasn’t the “half-hour toy commercial” she had watched as a child. Bush’s confused appeal for the show soon turned into an unfiltered passion, and naturally she wanted to share this with others. She wanted to find her herd.
Bush did some research and connected with BronyCAN, an online community of Canadian bronies. “I got in touch with [BronyCAN] and told them that I wanted to do stuff,” Bush says “so they were like ‘here’s some stuff to do!’ I did some artwork and organizational work and when they announced that they were planning a convention, I got bumped up to a head member.”
Bush is currently working as Head of Guest Relations for BronyCAN’s upcoming convention, which will take place in Vancouver, B.C. on an undisclosed date in summer 2013. The convention is entirely crowd-funded, having raised $12,440 in donations, more than double the initial goal of $5000.
During this time Bush also took the reins of the Vancouver Island Brony Club. The club holds meetings in Nanaimo regularly, where they discuss the latest episode or edit each other’s fan fiction.
In its mere three years of existence, the brony community developed into a sort of “mini-industry.” While the official Hasbro line of toys remains popular, a plethora of fan-made content—everything from costumes to cookie cutters—has popped up online. Brony musicians are not only numerous, but some have even been able to sell their work online. Fan-made “plushies” are also popular, and Bush says that they can sell for up to $600. “If you make art just for bronies, those bronies will bid the shit out of it,” she explains. Bush herself has done several illustration commissions for other bronies, though she isn’t looking to make a fortune.
Tony Genovese, a Creative Writing student at VIU and fellow member of the V.I. Brony Club, has been working on his fan fiction novel for over a year. Genovese posts each chapter online, and has currently added over 150 thousand words to his tale (by way of comparison, The Fellowship of the Ring has just over 170 thousand words).
“My Little Pony has attracted a lot of artists,” Genovese explains, “the simple characters lend themselves to fan fiction, and the art style is easy to emulate.”
Pony fandom isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Bronies have become a punchline for some people (Howard Stern did a bit on them in 2012) due to their odd hobby.
“It has a lot to do with gender stereotyping,” Genovese says, “guys just aren’t supposed to like cute things. Some people definitely frown upon it, and have the misconception that you’re gay just for watching a girls’ show.”
“It’s easier for me to explain to people [that I’m a brony] since I’m a girl,” Bush adds. “The only question people have is ‘how old are you?’ For guys it’s a bigger deal, it’s like they have to ‘come out’ as a brony. I know one guy who was kicked out of his parent’s house because he came out as a brony. A lot of people just don’t understand it, they link it to pedophilia which isn’t true. [Bronies] are normal people who just share a common interest.”
“I think that the show, and bronies, are helping to break gender stereotyping,” Genovese says. “I know I’m not part of the demographic for a show about ponies, but good quality doesn’t have a demographic. I don’t see myself as a fan of a girls’ show, I see myself as a fan of a good show.”
All television shows, no matter how good, must come to an end. But will bronies trot on after the finale, like trekkies have, and continue to add to the community? Or will they move on to other interests?
“When it ends, I won’t really be heartbroken,” Bush admits, “I will always love those ponies.”