Apr 15, 2012
West Long Branch, N.J. (The Verge)- Meet Brian Morelli: a 21-year-old Monmouth Student with thin black hair that hangs past his shoulders, sporting a leather jacket and a shirt with the logo of a band that sounds loud and brutal. His voice is deep, and words don’t escape his lips without a thoughtful, preeminent pause. He plays drums in more than one heavy metal band, and is a double-major in Music Industry and TV/Radio. Oh, and he loves watching My Little Pony. Yep, Brian is a ‘brony.’
According to Urban Dictionary, a brony is a name ‘typically given to the male viewers/fans of the My Little Pony show or franchise. They typically do not give in to the hype that males aren’t allowed to enjoy things that may be intended for females.’
While Bronies may not be able to hold a candle to Trekkies or anime followers when it comes to fandom, Bronies just might be the new thing. Last year, Time magazine named Bronies one of the top ten memes (for readers who already feel lost, a meme can simply be defined as a pervasive idea or belief that spreads quickly throughout a culture, typically assisted through online technology).
“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” is a reincarnation of the 80’s cartoon “My Little Pony,” a show that many 20-something girls have fond memories of. However, the new flash-animation series is gaining an ever-growing following of young adult males, despite its being classified in the genre of ‘kids.’ This notion seem obscure even to the most liberal, accepting sort of people.
With its lighthearted plots, catchy songs, and adorable characters, the revived show is approaching the end of its second season on the HUB channel, which is part of the Discovery family.
Morelli’s introduction to “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” (MLP FIP) happened in the fall of 2011 by one of his friends who was already a brony. In the few weeks and months that followed, more than a couple of the guys in the group started getting into MLP. Morelli was one of them.
“I watched [the episodes] with an open mind,” explained Morelli. At first I thought, ‘Well, it’s a really good kids show,’ but then I watched more and found it was a really good pick me up.” Morelli claims the episodes have morals with serious, real-life applications. “It’s all about interpersonal relationships and friendships. That’s really important to me and with what I do.” For example, in the episode titled Applebuck Seaons, a pony named Applebuck vows to take on the harvesting responsibilities of other ponies, which turns out to be much more than she can handle. Needless to say, Applebuck is overwhelmed and needs to sort out her duties, while her dependability among her friends is at risk. “18 credits, four bands, and a job later,” said the busy brony, “I can relate to taking on too much, and feeling spread too thin.”
Whether it’s in the bands he is a member of, while working in radio promotion, or hanging out with his friends, Morelli is constantly interacting with people. “All I do is have contact with people, and it [MLP] really helps to put everything in perspective.”
Other aspects that appeal to Morelli about MLP are the flash-animation, which he called ‘phenomenal,’ and the very talented voice actors, which is something he has interest in doing someday.
“I love the idea of Bronies,” said Monmouth Communication Studies Professor Shannon Hokanson, who is in the planning stages of writing an academic paper on bronies from an communication standpoint, “because the MLP franchise is clearly appealing to an unintended audience, and the brony community challenges the dominant ideological code.” It is precisely this ideological code, or the dominant shared belief, that leads many people to confusion when it comes to brony fandom.
Morelli says the response he gets to his brony identity is overwhelmingly negative with males typically responding angrily and females confusedly. “I think a lot of people have a tough time realizing that a lot of heterosexual men do like, and are able to, get in touch with their sensitive side,” Morelli explained. “The show is very much about sensitivity to others, friend or not, and about acceptance. In a world where I don’t experience much [sensitivity] elsewhere, it’s a good outlet for me.”
Long-time friend and fellow Communication student Nicole Vitale was “genuinely confused” when Morelli first told her. ’ “At first, I basically just shook my head and rolled my eyes a lot,” she explained. “Now I watch it occasionally, and though I can understand the appeal, I don’t get the obsession.”
Some bronies are, perhaps understandably, timid about admitting their sensitive side in our society, so they discuss their Pony-love as though it’s a secret. But not Morelli; he ‘came out of the stable,’ as it’s jokingly known in the fan community, live on his radio show. “My friends were very proud. It was fun, funny, and light hearted.”
Morelli may be a gratified brony, but he admits he’s likely not an accurate representation of other bronies, and certainly not the most fixated. When he went to the Bronycon conference this past January in New York City, he stood out. “The overwhelming majority of them [attendees] were guys, but I was probably the oldest, and my friends and I were not the only ones in costume.” Other attendees sported head-to-toe furry suits in all the colors of the rainbow, horse manes, wings, and other ostentatious accessories.
He added that the guys he met seemed to be stereotypical in that they lacked social skills and were awkward in conversations. The true demographics of the fandom community are unknown, though the 89-page report of the 2011 informal survey, the “State of the Herd Report” sheds some light. The study was performed by a fellow Brony known only as ‘Coder Brony,’ who solicited participants via fan sites. Of the 9,000 or so partakers, results showed that nearly 86 percent are male, 90 percent of which are between the ages of 15 and 29, and 40 percent have or are pursuing a college degree.
In addition to watching the show, many devoted bronies create original content such as creative though often nonsensical videos (known as Youtube Poop), fan fiction, and their own original character identities or O.C. Morelli admits he doesn’t have interest in reading or writing fan fiction or creating videos, nor the time or technology. Morelli does have an original character, which he named Thundersticks Drummerpony. His “cutie mark,” a tattoo-like design on the creature’s haunches that all ponies have (like a human’s beauty mark) is a pair of drummer sticks.
It is this creative content, however, that likely holds the key to understanding the brony fandom. “This content provides a fertile area for exploration into nature of MLP FIM’s appeal for this surprising fanbase,” said Hokanson of the fan-fiction. Some of the films and fiction stories created by the fan community can be raunchy, Hokanson said, with topics range from wingboners to clopping to pony porn, and beyond. None of the fan content is officially licensed or associated with MLP FIP.
“That stuff is just not for me,” Morelli said and shuddered, as he mentioned a fan fiction story about a human that dates a MLP FIM character.
Of course, not all bronies are into the creative content, let alone the raunchy stuff, and Morelli is just one example. When it comes down to it, the meaning of the brony subculture is as colorful and glittery as the show itself and is based on positive themes like teamwork and friendship.
“I don’t push MLP on anyone, but if you watch it a few times it definitely grows on you,” said Morelli. “It’s very much about bonding with your friends, and acceptance of others. There’s a passion to it.”