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Rationalizing This Brony Thing [Nov. 11th, 2012|08:28 am]
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Tonight I find myself in a virtual movie theater in Second Life that is showing random episodes of MLP:FIM. And, while it’s a really good show that I like a lot, I still find myself constantly searching for something unusual in it that should be especially appealing to adult males. But I don’t see it.

This troubles me, being as I was once the only adult around who dared to admit I was totally obsessed with Saturday morning cartoons in the 80’s. Lots of adults getting into one of those shows after all these years ought to be a big triumph for me. But it isn’t, because I don’t get it.

Why MLP? I mean, do they stay tuned for Strawberry Shortcake? Why not Smurfs, Ewoks or Popples – or any other cartoon that’s been made since they started making cartoons for TV?

The common reasons they give are like, it’s well produced, it’s funny, the actors are good, and some will even admit the characters are adorable. But in the history of TV cartoons there have got to be hundreds of titles that can make those claims – especially the ones made with little girls in mind.

If MLP stood out in any way from those other shows, I’d get it. But it doesn’t. It’s a good, well produced and funny show, but not exceptionally so. I’ve been enjoying cartoons like this for 50 years. So why all of a sudden would adults start going ape over one of my titles?

In quest of an answer I ask myself why did I go ape over Saturday morning cartoons in the 80’s? I mean, yes, I was an adult aged animation fan – very into Disney. But Disney was considered a classy art form. Adults could always say they appreciated Disney for the many levels of artistic perfection combined in Disney productions. But the common adult Disney fans would turn up their noses at TV cartoons, calling them cheap rubbish.

They were considered offensive by adults. Some adults didn’t even want their kids to have them. And I was considered weird by some for admitting to liking them, daring by others. I was given kudos for daring to buck the norms, but that still didn’t get the shows any respect.

Then Anime came along, and it was not at all uncommon for adult males to like Sailor Moon. But at least that was a show that had some sex appeal. And you could see by the Hentai fan art why adult males were getting into that.

And at the same time Furry Fandom was coming together and you saw lots of males getting into Rescue Rangers. But again, Gadget had sex appeal. So did Cleo and Minerva Mink. And there was a bit of mature commentary in those shows as well. But still, no one was going gaga over shows for little girls a-la My Little Pony.

Mind you, as little girl shows went, MLP always had more going for it than most. Actually, I would think at least certain serials of the original show would be more intriguing to adults because of the action, drama, suspense, etc. It was a much more serious show back then. Not the slapstick comedy it is today.

Then in the next decade we had Cartoon Network come into its own with a lot of shows made more for young adults than for little kids. Between that and the Anime thing, adult animation fans who were not strictly Disney snobs became more common.

So, really, you had a good three decades of evolution away from the cartoons are strictly for kids mentality. And today it’s probably more common than not that young adults are enjoying some kind of TV animation. Particularly male geek types – the same demographic that has been buying comic books all along.

But still, even though we’ve come to this point in history where it’s not uncommon for young adults to be cartoon fans, even among Furries MLP was considered just too juvenile to be a mainstay of an adult aged fandom. But that all changed overnight when they started this new show.

I come to the conclusion that there are two decisive factors in this change. The first is the Powerpuff Girls connection. By using the Powerpuff people they brought MLP into the realm of the shows Cartoon Network has been selling to young adults for the last decade. It has the same look to the art, the same slapstick sight gags, the same timing, and the same adult in-jokes.

Therefore, when you show it to a young adult, they are probably shocked to find they are not in totally unfamiliar territory – that they can relate it to other stuff they’ve been enjoying for years. That shock by itself probably grabs their attention. Then the gags start making them laugh, and they realize they’re enjoying this as much as they would any other Cartoon Network type show. And if by chance they were into Powerpuff Girls, they may even find some subconscious nostalgia in it.

So, it’s not really so strange that the show should have a number of adult followers. Culturally the young adult mind has been well conditioned to accept the new MLP. What is strange is that the adult interest should be so overwhelming. And this I attribute to factors outside of the show itself.

Somebody, maybe a lot of somebodys from 4chan, put out the word that this show was cool for adult males to like – that it was going to be the next trend in fandom activity. Therefore, if you didn’t watch it every week, you wouldn’t know what everyone on the net was going to be talking about. Thus you ended up with an unlikely number of adult males feeling compelled to watch and analyze the show. And when they did they found out what I’ve known since 1985 – MLP gives the adult mind a ton of unexplained mysteries that can keep a fandom endlessly guessing and coming up with all manner of adult concepts to fill those plot holes.

MLP has always been a show that appealed to adults on what wasn’t there. For kids it may just be cute eye candy, but for adults it demands that they put something of themselves into it. And how can you not like something after you start investing your own imagination into it?

This, I believe, is the true answer to why MLP? Its appeal to the adult male demographic is not something apparent in a simple watching of a few episodes – it’s the imaginative fandom the show inspires. It becomes not just another show to watch, but a social phenomenon to experience and be a part of.

But still, one might say, none of that explains why any sane hetero adult male would not run screaming from all this. Well, the explanation to that is very simple. All the other guys are doing it. And anything the other guys are doing can not be taboo. In fact, no young adult male wants to be seen looking down on his best male friends. And by this means, MLP becomes as male a thing as hunting and football.

So it seems that the great appeal of the new show to adults has not much to do with the show itself. That’s why I can’t find any answers by watching the show. It’s all about stuff going on outside of the show, very little of which I’m experiencing because I’m not a Brony. To me MLP:FIM is just another one of my Furry favorites. And what the Bronies do with MLP I’ve been doing with all my cartoons for longer than most of them have been alive.

I think most Bronies are going through what I went through in the early eighties when I hadn’t watch TV cartoons for 6 or 7 years, and then I started hearing about this Smurfs thing that was all the rage. So I made a special effort to see what all the fuss was about. And then I was just blown away to find myself getting into it.

Like most people today I had spent those 6 or 7 years in a great darkness, a stressful need to achieve and prove adulthood. I was almost dying from the lack of childish optimism in my life. Everything was so serious I was pushing for a breakdown. Then these little blue things came into my head and I felt such relief. It was like coming up for air. And I knew there was something here that I needed – something that the human soul would rot and decay if deprived of.

But it was quickly revealed that there was nothing particularly special about The Smurfs, because then I saw Shirt Tails, and I liked that even more. And from there I just found show after show to get into and be fascinated by – each one being a greater passion than the last.

I came to understand that we paid a heavy price to become serious adults in those days, and that it really wasn’t worth the price. These shows enabled me to get back a lot of that price, and they helped me to strike a happy relationship between my adult self and my child self, rather than keeping my child self tied up in a torture chamber all the time, my whole insides quaking from those inner screams every time my adult self tried to accept something un-acceptable in the cause of achieving adult respect.

I anticipate it will be like that for all the Bronies who are not into MLP strictly as a social fad. They will eventually realize that the show itself isn’t all that unusual, but that it got to them at a time when life was really hard, and it made them realize how much they needed color and cuteness to maintain a healthy life.

I’m sure that eventually MLP will go off the air again or become warn out for many Bronies. Then they’ll find themselves attracted to other shows and evolve into either general cartoon fans or Furries. And by the time we get 10 to 30 years on from here, folks being like I was in the 80’s won’t be bucking the norms at all. Doctors will be prescribing cartoon watching as an alternative to anti-depressants.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: loganberrybunny
2012-11-11 03:38 pm (UTC)

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That was a very interesting read. I'm not entirely typical of bronies, mostly because I'm well above the average age for the community, but I'll try to give a few thoughts.

First, I deliberately watched the first two seasons of the show without diving into the wider fandom. Of course, it wasn't in total isolation as friends who already knew it commented, but even so I think I would have enjoyed MLP:FiM a lot even standing alone. I think you're probably right, though, that it wouldn't have stood out from everything else as it does without that community. It's the combination that truly makes it so much fun for me.

As I said, I'm much older than many bronies (I'm 37) and my formative years of cartoon-watching were on weekend morning TV. In those days, the BBC especially, but also ITV, made a lot more of their own animation than they do now, so I actually watched relatively little US-originated stuff other than Looney Tunes shorts. The American buy-ins like The Get Along Gang (which I liked!) were mostly to fill in the gaps, not to form the backbone of the morning's entertainment. Incidentally, I've barely ever watched The Powerpuff Girls!

I don't even know whether G1 of MLP was broadcast here at all, but I think it would have done okay, as series like The Raccoons did. I've noticed quite a few bronies starting to take that original series more seriously, certainly compared with those that came after. Actually, at UK PonyCon recently, there was apparently a quite well-attended "G1 for Bronies" panel.

All the other guys are doing it.

I'm dealing with this out of order, because it's one part that I'm not sure works for the UK fandom. Yes, in this age of the internet, national boundaries mean a lot less than they did... but MLP:FiM is in no way a big phenomenon over here. I've never -- and I mean never -- seen another person, even a child, wearing a T-shirt with an image from the show, other than one friend who had already told me he'd be doing so. UK TV has only ever broadcast S1, and that on a channel even more obscure than The Hub once was. And so on.

Now, I think the "it's cool" point can still apply, but in the UK I think it's so in a rather different way. Here, it's not so much a case of wanting to be part of a big pop-culture phenomenon, but more a case of feeling part of a smallish, tight-knit group of people who've discovered something wonderful. I do wonder whether that's one reason the British fandom is (with really very few exceptions) such a happy, welcoming place to be.

It becomes not just another show to watch, but a social phenomenon to experience and be a part of.

That's definitely true, though. I've never been part of a really huge fandom before, and it's been an eye-opener. There's no doubt that for me, and I think most bronies, the immense hinterland of fan-made music, writing, art and so on has resulted in a richer experience. As I said above, the show is one I consider very good on its own merits -- but it is the fan community that lifts it clear of everything else. I'm not sure I'd choose FiM as my "desert island cartoon", but if I could have an internet connection as well and remain part of the community, it would be the one I'd choose without a moment's hesitation.

I’m sure that eventually MLP will go off the air again or become warn out for many Bronies.

Though some will remain, as they have done for the wider MLP fandom all these years. UK PonyCon, which I mentioned above, has run every year since 2004, so clearly isn't dependent on G4. It will be a smaller, quieter fandom, but it will still be there -- and I suspect I'll still be part of it. Probably not to the level or intensity that I am now, but I can't see myself growing bored with FiM entirely. It's given me too much; it's part of my life in a way that among fandoms only Watership Down and furry itself have really matched.

Edited at 2012-11-11 03:44 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]From: bixylshuftan
2012-11-11 05:45 pm (UTC)

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I don't know what it is about "My Little Pony" either. I have heard it's gotten a more solid plot since the 80's show of the same name, but I have to take their word for it since I don't see the show. As a Second Life resident, the pony avatars make for an amusing sight. But I see no reason to get and shapechange to one.

Probably the time I did the most pondering was when I saw an Afghanistan veteran in a brony avatar. That a symbol of testosterone would be going about in an avatar from a "girl's show," well, that spoke a few things.

But most of the time in virtual reality, I just smile to those I know, and hand them an apple.
[User Picture]From: symphonic_rp
2012-11-12 03:12 am (UTC)

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Well, as a fan of both the old and new shows, I can't really see where the plot has improved. As I've said, the old show was dramatic of nature. Some MLP serials ran as many as 12 episodes with a cliff hanger at the end of each one. The new show is mainly just half hour sit-com episodes that don't have any developing plot at all - just characters in a situation like you'd have in any sit-com.

That's why I have such a problem backing up Bronies. They say this is better and that is better, but I just don't see the improvement.

Sit-coms are not properly judged on plot. They are more judged on how funny they are. In the case of all shows that have gone through this transition from serial to sit-com, if you said the sit-com versions were funnier, I'd go for that in a big way. But more plot? I just don't get where that is coming from.

Unless the plot they're referring to is a plot they're inventing in their heads or through fandom discussion. This is the true wonder of this type of program. An imaginative person will often see more than is actually there.
[User Picture]From: ungulata
2012-11-11 07:26 pm (UTC)

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I'm quite a bit older than Logan but much of the same applies. No Bronies or children in G4 shirts in my neighborhood, and half a million people walk the grounds each summer where I work. I'm more of a Disney snob. The cartoons of the late seventies and eighties were dominated by cheap filmation and Hanna-Barbera. Disney's Adventures of the Gummi Bears was a breath of fresh air and I also really enjoyed Dungeons and Dragons and Ulysses 31. I never cared for Rescue Rangers and the only Power Puff Girls I'd watched before MLP:FIM was the movie (which was not good).

In October 2010 I saw the first 15 minutes of the first episode, and it didn't grab me. It looked off for a show about magical brushable little horses. I really didn't like what her sister did to Princess Luna. So I moved on, not watching any more of MLP:FIM until late February 2011. After a few episodes and googling up the write-up on MLP:FIM on Know Your Meme, I was smitten. Good cartoon and a hippy freak-out on 4Chan? Too funny and too awesome! I'd browsed 4Chan a few times so I knew it existed (looking to get grossed out isn't what first leaps to mind when I get online, so browsing 4Chan isn't a priority). A good cartoon and a fandom that is artistic, vibrant and fights the good fight hits all the right buttons with me.

I've been to a few very small furry cons. I like animals, I like cartoons, I like art, so, to furry con I go. But I'm not particularly gregarious, I don't care for cosplay or fursuits, and there so many predators (foxes, wolves, cats, bears...). Cons are not the best time I've ever had. I think twice and a few times more before I even consider a meet-up with strangers, even if we all like cartoons (and maybe even ponies).
[User Picture]From: symphonic_rp
2012-11-12 03:46 am (UTC)

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It's a sad thing I've had to face over time, but not everyone who claims to like the things I like is nice, or likes things for the same reasons. I've had more knock down drag out fights with fellow fans than trolls.

If I go to a con or any other public affair in the real world, I won't go alone. I'll go surrounded by friends that I know I can have a good time with and feel safe. To go alone I would probably feel like a ghost, an invisible observer, unable to participate in anything.

Sadly, I have no local Furry friends to do anything with. So I doubt I'll ever get to any meet ups either.
[User Picture]From: jarrellwoods
2012-11-12 01:13 am (UTC)

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I know what you're saying. I'm not a Brony, but I'll watch episodes of FIM, and I like it, I'll laugh, it's great... but that's as far as it goes with me. And believe me, I'm one that can be carried away by things. When TTA was on in the 90s I was a major TTA fan, and when it was Powerpuff Girls that you mentioned, I was majorly into that too.

But I just don't get the depth of how active furries who I've personally counted on for one task or another on Rainbow Ark for instance, are so captivated and changed by the show, that for all practical purposes many have left the furry fandom and are 24/7 Brony. And months will go by, I try to contact them to find out how they're doing and if they're going to eventually do this thing or that thing they said they were going to do, and they're all, "oh, hai, yeah, I have this whole other life now as a Brony and I have the greatest friends, and you should really give it a try yourself, ciao."

With about 3 people in particular it's been on par with getting wrapped up in a religious cult so that nothing of their former life, their commitments, promises, their former friends, nothing else matters at all, to the point of being absolutely scary. Now I have about 3 other friends who call themselves Bronies, and they love the show and characters and they're really into it, but they're still friendly and they still sound like themselves, and they seem fine - so I'm not talking about ALL Bronies by any means. But the phenomena I've found in a few is to the point of feeling like I need to send a deprogrammer after them :) I just hope they don't slit something important when they stop making episodes.

Edited at 2012-11-12 01:18 am (UTC)
[User Picture]From: symphonic_rp
2012-11-12 04:16 am (UTC)

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Fandoms do tend to be like that. They are obsessions that can be all encompassing. And when a new one comes along that is more engrossing, the old one tends to get stored in a mental attic rather quickly.

But no one should have to leave Furry Fandom to be a Brony. We're supposed to be the fandom for all Furry titles, including MLP. But obviously there's a fandom out there providing something we don't - something certain snobbish furs in positions of visibility have devalued over the years, preventing us from providing the full range of fandom fun.

Furries really should look at all the good things Bronies have and demand that Furry Fandom be allowed to provide the same.