In an unforgiving world, who wouldn’t want to retreat to a place where friendship is magic? Bronies are a group of people who live by that. They’re fans of the newest version of the children's show, My Little Pony. RadioActive youth producer Chris Otey introduces us to some members of the local herd of bronies.
My Little Pony was a TV show for little girls that first appeared in the 1980s. And you might think that 2012’s revamped version, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, is also just a show for little girls. But it’s grown into something a little different. And that has created a following of people who have aptly been named “bronies.”
I am one of them.
Bronies are average people. They might be the person next to you on the bus, a co-worker or even your local newscaster. And they’re everywhere, all over the world and in every corner of the Internet. All of this in a few short years. So why has this show attracted so many people? What about the show is so fascinating?
Cole Daigneault said that bronies like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic because "it tells a good story and because it's got good characters. The fact that they are ponies is almost inconsequential at least until [viewers] get into it and they’re like, ‘yay ponies!’"
Daigneault is the social media lead for Everfree NW. That's our local brony convention, where all manner of people come together and celebrate their love for ponies. Or as Everfree likes to put it, their mission is to bring Equestria to Earth for three days. Equestria is the land where the show takes place.
But the idea of a bunch of adults liking a show for little girls doesn't sit well with some people, so bronies have gotten a lot of negative media coverage. Jonathan Agnew is the convention's business lead. He said that one of the more absurd media misconceptions "is that we all get welfare and are unemployed."
Bronies may be seen as lazy but that idea doesn’t hurt people. The more common stereotype is that bronies are child predators. This idea is actually damaging to the community.
Now, I will say that with every fandom there is a darker side, and that it usually gets exposed by the media more often. So I asked Agnew if he thought that this dark side of bronydom presents an issue for the younger fans of the show. He replied that it does, but "the people who are into the darker parts, whether that be violent or pornographic or just not oriented for children, do a really good job of making it so that a kid might not accidentally stumble across that kind of thing. And they do kind of self-regulate themselves into their own small communities."
So there are some people who are bronies because of this dark side, but they are a minority. Most people come simply because they love the show, but they stick around for the community. Autumn Hittle, one of Everfree NW’s security leads, explains that conventions tend to give a good demographic for a fandom as a whole. Last year at Everfree NW, out of 2,000 attendees, only one person was removed from the convention for misconduct.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a show about acceptance of others, among other things. And bronies take the values from the show and use them as a foundation to create together. Hittle explains one of the ways that those values come across is through a charity auction that Everfree NW holds each year. Last year, the auction raised nearly $30,000 for Seattle Children's Hospital.
But the bronies' generosity doesn't end there. Shortly after the convention Hittle was informed she needed a wheelchair, the cost of which was $1,500. "As a mother with four children, I don't have that kind of spare cash laying around," said Hittle. "So I brought it to the community, and they delivered."
That's right, they paid for her wheelchair! The community raised over $1,800, enough for Hittle to get her wheelchair and donate the extra money to Seattle Children's Hospital.
But this isn't unique. Bronies look out for their own, especially when it comes to bullying. A couple of months ago there was an incident involving an 11-year-old brony, who was bullied for liking the show because he was a boy. It got so bad that he tried to kill himself and ended up in a coma.
For Hittle and many other bronies it came as a shock that loving a show that teaches community values could cause this type of pain. "Some people are bigots," Hittle said. "When you tease an 11-year-old enough to the point where he tries to commit suicide, that's bigotry. What I saw afterwards was an outpouring of love and support and generosity."
The community raised nearly $50,000 for the young brony's treatment. Although he hasn't yet woken from his coma, most of his medical bills are being paid for by the brony community.
This type of coming together is unusual, especially for a group of strangers. Jessie Tracer, a graphic designer for Everfree NW, said that in the world outside of the brony community "there's always this sense that there's somebody just waiting for a crack in the armor, waiting for a moment to take advantage of you, because we see it so frequently."
Bronies are a group of people that can step outside of that. And it’s this deep connection that bronies have to the community that many people don’t understand. "They’re wondering, 'Where's the catch?" Tracer said. "'When can this be used against us?' They are afraid to let go and join in. But I think that everyone really does want to at some level, and the people who genuinely don’t I'm a little afraid of."
The outside world is the one we live in every day. It’s closed and secluded from those we don’t know. But that’s why it’s good to have a supportive community, to help burst through those barriers. And that’s where the physical community meets the online one.
That’s what Everfree is for, whether you just watched your first episode or you have been watching since the very beginning. There’s not a lot of intolerance, no gatekeepers saying you’re not nerdy enough to be here.
And that’s what being a brony is about. That’s what makes us different.
Hanspeter Zeigler, the convention's chair, invites new and old fans alike to experience that difference. "I am extraordinarily thankful to this fandom, to the people who have supported us so much," Zeigler said. “I really hope that if you guys out there who are listening want to, you'll come see Everfree, because it’s an incredible place and I think you'll enjoy it."
Everfree NW is July 4-6, 2014.