(This piece was previously published on Katipunan Magazine by The GUIDON.)
IT’S a fairly large function room in a hotel somewhere up north of the metro. It’s packed with people, virtually everyone male. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the number of girls present can be counted on one hand.
The air is thick with testosterone and buzzing with the kind of energy – and the, well, distinct scent – that only rough, rowdy boys can make. Manly howls of excitement rise exponentially as the events of the day unfurl. There is a lot of cheering and a lot of hollering and a lot of fists banging on tables; they can barely contain themselves. Somewhere, a glass of ice water shatters on the marble floor. But, it’s all good; the fun, it commences.
No, these hundred or so guys aren’t here to watch the live stream of a crucial sporting event, nor did they get together for the launch of the latest turn-based strategy video game. No, they’re here because they love – as in, love love – My Little Pony.
MY LITTLE BRONY: FANDOM IS MAGIC
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is the latest incarnation of the Hasbro franchise of cartoons and toys. This generation follows the adventures of Twilight Sparkle, an intelligent and studious unicorn pony, and her friends, Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Applejack, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash, as they live, play, and learn together in the town of Ponyville.
Since its premiere in October 2010, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has, as expected, completely conquered its target market, delighting and entertaining the demographic of little girls between the ages of three and six.
Greatly unexpected, however, was the show’s wildfire success in an audience that was anything but little, girly and between the ages of three and six. But, surprisingly, majority of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’s fans are heterosexual men between the ages of 15 and 35.
These men call themselves “bronies,” a portmanteau of “brother” and “pony.” It is a title worn with pride, adopted by the show’s male fans from all over the world with such gusto that even Hasbro had to acknowledge their existence.
With full-length episodes easily accessibly via YouTube, the show’s fan base spread across the globe – the Philippines included. The show’s local fan community came together last August 18 2012 in the aforementioned function room in a hotel north of the metro to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Philippine Bronies.
Whenever the typical person hears the words “heterosexual man,” “likes,” and “My Little Pony” in the same sentence, the question “Why?!” is usually the first one that comes to mind. Indeed, it is a valid question. What is it about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic that keeps its unintended audience so interested?
Most bronies will simply say, “It’s cool,” and shrug it off nonchalantly.
And it is. It definitely is.
With good, substantial writing, strong, plot-driven story arcs, consistent character development, and a distinctive, expressive, Flash-based animation style, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic can easily be appreciated by the casual onlooker on the level of a really good cartoon. Produced by the same creative team that gave us the likes of The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, the overall excellence of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in the medium of the cartoon, then, comes as no surprise.
However, for these bronies, these little ponies mean more to them than just 22 minutes of unabashed entertainment. The emotional investment that these men put into these candy-colored quadrupeds finds their roots in a time when these men were just boys. Many bronies cite an element of nostalgia to My Little Pony, one that that brings them back to when times were simpler and cartoons were, arguably, much better.
“It reminded me of the ‘90s cartoons, because I’m a nostalgic person,” says Joshua Jimeno. Jimeno, along with co-founder Patrick Magat, established the Philippine Bronies last August 19 2011. Jimeno wanted to create a space for Filipino fans of My Little Pony to share their thoughts and feelings about the show without judgment. The Facebook-based group has grown from an initial ten to fifteen members to over 900 members in the span of a year. The group is an online haven for bronies all over the Philippines, as well as Filipino bronies based abroad.
Many bronies use the show and its characters as a catalyst for self-expression, arguably something boys don’t indulge themselves too much in. Daryll Alvero and David Hong are two members of the Philippine Bronies with specialized skills in the pony fandom.
Alvero draws pony fan art. His drawings are unique and, owing to his background in architecture, very technically structured and soundly proportional. Better known by his online pseudonym Descartes Revell, Alvero’s art style is easily recognizable. He combines show-accurate pony renditions with military concept art. “My Little Pony combined with the military is oxymoronic,” says Alvero. “They’re two opposites that combine together. They’re so comically, diametrically apart from one another that they complement each other.”
Hong, known as DJ Soulestia, is part of the team behind Equestria Rave Radio. Equestria Rave Radio is an online radio station where the broadcasters role-play as ponies delivering pony-related news to human listeners. “We found out that most of the radio stations in America are full of bronies,” says Hong on the origins of Equestria Rave Radio. “So we thought, why not make a station that talks about the characters, the ponies themselves? And that’s how Equestria Rave Radio came to be.”
Why do they do what they do? They, along with other bronies who have skills and talents in the other fields like music production and creative writing, do what they do all out of love for these little ponies. This is a conscious return to simpler, less complicated times, where coloring books and Saturday morning cartoons were the greatest joys in life.
More than a repeat of what they did as children, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is giving boys a chance to do the one thing they just couldn’t do back then: have feelings.
Gender roles and responsibilities are established and strictly adhered to very early on in the lives of every little boy and girl: pants versus skirts, blue versus pink, Barbie versus G.I. Joe, feeling all the feelings versus keeping it together and taking it like a man. The list goes on.
The advent of women’s rights and girl power has made a girl’s life a little easier. Anything boys can do, girls can do, too! However, the same cannot be said for the boys. Girls can watch violent movies, play extreme physical sports, and wear pants, but boys cannot cry during The Notebook, dance ballet, or parade themselves in skirts no matter how hot it is that day, lest they run the risk of endless taunts and mean-spirited quips about their sexual orientation and the disapproval of society at large.
Growing up, boys simply weren’t given an avenue to express and understand their emotions. The stereotype that men are logical while women are emotional stems from this; while both boys and girls can be logical, it’s the logical and not the emotional side that is valued more in boys. Boys were not allowed by society to explore the complexities of their emotions; thus, there is lack in this respect.
The arrival of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in mainstream media has given these boys – who are, by now, men – an avenue to explore that which has been forbidden to them. For these bronies, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic signifies a second chance at the simple joy and innocence denied to them because of their gender.
Hong affirms this sentiment. “Some brony told me that when he was a kid, he was fascinated with talking horses. But before, it used to be only girls talking about magical ponies. Now that he’s old, he has the opportunity to indulge himself in the fantasy of My Little Pony. It’s a childhood fantasy that wasn’t done before, and now they have the opportunity to live it,” says Hong.
My Little Pony also serves as an outlet for bronies to channel their thoughts and feelings in a positive manner. “I have a really short temper, and cartoons like these help me escape reality and make me feel good about myself,” says Jimeno.
“The show is just so relentlessly jolly!” enthuses Alvero. “There is always this glimmer of hope at the end. It’s one of those things that people have forgotten to think about nowadays. They’ve forgotten to dream, they’ve forgotten to aspire, they’ve forgotten to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic serves as a response to the attitude of irony and cynicism prevalent in today’s world.”
My Little Pony can also signal the advent of what could be the disestablishment of conventional social and gender structures. Considerably blurring the line of what is meant to be “for girls” and “for boys”, this hopefully paves the way to a society that will look at things as “for people,” thus allowing them to be truly themselves, reach their full potential, and, yes, discover the magic of friendship.
THE PITFALLS OF PONYHOOD
Being a brony, however, is not all sunshine and ladybugs. Bronies have their own share of issues and controversies as well, brought about by those who either misunderstand them or make no attempt to understand them.
Because My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a show for young girls, many critics and detractors have taken to giving it another, more sinister meaning. “The media always likes the bad stuff, so they brought out that the bronies are big guys who like young girls,” says Hong. “It comes to mind, using My Little Pony in ways you wouldn’t imagine.”
Jimeno recounts the stigma that he experienced when he first started telling people that he was a brony. “At first, it was really bad,” says Jimeno. “My best friend shunned me, he really insulted me. He told me that it was only for gay people or little girls, because he’s not that open-minded.”
However, bronies don’t let their naysayers get them down. “It’s easy to stick to the show, despite the stigma, because of the presence of the brony community,” says Adam Lauengco, a member of the Philippine Bronies. “It’s not just a group of people that like the same show, but it’s an entire Internet subculture on its own, giving members a sense of belonging.”
LOVE AND TOLERANCE
It’s this sense of unconditional belonging and acceptance that serves as a guiding principle for the brony community. “The brony phenomenon is… society fighting the cynicism of today’s zeitgeist,” says Alvero. “The basic mantra of My Little Pony is one of love and tolerance. Love and tolerance is an ideal. It is a concept, not a law. Ponies are not giving us laws, they’re giving us ideals, things to aspire for.”
The Philippine Bronies have since extended this notion of love and tolerance from the Facebook posts to face-to-face conversations. Brony meet-ups happen frequently, and everybody – or, everypony, as it were – is welcome to join. It’s good, clean, carefree fun, something that most young people, jaded as they are, have forgotten how to have.
With over a hundred bronies in attendance, the PH Bronies Anniversary is the largest brony gathering of the year. Everyone is excited and abuzz with delight at things yet to come; whoops and whistles ushered in each new segment of the program, which features trivia contests, talent shows, and episode screenings, among other things. Event attendees peruse the merchant booths, spending good chunks of their allowances and salaries on handmade pony plush toys, pony bookmarks, pony pins, and pony-themed baked goods. Later in the day, there is a hearty, heartfelt pony sing-a-long; bronies clap and sway in their seats, and, with much gusto, belt out the pony’s song for winter and spring, albeit in a much lower register compared to when the little ponies sing it in the show.
There is a refreshing sincerity that characterizes this ragtag bunch of boys, reminiscent of that sense of wonder that any child shows upon encountering something bright and colorful. This childhood wonder, however, is deepened by the insight that only comes with age; that these strapping young gentlemen, even after being exposed to the harsh realities of life in a third-world country, make the conscious effort to turn towards something more positive and productive is admirable. That these boys, these bronies, allow themselves to be moved by a children’s cartoon towards living out the values the show collectively calls the “elements of harmony” – honesty, kindness, laughter, generosity, and loyalty – is certainly a sign of the something amazing: something like magic, the magic of friendship.
“Love and tolerance applies not only to the pony fandom, but to life itself,” says Jimeno. Indeed, this is manifested in the “bro” part of bronies, the brotherhood that they share over these little ponies. While they are still not the tightest of chums, what matters is the effort made to forge a bond, to establish a connection, to make others feel welcome and accepted. “It’s a long way from Equestria,” says Alvero, making a reference to the magical land of the My Little Pony universe. “But we can dream. The goal is out there, and striving towards it is our catalyst for becoming better people.”