There's a growing movement out there, and it's centered around sparkly ponies. For grown-ups. They're called Bronies, and these adult fans of the new My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic animated series have created something of a unique social phenomenon surrounding their fondness for a kids' show. Not just any kids' show, either: a show for little girls.
Seriously, grownups who like My Little Pony? Mostly male grownups? What the heck?
Yes, or that would be a-yup, as a favored character often says. Bronies are nothing if not relatively diverse.
Of course, not all bronies are male: many are female or transgender. Some female fans call themselves "Pegasisters," and some don't. It's up to the person and their preferences.
Isn't this all a little creepy? Shouldn't these dudes be doing something more productive with their time, like volunteering at an animal shelter? Or at least something more...manly? Maybe deer hunting, or noodling for catfish?
It's easy to dismiss Bronies as creepers who are a little too into a "kiddie" show, but that is not actually the case for the vast majority. You can unclutch your pearls now.
For one thing, the phenomenon of adults watching cartoons is not new—just witness the early-2000s rise of Japanese animation to the mainstream. Before this, the primary consumers of anime were social outsiders roundly mocked for watching cartoons in their free time.
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic is a pretty intelligent series, especially by the non-too-demanding standards of the children's entertainment business. The art and animation is inventive and fun to look at, the storylines manage to be interesting and uplifting without descending into the horrors of schmaltz, and the characters are interesting. This reporter finds it infinitely more pleasant to watch than most so-called children's entertainment.
What do Bronies do?
They create fanart and fanfiction of their favorite My Little Pony characters, much of which can be seen on Bronie online hub Equestria Daily.
Franchise owner Hasbro has figured all this out and now creates toys and products specifically for them, packaging sparkly, molded-plastic characters in bronie-favored configurations and sets. Favored characters in the online community sometimes even get more screentime.
Bronies often get pretty creative, and sticking with the G-rating of the original show isn't exactly a huge priority for some.
There's home-made animated music videos, fanart, and fanfiction, such as this piece featuring the shy character Fluttershy belting out a profanely hilarious Reggie Watts track. (I warned you). There's even a very, very warped series of fan-made animated shorts. Don't show these to your kids, but you'll probably find these absolutely hilarious if you liked Ren and Stimpy.
You're telling me there's conventions for adult, largely male fans of a show geared towards little girls. And this isn't somehow illegal.
Bronycon is the biggest convention, and was most recently held in New Jersey this summer, with 4,000 attendees and a lot of panels, event, dance parties, and the like. There are many, many more held around the world.
Regional meetups are also popular and are largely organized over the Internet. Meetups in this reporter's area (Northern California) have recently featured activities from trapshooting to recreational ramen eating.
Here's video from Bronycon 2011 in New York City.
Who's behind this malarky? Why would anyone sane want to watch some lame show for little girls?
Lauren Faust was the executive producer of the first season of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, previously of Cartoon Network favorite Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. Although she no longer works on the show, she's largely considered the Mother of MLP:FIM, as it were, and certainly its guiding creative force.
Faust intended the show to be something different: a girl's show and reboot of a franchise that was unabashedly "girly," that would at the same time not talk down to young women.
“I wanted a respectable show for girls,” Faust told a (mostly male) crowd at the 2012 Bronycon convention. “Saying something is ‘for girls’ or ‘girly’ is usually equated with being not worthwhile, being stupid.”
“People are so uncomfortable with bronies because they think no self-respecting man would lower himself to be interested in girl things unless he's perverted,” added Faust in her Bronycon speech.
"Being girly is the ultimate insult, and it’s unfair to both men and girls."