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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Bronies. Why?

We come to a moment in history which gives birth to the exact opposite of the cowboy.

Arriving a little late to the Bronies phenomenon, I have many questions.

I think it is almost obvious that the Bronies documentary, about boys and men who love "My Little Pony," had to cast the guys in a positive light. To attack them would be too easy, as everyone's primal, predatory instinct is to attack them. But, the light may have been a bit too forgiving. Aside from talking to two disapproving dads, the filmmakers let Bronies off easy, without much probing of their rather glorified version of reality. Sure, some of them were bullied or threatened at some point, but no one seems willing to deflate their delusional consensus fantasy, in which:

-- My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, is written with great insight, intellect, deep characters, and valuable life lessons, and series creator Lauren Faust must have been divinely inspired.

-- There is nothing psychosexually haywire about men, or even boys, being sincerely into My Little Pony.

-- The concepts in the cartoon are original, perhaps unique in all of television.

I've been a nerd since before it was cool (and trust me, people under 30, the world is vastly more forgiving of, even welcoming to, nerdy activities now more than ever), so I can discuss this crap to the max, but my wife arrived first at the crux of it: "Have these people ever seen TV?" They mentioned the stuff they loved, unique to this program—and they sounded as if they could have been talking about anything from Happy Days to Family Ties to Cheers. Ever since I've been alive, TV has pumped us all with little lessons about friendship and honesty and you-name-it.  

After all the Bronies' gushing, I watched a whole episode of Friendship is Magic. It was not insipid... unless you are older than 8. Its dialogue was clever... unless you are older than 8. It was not predictable and formulaic... unless you are a grown person. The only thing not retrograde in its execution was the background art, which I give sky-high marks. The scenery has the color-soaked seduction of a Junko Mizuno comic. In fact, the backgrounds might be subliminally responsible for the show's power over its hypnotized fans. Aside from looking away, the backgrounds are the only relief available from the vapid humor and the flat, stereotyped characters, such as the hayseed, country bumpkin pony that TAWKED LAHK THII-US.

Since it is a Hasbro-product-based show, it comes as no surprise that MLP follows the classic pattern established by G.I. Joe, Transformers, and others: every toy is a character, slapped with a symbolic name, each with a canned mentality befitting its station in life. A robot named Brawn will be very strong; a soldier code-named Snow Job will be good at skiing; and a pony named Twilight Sparkle will be... I already forgot. Something to do with night-sky colors and a star on her butt. But for some reason, people taller than me, most of them dudes, think it's brilliant--in a literary sense. Can flat characters be written into significant, impactful stories? Sure. See most of mythology. But that's not what's happening here.

The bonus round of irony is that there is a far funnier, infinitely cleverer and more nuanced study of the power of friendship running in another animated series that started around the same time as MLP:FIM—Adventure Time, a show that actually is brilliant, if not in a full-blown literary sense, then at least in unparalleled speed-of-invention, surreal conceptual blending and comedic approach.

The predictable jab at the Bronies is that they are gay. Near the top of the Google search results for "Bronies" will be "bronies are fags." Whatever. I have no big hang-ups about crossing gender lines with your tastes, and it's become obviously mainstream for girls to be into previously "guy stuff" like Star Wars or superheroes or football, but you should be aware of the line you are crossing, and understand why embarrassment might be in order. Sure, you can be postmodern or ironic or whatever, but the Bronies—the real Bronies—show NO SIGNS of irony or mockery. They view the Ponies as muses, almost as little godlings.

I planned on making an argument about some sexual deviancy in the Bronies, but the documentary gives no evidence for this, despite lurking suspicions: Bronies sometimes dress up like ponies, paralleling the "Furries" phenomenon, some Bronies wear tattoos of their favorite ponies' symbolic brands, located on the butts of the horses, the sexuality of which would be hard to avoid on a woman's anatomy, but no Bronies claim to have their tattoos on their butts.... There may be twisted psychosexual ingredients in the Bronies wacky mentalities, but thus far they remain sublimated, or at least concealed from the camera. 

I suppose that the main problem with Bronies is immaturity. Social, interpersonal, sexual, almost omni-directional immaturity. Most of us, as functional humans, have absorbed some element of social rule-enforcement that makes us want to grab guys like this by the collar and say, "Grow the fuck up!" Are they hurting anyone? No. But they are embarrassing everyone. The film's consulting psychologists claim that the Bronies are just looking for community, or meaningful ideas about life... that MLP: Friendship is Magic, just encourages grown men to be caring, emotional people. A reviewer elsewhere said, "these guys aren't much different than crazed fans of Star Wars or Harry Potter or Buffy or fill-in-the-blank." Well, then I guess there's not much difference between drinking a glass of cow's milk and being one of those men on Jerry Springer who drink breastmilk from a lactating stripper.

I could go on, but the gist of it is, I think Bronyism is a subcategory of arrested development, or possibly Aspergers. If that's a diagnosis that somehow excuses it, then oops. 

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