First let me state for the record: I’m not a Brony.
I’m an actor on the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (in case you didn’t know that about me), and I’m certainly proud of our work. I’m proud that against the historical backdrop of strong boy characters and wan bauble-loving princesses who want nothing more for their happiness than an impossible man-hero, ours is a show of strong female characters and princesses who have actual jobs and don’t need to be saved by men. As a father to a little girl of demographic age, I’m doubly proud to be involved in a thing that I’d have been thrilled to show her even had I not been in it.
But my daughter is primarily why I’ve seen most of it. I make a point of watching my own episodes so I can answer questions at conventions – and I enjoy watching it, I do, but if I’d had no kid, and had I not been in it, I wouldn’t have had any compulsion to watch the rest of it. I never experienced that moment so many of you have described where you watch one episode reluctantly and blammo you’re thirty hours in and somehow wearing a Pinkie Pie wig, a Fluttershy kigurumi, and you sport a Sonic Rainboom tramp stamp.
Now, I’m not judging- My experience with Bronies has been overwhelmingly positive. But it felt necessary to explain that despite being intimate with the phenomenon, and being intimately attached to the show itself, I remain also outside of the phenomenon, and feel thusly like a unique witness to it. And here’s what I see:
At the beginning I was worried. Prior to BronyCon2012 in New Jersey I had never met a Brony in person, although I had seen some rather pornographic fan-art. I had learned about clopping and shipping and it all felt more than a little bit slimy. On top of that there were the stereotypes that rather unfortunately get bestowed upon people in fandoms. The clop seemed to reinforce the stereotype, as must be evident, and thus I had no idea what I was in for at Meadowlands. There was the worry, and at the time I felt it was genuine, that I might have to physically avoid people dressed as my character doing far-from-genteel things to each other in the hallways. I’m no prude, but I felt like I maybe didn’t need to see that. As it turned out, however, this was the furthest thing from true. Instead I discovered 4000 of the kindest, most genuine and lovely people I had ever met. It changed everything.
Not only did I suddenly experience the flush of understanding of how wonderful it was that grown men were courageous enough to love what they love despite stigma, gender expectations and corporate demographics, but I found that I was changing too. I became less cynical. I questioned my sourness at new ideas and realized that I was using smug bitterness and judgement as a shield against my own insecurity – as a way to prevent myself from failing by making it unworthy even to try. In an instant, that mode of being was rendered utterly false by the experience of joy and camaraderie at those first few conventions.
I remember sitting in my basement suite on a Skype interview that summer and being asked what I thought the future of Bronies was. My answer was some rambling effort to say that Bronies can change the world. I think that it is a necessary step in the cause of equality for men to embrace the feminine; necessary for men to proudly love in the world. I saw Bronies as a step towards an end to hatred and violence and fear. I felt like LGBTQ rights, feminism, non-violence, and social justice were all positively influenced by the very existence of Bronies, and that there was no reason for that not to continue.
So what happened?
Over the years my experiences with the community have been tainted, bit by bit by bit. From the greed (or naïveté) of LPU, to the urinal picture in Milwaukee, and beyond. And the common thread, unfortunately, seems to be the deep-rooted entitlement of white men (though everyone can be guilty of this, so, I’m generalizing). Now, you may have noticed: I, too, am a white man. And I’m probably as guilty of entitlement as any of the rest of you, but that doesn’t make it not a problem. Routinely, I come across people who assume they can have a piece of me, or assume that my slice of pie is too big, or assume I have a power they’re jealous of, but that’s merely how it affects me directly. (to be fair, I feel entitled to be treated a certain way, too, so maybe I should check myself, too)
But the real issue to me is in the lunacy of fandom politics. I find it utterly baffling that a group who purport to be devoted to loyalty would in-fight; to generosity would hoard; to honesty would backstab; to laughter would grouse; to kindness would bully; and to friendship would foment a gestalt of clique and enmity. I see less and less of what I thought it was to be a Brony and more and more of the common racism and sexism and phobia of the cis male norm. And that’s a shame. It’s no favour to anyone to entertain their position just so you can pat yourself on the back for having heard it while traveling the road to the decision you were going to make anyway. I realize much of my old cynic has crept slowly back in to it’s comfy spot in my heart.
So why Brony?
A couple of weeks ago in New York I was asked by one of the most generous Bronies I know, Spike Firemane, to give away a carving he’d made at the voice over panel. He’d arranged the same thing for another actor at a prior panel, too – he and said actor had been at the same ten conventions and he wanted to commemorate it by doing something special. She gave the art to someone in the audience she felt was deserving and apparently the moment was magic. New York was Ed’s and my tenth con together and so he wanted me to do the same. I’ll admit I was skeptical of it. I was supposed to give it to someone deserving, just as the other actor had done before – but who? How would I make the determination? Do I hold it up and say, ‘tell me your story’ and choose whose hardship demands reward? In the end I decided to ask someone to find me a kid in the audience, and I’d give it to them. I was told there was a little boy dressed as Big Mac. Perfect. I brought him up, gave him the carving, and he was adorable. So fine: The end. Or so I thought.
A week or so later I got a letter from the boy’s father, Steven. Riley, he tells me: “had a strong speech delay. He struggled to communicate with my wife and I and he often had minor (or occasionally severe) tantrums from his frustration of being unable to express (himself). We couldn’t find any way in which to help appease him or consistently help him understand how much he was loved…. Then… he discovered Big Mac…. Big Mac was able to do anything he needed to, but didn’t have to say much to get it done. ‘Eeyup’ quickly became his favorite word and he would light up with a huge smile whenever he heard it in an episode…. It’s been three years now that Big Mac has had a positive influence on his young life, and at age five I know that your main pony will always be more special to him than any of the mane six ever could be…. He couldn’t wait to cosplay as Big Mac for Ponycon and he was beyond exhilarated when you presented him with your Big Mac woodwork this weekend. You have literally changed his life for the better in countless ways.”
I wept reading that. I’m close to it again retyping it. And again proofreading it.
See the thing I think we forget is that all of our lives have literally, actually changed because of this fandom, and that everyone we see in the halls of the convention, or on the walls of the internet, has that essential story. Perhaps it’s simply that our own story of bloom and change is more important to us only because it’s about us. But we all have this same story, ultimately, this same reality, and we’d do well to remember we are not alone in our experience of it. Nor, furthermore, are we alone in our need to share ourselves with those with whom we find ourselves orbiting through this life. Perhaps there ought to be a seventh element of harmony: Compassion or Empathy? In any case I think we all have work to do to get back to that place of innocence we were in when this all began, wherein everyone was a welcome participant in a phenomenon of love and tolerance that could yet change our whole world for the better and in countless ways, just as it has been for Riley.
Thank you for reading. I look forward to seeing you all again soon, and hearing your stories.
I’ve spent much of the past 24 hours with bits of tissue crammed up my nostrils so my nose doesn’t drool snot out onto whatever might happen to be below it.
Despite this effort I have thus far adequately besnotted:
-1/2 roll toilet paper
-atmosphere of planet earth.
But you see it isn’t my fault. My sinuses are just privileged. They think they’re entitled to be this snotty, and to fling their jewely ribbons of mucous about the room. I know better. I know you don’t want to know about it, but my sinuses have taken over my brain and fingers and I cannot stop myself from inflicting these images upon you.
Like earlier when I thought, “oh, this is better than yesterday,” and sat away from my tissues for five minutes? My sinuses decided it was seriously showtime. They made me sneeze so hard a thick goob of clear green ooze flung from my nose. I still don’t know where it landed. Another dangled there, swinging in and out of my field of vision as I made a mad dash for the tissue box.
I recognize that you probably didn’t want to read that. You were just sitting at your computer, or scrolling on your phone, innocently hoping for cuteness or maybe inspiration and my entitled sinuses took that to mean you wanted them to detail how they’re using my booger to torture me. Now you have this mucousy picture of me you can’t really get rid of. I mean you’ll delete it immediately, of course, but still. You wonder: did I think you’d be turned on? You don’t even really know what to say, or how to address the issue with me. I mean you certainly don’t want to tell me your own nose-puke story. Is that what I’m hoping for? To get a picture of your nostril-vomit in my head so that when I play with my own snot later on I’ll have something to look at? You probably don’t want to know.
Thing is my sinuses don’t really care about you. They think they deserve whatever whim crosses their stuffy, entitled heart, regardless of your position on the matter. My head-cum wants you to know it knows you don’t like the term ‘head-cum.’ But it’s also angry at you for not being super grateful that it acknowledged how much you don’t like it, and so it has decided to say it as often as possible until you realize its way of thinking is the only correct way of thinking: head-cum, head-cum, head-cum! I mean it’s tolerant of your views, but let’s be real: there’s not a better way to say snot, no matter what you might think. You’re not a sinus. You’re being intolerant of it.
I mean really: My sinuses do a lot of good work. They harvest my vocal resonance, do all the labour of purging my illness for me for free! – but where’s my recognition for owning them? I should get a month.
Just now they feel subdued. They’re freshly blown and saying this has really helped to get a lot of what was bothering them out. I guess I should remember that listening to snotty little shits is the first step towards having compassion for them. It’s just so hard when they’re so full of poisonous goo, that flinging it at you is all they seem good at doing.