Four sharp-dressed men strode into the hotel lobby, looking much like the characters of Reservoir Dogs. Without guns, of course. Three of these men were long-term associates, one was a more recent addition to the group. Two go by their given names, two have aliases. These men were on their first mission together—one they successfully accomplished in one weekend, after months of planning, Skyping, tweeting, posting, and other online collaboration.
In June 2014, fans of “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” gathered at MLP-MSP, Minnesota’s First-Ever Brony Convention. Most of the attendees weren’t little girls—they were adults dressed like colorful ponies complete with pink wigs, horse tails, unicorn horns, and Pegasus wings. Some of the pony costumes were meticulously handmade, while others cost as much as $2,500 to purchase. One wonders, why were these grown men and women willing to face possible public humiliation by dressing like cartoon characters?
“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,” is a cable TV program in its fourth season. Although the TV show was originally intended for young girls, it attracts male and female viewers of all ages. Millions of young men (called “Bronies”) follow each episode, living by the show’s tag line, “Friendship is Magic.” According to Walt Disney, “Animation offers a medium of storytelling and visual entertainment which can bring pleasure and information to people of all ages everywhere in the world.” Disney has said, “You’re dead if you aim only for kids. Adults are only kids grown up, anyway.”
Fans of the show are hooked by its clever scripts, high-quality animation, superb acting, and original songs. They are drawn by the show’s characteristic loyalties and kindnesses. The ponies typically rely on goodwill and friendship to resolve moral dilemmas such as bullying, gossiping, or jealousy. The essential story elements are honesty, kindness, laughter, generosity, loyalty, and magic (which happens when the other elements are in place). These principles apply to all people, extending beyond age and gender. Additionally, Bronies say the show draws them in with pop-culture references to shows such as “Mad Men,” “M*A*S*H,” and “Arrested Development,” as well as parodies of songs and popular phrases.
Brony fandom is a global phenomenon, with about thirty conventions held around the world each year. This trend has inspired several documentaries and a great deal of academic research. There are very few cultural sensations as unique and unexpected as “My Little Pony” fandom. Bronies experience a sense of community and friendship from the cartoon, and this carries over into their day-to-day lives. Brony online discussions are usually civil and helpful instead of insulting and hostile like many chat boards. Because it promotes friendship and acceptable behavior, “My Little Pony” seems to attract nicer people. Some fans have found that this kinship has helped them with their confidence levels and to deal with depression.
There are approximately three million Bronies ranging in age from 14 to 57 years old around the world, the majority of which are male. They have many different backgrounds, including soldiers, physiologists, scientists, and students. There is an entire community of Bronies in the military, traditionally a very masculine environment. “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” reflects many of the most important values in the military, such as loyalty, duty, and respect. These men push the boundaries of what society considers appropriate behavior, especially for adult males, because they enjoy watching episodes of “My Little Pony,” collecting memorabilia, and attending Brony conventions like MLP-MSP.
The three-day MLP-MSP affair was packed with a full schedule of events. The entire agenda was posted on Google Calendar and made public, which made it very easy to find information about individual events as well as create calendar entries on smart phones and tablets. MLP-MSP had about 750 attendees. Through social media outlets, such as Tumbler, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and chat communities, this con attracted people from all over the United States and as far away as Canada and Israel. The events were live-streamed through YouTube, and the chairs live-tweeted highlights of the convention all weekend long. Although this was relatively small for a Brony Con, it was well-organized with everything handled quickly and expertly.
On the last day, after all was packed up, the chairs left the hotel in street clothes, returning to their families and other commitments. We don’t know their real names, but they’ve got what it takes to run a con. And they will be back.