When I first announced on Twitter that I was going to be watching the documentary Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony that’s now available on Netflix, I immediately got words of caution from people on Twitter. There was the usual hesitation surrounding the fandom and also critiques from others who said that it tried too hard to make the people like an oppressed minority. As someone who has critiqued films before, I tried to go in without paying too much attention to other people’s notions of the documentary. I was going to try to give it a fair shot.
I was able to get through most of the film, but after a while I realized most of what people said was true.
Bronies, as most people know, are the members of the fandom surrounding My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, a program aimed primarily at young girls. The cartoon has attracted many men in their late twenties, early thirties, which has led some outlets like Fox News to question whether or not the people were sexually depraved in some way. The documentary aims to dispel these kinds of myths and cast the fandom in a positive light, moving away from the fedora-wearing stereotypes that have bogged down the community.
Before I move on to whether or not the documentary succeeds (which it doesn’t), I feel I should put in a disclaimer about my experiences with the cartoon. I have watched a couple of seasons of the show and I do think it’s probably one of the better-produced cartoons for young kids currently out on the airwaves. The characters are based on cliche archetypes, but writers manage to make them three-dimensional with realistic problems and interactions. The lessons at the end of each episode can get heavy-handed sometimes, but the overall show manages to be genuine without being too focused on providing a moral. Each episode presents a story that gets summed up at the end with lessons that do manage to be true to life. I appreciate Lauren Faust for what she’s done for women in cartoons and she’s managed to give young girls even more role models to look up to.
I have never been a part of the “Brony” fandom simply due to the fact that I have other interests. I never was able to hook onto the fanart and the fanfiction and the hype because I have too many other fandoms to check up on. That being said, I don’t blame anybody for being a member of the MLP fandom and while some of the members can be a little too intense for me on occasion, the same can be said for any piece of media with a strong fanbase. Hang out with my friends for a few hours and you’ll be sick of hearing about Mass Effect or Welcome to Night Vale. It’s just the nature of our culture that we become obsessed with something and thereby end up creating new pieces of media to coincide with it. The Internet allows us to distribute our love on a much larger scale and has magnified the love of certain fandoms by a number of degrees. The reasons that the Brony fandom exists at all is because people have been able to connect with each other over the Internet. I’m not saying anything new here, but I am stating facts: The Brony fandom isn’t any different from the hundreds, maybe thousands of other fandoms that clog up Tumblr. It’s just more pronounced in some respects and confuses some people slightly removed from the geek spectrum.
This is the main reason why the Brony documentary doesn’t work. While it tries its hardest to paint the fandom in a light that shows why people watch the show and why they travel out of their way to go to Bronycon, it does so by alienating other fandoms. The obsessive nature of the brony (or pegasister) fandom is no different than any other, but it presents itself by seeming to be different than them.
In one part of the documentary, a family goes to Bronycon with their teenage son. The father is described as “conservative” and doesn’t understand why his son is into this TV show aimed at young girls. He’s presented as being misunderstood rather than malicious about his son’s likes, but his attitude makes his son feel like a disappointment. The dad meets with other fathers who have come to accept the cartoon as being more than just a cartoon, but he doesn’t really change. While this seemed more like the documentary’s attempt to have some kind of happy moment for the family, it doesn’t really pan out.
There are other people interviewed for the documentary that are in similar situations. There’s one boy from England with Asperger’s that’s really into My Little Pony and worries about traveling out in public because of his disorder. There’s the couple that met at a Brony meetup and watch the show together. There’s the guy that makes fan videos, but feels completely isolated from the rest of the fandom. There are many different stories here that could lend themselves to the cultural lexicon of the brony fandom, but they’re all presented by the film as being tragedies. Each of these people has endured so much in the name of their fandom and it’s all because they’re into a show about colorful girl ponies.
That’s not taking into account the guys that are just really into the show and feel no shame about it, the younger fanbase, and the women that are also “bronies,” or pega-sisters. One of the main criticisms by MLP fans on the Internet has been that it doesn’t represent the majority of bronies. If you’re interested, read this thread on Reddit, which contains some insightful commentary about not only the documentary, but on society as a whole that this is what is represented.
The feeling that bronies are an oppressed minority because of their fandom sounds desperate on the documentary’s part. It’s trying too hard to legitimize itself as a group, but in doing so it raises itself up above all others. While it might be interesting from a sociology or psychology standpoint to study why this show for young girls has such a huge following among men, that’s not what the documentary is about, sadly (filmmakers or writers take note).
We would maybe all like to think that our world and our interests exist in a vacuum untouched by other influences, but to think that is close-minded. Bronies do not exist separate from other fandoms, but in connection with them. Just do a quick Tumblr search and you’ll find an infinite number of crossovers–some more believable than others. It’s a shame that the documentary fails to see that and decides to illuminate its cast of characters under a narrow spotlight. It’s also a shame because a lot of bronies feel the same way.