The Magazine

The Dread Pony

Life as a cartoon.

Aug 26, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 47 • By MATT LABASH
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To defuse a few common Brony stereotypes straightaway, despite their fascination with pastel talking ponies, there’s no evidence that Bronies are mostly gay or pedophiles. Indeed, there are hardly any children at BronyCon. When I encounter one dad who’s brought his 6- and 12-year-old daughters (the more traditional MLP demographic), the latter says she finds all the older male fans “creepy.” And Dad is heading them toward the exit, not having understood how few young kids would be making this scene.

As for accusations that the Bronyhood is some sort of equine gay cult, this is supported neither by studies nor by my three days among the string. With the musky smell of humid T-shirts and social awkwardness cultivated by spending too much time eating transfats in front of computer screens, most Bronies I speak with seem to emit a sort of nerd--drogynous sexuality. They don’t seem to have special someones of either the gay or straight variety.

One Brony study​—​yes, there’s some academic to study everything, and most of them seem to be conducting panels at BronyCon​—​says 84 percent of Bronies report being exclusively heterosexual (only 1.7 percent report being gay, while the rest are bisexual or asexual). More tellingly, 22.4 percent have no interest in dating, and 60.9 percent are interested but not dating. (There are some female Bronies, but these are often called “Pegasisters,” giving third-wave feminists a fresh inequality to whinny about.)

But even if Bronies don’t seem to have an overwhelming interest in breeding, what’s clear is that, like malware, Bronydom is spreading. One terrifying “State of the Herd” survey estimates that there are as many as 12.4 million, which if true would mean that if Bronies had their own state, it would be the seventh most populous in the nation.

During three days of BronyCon, I have occasion to meet all manner of Bronies and their stable-mates. There’s Sam Miller, who teaches communications at the University of North Dakota, and who studies them. He tells a roomful of Bronies, from the dispassionate vantage of academe, that “you guys are doing something powerful. .  .  . You’re pushing the envelope of what gender is supposed to do. That’s awesome.” Then there’s Dr. Katia Perea, who teaches sociology/queer media studies at CUNY Kingsborough. A roomful of pony-ears and manes bob in agreement, as she lectures on the historic sweep of “girl cartoons” which she has extensively studied. She drops academese like “transgressing gender normative coding” and “the master/slave dialectic.” When she finally speaks English, it is to tell the Bronies, “You are a revolutionary movement in popular culture.”

There’s the long-haired heavy metal guitar player Dustin Randolph, aka Dr. Tiny, who has a Friendship Is Magic shirt, but with the design of Led Zeppelin’s “Swan Song” logo. Bronies are notorious for creating hundreds of thousands of pieces of fan art, from drawings to music, and Dustin has suffered for his, having been booted from his original band, Hexorine, just a few weeks ago. “They called me Brony scum,” he says. Now, he plays pony-themed solo tunes, songs such as “Cascadence” and “Alone.”

But one is never truly alone among the Bronyhood, discovering the magic of friendship with bros whose fondest wish is to show off their pony plushy toys, picking their favorite according to which pony’s personality most matches their own. (“I’m a Fluttershy .  .  . but today I’m feeling more like an Applejack.”) I encounter a mustachioed man taking a smoke break on a convention balcony. He’s in pony ears and tail, holding an MLP lunchbox. The name is Moonlight Blossom, he says (his pony alias). Mr. Blossom is a 37-year-old senior network administrator.

He says the notion that Bronydom infantilizes grown men like him is “horse apples.” If it’s rebelling against anything, “it’s against excessive cynicism and irony and people not being kind to each other.” Take his ex-girlfriend, for starters. Like MLP’s evil Queen Chrysalis, he says, she “sucks the life out of people by chewing up their love.” She nearly ruined him and sent him spiraling into depression, until he saddled up with the Bronies. So the show isn’t just for effeminized guys who don’t like the company of women, he’ll have me know. “Close to the end of season two, there’s a massive fight scene, okay?”

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