Members of the Brony community share how their online and offline relationships will continue long after the show?s final season
BronyCon 2014 (Wikimedia Commons)
When many people think of My Little Pony, they think of commercials from their childhood in which young girls comb the hair of plastic, multi-colored ponies. They may even be able to hum the theme song: ?My Little Pony, My Little Pony. What is friendship all about?? What they may not know, though, is that in addition to toys, the franchise has a TV show called ?My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic? that has given rise to a community of a very loyal, mainly male fans.
Members of the fandom are called ?Bronies,? for the community?s largely male ? or ?bro? ? constituency. The 2014 Herd Census, which surveyed 21,686 Bronies about topics including their income, sexual identity, relationship status, education level and consumer tendencies, found that more than 80 percent of My Little Pony fans identify as male. This same survey found that 70 percent of respondents watch ?My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,? the show at the center of the fandom, at least once a week, with 10 percent watching it every day.
Last week, fans officially learned that they will have to say goodbye to the characters of Pinkie Pie, Fluttershy, Rarity, Twilight Sparkle, Applejack and Rainbow Dash after the show?s upcoming final season. The product?s Facebook page, which includes fans of the cartoons, toys and merchandise, announced to its more than 1 million followers that the show?s ninth season, set to air in 2019, will be the last.
Despite its ending, the company urges that ?this is definitely not the end for My Little Pony ? in fact, it?s just the beginning!? And many bronies agree. One Facebook user wrote that ?this is not the end. It is just the point that the story stops being told, and another begins.? Another said that they ?had a great ride [and] cannot wait for the future of My Little Pony.? Although both the show and BronyCon, the fandom?s biggest convention, will end in 2019, Bronies say their community will continue because of the relationships they?ve built both online and offline.
Brony James Udan plans to continue his contributions to the community after the show and its conventions end by continuing to host in-person meetups. Udan, an army veteran and currently contracted employee of a medical device company in San Diego, has spoken on Brony panels at Comic Con multiple times and has been an event coordinator for a group called the SoCal Bronies since 2014. Over the years, he has hosted fan meetups ranging from barbeques to hikes to karaoke. The SoCal Bronies have had 76 potlucks to date.
Bronies 2018 meetup in San Diego (Wikimedia Commons).
Despite its loyal core following, Udan says the fandom has been declining in recent years. From his experience, it peaked in 2015, when about 150 people would come to the SoCal Bronies meetups. Now, Udan?s meetups have about a dozen attendees. He attributes decreasing numbers to an aging fanbase.
?[Brony culture] seen a decline as the fandom has gotten older and they?ve moved on with their lives or moved on to different interests,? Udan said. ?As people mature and move into different stages in their life, the amount of time that they have to devote to their interests decreases or their interests change as people do.?
Even though fewer people are attending his Brony events and he predicts a further decline once the show ends, Udan says those who do come are as dedicated to the fandom as ever.
?Members of the community [who] continue to show up are made up of really good people who really enjoy the fandom and are supportive of one another,? Udan said. ?Even though some of them have stopped actively watching the show, they they?ve built friendships and bonds through the fandom that have remained even as the show ends.?
According to the Herd Census, even though Bronies like Udan plan gatherings and thousands of bronies attend conventions like the annual BronyCon, 70 percent of census respondents say they have never attended an in-person meetup and only interact with the community online.
Dmitri Williams, an expert in online communities who has been studying their psychology and makeup for more than 15 years, says that although the majority of Bronies have never been to a meetup, the number of members who had is surprisingly high.
?Consider the psychological and logistical barriers to meeting up with someone you met online,? he said. ?To have 30 percent of people actually go and meet up with someone, that?s pretty high. Sounds like a healthier and more supportive community than average to me.?
Even though Udan plans meetups, he recognizes that the internet will play a large role in maintaining the community after the show?s ninth season.
?The thing that drives the community now? is content creation,? he said. ?The fandom is amazingly quick in creating its own content and responding to the show, whether it be drawings or memes or videos or music or plushies or figurines or T-shirts.?
One Brony who falls into the 70 percent who only contribute to the community online is 37-year-old Tom Harmon of Olney, Illinois. Harmon grew up surrounded by ponies in his small farmtown, and he now works part-time at a ranch for professional show horses. He was first attracted to the show because of his involvement in the equestrian industry, and he grew to love it for its content and design.
?I like the the animation, and I love the storytelling,? Harmon said. ?It?s one of those things that you?re just drawn to it; you don?t have an explanation for it, and you can?t put it in words.?
Since becoming a Brony about five years ago, Harmon has joined more than 60 Brony-based Facebook groups and participates by posting original memes about the show?s characters.
?It?s a hobby of mine,? Harmon said of meme-making. ?I?ll be at work just messing around and a funny idea will pop into my head where, ?Well, that?d be funny if Pinkie Pie would say this?? And then I?d go home, and I?d look for these pictures that match up with my idea.?
Yet, despite his involvement in the Brony community, which includes his online posts and making his pet horse Peaches resemble Applejack for kids at the ranch, Harmon has never gone to an in-person meetup.
Harmon with Peaches, who he has dressed up like ?My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic? character Applejack
?I?ve got more Brony friends online than I do in real life,? he said. ?I don?t get out in the real world and talk to a lot of people about it because it?s like a very small community around here? but I got regular people that like my memes and stuff and just like Facebook friends and all that.?
Harmon is saving up to attend the BronyCon convention in Baltimore this August because like the show, it?ll be the last, and he wants to attend panels about the animation and meet the voice actors of ?My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.? But he says that regardless of whether or not he makes it to the convention, the final season or final convention won?t stop him from contributing to online Brony groups.
?I make these memes and post them and people like them,? he said. ?I?ll keep posting them as long as people like them.?
Williams says that based on other online communities he?s studied, Bronies have little trouble keeping their community alive.
?I think they?re safe because of the material and the morals,? he said. ?They?re going to be evergreen.?
Both Harmon and Udan cite the morals in the show as a reason for their continued involvement. They both say it?s an overall positive community of which they want to remain a part.
?When life gets you depressed and gets you down, I go home and put on ponies, and it?ll put me in a better mood and make me smile,? Harmon said. ?Especially Pinkie Pie. She?s hilarious.?
Udan, like Harmon, wants to continue contributing to the Brony community because of its message ? show or no show.
?It?s a very positive show with a very positive message that has a lot to do with morals and the ethics,? he said. ?I?ll continue holding fan meetups as long as people show up.?