Look at any of the ‘about me’ sections here on my blog, my website, or Facebook page and you’ll see that I self-identify as a ‘fanboy.’ I am not ashamed to admit that I, as a grown man, love things like Transformers, Doctor Who, Star Trek, and any number of others.
Back in 2010 we saw the emergence of yet another type of fandom, this one stemming from Hasbro’s G4 reboot of the My Little Pony franchise. This caused a bit of a stir, however; some of the fans of the show were males of college age or older, calling themselves “Bronies.” While the term has since come to encompass female fans of the show as well, it’s not always easy to separate the ‘bro’ out of brony in the public consciousness.
So, we have grown men who are fans of a cartoon meant for little girls. Give that a moment’s consideration, folks. Does the idea of such a thing give you a twinge of doubt, or pause, or even make you a shade uncomfortable? If so, you might ponder why that is. I’ve given the subject a bit of thought myself, and here’s what I’ve found.
Let’s break this down to its elemental components. The factors that play a part here are gender, age, and fandom. Let’s explore a few examples:
Female + Age 8 + My Little Pony = Totally okay.
Male + Age 3 + My Little Pony = Okay, but he’ll grow out of it.
Female + Age 36 + Transformers = I wore parachute pants, too!
Male + Age 36 + Transformers = Oh, you’re a collector?
Female + Age 36 + My Little Pony = I still have my stuffed animals, too.
Male + Age 36 + My Little Pony = Ewww…pervert.
It’s that last combination that doesn’t jive with many of our notions of gender roles and age appropriateness. While a boy might be able to like a girl’s show when he’s little and doesn’t know the difference, he had better be playing with Tonka trucks and action figures by about age 7 and beyond.
Ask yourself: is it really fair to think of female Transformers fans as an interesting anomaly, while male My Little Pony fans are somehow an aberration? Where is it written that you can only like something if you’re part of the target demographic? It’s a double-standard that fandom in general doesn’t need, and it should be eradicated whenever possible.
Why is that?
Apples to Apples:
While I can understand why the general public might immediately balk at the idea of Bronies, the most unsettling part of this story to me is the negative treatment Bronies have received from members of other fandoms.
Nerd/geek/fanboy demi-god Wil Wheaton once said, and I’m paraphrasing: “Fandom is about loving something, and not being apologetic about it.” If you’re a die-hard fan, it means you love something much more than the average person sitting next to you on the train. Maybe it’s the Philadelphia Eagles, or comic books, or Stars Wars. It doesn’t matter. One type of fandom is not inherently better or worse than any other.
Who knows why you love it so much. The reasons why are irrelevant; you love it, and as Wheaton said, you shouldn’t be apologetic about it. It is absolutely absurd for a bare-chested man, painted in green and yellow, sporting a headpiece shaped like a wedge of cheese, to look down on a woman who cosplays David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor. The same goes for a man dressed as a Klingon ripping on another man for attending a con dressed as Rainbow Dash.
It’s all a kind of silliness when we step back and look at it, so why do we feel the need to judge anyone for it? There’s also another aspect to this to consider.
We Get Enough Shame As It Is:
Story time: when I was in high-school, I used be made fun of for being (amongst other things) a Star Trek fan. I won’t lie, it hurt. At the time, I couldn’t understand why my love for something was of any interest to them. What did it matter? Why did they feel the need to belittle me over something I liked? I just didn’t get it.
But now I realize that they were all simply outsiders to the fandom I cherished. If they had had any inkling of what the franchise, the characters, and the lessons in humanity meant to me on a personal level, or better yet, if we had shared some of those experiences in some way, perhaps they would understand why I was winning Trek trivia contests at cons by the age of 14.
Truth is, if you’re a huge fan of something, someone out there will not hesitate to tell you how stupid it is and why you’re an idiot for liking it. If we as fans are already going to get shame from outsiders, why would we ever consider doing that to another group within fandom itself? It’s pointless and self-defeating. We Whovians, Warsies, Trekkies (or Trekkers, if you prefer), Tributes, Gaimanites and Whedonites, et al. have got to stick together.
If you still don’t know what to make of the Brony phenomenon, the best thing to do is actually check out the show, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. It’s on Netflix. Start from Season 1 and work your way up from there. Educate yourself about it, I dare you. Go listen to the songs “Winter Wrap-up” or “Hearts Strong As Horses” or “Play Your Part” and tell me there’s not something to it.
As I said, I was skeptical of it at first, but then I realized I was guilty of the same crimes against fandom that I described above. So I watched it – all of it – and found that it was a show with well-developed characters (portrayed by a stellar VA cast), great world-building, fun and engaging adventures, and more than a little commentary about the nature of friendship itself. I think those are things that any age group or gender can appreciate.
We live in the era of dark, Nolan-esque, gritty reboots, a product of our post-9/11 society. You can see it in James Bond, The Man of Steel, Batman, oh and Transformers. In amongst all the needless collateral damage and blaring “Bwwaaaahhs” in the soundtrack, is it really that hard to believe fans might seek out something more positive and inspirational?
And, in the end, why should we deny anyone that?