I love My Little Pony.
When I was little, I was obsessed. I had the toys, and the Dream Castle, and watched the TV show, and read the comics, and wrote My Little Pony fanfiction -- complete with illustrations -- in a special notebook. I grew up and moved on (to other obsessions, of course), but I still bought a pony from the supermarket as a good luck, anti-stress totem before my sophomore year of college.
Then My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic started, and as the whole internet seemed to go crazy over it, I decided to watch. And fell in love. It was cute and sweet and endlessly optimistic. It was a popular children's tv show aimed at girls, about friendship between varied, non-cliche female characters, and it was intelligent and funny and generally fantastic. Just what children's cartoons need to provide to young girls, and just what a college senior needs during her thesis-writing breaks.
And, as an added bonus, guys loved the show. This cute "girly" cartoon was breaking gender boundaries. Guys were proud to watch it. When I went to London Film and Comic Con, my male friends wore pins of their favorite ponies on their lapels.The existance of male fans does not validate the show or make it better, but it's refreshing to see guys embracing something that's labelled "girly" when girly is so often used to mean "bad."
So I thought. But although there are plenty of lovely, mature "Bronies" (my friends, of course, being two of them), there are also many individuals whose behavior is, quite frankly, disturbing.
The latest controversy, which has got me quite riled up, happened at the Everfree Northwest Convention last weekend. Tumblr user mjolkk has a recap of events here (TW: just... everything. Rape, molestation, sexism, racism, transphobia, general hate).
Transcript and discussion under the cut, with the same trigger warnings.
askjoehoofer asked: We still love you. You just need to learn to be a nice person. I'll give you time.
cw: slurs, transphobia, racism, sexism, rape culture
And bronies need to learn not to use the N word.
And not to make rape jokes.
And not to call cosplayers cunts for not allowing them to take photos groping them.
And not to openly mock transgender individuals.
And not to make molestation jokes around the underage voice actresses.
And not to heckle hotel staff when they politely ask them to stop screaming Winter Wrap Up at three in the morning.
And not to sneer at “casual” fans who are there for the show and not the “Brony Culture™”
And not to pretend to choke strangers working at booths because they don’t like their opinion on something.
And to not make passing sexual advances to cosplayers as they walk by.
And to not complain about the venue being all ages because it interferes with their ability to purchase pornography.
You can call me mean as much as you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that this weekend, I saw some of the most ill-behaved, rude, and disgustingly backwards people. I have been going to conventions for almost ten years now and I have never seen this kind of behavior. I don’t have a problem with the show or a majority of it’s fans, but this convention was ruined for me because not only did this kind of behavior run rampant, but the staff allowed it to do so. When I complained to a staffer about the rape jokes during one of the panels, they just shrugged and told me to deal with it, as it’s “part of the experience.” When I told someone in con-ops that people were yelling some very inappropriate and sexual things at Claire Corlett, they just told me that they couldn’t do anything about it because there were too many people there to find the people responsible.
Are you kidding me? HILARIOUS RAPE is part of the pony experience? And I’m supposed to be okay with that? I’m supposed to be okay that an event that has gone to great lengths promoting itself as family friendly allows their underage guests of honors to be subjected to molestation heckles? You want me to be nice to the people who look at a piece of humanized Twilight Sparkle fanart and call her a nigger because the artist has drawn her as black?
These are the same people who spent all weekend going on and on about magic and friendship and harmony and love and then turn right around and throw around racism, sexism, and rape culture like it’s fucking hilarious.
No. I am not going to learn to be nice to these pieces of human garbage. And I am not going to give Everfree a pass because I know for a fact that multiple people were reporting the bullshit going on at panels and in the halls and no one did anything about it. I will acknowledge that a lot of people worked very hard to put this convention on and I will acknowledge that there were plenty of fine people there, but all of that was out-shined by the fact that this kind of behavior was allowed to happen. When the staff didn’t do anything, other attendees should have stepped up to tell them that it wasn’t okay. You shouldn’t have to fucking tell someone that it’s not funny to make jokes about molesting little girls.
I don’t want you to love me. I don’t want your time. I don’t want anything to do with you or this stupid brony culture shitmess. There is nothing wrong with me— the pony fandom needs to grow up and get some manners.
All in all, pretty appalling stuff. Some of it is stuff you hear about at many cons -- rape jokes, mistreatment of cosplayers and the like. But some of the stuff really raises the bar on appallingness: making molestation jokes at underage voiceactors who you've come to the con to meet? Shouting abuse at cosplayers who won't let you grope them? And after this was posted on the internet, floods of people sent abuse at those who reported it, including rape and death threats.
Because if My Little Pony teaches us anything, it's that we should dogpile and threaten to kill anyone who speaks out against shocking behavior.
I'm at a loss to explain much of this behavior. I would assume that if you're willing to watch and love a show about the trials of friendship between six ponies, you must be a fairly openminded, friendly kind of person.
But being a teen or adult male who watches My Little Pony could also be described as "transgressive," and that, I think, is the problem. There's a sense of rebellion in watching and liking a show aimed at young girls, a feeling that you are throwing society's silly rules to the wind. That you are too cool, too clever, too individual to be held back by ridiculous expectations. That, as a group, you are superior to general, close-minded society.
But that leaves space for other "transgressions." For throwing aside other ridiculous expectations, silly PC things like not making rape jokes, and groping people, and avoiding saying racist things. My Little Pony fandom is a place where BS gender expectations are thrown aside, but that encourages the crazy few who feel held back not by sexism but by general rules of kindness and respect to throw those rules aside as well. It becomes a culture where anything goes, and the sense of progress seen in the broad fanbase becomes poisonous.
The only way to prevent this, it seems, is to prevent liking something "girly" from being transgressive in the first place. To change the idea that a girl who likes feminine things is shallow and stupid, and that a guy who likes feminine things is positively a weak, unmanly freak of nature. If liking whatever you want to like, whether it's fighting robots or friendship-forming unicorns, is acceptable, then breaking other, important social boundaries (like respecting people and not being sexist and racist) will seem less acceptable. Because our social rules will actually all make sense, and no jerk will be able to think that because he gets praise and support for breaking one part of the social code, he can therefore break them all.
As for making that happen... well, if anyone has any bright ideas, please share them with the world. Because I am drawing a blank.
In the meantime, it would be awesome if forum moderators and convention staff would punish those who behave this way, and if community members could stand up to this behavior and make clear that it's not OK without fear of retribution. A culture of transgression and cruelty can only exist if others support or condone that behavior. And despite the sweet, loving origins of this group, that's precisely the sort of culture that has developed.