Adult male fans of My Little Pony are people, too.
That’s the crux of A Brony Tale, a documentary that takes you inside the unusual and unexpected community of grown men who live and breathe everything related to Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and the rest of the pastel-colored animated equine friends. For the uninitiated, My Little Pony is a toy and merchandise enterprise that first became popular in the ’80s, but experienced resurgence in 2010 when the animated series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic popularized the franchise for a new generation of little girls. And also, apparently, adult men.
These adult men call themselves Bronies. And they’re not what you think.
They’re not overly effeminate. Many aren’t gay. They aren’t predatory, or even being ironic. They are just guys. Dudes. Dudes who like My Little Pony.
Just take it from “Dustykatt,” the pseudonym for the first brony we meet in A Brony Tale, and the self-described “manliest” brony in the world. “I can build a custom motorcycle from scratch, can weld, and worked as a lube guy at a GM dealership,” Dustykatt says. “And on top of that, I watch a show for little girls.”
And he’s not alone. There is an entire online community of Bronies that has blossomed out of the message boards and fan sites and into the real world. The BronyCon convention planned for August already has 10,000 confirmed attendees.
There are many misconceptions about the Brony community that A Brony Tell sets out to dispel, and among them is how the community started, and how they got their name. Surprisingly, and against what most think, “Brony” isn’t a combination of “bro” and “pony.” The name actually comes from where the movement began, on the web community 4chan.
Back in October 2010, near when My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic premiered, a few people, likely guys who stumbled upon the show or were forced to watch it with a daughter or a niece, posted on the 4chan boards that the show was actually quite good. They became a micro-community, discussing and praising the show. Soon, others came across the group and decided to check out the show to see if it was as good as they said it was. Then they started posting about it, too. So the name actually comes from where the community started, on the “b” 4chan message boards. Bronies.
“What we realized when filming this is that Bronies isn’t about guys liking a girl’s show—it’s about the community they’ve created,” Brent Hodge, the filmmaker behind A Brony Tale, tells The Daily Beast. “That’s a big line for the Bronies: ‘We came for the show but stayed for the community.’”
But “coming for the show” is the interesting thing here, and the thing that most people are having a hard time wrapping their brain around. Even Ashleigh Ball, who voices the characters of Applejack and Rainbow Dash on the My Little Pony series, agrees: “The pervert alarm definitely went off in my head when I first about it,” she says in the documentary. In the film, Ball serves as our entryway into the Brony community—the rational, skeptical voice who needs to be convinced that these guys aren’t creepy wackos, that they come from a pure, fun place that makes their movement worth embracing.
“It was weird,” Ball tells The Daily Beast, recounting when she first heard about the Bronies. “Because it wasn’t the intention of the series. It wasn’t for adult men. It was for little girls. But everyone involved in the series, from Hasbro to the studio, everyone, has really learned to embrace it.” Ball now regularly attends BronyCon conventions. And she loves her Bronies.
There’s undeniably a barrier to get through before one can accept the Bronies, and it probably has a lot to do with the earnestness with which they fawn over My Little Pony. They are truly fans. Like, big fans. They think it’s the greatest thing, and they think that authentically. As a culture, we’re perfectly accepting of fandoms of embarrassing, slight, or silly things, particularly when they go against others’ perceptions of what you might like. Are you a physics professor who loves Real Housewives? How fun! But only as long as you call that fandom a “guilty pleasure.”
The Bronies, however, aren’t guilty about it. Oh my, they are so not guilty about it.
Hearing them rave about the quality of the My Little Pony series, you’d think they were talking about Citizen Kane. “Every character doesn’t have the answer,” Dustykatt says. “They have to find the answer. They have to learn from their mistakes. That’s what draws me to My Little Pony. You have a character-driven story, where characters have to learn from their mistakes and grow.”
Online, these men dissect plot points and bits of dialogues for meaning with the same rigor and enthusiasm as people do with episodes of Mad Men or Game of Thrones. They create their own original songs about the series, and animated videos in homage to it that are more sophisticated than the show itself. Their wardrobes are decked out in Pony merchandise. Rainbow Dash tattoos aren’t rare, either. (Once a man asked Ball to sign his back and then had her signature immediately tattooed.)
Then there’s the testimonials she hears all the time when fans reach out to her. “It’s really weird to hear them talk about, like, Episode 4, Season 3 when Rainbow Dash gets sonic rain boom, and they’re like, ‘After watching that I was able to show emotions again!’” she remembers. “You’re like…‘What? You took that much from it?’”
That there’s a stigma about Bronies is something the community itself is certainly aware of. One Brony, named Steven, even talks about it in the documentary, describing what it’s like when he goes shopping for My Little Pony merchandise for his collection at kids’ toy stores.
“Just me standing in the aisle to begin with, there might be a mother and her daughter, looking down this aisle and see an older guy looking through pony toys,” he says in the film. “It’s programmed in their mind to jump to the worst-case scenario, which might be, you know, ‘Oh, he’s a pedophile or he’s a big old man child or something is wrong with him.’”
But, overwhelmingly, Bronies are harmless. Friendly, even, and certainly welcoming.
When you’re a filmmaker, a journalist, or anyone asking for someone’s precious time, you’re usually lucky to get 15 or 20 minutes from most people. But, as we’ve learned, bronies are not like most people.
“These guys picked me up at the airport, took me to their favorite restaurants, and then they wanted to be friends!” says Hodge. “That’s what these guys stand for. ‘Friendship is magic.’” Ha! That’s nice in theory, but there was really nothing strange or unusual about the interactions? “They just want to be friends,” Hodge says. “It took me a while understand, ‘What’s the catch here?’ But they just took me under their wings. Under their Pegasus wings.”
So why the misconception about what the Bronies are, and what they stand for? Hodge traveled the country, hanging out with dozens and dozens of Bronies. His best guess: stereotypes. “Growing up, you’d get a Happy Meal and the guys get the car toys and the girls get My Little Pony,” he says. “With A Brony Tale, we’re trying to show that it’s time to break that stereotype apart and mix it up again.”
Dustykatt, at the very least, would be more than happy with that. Not that he cares what you think.
“I love My Little Pony. I love what it does. I love the message it sends,” he says in A Brony Tale. “And I want to be a part of it and I want to be able to play in that universe. We’re supposed to chug beer, ride motorcycles, be degrading to women, and like explosions. That’s what’s ingrained in our brains from the minute you’re born and put in a crib. Well, I like what I like. I don’t need society to tell me what I like. And that’s all there is to it.”
Then Dustykatt, the manliest Brony in the world, drinks a beer.