Reflections on BronyCon 2014
I just returned from my first ever fan convention- BronyCon 2014. I spent the weekend posting pictures to my Facebook Account which garnered many likes but prompted the frequent question- What is a Brony? The term “Brony” was coined a few years ago to represent the adult (many of them male) fans of the newest generation of My Little Pony– Friendship Is Magic. The word “Bro” was mashed with “Pony” and the term “Brony” was born. Since it’s inception, the Brony community has expanded to include the entire fandom of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (MLP:FIM) and BronyCon- the convention for these fans is a family friendly event with a little something for everyone.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am not technically a Brony. My husband and I attended the convention with our two daughters (ages 11 and 6) after they begged, pleaded, and nagged us endlessly about going. That said, I have seen episodes of MLP:FIM and am supportive of my kids watching it because it emphasizes the values of friendship (friendship always wins!!), kindness, inclusiveness, and teamwork.
For the most part, the staff, panelists, and Bronies themselves seemed to promote these values too. Attendees enthusiastically supported each other during the open mic event, chatted amiably with each other while waiting for sessions to begin and participants in costume were very generous about allowing people, especially kids, to have their pictures taken with them.
The Brony fandom is diverse and the convention sessions reflected that diversity. There were sessions on making MLP themed plushies and pony ears and creating Cos Play costumes on a shoestring budget. There were panel Q& A’s with show producers, voice actors, and episode directors. We especially enjoyed “Are You Smarter than a 5th Season Producer?” where fans lined up to try to stump the people who write, act, and produce for the show by asking MLP:FIM trivia questions. There were psychology based sessions about bullying, fandom and gender, and creating comprehensive psychological profiles of the ponies. And specifically for the under 12 crowd were sessions such as “Pinkie Pie Party Games,” and “20 questions with Big Macintosh,” and a children’s sing-a-long.
We met Bronies as young as 3 years old and there were some in their fifties and sixties. Bronies, it appears, come in every shape and size, and represent a variety of races and nationalities. They walk on two legs and roll in wheel chairs. They choose costumes without regard to preconceived notion of gender. All of this diversity was embraced and celebrated within the walls of the Baltimore Convention Center. While waiting on line to enter various sessions Bronies would fist bump – I mean hoof bump – each other while chanting “fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun.” All that really mattered was that everyone was having a good time.
No matter where an attendee came from, how old they were, what they looked like, or who they felt was the best pony (Pinkie Pie is a definite fan favorite) everyone seemed to feel validated as an individual. I especially appreciated that questions to panelists asked by children were taken just as seriously as the questions posed by the adults. And I loved watching children turn to the adult Brony next to them and ask, “Who is your favorite pony?” and then get a valid reply. Who would have thought that My Little Pony could be the great equalizer?
I was touched by one of the questions I heard asked at one of the sessions I attended. Leading the session was a panel of four psychologists from different colleges researching the psychology of fandoms and the Brony fandom in particular. A young man stood at the microphone and asked the panel – so many people judge Bronies (and other fandom members) in a negative way. How can we convince people that we have a positive message to share? I immediately thought of something I had overheard that morning while crammed in our hotel elevator. A man staying in the hotel was commenting in a negative way about a boy they had seen dressed as a unicorn as if this was some kind of unspeakable tragedy. When the elevator door opened and they exited, they past a gentleman wearing a cape. The man from the elevator turned around and gestured to his family to look at the costumed gentleman while they rolled their eyes and snickered. I feel like the young man who was asking the question at the convention session was echoing a larger question looming in today’s society which is- How do we get people to approach each other with curiosity instead of judgement? How do we convince people that ‘different’ is not the same as ‘deviant.’ One of the panelists commented that the Brony fandom was the most social and inclusive fandoms she had studied and that she hoped that as the fandom grew and became more well known people would become more receptive to hearing the message of MLP: FIM. I agree but would add that people who participate in fringe cultures, fandoms, or who hold strong opinions outside the mainstream culture are hugely important in expanding the definition of what is considered okay or acceptable by mainstream society. The more people push boundaries, question the norm, and express themselves however they are comfortable doing so, the more inclusive society becomes. As we continue to push and stretch boundaries more and more people move from being considered outsiders to being accepted as ‘normal.’ Eventually, those people who are narrow minded and judgmental will find themselves on the outside looking in.
Ultimately, BronyCon was a fun and educational experience for me and my family. I would love to hear from any Bronies who might be out there reading this. Were you at the convention? Do you think that the Brony fandom is more inclusive and diverse than other fandoms? Anyone thinking that they just might have to check out MLP:FIM when Season 5 eventually airs?