Maybe you've heard of Bronies, a worldwide community of grown-up (and teenage) men who get super into the updated, vaguely insectoid incarnation of the '80s cartoon My Little Pony. The Bronies come together at conferences, where they're able to bro out over topics like "cutie marks," discuss "The Elements of Harmony" over a brewsky and let their Brony flags fly, all without shame or fear of persecution.
Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony, a 2012 documentary directed by Laurent Malaquais, ventures into the strange world of the Bronies to find out who these guys are and what it is they like so much about a bunch of wide-eyed, rainbowed-out cartoon horses. But while the Brony nomenclature brings to mind a bunch of Jeff Spicoli types who get stoned, shotgun beers and brush their dolls' multihued hair, the film instead reveals a group of enthusiasts who will be familiar to anyone who's ever been to a comic book or fantasy convention.
In many ways Brony culture looks just like other types of fandom, but this documentary suggests that Bronies are unique in the way they grapple with questions of masculinity. After all, it's one of the few fandoms out there that has both a gender identity and a gender ethos baked into its very name. As a Brony, you're not just a pony lover. You're not even just a guy: you're a bro. And while much is made of the fact that these pretty Ponies are, you know, for girls, one begins to wonder exactly what makes that the case. Why are pastel colors, winged horses and sparklies all de facto signifiers of femininity if a bunch of dudes who are going crazy over the stuff? Are Bronies redefining what it means to be a man?
Well, maybe and maybe not. But in a culture in which straight men can't quite figure out how to make friends without being, uh, totally gay, there's something sweet and hopeful about a convention center full of men brimming with evangelical zeal over a show that imparts remedial-level lessons about the value of friendship.
What do you think? Is it friendship and connection that Bronies gravitate toward? Or is it something else?
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Bennett Madison is the author of several novels for young people, including
September Girls (HarperCollins 2013) and The Blonde of the Joke. He lives
in Brooklyn, New York.