Today's My Little Pony is totally different from what you grew up with in the '80s, and it isn't just that you're no longer interested in brushing a plastic pony's mane for hours. When the franchise was rebooted last year with the TV show My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, it developed an unlikely fanbase: "Bronies," or adult male fans. Like an animated, girls' version of Bridesmaids (with less diarrhea jokes, presumably), the series proves that men will watch a high-quality program targeted to women, even if it's overloaded with pink and sparkles.
The New York Observer tells the unlikely tale of how the charming 4chan cesspool inspired a legion of men to begin following the adventures of characters like Twilight Sparkle and Rainbow Dash. Shortly after the show (which, true to its origins, still exists in part to sell Hasbro toys) premiered on The Hub in October, an article about the show was posted on the 4chan comics and cartoons message board /co/. According to fan Nanashi Tanaka, "We were going to make fun of it, but instead everybody got hooked. And then the first pony threads exploded."
Soon the mostly-male commenters, who developed the term Brony from "bro pony," were posting about the show thousands of times a day, and even taking their discussion of Applejack and Pinkie Pie's latest exploits to the infamous /b/ board. Big-eyed, pastel-colored cartoon ponies who talk about friendship are the antithesis of everything /b/ stands for, and thus a civil war broke out on the boards. The denizens of /b/ fought back against the influx of ponydom with bannings and the usual photos of hardcore sex acts and dead things, which would traumatize the average internet user for life. According to Know Your Meme, the Bronies adopted a surprising mantra: "I'm gonna' love and tolerate the shit outta you." Fans responded to hate by calmly working around bannings and posting even more pony pictures, enraging their /b/ opponents even further. Eventually things died down when the creator of 4chan acknowledged the popularity of ponies on the boards. Says fan Sam Levine:
"My Little Pony is the only group to take on 4chan and win. 4chan once took on the F.B.I. and won. So you might say that My Little Pony is more powerful than the F.B.I."
The show's first season ended last month and by now Bronies have moved on to other Pony-centric fansites. Many say they're not ready to share their love of My Little Pony with the world yet, and not just because it's girly. In fact, though male Bronies have drawn the most attention, the Observer estimates that about a quarter of adult fans are women.
Understandably, fans of both genders don't want to advertise to everyone at work that they create fan art, post YouTube parodies, and collect merchandise related to a children's show. Bronies say they're drawn to My Little Pony because the plots, characters, and animation rise above the level of your average kids' show — and that's exactly what creator Lauren Faust intended. Faust was a writer and storyboard artist on The Powerpuff Girls and wanted to make another show children and adults could enjoy. Though, she recently told Wired she never expected this response:
"This might be a little short-sighted on my part, but I just assumed that any adult man who didn't have a little girl wouldn't even give it a try ... The fact that they did and that they were open-minded and cool enough and secure in their masculinity enough to embrace it and love it and go online and talk about how much they love it - I'm kind of proud."
The Hub has embraced Bronies in it's marketing, and hopefully other executives are taking note. They key to a successful children's program isn't churning out increasingly stereotyped shows in which girls pretend to be princesses and frolic with woodland creatures while boys fight and play with cars (or fight with robots that turn into cars). Men aren't allergic to everything aimed at women, and with interesting characters and plots (and a dose of '80s nostalgia) people of all ages, and genders, are likely to become fans.