What’s a ‘Brony?’ You probably don’t want to know
Saturday morning cartoons were a huge part of my childhood.
Despite my sluggishness at having to rise early for school during the week, I had no problem popping out of bed bright and early on a Saturday, tiptoeing downstairs so as not to wake Mom and Dad, sprawling out on our crimson-orange shag carpet as the early morning sunlight filtered through homemade curtains and tuned into one of the three channels we used to get before cable became an affordable luxury.
“Looney Tunes” was a must-see, and to this day I can tell you about Bugs Bunny minutiae most folks have long forgotten or never knew. (Who was the conductor Bugs impersonated in “Long-Haired Hare” that caused opera singer Giovanni Jones’s head to explode? Leopold Stokowski. What’s the name of the big furry orange critter to whom Bugs gives a manicure while crooning about “monsters?” Gossamer.) Being a voracious comic book reader, I tried not to miss a single episode of “The Super Friends,” and to this day feel it was a superior show starting in 1978 with the introduction of the Legion of Doom and an expanded lineup of heroes. (Although to this day, I can’t figure out what the heck Apache Chief used to yell before turning into a giant. Or why he never seemed to learn proper English.)
“Captain Caveman.” “Scooby-Doo.” “Hong Kong Phooey.” “The Great Grape Ape Show.” “Johnny Quest.” “The Herculoids.” I loved them all, and when I happen to flip channels on Saturday mornings these days, I miss my old friends. What’s aired instead is a pale imitation of the adventures that enthralled my brother and I. I have no doubt they’re entertaining to kids today, and perhaps it’s my own childhood that I mourn more so than the quality of the shows themselves.
One cartoon that aired after I was grown, however, was “My Little Pony.” The first cartoon didn’t hit the networks until 1992, the year before I graduated from college, and from everything I could tell, it was a show and a line of toys marketed to girls. Which is why I was so thoroughly fascinated (and slightly creeped out) by a group of fans who call themselves “Bronies.”
Apparently — and I am not making this up — when “My Little Pony” was retooled in 2010, and a new program titled “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic” was launched in 2010, it found an unlikely group of fans in guys, ages 13 to 35. They started calling themselves “bronies” — a portmanteau of “bro” and “pony” — and apparently fell in love with the themes of loyalty, friendship and sincerity in the program.
They attend conventions like BronyCon, where they dress up as their favorite My Little Pony characters. They attend panels, fawn over the voice-over actors and in general declare their love for the program without shame or modesty. On one hand, I applaud their bravery in the face of today’s ironic-hipster cynicism, which seems to deride everything popular and turn it into a laughingstock. I admire their courage in declaring their admiration and abiding affection for a cartoon originally meant to make little girls buy cherubic toy ponies with brightly colored hair they can comb. I give them a thumbs-up for bucking the machismo system that clearly defines gender roles and what is acceptable material in which grown men can find joy and entertainment.
But I still can’t quite wrap my head around it. Are there no other models of love and tolerance and friendship that can inspire us, as grown men, beyond a collection of toy ponies marketed to small female children? (And as long as we’re talking about the toys, let’s be honest: They’re not even well-designed ponies, in the realistic sense of the word. They’re cute, animated, wide-eyed beasts from a 6-year-old’s fairy tale, not the playful, prancing beasts that grow up to become powerful, majestic animals.)
It’s very difficult, mind you, not to make jokes about how guys attending BronyCon probably have to embrace their inner ponies because they won’t be getting embraces from girlfriends or wives anytime soon. It’s hard not to mock with gleeful derision such a comical, laughable and rather disconcerting hobby.
Of course, I could choose to go the other direction and quote the great C.S. Lewis, who once wrote, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest,” and, “No book is really worth reading at the age of 10 which is not equally — and often far more — worth reading at the age of 50 and beyond.”
Lewis understood the importance of embracing one’s inner child, of never truly growing up — at least not in a way that precludes belief in the possibilities for wonder and magic that exist as they did when we’re kids. Huzzah to him.
But “The Chronicles of Narnia,” this ain’t. And I suspect if he had lived to see how much children’s fantasy has deteriorated into the sad state of affairs it appears to be from my vantage point — “My Little Pony” and all the rest — he would write an eighth Narnia novel.
In it, Aslan would change his diet and lay waste to the tripe that so much of children’s popular culture has become. And I have a feeling that pony would be on the menu.
Steve Wildsmith is the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (firstname.lastname@example.org) or at 981-1144.