Each day, Belmont student, Steven Palmer, unwinds by watching animated ponies have magical adventures.
The 22-year-old liberal studies student loves “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic,” and he’s not alone. He’s part of a growing group of “bronies” (“bro ponies”)—men who are fans of a TV show largely intended for a much younger female audience.
“A friend sent me a link to a video of the show and I thought it was ridiculous. But after I watched it I thought it was actually pretty cool. I was really into it,” said Palmer.
“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” seems like an unlikely object of fan-boy love. But since the show re-debuted in 2010, it’s attracted a growing number of male fanatics. In addition to watching the show, these teenage, 20- and 30- something males are creating pony art, posting fan videos on YouTube and feeding threads on forums and blogs.
A self-proclaimed brony, Palmer also admits to owning a large amount of My Little Pony merchandise.
“I actually just went to Hot Topic the other week and dropped $125 on My Little Pony products.”
Palmer carries a My Little Pony keychain on his messenger bag, wears pins with the cartoon characters on his hats, and even has a hooded sweater with ears on the hood to emulate the animated ponies.
But just how big is the brony fan base getting on Belmont’s campus?
“It’s definitely coming up above ground,” said Belmont student, Andrew Wall, 21.
Although Wall himself is not a brony, he claims to have a handful of friends who belong to this growing culture. He says the brony culture stands for so much more than a love for cartoon ponies.
“Bronies challenge the traditional view of masculinity and what it means to be a man. Here we have college-aged heterosexual males embracing and joining a culture that is normally viewed as exclusive to young girls and families,” said Wall.
One of the biggest heroines among bronies is Lauren Faust, 38, the creator behind the show, according to Palmer. Prior to her creation of “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic,” Faust was a writer and storyboard artist on “The Powerpuff Girls,” another show that had appeal way beyond its intended demographic.
“One of Faust’s goals in creating the series was to challenge the established “girly” nature of the toy line by creating characters with depth and stories with a real sense of adventure. The underlying life lessons lurking beneath the jokes and song and dance numbers are universal ones,” said Palmer.
“She definitely set the stage for the challenge of what masculinity and femininity means in our society. I mean, you can see how strong and powerful the Powerpuff Girls were, even though they were made of sugar, and spice, and everything nice.”
But other people outside of the brony culture are less convinced.
“I don’t know. To be honest, it’s a little weird,” said Belmont student, Jade Tucker, 20. “I understand and commend the gender thing, but I’m a 20-year-old young adult female and I don’t watch the show. If I did that might still be considered odd.”
Tucker is not alone in her objection. Just as forums have been created in support of the brony community, blogs have also been established to bash the small, but growing, group.
In the world of the Internet, bronies are considered to be the black sheep of the family, demonstrating that even in a virtual world where nearly anything can happen, accepted standards for gender still hold firm.
“I think the hate stems from the challenging of the status quo, the blurring of gender lines. This isn’t the sort of entertainment men traditionally flock to. Men should be out at bars, downing beers and hollering at women, not collecting pink toys and making friends on the Internet,” said Wall in defense of the brony culture.
Palmer is open about how society’s gender roles also caused him to question the normality of his hobby.
“People who don’t know anything about it make fun of it, but if they watch it they kind of like it. When I first realized that was really enjoying the show, I was kind of conflicted by it,” said Palmer.
“As a straight male, I was fully aware that my enjoyment of the show and brand was generally not normal. But maybe this is all part of the point Lauren [Faust] is trying to make.”
Palmer soon abandoned any sense of shame he had for his adoration of the animated TV show.
Despite an unspoken understanding that some people might be surprised by their choice of entertainment, most bronies show little to no hesitation about their fandom.
Bronies, like Palmer, argue that the appeal of the show comes from what it aims to teach.
“I’m into it is because it’s just a really moral show,” said Palmer. “It focuses on friendship and the material is valuable for any age group.”