Friday, June 7, 2013

Fridays are Magic: Being a Fan

I sort of expected Equestria's Middle Easterners
would be camels.
If you're a brony, you're an ambassador for this fandom.

I know.  Maybe you don't want to be.  It's a responsibility you didn't ask for, and honestly, it's really not fair to expect anybody who devotes a reasonable (or unreasonable) amount of time to thinking, writing, or creating art about ponies to also have to shoulder the burden of playing diplomat to the masses.

Nevertheless, it's true.

While the general opinion of bronies seems to have gradually shifted from "those guys are weirdos" to "eh, whatever," one can still stumble into corners of the internet where the mere mention of ponies (cartoon or not) can start a war.  Some of the folks who react so violently are just judgmental idiots, absolutely.  But just as many--perhaps more, based on my anecdotal experience--are just sick and effing tired of bronies forcing their fannishness down everyone's throats.

Pictured: weird.
Yeah, I know the counter-arguments.  "Anime fans do it, too!"  So do Adventure Time fans, so do Whovians, so do Futuramians (my word), so do sports nerds and gun nuts and political junkies and yadda yadda yadda.  The sad fact is, though, that all that other stuff falls well within the realm of cultural acceptability.  Nobody feels threatened by Finn and Jake.  But add Twilight Sparkle into the mix, and suddenly things get weird.

Why?  All I've got are guesses and strawmen, and I might be completely off-base with some of them.  Nevertheless, here's what I think.

First, maybe the most obvious, is that broniness tends to go hand-in-hand with feminism.  Some people are subjected to diatribes about feminism constantly--maybe they read Sinfest, for example--and get snippy whenever someone brings it up.  Others might just listen to Rush
Limbaugh.  Regardless, the mere hint that someone might be about to
lecture them on the idea that women deserve equal respect and treatment puts them on the defensive, and being on the defensive for too long tends to make one snippy and bitter.

Or, maybe the person getting angry is completely respectful of and towards women, but is very defensive about his masculinity.  Mix a spoonful of gynophobia with a dollop of homophobia, and you've got folks who see the pictures of pretty pink ponies and think they're adorable, and who feel very conflicted about that.  Most bronies have experienced at least some inkling of that, I think.  You watch an episode or a clip with a bit of detached irony, telling yourself that you're way too macho to like this girly crap.  And then you're suddenly trying to style a toy Twilight Sparkle's hair to be show-accurate, and you don't know what went wrong.

Third... well, it's the elephant in the room.  We don't like to talk about this.  (Well, most of us don't.  Some of us do, at great length, in some of the darker corners of the fandom.)  Let's just rip the band-aid off, though: some people want to bang ponies.  Some people just want to draw pictures of ponies banging or being banged.  Whatever the case, it's skeevy, and it's sadly prevalent.  Do a Google Image Search for one of the Mane Six with the adult content filter turned off, and it will not be a mistake you make twice.  There's a seedy underbelly to the brony
"You really made that joke?"
community, and just because most of us don't like to talk about it doesn't mean that the rest of the internet isn't aware of it.  If you post a reaction gif of Pinkie Pie blowing someone's mind, at least one person seeing that is going to ask themselves if you want her to blow something else.

But if all of these perceptions are irrational or inaccurate, why should you, as a brony confident in his or her sexuality, care?  Anime fans aren't expected to answer for the weird crap that goes on in hentai.  If someone draws a picture of Matt Smith thrusting into the TARDIS console (I haven't looked, but it has to exist, and he's probably wearing a fez while he does it), Whovians aren't decried as perverts and weirdos.  It's not fair that bronies should be held accountable for the... eccentricities of a particular minority.

You're right.  It's not fair.  And yet, it is what it is.  Railing against it won't help anything; in fact, it probably makes things worse.  Whenever a forum thread or YouTube comments section devolves into a mindless flamewar of "you're homosexual/no you!" between bronies and anti-bronies, the folks who don't particularly care either way are left with the impression that both sides are full of idiots and weirdos.  For the haters, that's a win, because they by-and-large are idiots and weirdos, but for bronies, it's another defeat in the war of public perception.

Whether it's right or not, bronies are viewed with a level of skepticism that other fanbases don't have to deal with.  Thus, the way we present ourselves in public reflects, to some degree, on the community as a whole.

So how do we make a positive impression?  I've got some ideas for that, too.

Do not listen to Trollestia.
She does not want what's best
for you.
For one thing (and believe me, I'm guilty of it, too), stop hijacking non-pony threads and making them about ponies.  Yes, by all means, have a pony as your avatar.  But just leave it there.  You don't need to invade other peoples' discussions to prove that you're a fan.  If you don't have a pony-based avatar but feel strongly enough that you need to jump on any chance to discuss your love of the show, you should really just consider a new avvy.

Second, if you're going to post reaction gifs to something, don't always go with ponies.  If Rarity's exasperated sigh is absolutely perfect for the emotion you're trying to communicate, then yes, use her.  But break it up every now and then.  Come on, if you're enough of a geek that you're posting pictures in a forum thread, you have other areas of interest to draw from.  Change it up every now and then.  Not only will non-bronies appreciate it, but everyone will think better of you for demonstrating that you're not completely obsessed.

Third, and yeah, this one's like asking for world peace and a billion dollars, but try to keep things civil.  Use complete sentences.  Explain your views.  If you're using Twitter or YouTube comments or some other medium with a character limit, try to make your case without coming across as confrontational or superior.  I know this is hard, especially for folks still in their teens--for some reason, raging cauldrons of hormonal stew don't do "reasonable discourse" well--but it's a good skill to practice.  You can never win an argument on the internet, but you can come across as reasonable and sane.  People tend to give your views more credibility that way.

Achievement Unlocked:
Make a Spidey Reference in a
Pony Post
Just remember: if you're willing to proclaim your love for ponies, you're going to be lumped in with the rest of us whether you want to be or not. With moderate amounts of power come moderate amounts of responsibility, and as a brony, you're part of a team that needs every ounce of support it can get.  Maybe it's not fair, but on the flip side?  Every time you act like a decent human being, you're helping your team win.  That's a good feeling.

Anyway.  Thanks for reading my unsolicited advice and rambling.  Hopefully, this might actually be of some help to someone, somewhere.  And if not?  I like to think I just earned a few sanity points for Team Pretty Pastel Ponies.

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