What do we do about a boy who likes pretty pastel ponies? Well, what do we do about the thousands of boys (and men!) who like pretty pastel ponies?
It's time to talk about bronies! For those who don't know who they are, bronies are male fans of the show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, a reboot launched in 2010 of the popular cartoon/toy from the 1980s. Despite ostensibly being girl-centric, the show has garnered a significant cult following among guys—not just boys but men. There's even a documentary about them, and they have their own conventions.
Bronies ended up in the news this week as 9-year-old Grayson Bruce found himself bullied for carrying his backpack emblazoned with flying pony Rainbow Dash at his elementary school in Buncombe County, N.C. The school initially responded to the bullying by banning the kid from carrying the bag, saying it "triggered" bullying, granting his schoolmates a heckler's veto rather than dealing with inappropriate behavior. His mother responded by yanking Grayson out of school and homeschooling him.
The school got a lot of negative publicity over the decision and now they're backing off. According to USA Today, the school will let Grayson bring his bag to school and work on initiatives to address bullying.
So why are bronies, anyway? When the phenomenon developed, I hunted down the first two episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic on YouTube. I didn't find the show compelling enough to start watching but it definitely had decent depth, characterization, and humor. If there's one thing I'm envious of millennials (and the generation after them) for it's how much better cartoons have gotten, starting around the mid-1990s. My god, cartoons during the Gen X-era were so awful. I think the current animation renaissance is in part created by Gen-Xers who didn't want their kids to have to sit through the same mindless crap.
But that doesn't really answer the bronie question, does it? I think bronies are a reflection of a show that acknowledges that girls like girly things and objects (like ponies) but that doesn't mean girls aren't interested in interesting stories, adventure, danger, and fun. I recall watching a number of girl-oriented cartoons and found them to be dreadful, unfunny affairs. They all felt like they were being written by Marge Simpson. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic presents the idea of a show targeting girls that can also be funny, zany, and adventurous.
The press coverage of bronies seems to suggest a generation of young men who are just more sensitive and care more and face criticism for it. While that may be true, I think such an argument downplays the idea that perhaps entertainment that targets girls is improving, and because the show treats girls like they also enjoy adventures and fun, it's naturally going to start drawing in guys as well. It's probably an important lesson for everybody working in entertainment.