This is why I have begun to reconsider my decision to relocate this blog to the center of the Great Red Spot.
It's also why lately it's been harder and harder to shut out the noise and just enjoy My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Because the raging storm surrounding Bronydom has gotten so loud I can even hear it over the icy winds of Jupiter.
|Pictured: countless, countless terrible decisions.|
I feel compelled to navigate the tempest, though, in part because I want, somehow, to find my way back to a show that I still love but am increasingly alienated from, in part because I feel loyalty toward a show that helped nudge me towards an internal acceptance of my identification as a genderqueer person, and because... well...
Let me put it this way. When the show first came out and Bronydom became a clear, persistent subcultural group on the 'Net, some people thought that, as Tumblr user Rincewitch puts it, "maybe the wider than expected demographic appeal of my little pony is a bellwether for the destigmatization of femininity."
Well, I didn't just think it.
Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote a whole god damn article proclaiming that it was the case, and that My Little Pony would open up a new golden age for feminism as traditional gender roles collapsed like the houses of lies they were!
This is, without a doubt, the single biggest critical blunder I've ever made. Worse than that time I accused Sequart of editorial gender bias, without knowing that their archives had crashed prior to me writing my article, resulting in most of the articles (including all of the ones written by women) being lost. Worse than the time I tried to persuade the Lovecraft subreddit that Cthulhu was boring and overused. Worse than my attempts to shoehorn references to Lord Humongous into all my writing.
I literally could go back in time to the middle of the Somme Valley in 1914 and cheerfully proclaim “This will just be a nice summer war!” and in 1919, as we travel to his place of exile, Kaiser Wilhelm will look me in the eye and you know what he’ll say? You know what he’ll find most pertinent to bring up, what he’ll take the greatest issue with?
He’ll say “Man you sure were dead wrong about Bronydom being a bellweather for the destigmatization of femininity, weren’t you?”
So, all of this in mind, I feel a certain amount of responsibility for the clusterfuck that the tempest within the fandom, and the wider climate instability between the fandom as a whole and its detractors, have become.
In honor of the memory of what the fandom could have been--and, frankly, still is when it's at its absolute best!--I want to try to navigate the storm and provide something like a history of how the fandom foundered, what its challenges were at the outset, and where we might go in building a better fandom.
Trigger warnings for sexism, rape culture, and homophobia.
"This Is Why People Hate Bronies"
Let's start with some important background. I tried explaining this in my first article, but I'm afraid that I didn't really do a particularly good job of it--looking back on it now, with a lot more articles under my belt, my description bumbles around clumsily without ever stating the basic axiom that my whole argument depends upon:
Under patriarchy, qualities, recreational activities, colors, drinks, jobs, &c. &c. that are considered feminine are systematically devalued. For men and women alike, embracing Feminine Stuff is a sign of weakness, poor judgment, and even psychological problems. There's an important intersection here with queer theory, too, where the (mis)identification of men as queer based on feminine attributes can translate to actual violence perpetrated by other males.
All of this is important to understand when discussing bronydom, because the culture has been overshadowed by this problem from the beginning. The community became a pop news phenomenon due to this dynamic (the reaction frequently consisted of astonishment and disbelief that boys and men could like a girl thing) and much of the early backlash consisted of, in essence, a pathologization or rationalization of the behavior. I.E. Bronies were treated as either fundamentally damaged in some way--sexual perverts, pedophiles, fags--or as trolls--fans for ironic reasons, enjoying a girl show in order to piss off other 'Net denizens. I find this reaction interesting and telling on such a large scale, because it mirrors my own experiences as a very obviously queer person. When I present in a feminine way, people have (although not all that often, thankfully) reacted either by treating my actions as incomprehensibly weird and slightly disturbing, or, somewhat more insidiously, by reinterpreting my actions as masculine--i.e. aggressively misidentifying my skirts as kilts.
Pathologization and recontextualization. Those are the two key strategies, I think, that helped shape Bronydom in the early days and pushed it towards disaster.
And I don't think, initially at least, the people responsible came from within the fandom at all. No, the roots of the fandom's problems stem from the hatedom that emerged immediately after the fandom. This is absolutely essential to understanding the current dynamic and the way that outsiders are helping to perpetuate it. I really want to stress here that while I'm disgusted by what's going on within the fandom, I'm particularly irate about the recent angry tirades by outsiders, whenever some new outrageous nonsense emerges from within Bronydom, claiming that "This is why people hate Bronies!"
Because as far as the actual trajectory of the fandom is concerned, they are wrong. Dangerously so. I say dangerously because the erasure of the early reason behind the backlash disguises and tacitly condones the homophobia, transmisogyny, and sexism driving that backlash. What's more, it makes it impossible to discus the origins of the fandom's current problems by--well, wait, let me continue my history for a moment here.
The initial backlash was forceful and violent on the 'Net, the flames of ire urged on by a popular news industry eager to transform the strange into dramatically othered spectacle. We just saw this again recently with the show "My Strange Addiction's" episode dedicated to living dolls and Gothic Lolita, where the interviewees were decieved and made to look mad and perverse. Just do a google search for it and you'll see the kind of fascinated disgust that is the mainstay of such sensationalist reporting: "'My Strange Addiction' Exposes [emphasis mine] Living Dolls" The Wrap oozes, as though revolted and intrigued. This same kind of reporting was going on during the early rise of Bronydom, and the neighsayers (sorry horse puns are like a communicable disease in this fandom) rode this disgust, converting themselves into a pounding cavalry of reactionary propriety, policing the boundaries of proper male behavior with an aggressive zeal that you'd have a hard time finding outside of a middle school.
God, I hated middle school.
And I hate seeing a show and its fandom get trashed for spurious reasons. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who's followed me for a while. It was the driving factor, after all, behind my support of Pacific Rim, of Cloud Atlas, and even of the first Twilight spinoff novel Golden Dusk. If something is getting panned, or even damned with faint praise, I tend to feel compelled to defend that thing.
Such was the case with my first article. Positioning the show as fundamentally feminist, and Bronydom as important from a feminist and queer theoretical perspective, was meant to both support the fandom as worthy of respect and consideration, uncover the unsavory origins of the backlash, and provide a counternarrative to other pop feminist analysis that fundamentally misunderstood the dynamics of the show itself. Later articles were similarly dedicated to uncovering the queer and feminist themes of the show in order to, well, essentially do what critical analysis is meant to do: shore up the value of a particular work from an artistic perspective. That was my way of responding to the vocal hatedom. Other fans responded in similar ways--organizing charities, creating a staggering array of often high quality fan works, and generally finding ways to support one another in a demilitarized way--finding strength in the willingness to stand down from the conflict or fight the conflict obliquely via creative means.
But some fans... did not respond so productively.
Remember that second strategy of recontextualization whereby heteronormativity is preserved in the face of queerness?
Well, some folks within the fandom took recontextualization to an outrageous extreme, and the support walls--the repeated mantra of Love and Tolerate--that the fandom had created to deal with outside attacks transformed into a kind of sealed incubator where the oncoming blight could mature and grow strong.
|It became an... Inkyubeytor. The problems with Bronydom stem from our wish to become magical girls.|
Men's Rights. It's become the central transmission point for a whole range of reactionary political blights on the 'Net. Dedicated to anti-feminism, male supremacy, and a twisted worldview where men must wrest power back from the evil matriarchy that ostensibly runs the Earth, Men's Rights, in combination with disaffected and alienated geeks and intellectuals, has helped drive an entitled backlash against women in male dominated spaces.
The Brony fandom, already committed to accepting everyone, was a perfect vector for infection.
Put yourself in the shoes of the fandom as a whole. Your mode of withstanding attacks from outsiders has centered around being accepting of others. Now, there's voices in the fandom that maybe weird you out a little--voices that assert their hatred of women, voices that, in the act of recontextualization I alluded to earlier, transform watching a show for little girls into the absolute straightest, manliest thing imaginable, voices that objectify and seek to possess female characters and, disturbingly, female fans alike. Voices that increasingly demand that women get out of the fandom.
What do you, the Brony fandom, do?
You do what countless other geek spheres have done.
You close ranks and support these voices against attackers.
You accept them as your own even as they begin, more and more aggressively, to alienate women and queers.
You slowly become them.
Because what else can you do? You've declared your dedication to accepting everyone, to hearing everyone's voice, to seeing their point of view, and, most damningly of all, to not abandon your own to the attacks of outsiders.
I won't say it was impossible, in those early days, to take a different path, but it was certainly difficult, and it was certainly very unlikely that, in the absence of a real understanding of what form the problem was taking, Bronydom could do what, to be really ominous about the whole thing, needed to be done.
In essence, Bronies had to consciously decide to take action and oust members of the community for contributing--perhaps in a very minor and innocuous way, as with the "Bronies are super manly" nonsense!--to an overall slow increase in toxicity. And what's more, they had to identify and remove the spreading infection in a cultural climate where Bronies were already being labeled pedophiles and rapists purely for liking the show. In retrospect, driving the disease-carriers from the fandom was probably the correct course of action, but I don't think at the time the dire consequences of not making that choice were as clear as the consequences for confirming people's worst fears about the fandom.
And so, the disease took hold.
"Don't Clop to Ponies"
I really loathe the way the stigmatization of porn has allowed countless debates to be dragged into a foolish circlejerk (ahaha. Hahah. hm.) about whether or not porn is bad. The enemies of porn are remarkably awful at identifying targets clearly (not dissimilar to the enemies of bronydom, when you get right down to it) and the result is a haphazard, scattershot body of discourse more grounded in pearl-clutching and moral outrage than any real political mobilization to right the wrongs of society.
The debate on clop--a word standing both for My Little Pony-based porn and the act of masturbating to said porn--is a particularly salty example of this tendency toward poorly aimed circlejerks.
See, here's the thing about porn of My Little Pony.
It's not remarkable.
It's just not. I'm sorry, but it just isn't that exceptional.
People have been making porn of children's media for actual literal centuries now. From Tijuana Bibles to the legal case of a large-scale Disney porn parody painting that I can't locate any information on at the moment (possibly because Google wants porn buried as deep as it can go, and Disney wants this case forgotten about) which helped assert the legality of pornographic parodies (this'll be important in a few paragraphs), to Rule 34 (which predated Bronydom by many years), to venerable comic writer and chaos magician Alan Moore's book of illustrated sex acts performed by minors, Lost Girls, porn of media aimed at children is not new.
I'm not sure, given the size of the MLP fandom, that there's really anything surprising about the amount of porn out there. How would one go about doing a comparative analysis of the porn output of My Little Pony fans, male and female, vs, say, Harry Potter fans, male and female? I'm not sure what methodology one would use. It seems like at best a pretty daunting task.
And yet, the debate on porn centers entirely on whether or not it's acceptable to create porn of a show aimed at children--an objectively lost, hopeless, pointless cause--aggressively pathologizing the act to an extreme degree that no other god damn fandom on the entire Internet is subjected to.
This wouldn't bother me so much if there weren't so many far more deserving targets, and so many more important, nuanced problems with the clop subsubculture. But by turning the conversation into a strictly delineated question of moral and immoral, the deeper problems--and the way the infection had spread into this part of the subculture--were disguised.
What are those deeper problems?
Well, first of all, there's the obsession with rape, subjugation, and, actually most creepily in my opinion, possession of the female characters in the show. I mean, one of the mainstays of the culture--at least as far as name recognition is concerned--was Princess Molestia, which should tell you a lot right there. And a number of episodes in the new season have involved tentacles of one sort or another. It took less than 24 hours for tentacle rape porn to go up on Tumblr. (Which... again, I do want to contextualize this by saying that the exact same thing happened with a recent Steven Universe episode. I don't go in that tag on Tumblr anymore. Point is, this isn't unique to Bronydom.) This has been supported by the same toxic sexist attitudes that emerged in the early days, and the way the debate has been framed made it impossible to target particular attitudes towards the female characters and, more importantly, female fans that felt uncomfortable with the way characters were depicted.
And then there's the issue of possession, which, like I said, I actually find creepier in a way, because it's... well, insidious. It involves the emergence of people who claim ownership over particular characters, romantically and sexually, and who claim to correctly know their desires and wishes. This goes beyond the question of subjugation into a kind of nightmarish space of self-delusion characterized by total separation between the person in question and the real world. It reminds me a lot of Taxi Driver, actually, where the psychotic main character creates for himself a fantasy world in which he is the hero, and he must unilaterally act to free women from the clutches of other men. The actual material desires and realities of the women in question don't enter into it. They are NPCs, effectively.
Oh, and it's also akin to good old Robin Thicke, who knows you want it; knows that no means yes. Remember that, from last year? Yeah, same basic mentality, I'd say.
It's not as graphic as a direct rape fantasy, but the thing about a rape fantasy is that it's ultimately a fantasy. This is something else. This is the supplanting of the subjectivity of women by a fabricated reality in which they exist to please men. It's not a rape fantasy, but I think it's easy to see how it translates to the reality of rape culture. I suspect that it is this treatment of women as objects solely of male desire, that treats their subjectivity as fundamentally merely a surface-level illusion to be cast aside by a discerning male, that leads more directly to the harassment and assault of female members of the fandom. The dynamics of BDSM culture are far too complex to get into here, but there's a fundamental line between creating a fantasy... and convincing yourself that your fantasy has a one to one correspondence with everyone else's subjective reality. I have no hesitation saying that the people who cross that line scare the shit out of me.
And it's all the more horrifying in the context of a show that takes such great pains to convey a feminist message, because it represents the complete destruction of the show's greatest qualities in favor of an extreme form of objectification. It is the erasure of one of the show's central messages--that there are lots of different ways to be a woman and to find strength in femininity--and its replacement with a monolithic masturbatory feminine ideal.
If It's Not Hasbroken Don't Fix It
Even in the face of this degradation of the culture, though, we can choose our political allies incorrectly. It's certainly possible for us to leverage vaster forces to "clean up" Brony culture.
But just as there was a price to the blockading of the culture against outsiders that we're paying now, there's a price to leveraging greater powers that may bring the weight of those powers down on unintended targets.
Hasbro is not our friend. It is not the friend of Bronies, and it's not the friend of people who hate Bronies. It's a dangerous and powerful dragon in our midst, and Hasbro's erasure of Molestia from the face of the Internet represents not a victory over the forces of evil but that vast wurm shifting its weight and rolling over a hapless dwarf.
The fact that the dwarf was gross, sexist, and prone to making rape jokes doesn't make me, as another dwarf in the treasure chamber, feel a lot better.
Because any one of us that does fan works could be next.
See the problem with the takedown of Molestia is that Hasbro took it down on copyright infringement grounds. This is scary, scary shit, ladies, gentlemen, and mixters! I don’t mind that this blog got taken down in the abstract, but the methodology used here sets a baaaad precedent for anyone involved in fandoms. It means that corporations like Hasbro are comfortable attacking and censoring things that are off-message, even if legally they’re transformative works and protected under Fair Use--which this, like or not, was. And even worse, Tumblr is willing to be utterly complicit in these takedowns. It, like YouTube, like Blip, like FF.net, is now in the position of being a collaborator in the suppression of transformative works while claiming to be a hub for transformative works.
This is EXTREMELY concerning for me personally, as a member of (er… and founder of… and frequently leader of and most public face of…) the Magic: Expanded Multiverse fanfiction project, because Magic: The Gathering is owned by Wizards of the Coast which is owned by, yup, Hasbro. And I know for a fact that they’ve threatened Magic fan artists in the past. Yes. Threatened fan artists with C&D letters. I mean, my group is publishing full-scale illustrated (free) e-books based on the storyline. We’re already on risky territory—not for any legitimate legal reason, but because Hasbro is huge and powerful and can throw its draconic weight around just like any other media corporation. We are protected, but we are utterly defenseless.
Oh, and please, please don’t delude yourselves. Hasbro didn’t do this for you, it didn’t do this out of the goodness of its executives’ golden hearts, it did it for power and control and domination over its brand. This is fundamentally an attack via copyright claims on what is incontrovertibly a transformative work. Hasbro has done this in the past with far more innocuous works based on MLP, too. This isn't a recent development. Among other things, it's taken down:
- Fighting is Magic, an unlicensed fighting game that, to my understanding, would have been released for free
- This fellow's videos, which were removed first from YouTube and then from Blip. See what I mean about these other corporations acting as collaborators in censorship?
- Parody dub Friendship is Witchcraft
- Various fan artists selling stuff like plushies which honestly probably doesn't fall under Fair Use between fan artists selling creative works in response to a show they're inspired by and a company that does their manufacturing in third world nations for poverty wages and rakes in vast profits through the exploitation of the proletariat, I know which one I'm gonna work to overthrow via a revolution of the enslaved working class against its bourgeois masters.
|I'm really pleased with how easy it was to find an image of Rainbow Dash saluting the hammer and sickle.|
Hasbro can get away with this bullshit because no fan artist has the power to stand up to a corporation as big as Hasbro. Hasbro does not care about feminism, rape culture, the trivialization of victims, or anything else other than making shit tons of cash and ensuring that their brand is tightly controlled. Believing anything else is self-delusion.
We can't solve this problem by beseeching the dragon for help. It's a fucking dragon. It's suicide.
No, we can't look to Hasbro for help.
We're on our own.
Toward a New Lunar Republic
The somewhat jokey idea that I've floated before about abandoning contemporary Geek culture and forming a new culture on the moon takes on a particular significance when applied to a series where one of the secondary characters was banished to the moon for a millennium. There's a symbolism about that that I like. And I've heard people toss around the idea of a Lunar Republic before, positioned against the tyrant Celestia.
So let's play with that symbolism for a bit.
What is the Glorious Lunar Republic against?
Let's modify the Celestia the Tyrant motif and say that we're against the particular maneneighfestation (god sorry) of Celestia dubbed Molestia. The Glorious Lunar Republic of Bronies and Pegasisters is opposed to the part of the fandom exemplified by that project--the sexist part, the rape-apologist part, the part that harasses female members of the fandom. It is a republic that is Creative, Queer, Inclusive, Intersectional, and Feminist. It recognizes that sometimes to protect some you must cast others out from your midst.
We are not in exile on the moon.
The inhabitants of the low earth are exiled from us.
We do not merely reflect the light of the sun--we are not the mirror of Brony culture.
The light is changed by passing through us, not dampened by the dull earth. We are Bronies and Pegasisters, transforming and refracting the sun's rays, transformative in politics, transformative in culture.
We do not make deals with devils nor dragons.
Our deals are with each other: a pact to protect one another from the dragons that seek to quash creativity, devils that come into our midst to spread the disease of misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and objectification, or the cruel apes who decry our existence, in the process, though they recognize it not, allying themselves with the very devils they claim to hate. We recognize both that the hatred directed towards us was born of the infectious disease that is the Patriarchy, and that resisting the disease means both taking on identities that vex Patriarchy, and lancing out the disease when it find its way into our own veins.
From the maelstrom of Jupiter to a new home on the Moon, then, this is my fantasy of a new Brony culture. I think we can achieve this transition, if we try, if we work hard to call out the members of our own fandom for their poisonous beliefs. I mean, anything that allows me to go on an extended, overblown riff on the symbolism of the moon in the context of ponies and queer theory is worth rescuing from the assholes, don'tchathink?
At their best, Bronies and Pegasisters together are capable of incredible works of humor, creativity, and artistry. That's something that I don't want to lose. But so many paths out of the storm end up being dead ends, gusts that send us whirling back into another vortex, as with the Clop debate, as with Hasbro. It requires careful navigation. It requires deeply nuanced consideration. It might even require us telling non-MLP fans to basically shut up and fuck off for a bit while we sort our fandom out, because if there's one overriding thing that I think has been true from the very beginning, it's that the hatedom has made absolutely everything far harder than it ever needed to be.
It might even require a certain amount of compassion for the people struggling with their identities. This is... honestly not something I'm ready to work on just yet, because I don't just dislike the flight into hypermasculinity that we've seen in the fandom, I actually straight up don't really even understand it on a visceral level. Maybe that's something for someone a bit less aggressively queer to sort out.
But this fandom at its best has, in the past, shown itself to be more creative, more mobilized, and more intellectually engaged than almost any other fandom I've come across.
Now we have the chance to be a testbed for geek culture as a whole. We could be, as the first Lunar Publicans, more conscious of social justice, more inclusive of difference, more willing to support and shield the weakest members of our fandom (specifically, the younger members who, tragically, now need to be protected from the socially stunted, entitled men that have coopted this fandom and turned it into their own personal playground).
We can find a way to calm the storm to a breeze.
Oh, and speaking of breezes...
In the episode that just came out yesterday, Fluttershy was out of town, visiting the Breezies, little butterfly-like ponies that came from generation 3. I recognized the name and took a spin on Tumblr to see what the reactions were, and I noticed a few things.
For one thing, I realized that G3 was... well, a lot more vibrant than I remembered. For some reason I'd mentally turned it all shades of pink but wow, there sure were some great colors in the images I saw. Maybe I've been ignoring the older generations to my deficit. Maybe we all have.
For another, I was massively heartened to see not, as I expected, groans of hatred for anything before this generation, but declarations of delight and surprise, some coming from older fans glad to see something from G3 appearing in the reboot. It was so... well... positive.
And lastly, I was confronted with the weird juxtaposition between the Breezies from My Little Pony and the Breezies that are... devoted fans of Chris Brown, a man who beat a woman bloody.
Yeah. Kinda puts things in perspective, doesn't it?
We'll be alright in the end, I think.
Let's see which of the like five different groups I just called out sends me the most death/rape threats. Now taking bets!!! Follow stormingtheivory.tumblr.com for updates, random thoughts, artwork, and news about articles. As always, you can e-mail me at KeeperofManyNames@gmail.com. Circle me on Google+ at gplus.to/SamKeeper. If you liked this piece please share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Reddit, Equestria Daily, Xanga, MySpace, or whathaveyou, and leave some thoughts in the comments below.