What Bronies See When They Brohoof – Ellis

I’d been saving this paper because I came across it late in the writing stage of my dissertation and didn’t want to get into anything that might make me re-write sections and I’m a little sad that I didn’t take a risk and read it in my spare time. What it looses in it’s lack of technical depth it makes up for in it’s insights; this is a really kind article!

Ellis, B. (2015). What Bronies See When They Brohoof: Queering Animation on the Dark and Evil Internet. Journal of American Folklore, 128(509), 298-314.

This paper positions itself within Queer Theory studies, arguing that bronies are re-interpreting the 2010 TV series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic to critique and excrement with cultural norms. It closes on the idea that while researchers “need to pay attention, more and more carefully, to what bronies see when they brohoof, even if some of it can make us traditional sorts uncomfortable”.

Bronies; they sure are intersting
Bronies; they sure are interesting

This ‘uncomfortableness’ is first touched upon my the author when talking about the way that users introduced explicit language into My Little Pony memes but is developed into questioning the way that the pony characters of the TV series are sexualised by some of the community. I was struck by the frankness of the language in the concluding pages as Ellis, the author, really digs into the motivations behind the enjoyment of ‘pony porn’ (or clop) to argue that the cloppers don’t treat the ponies they masturbate to as horses, but as characters with human traits that are powerful enough that the cloppers are ‘ willing to look past the fact that [they are] a horse”.

This is where the idea of Queer Theory comes in. Queer Theory, in its most basic form, is reminding society that the distinctions it makes are not as clear as it claims they are. The big example of this is in queer gender, where people can be in between male or female, in between straight and gay. Ellis takes this theory and suggests that animation is inherently queering what it represents.

This is a big, fascinating, jump. 

Queer as folk, probably a good thing!
Queer as folk, probably a good thing!

This is interesting because of how influential animation is becoming in popular culture. Think of the prevalence of superheroes that originated in animation, of the popularity of anime and of more adult themed western cartoons like Adventure Time or The Legend of Kora. Ellis backs this theory up by noting how magical girl anime shows, like My Little Pony, developed large adult followings and enabled these adult followings to question their gender identity and the potability for personal change from the everyday school girl to the extra-ordinary superhero.

So, what does this all mean? In the end, Ellis avoids making any predictions but does argue that the brony cultural phenomenon is more than an anomaly. He positions it as part of a wider questioning of societal binaries that is gaining some serious traction in popular culture!

If you want to pick up the paper, it’s ‘available’ here! Though, you will need a uni logon to access it I’m afraid.


Next up:

  • Phillips, W. (2013). The House That Fox Built: 4Chan, Spectacle, and Cycles of Amplification. Television & New Media, 14(6), 494-509.
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