What’s so funny about Peace, Love and Understanding?

4 10 2012

Dr. Whooves: Anyone and anything can be delightfully ponified.

Being a Brony is much more than just MLP fandom; it’s having the courage to defy a cynical culture of violence and hate.

When I was young, I read Nietzsche and dystopic fiction, and embraced cynicism and the ugliness of reality. I sneered when I laughed, and enjoyed humor that lampooned and satirized anything warm, uplifting and upbeat. I scoffed at sentiment and greedily consumed the dark and outre. But I’m not young any longer. I’ve experienced a lot of life, with all its disappointments and cruelty. I’ve had enough.

When it comes to fiction, art, and philosophy, “happy” is treated with contempt because “Life isn’t like that.” I’ve made the argument that yes, that’s right, so all the more reason for fiction to be a comfort and philosophy a consolation. But there’s another piece to it. Life isn’t always like that. Sometimes there are moments when reality is beautiful, when against all odds, something does not end badly and good triumphs. Happy endings do happen, especially when we work to make it so.

I prefer to choose the lovely. And I am not alone.

In spite of the fact that our culture is swamped in the dark, the ugly and the cynical, playing on hate, fear and anxiety, many of us ache for relief, and they find it in odd corners of fandom. It needn’t be trite, sappy escapism, although the critics are quick to dismiss it as such (“Happy books suck,” as one fellow librarian said.) In fact, I see optimism creeping in and whispering subversively, “It doesn’t have to be that way!” Its message that rings sweetly to many of us.

A Brony would be hanging a small pony off the end of the soldier’s rifle, unless…

Thus the popularity of Star Trek refuses to go away. The Peace movement persists in spite of Homeland Security propaganda. The Dalai Lama becomes a folk hero with his message that compassion is the new radicalism. Every day, people are nice to each other because it makes more sense than being jerks. We may be a long way from Equestria, but an awful lot of people stubbornly insist on being gentle, kind and idealistic anyway. Count me in.

…that soldier already had a pony of his own.

My two sons are Bronies. They both rejected mainstream YA novels because they hated the angst and grim pessimism of them. They know Reality can be bloody awful. They also know it doesn’t have to be. They chose instead to embrace something beautiful. I didn’t understand at first. My Little Pony? Really?

Because I wanted to understand, I let them share it with me. Besides the show, whose charm finally hooked me after several episodes (I had a sick diabetic reaction to it at first, but I stuck with it — I think it was the Discord episode that finally did the trick) there is a huge culture that has emerged with its own music and fandom. If you’re curious, start with Equestria Daily or the r/MLP subReddit and follow some links.  [Also, check out this site which I only just discovered, or should I say, discovered me.]

It takes an immense amount of courage to be a Brony, especially if you are a teen. You expose yourself to ridicule and bullying. Both my boys stubbornly stood their ground. The Brony philosophy is to gently reject hate. They remind me of what the pacifists faced early in the anti-war movement, or what some gay people face even today. Most people don’t understand and don’t want to. “You like ‘My Little Pony’? It’s a dumb little girls’ show! You must be sick!”

In fact, what they are embracing is much bigger than the show. It’s embracing optimism, pacifism, warmth and compassion. It’s believing that it’s better to be kind, honest and true, embracing basic values of friendship and wisdom that our culture has rejected in favor of greed, competition, lies and hate. To be a Brony is to reject a big part of what America currently stands for, thanks to religious intolerance, power-hungry politicians and corporations. To be a Brony is to be a rebel.

It is banding together in a friendly competition on Reddit to raise over $33,000 for Doctors/Engineers Without Borders. It is donating more than 147 years of CPU time for the World Community Grid. It’s just being nice to people, practicing tolerance, making it a policy never to hate or flame. It’s refusing to give in to cynicism and despair, or to apologize for liking rainbows and laughter or for choosing the lovely every time.

I find it not all that different from the hippie culture I grew up with — Peace, Love and Flower Power. There is much of the same impulse to make the world a better place and embrace life with open, innocent joy. Oh sure, some of it is silly and childish, but what’s the harm in that? I’d rather watch children play than see hate on a battlefield. Bronies are a shaft of sunlight, brave and beautiful, in a dark, ugly world. They, and all the others who think like them, the pacifists, the radically compassionate, give me reason to have hope for the future. What’s so funny about that?

You keep your zombie apocalypse and your dystopias. I’ll take Equestria.

[Post Script: Since I posted this article this morning, it has gone viral.  I submitted it to r/MLP on Reddit and it made the front page.  BTW, I encourage readers to check out the links, including the ones from the images, but especially this one. Thank you for your comments and shares. Never underestimate the power of Bronies.]

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18 responses

4 10 2012
Random Brony

Thank you for this.

4 10 2012
Random Brony #2

The brony community thanks you as a whole.

4 10 2012
justinegraykin

You are humbly welcome. It came out of conversations with my sons and through them, exposure to the community. I found it inspiring. My normal reading audience are people who could not even begin to understand what a “brony” is. I hoped to help them to see.

4 10 2012
Maharito

Nailed it. Though perhaps longer than it needs to be, you really captured the pathos of being a Brony. It’s something I didn’t understand that well myself, but it makes more sense now that I think about how “1984″ was my favorite book for such a long time…

4 10 2012
justinegraykin

Yes, sometimes I can be a bit long-winded. Blame my philosophical background. You know how they are. Being a Brony is far more complex than any one article can capture. It is as diverse as all of you out there.

4 10 2012
Valron

I don’t know why, but when I saw that second image of the soldier with the pony, I just started sobbing. I really hit me hard

4 10 2012
justinegraykin

I saw this image and it stuck with me. I knew I had to use it. (Did you click on it and find the article it links to?) I was hiking Mt. Moriah in the Whites of NH when I heard “Long Way From Equestria” and I fell to my knees and began to weep. There’s something about this that touches us.

4 10 2012
A fan of the my little pony

idk i always thought that growing out of a self centered view of the universe came from interacting with others and broadening one’s horizons but i guess it’s some magic force that only comes from ponies

also who is your favorite pony mine is twilight sparkle (so cute)

3 05 2013
Heyo

I think you kind of missed the point. :( But that’s ok, we all grow in our understanding of the world over time. It just depends on what path(s) you travel.

4 10 2012
Dominik.M

Dude…that was beautiful.

4 10 2012
Brokenhoof

Mlp is like a shelter from the world were nothing bad happens, it makes me happy, /)

4 10 2012
Cody Cee

I’m a 19-year-old who’s planning on joining the USAF. I love all the standard stuff for a boy my age, be it guns, girls and explosions. But it’s nice to have a part of my life thats just happy, so now I admin a private Brony Facebook page and look forward to every episode. Some of us are obsessed and rabid fans of the show (I guess thats me). Some of us are deviant psychopaths. Some of us would sooner die than let their own parents know they like this show. Many of us are actively trying to make the world a better place.
Most of us are normal people looking for a break from the crapsack world we live in.
Thanks for the article. You really hit it on the head there.
Brony for life.

4 10 2012
justinegraykin

I wish you the best. I hope that your choice of career gives you the chance to help make the world a better place. We all do what we can in whatever place we find ourselves. A military Brony almost seems like a contradiction in terms, but what other institution could benefit more from what you have to offer?

4 10 2012
Asio Stygius

I’m not gonna lie, this article was great from what I have read so far. (Primarily towards how they know life can be bloody awful yet they still choose to show pacifism and such) and I’d like to say that, Yes I am not the kindest person in the world nor the most compassionate, and that sometimes you really can’t be nice to people and show them love and kindness.
I’ve been through that way too many times these past years and even though I do despise plenty of people for the way they treated me, spread rumors and such around about me, attacked every aspect of my old mind Which used to be full of kindness and compassion even when I was hurt, that watching this show, and embracing more than the show, has brought me back to that state of mind.
I thank the people out there in this community and not, the ones that had always known not everything can be solved with violence/hatred and should only be used as a last resort.

Also enjoy a wall of text.

9 10 2012
Zoe Cannon

I think this is a great description of bronies and the MLP phenomenon. I love my dark dystopias (and actually, I think that if it’s done right, there can be more opportunity to show hope and love and all that in a dark dystopia than in a lighter book, which is something I keep meaning to write a blog post about), but I love MLP too. Although I’m not involved in brony culture, there’s a lot I like about it, especially its conscious innocence. Bronies aren’t embracing something happy and innocent because it’s all they know (like a kid might); they’re making the conscious choice to embrace something happy and innocent, and it makes me happy that people are willing to do that (even more so since the people who become MLP fans are generally not people I would expect that from).

9 10 2012
Justine Graykin

I wonder if there is a correlation between how much darkness one has had to cope with in “real life” and the need for inspiration to transcend it. I honestly don’t know much beyond personal experience, but the more Life battered me with grim nihilism, the more I treasured books (and other art forms) that gave me a reason to feel joy and hope again.

I’m sure you are right about the opportunity to show hope and love in a dystopic book (and I’d be delighted to post it as a guest blog if you are so inclined). It’s the tragic endings I can do without.

13 10 2012
Zoe

That wouldn’t surprise me. I imagine the more darkness someone experiences in real life, the less inclined they would be to experience more in fiction.

And I would love to write a guest post about showing hope and love in a dystopia. :)

14 10 2012
justinegraykin

I’ll contact you off-site.

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