The origin of subcultures dates as far back as the concept of community itself. “If you locked a bunch of complete strangers in a room, all kinds of things would happen. It’d create this hierarchy where some people’s influence would matter more than others. Innate inequality would establish itself. At the same time, people would figure out what others’ interests and agendas are, and that group will create a subculture,” he said.
One of the more intriguing subcultures to emerge from the current social spectrum comes in the form of Bronies: a group of men who have taken a liking to the television show My Little Pony. Commonly assumed to be a portmanteau of the words “bro” and Pony, the movement actually got its name from the B forum on 4Chan.
“Bronies originated as a joke on [4Chan]. Some users were playing tricks on others, posting pictures of [My Little Pony] everywhere… but then people actually started to like it,” explained Matthew Jakob, Vice President of the Brony Club at Fanshawe College.
Since then, the Brony movement has exploded with conventions being held in many major North American cities, and fans creating original content for themselves and their peers. “People started drawing art and [writing] stories… there was a giant creative spark because of [My Little Pony],” he said.
Although the show was created for a target market of young girls, Jakob said the themes are very relevant to adulthood as well.
“There are four different generations of [the show]. The first one started a long time ago, and each one had its own specific art style. Then a woman named Lauren Faust made Generation Four – that’s the one most adults like because the art style is modern and the content is more mature. [Faust], I think, is a genius because she made the show oriented to anyone. It’s not as childish as the older generations.”
“A lot of the content of [My Little Pony] can be used in adulthood as well. Things like being tolerant of each other, or not being so critical. I think that a lesson about being nice to other people can be related to any [generation].”
When people question why he chooses to participate in Brony culture, he invites them to consider why they enjoy their own interests. “It’s no different than liking a sports team. You take pride in it because you follow it. People ask me why I like the show, and I ask them why they like the Maple Leafs. It’s something I take pride in because it makes me feel good. It’s my thing,” he exclaims, a smile slowly spreading over his face.
“We’re similar people with similar interests, and we have fun together” Jakob said. “It’s mainly a place where we feel we can speak our mind about what we want without someone looking at us funny or rolling their eyes.”
Subcultures provide common ground to stand upon, so people can relate to one another.
“If you fit this criteria,” Shelley makes a box with his hands, “there’s something you can call yourself. Suddenly, you’re able to see common ground and share with others who also identify as that,” Shelley said. “I’m able to call myself Canadian. I share this patriotic narrative that allows you and I to be fellow citizens rather than completely random strangers. It’s profound.”
Although Bronies are often deemed obscure, Shelley explained how subcultures like this play a significant role in society in the broader sense:
“Culture ‘at large’ isn’t complete without all the subcultures it’s made of. Just as an ecosystem isn’t anything but all the species interacting to create equilibrium and facilitate oxygen and carbon – the things that organisms need to live.” So viewing Bronies as an anomaly doesn’t give us a full understanding of their cultural significance.
“It’s like taking an animal out of the ecosystem, putting it into a lab, and thinking that we’re going to know everything there is to know about it. But there’s no way to understand what that animal is without understanding its relationship to other species; with the biodiversity of its habitat” Shelley continues.
“Some people are confused about why we like it. But why does anyone like anything?” Jakob asks. And I’ve got nothing.
“Give [them] a question to chew on and they won’t worry about what I’m doing anymore.”
*Image via Aaron Harris/Toronto Star