My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic is an animated television series that premiered in 2010. The show follows a studious unicorn pony named Twilight Sparkle as her mentor Princess Celestia guides her to learn about friendship in the town of Ponyville. Despite the target demographic of young girls and their parents, ‘Friendship Is Magic’ has gained a large following of older viewers, predominately male teenagers and adults, who call themselves ‘bronies.’ Elements of the show have become part of the remix culture and have formed the basis for a variety of Internet memes.
Amid Amidi, writing for the animation website ‘Cartoon Brew,’ called the show ‘the end of the creator-driven era in TV animation.’ Amidi’s essay expressed concern that assigning a talented writer to a toy-centric show was part of a trend towards a focus on profitable genres of animation, such as toy tie-ins, to deal with a fragmented viewing audience, and overall ‘an admission of defeat for the entire movement, a white flag-waving moment for the TV animation industry.’ The response from the Internet has been traced to cartoon and animation fans on the Internet board 4chan, responding to Amidi’s negative essay on the show and on current trends in animation. Before they had seen the show, members of the cartoon board of 4chan noticed the alarmist nature of the essay, began watching the show, and quickly warmed to the series for its plot, characters, and animation style.
This reaction soon spread to the other boards of 4chan, where elements of the show quickly caught on as recurring jokes and memes on the site. The number of ‘Friendship Is Magic’ posts, so unlike the usual attitudes and image of 4chan, caused a large stir on the site. Fans of the show were unrelenting in their defense against various trolling attacks from other 4chan boards. This led to a temporary ban on anything related to ponies, although it was soon overturned.
The adult interest in the show is comparable to similar shows such as ‘The Powerpuff Girls,’ ‘Animaniacs,’ ‘Yo Gabba Gabba!,’ ‘Rocko’s Modern Life,’ ‘Phineas and Ferb,’ and ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’: a combination of jokes aimed at adult viewers and a sense of nostalgia for older cartoons. Many of the aforementioned shows had attracted college-aged fans who, when ‘Friendship Is Magic’ was airing, would be raising children of their own. The show has made references to works that older viewers would recognize, such as ‘I Love Lucy,’ ‘The Benny Hill Show,’ ‘X-Men,’ ‘2001: A Space Odyssey,’ ‘Diamond Dogs,’ and ‘The Big Lebowski.’
Older fans of the show have adopted the title ‘brony,’ a portmanteau of the words ‘bro’ and ‘pony.’ Though generally taken to refer to male fans, the term is often applied to any fan outside the target demographic, regardless of gender. Another term, ‘Pegasister,’ has been used to refer to older female fans of the show.
The brony community has been described as representing one aspect of the ‘New Sincerity,’ movement away from heavily cynical work where these older viewers not only watch the show but create new material around it. As such, a number of Internet memes have grown from the brony fandom adopting phrases from the show like ‘anypony’ and ‘everypony.’
Lauren Faust, the creator and executive producer of ‘Friendship in Magic,’ has expressed appreciation for the older fans of the show on her deviantArt page. Early in the first season, in response to criticism, Faust stated that she had expected people ‘to instantly label it girly, stupid, cheap, for babies, or an evil corporate commercial,’ and that she encouraged people instead to watch the show with ‘an open mind.’ She had not expected older people without children to watch it, but said, ‘The fact that they did and that they were open-minded and cool enough and secure in their masculinity enough to embrace it and love it and go online and talk about how much they love it — I’m kind of proud.’
Faust and the creators have acknowledged some of the fan-created elements of the show and reflected them back into the animation. In the first episode, a background pegasus pony is shown in one scene with a cross-eyed stare, the result of an overlooked animator’s joke. The 4chan boards quickly dubbed the character ‘Derpy Hooves’ and created a more detailed personality for her, despite having minimal on-screen time. Faust responded to the fans and has since kept the Derpy character with the cross-eyed look.