Muslim-Christian Relations 258
Most of the study of Muslim-Christian relations has focused on explicit relation-building activities particularly from clergy, politicians, scholars, and journalists. This focus reflects the world-view from the eighties, a period of international news before the internet. While all of these groups remain very influential on Muslim-Christian relations, all of them struggle to keep up with online movements. For instance, journalists currently struggle to both understand and report the happenings of the internet to an aging,dwindling viewership. They comically report their findings on Twitter.
To remedy this, this paper seeks explore the relation Muslims participating in international media online and at conventions have with that media and how that may influence how they interpret Muslim relations with other religious identities. Because exploring all online media is impossible, the paper will focus on a smaller, but well-defined group of online media consumers called Bronies and specifically Bronies who live predominately Muslim countries.
There are three other reasons for examining Bronies. One is because of the nature of their interests, which will be explained in section one 'What is a Brony?,' they produce a large shock value, making them stand out among other organized online media consumer groups. The second reason is connected to the first. Reason two is that because of this shock value, Bronies have garnered significant amount of attention, and some of that attention is academic. Reason three is the degree in which Bronies have produced a culture of values and artistic expression of those values which in someways interacts with ones specific national-racial-sociological identity and in someways ignores it. Reason three provides the basis for cross-cultural exchange and dialog on not only shared interests but also on diversity.
The method this exploration of this online community will use a combination of description and then cognitive and psychological analysis. This combination will help generate hypotheses as to what kind of influence the Brony subculture have on Muslim perceptions of people who hold different beliefs.
First descriptions explain what Bronies are and what is the nature of the media they are consuming. The description section 'What is a Brony?' examines some basic demographic information but does not explore in-depth the activities of Bronies diversity within the Brony phenomenon would lead to this section being overly long. To counteract this, the next section “Muslim Bronies thinking with Cross-cultural Portals” examines specific aspects of Brony culture and how that is reflected in Muslim context. This section also demonstrates that there is indeed a sizable and active Muslim Brony population as well as exploring the interaction of national-racial-sociological identity and Brony identity.
Then the section 'Off-the-cuff theories' critiques cultural and religious studies theories of the Brony phenomena from their limitations and sometimes over-reliance on metaphors with seemingly related phenomena. The next section 'Cognitive theory and Cartoon Animals' explains what makes Bronies possible through cognitive theory. This section is intended to provide an hypothesis that will provide and explanation for a significant portion of the Brony phenomenon.
This paper does not pretend to have the definitive answer to the extent and specific nature of how Brony culture has affected Muslim-Christian relations for four reasons. First, the conclusions of this paper are hypotheses based on dubious extrapolations of data on a population mostly centered in the United States. Second, some of the surveys used have unprofessional elements in them like not doing the proper procedure for those under the age of seventeen. Third, some of the hypotheses are based on trends in interviews rather than in statistical data. One of these hypotheses could be better justified if, for instance, Bronies with Asperger's syndrome were to be formally studied. Lastly, many of the hypotheses will focus on particular sub-populations within Brony culture because the diversity within the Brony subculture means that different kinds of Bronies will have different reasons for being Bronies.
1. What is a Brony?
A 'Brony' is any fan of the 2010 reboot of the cartoon My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (MLP:FiM) that is approximately older than twelve years old. The term 'Brony' is a portmanteau of 'bro' in the friendly sense of the term rather than the masculine and 'pony.' Often 'Brony' is exclusively understood as male (Woodcutter and Green-Miner) because the masculine meaning of the term 'bro' and the majority (86%) of Bronies identifying as male (Edwards and Redden).
This paper does not intend the following brief history of Brony culture to be definitive but rather a representation of the origin narrative as Bronies and scholars understand it. Because Bronies and scholars both read each others accounts of the Brony phenomenon, it is impossible to completely eliminate fact from fiction. As such, this paper cites multiple sources for the same information in some parts of this narrative to demonstrate the narrative sharing and building influence.
Lauren Faust, an American animator, created MLP:FiM with the intention of changing the norms about cartoons for young girls (Watercutter). Specifically, Faust desired to challenge the norm that 'girly' means 'lame' (Watercutter). In order to do so, Faust created a main cast of strong female characters all with very different personalities and occupations. None of the characters are 'boy-crazy.' The intended effect of this is that the characters demonstrate that being a girl means one can have any be so many different things, each admirable for their own way.
October nineteenth, 2010, shortly after the pilot of MLP:FiM aired, Amid Amidi, editor-in-chief of Cartoon Brew and author of several books on TV animation, wrote an article titled “The End of the Creater-Driven Era in TV Animation” when Amidi claims that cartoons like MLP:FiM represent an end to a golden edge in cartoons (Amidi). This drew attention from a “notorious” online community on the image board website 4chan (Robertson 6-7) (Mullin) (Watercutter). In 2003, a then-teenager Christopher Poole created 4chan as a place for English-speakers to talk about anime and manga (Robertson 6). When those on the cartoon board of 4chan became aware of Amidi's article, some chose to challenge his claims by watching and critiquing the shows like MLP:FiM for themselves (Mullen) (knowyourmeme).
For reasons which will be explored in latter sections, a portion of 4chan's community became Bronies. According to comedic knowyourmeme, a web series which attempts to explain the origins and meaning of online culture, claims that the awareness of MLP:FiM spread from the cartoon board to another sub-community on 4chan on its b channel (knowyourmeme). Knowyourmeme claims that the term Brony comes from B-pony; however, in no other place is this claim made, so it may be false (knowyourmeme).
A fan took this image from the first episode of MLP:FiM and captioned it for comic effect.
Taken from: http://ponymondawndusk.wikia.com/wiki/File:CONFOUND_THESE_PONIES_THEY_DRIVE_ME_TO_DRINK-(n1290612841198).png
Using captioned images of the show like the one above, these early Bronies spread their interest of the show on 4chan with out-of-context humor typical of that image board (Knowyourmeme) (Watercutter). When Bronies became banned from 4chan because of intense prejudice for their zeal in posting pictures of cartoon ponies, new websites emerged and the culture of Bronies changed from merely captioned images to an array of different creative and community-building endeavors.
The demographic data below comes from three sources, each of them producing roughly the same data. Verbose and opsepe (pseudonyms) developed the Survey of Brony Subculture in January of 2012. This is an unprofessional survey; however, much of its data is reflected in the Brony Study performed by Patrick Edwards, PhD., and Marsha H. Redden, PhD., which was professionally done and taken around the same period as the Verbose and opsepe's survey. Coderbrony's (pseudonym) Herd Census was also unprofessionally performed, but the main issue for this survey was that it did not follow the proper procedure for handling respondents under the age of seventeen. Coderbrony intends in future surveys to conduct it according to these procedures in order to make it publishable in an academic press (“Brony Census Panel”). The important difference between Coderbrony's data and the former two is that it was conducted in 2013 and revealed an aging population, growth in countries where a dub of MLP:FiM appeared, and presence of Mayalasian and Indonesian Bronies. The demographics of Brony culture reveal the following.
- About 85% identify as male. (Verbose and opsepe 4) (Coderbrony 9) (Redden and Edwards)
- Mean age is around 20 (Verbose and opsepe 4) (Coderbrony 10) (Redden and Edwards)
- Between 62% (Verbose and opsepe 7) and 69% (Redden and Edwards) live in the United States.
- Approximately 60% identify as atheist or agnostic (Verbose and opsepe)
- Muslim Bronies
Malaysian Brony Society United by MuslimBrony (pseudonym)
The picture of all the Original Characters of members of Malayasian Brony Society. The image parodies the season one poster of MLP:FiM.
(Note: Pardon the image quality, as this image was severely reduced in size in order to fit to page.)
Muslim Bronies do exist. The data from State of the Herd would indicate there are very few in the beginning of 2012, but as Herd Census indicates, when a show airs in a region the number of Bronies increases rapidly. For instance, the Mayalasian Brony facebook started in April 21, 2012, and according to that Facebook page MLP:FiM, aired in July 7, 2012 (Malaysian Bronies). According to the Herd Census, there are significant pockets of Bronies in Malaysia and Indonesia (Coderbrony 16). One youtube channel with pirated MLP:FiM in Arabic on Youtube has 8 million views total for the 18 videos ever submitted to it (My Little Pony arabic). On the 18th of April, 2013, Hasbro announced that due to popularity of MLP:FiM in various regions including the Middle East, that they made a business deal with Clear Vision in order to distribute first and second season DVDs of the show (Sacco). While there are Non-Muslims in that speak Arabic and live in the countries which responded to the Herd Census,it would be unlikely that all of them are non-Muslims.
Since Muslim Bronies exist, they seem to participate in Brony culture in several ways. It would be impossible to cover all of these here, so it will be restricted to four prominent forms of interaction within the community: the arts, expression of values, spreading the show, and stereotyping. Each of these ways of participation take an aspect of traditional Muslim-Christian relations and fit it within the Brony culture which is mostly online. The following exploration of Brony culture is based on my best interpretation of their work after learning their language and consuming significant amounts of their media since January, 2012.
Art and music are a major part of the Brony community. They make art and music not only to display their love of the show but to also to share with other Bronies. Everyday on the website Equestria Daily, a major hub of Brony media consumption, the bloggers of that site post several dozen of new pieces of art and a dozen new songs that the community submitted to them.
Pinkie Portal portals around the World by M99moron and ShinodaGE (pseudonyms)
A collaborative piece of Brony photography with photoshop
Because of this global access to others work, artists create cross-cultural 'portals.' M99moron (pseudonum), a Brony in Germany, after seeing some of Argentinian Brony's graffiti art online, contacted the Argentinian to make a collaborative piece of photography altered with photoshop (M99moron). The piece takes advantage of the hemispherical differences between South America and Europe to emphasize the distance between these two Bronies two collaborated. The character Pinkie Pie is associated with breaking the fourth wall. The portals come from a video game by Valve which has the eponymous name Portal (no pun intended). Because many Bronies are familiar with the game Portal and Pinkie's ability to break barriers in reality, this image fits well in the culture of Bronies.
Thinking with Portals by MuslimBrony
This picture is of MuslimBrony's OC Switch utilizing portals.
MuslimBrony (pseudonym) is a Brony artist in Malaysia who makes show-style art not only to make Original Characters (OCs) of members of the Malaysian Brony Society but also to participate in the memes popular in the Brony community. Thinking with Portals like M99moron and ShinodaGE's piece utilizes the popular meme of portals and combines it with his OC design. MuslimBrony is one example of how Muslims in the community have participated in the art community.
Indonesia Brony Meet up by Victorio Utomo, an aspiring filmmaker
The Indonesian Bronies are participating in the confectionery arts, drawing, music, and video-making of the the general Brony community. At a Indonesian Brony Meet-up in Feburary 16, 2013, a group of Bronies came together to watch the season finale of season three of MLP:FiM. At this meet-up, they played instruments, practiced drawing ponies, and gave one member a cake with the image of a background pony fan-named Vinyl Scratch (background ponies are characters that have no lines and be part of the background). The video linked above by Victorio Utomo, an aspiring filmmaker, highlights the important parts of the event for a general Brony audience. The music in the background is the background stereo of a song from the season finale called A True, True Friend by Daniel Ingram and Stefan Andrews, and this is why the song has a echo of the foreground singing and keeps the background singing intact.
Work by artists in the community is often filtered to the general community through major blogging websites and podcasts. The most important blogging website is Equestria Daily (EqD). As was already pointed out, Equestria Daily formed after Bronies were expelled from 4chan. While a lot of content can appear on websites like Equestria Daily, if the bloggers of that site deem something phenomenal, they can easily make something and even someone famous within the community. A typical day will include the following posts:
- A few posts of a new fanfiction that one in their team of pre-readers has found suitable for posting
- One post on Popular fanfiction updates, generally as established by the Fimfiction , a website that centralizes all MLP:FiM fanfiction, complete with a rating system and a top stories list on the front page
- One Drawfriend post with roughly 50+ fanart
- One or two posts with a set of fancomics
- One post of fan songs from lesser known musicians
- One or two posts with a set of Pony Music Videos (PMVs)
- Custom Compilation on fan-made figurines, plushies, jewelry, and and various others
- A Nightly Round-up with links to miscallenous things like news articles on Bronies, successful Brony Meet ups, and podcasts
- And everything else is news, popular musician songs, and random things the bloggers post when there is nothing of quality in there submission email inbox.
Podcasts are also very important means for the Brony community to filter the large amount of fan creation and news and come with the added benefit of being mostly audio, which allows Bronies to consume them while working and exercising. One of the most significant podcasts is Bronyville. This podcast started at the end of season one when the fandom feared that it would not survive the 'Summer of Nopony' or summer 2011 (Watercutter). Bronyville podcast is designed to be family friendly, and there are families who listen to it. None of the podcasters for Bronyville use their actual name, using a pseudonym, which is also the name of their Original Character.
The show begins by introducing the guest and asking basic fan-questions like 'who is best pony?' and 'what is your favorite episode?' The guest can be anyone from a fan artist to one of the professionals who works on MLP:FiM. The guest can often be a blogger from Equestria Daily, and it is no coincidence that many of the discussion topics come directly that Equestria Daily popularized. Next there is a review of the week since the last podcast and the news in that, with particular attention to how much panic the fandom has over the most recent controversy or disaster. If a season of MLP:FiM is airing, the most recent episode will be reviewed and critiqued by the hosts and perhaps even the guest. The show will end with a reading of fanmail by each of the hosts and the guest. All that is discussed will be placed into a google document. This google document will read from and altered during the live airing of Bronyville on the weekend and published with the podcast around Wednesday. One reason for the delay for publishing is as this is a family-friendly podcast editing is necessary to remove any swearing the hosts or the guest might accidentally have uttered during recording.
Mayalasia Brony Society Show (better known as MBS Show) is a podcast that either represents or is an extension of the Muslim Brony Society. The podcast began in the middle of the second season (February 2012). While the hosts of this podcast have not indicated being Muslim, there are members of the Mayalasia Brony Society which are and Mayalasia is a primarily Muslim country. The style of this podcast mimics Bronyville's style, and it is no coincidence that they have a direct link to Bronyville on their website. They also have the show completely in English, they edit out swearing, and often interview the bloggers from Equestria Daily. Again, it is no coincidence that the MBS Show often is linked with a description in some of Equestria Daily's Nightly Round up posts. Unlike Bronyville, the hosts for the MBS Show use their real names, they explicitly describe their show as having a Mayalasian viewpoint, and they are far less likely to have professional guests.
Discord by The Living Tombstone
Now that the filters or the Middle-consumers have been discussed, it is possible to explore some examples of consumption of the media Bronies produce. One of the most prominent remixers in the Brony Community is The Living Tombstone (pseudonym), an Brony from Tel Aviv, Israel, and his remix of Eurobeat Brony's Discord has over gained more than six million views. The real importance here is the comments. In the comment section, many announce themselves as Bronies, their reasons for becoming one, and some basic demographic information. For instance, one commenter used the comment section to announce to the community was an Armenian in her twenties and her love of the characters in the show. In the Indonesian Brony Stand @ Hot Event 2012 in Jakarta, Indonesia, the Brony community displayed the various products that they consume like a rhythm game using The Living Tombstone's remix of Discord as one of its tracks (ErzaGhz). Because this will be explored in more depth later, this is all that will be stated about that event for now.
Unlike most fandoms around animation, Bronies often take the morals of the show very seriously and sometimes perform activities that help them embody those values like putting show-inspired moral messages into art, conducting charity events, and embodying the show's morals in everyday life. Again there are many other faucets of Brony morality and exceptions of it, but for the sake of brevity, they will not be explored in this overview. Muslims in Brony culture also share in these morals and sometimes use them to address their national-ethnic-sociological situations.
The captioned image comes from the early days of the fandom. The author is not known.
One of the key moral statements for Bronies that do take the morality of the community seriously is love and tolerate. According to a Brony going by the pseudonym Scootareader, who is a blogger for the Daily Oat, a news-centric Brony blog with a staff of posters, the phrase love and tolerate is a transposition of the caption in the image above (Scootareader). This Brony defines the Brony concept of love and tolerance as a “rejection of unfounded hate and acceptance of differences in attempt to find common ground” (Scootareader). He further states the following:
Generations of hate and intolerance are a difficult thing to get over in a single lifetime. It takes many years of effort and learning to look at someone you know and not immediately label them. Gay or straight, black or white, Democrat or Republican, Christian or Muslim… what does it matter? You’re both human beings. Get past the petty wordplay and get to working together towards a brighter future. (Scootareader)
Long Way From Equestria by Andrew Stein (aka MandoPony)
Great to be Different Forest Rain, featuring Decibel (both pseudonyms)
The image is of Forest Rain's OC and the fan-favorite background pony, Derpy Hooves
Many songs and pieces of art have mirrored this sentiment, contrasting the world humans live in with the loving and tolerating world of ponies, seeing Equestria (the world of MLP:FiM) as an ideal to strive towards. The above song by Andrew Stein, a very popular American Brony singer-songwriter, epitomizes what the ideal of the show can mean for many Bronies. Also seen above, the song Great to Be Different by Forest Rain, who is also a popular fan musician, provides a “ponified” song of his real life experience dealing with loneliness and having someone leaving a letter with a small message 'It's great to be different. Love, Derpy,' which greatly inspired him (Forest Rain). Derpy refers to a fan favorite background character Derpy Hooves who despite her clumsiness and being crossed-eyed and not being too bright is loved for who she is.
Be Yourself – Lyra Graffiti by Shinoda
The image is of Lyra Heartstings, a background pony, saying the word pants next to the phrase 'Be Yourself'.
Returning back to Shinoda, the young adult graffiti artist also explores love and tolerance in his art. In the image above, he uses Lyra Heartstrings, whom fans attribute an obsession with all things humans. Humans do not exist in the world of MLP:FiM, so her obsession often takes the form of a conspiracy theory within fanfiction. This obsession serves as an analog for fans of MLP:FiM, who also have a strong passion for something that most people think makes them weird or mentally ill. The message 'Be Yourself' is a statement emphasizing how people should not be afraid to express themselves no matter what people may think of them.
Lyra Heartstring [sic] Supports Palestine by MuslimBrony
Returning back to MuslimBrony, he explores the Lyra Heartstrings character in an unique way which centers around an issue that he and many other Muslims feel strongly about: Palestine. The image emphasizes humans for two reasons. First, Lyra is obsessed with humans, so this has layered meaning. Second, as MuslimBrony says in the comments:
no matter what race we are, no matter what religion we follow, no matter where we are from...we are HUMANS.
why cant we just love and tolerate each other?
even Lyra thinks so. (Lyra Heartstring Supports Palestine)
why cant we just love and tolerate each other?
even Lyra thinks so. (Lyra Heartstring Supports Palestine)
This message is almost identical to Scootareaders, thus demonstrating that Bronies exhibit universal system of morality that both interacts and attempts to transcend national-ethnic-sociological barriers. It is also important to note that this piece of work is only interpretable to those familiar with the language the fans use, so the intended audience is other Bronies, which one commenter makes explicit in a statement urging that this piece of digital art be shared with as many MLP groups as possible (Lyra Heartstring Supports Palestine).
Charity is another major way Bronies express the values of the show. According to Coder Brony's 2013 Herd Census, 21.5% of Bronies gave to Brony related charities (49). Musicians play a large role in supporting Brony charities. Seeds of Kindness, the charity Bronies for Good, raised roughly €7,500 (about $10,000) for a clinic in Uganda, and Brony musicians contributed an album of songs that anyone who donated could have (broniesforgood.org). The first episode of Malaysian Brony Society Show, the co-host Emillio Daniel talks about his charity project “Castle Canterlot Music Collaboration” (theMBSshow.com).
The Boston DJ-Thon is a cosponsored event between Bronies for Good and Greg Hill Foundation, a local Boston charity “known for directly distributing funds directly to families who need it”(bostondjthon.com). Boston DJ-Thon is a recent charity event that is in reaction to the Boston Marathon bombings (bostondjthon). The event has been advertised on many of the major Brony blogs like Equestria Daily, the Daily Dot, and the Round Stable.
Voice actors for MLP:FiM also play a major role in organizing charity whether it is for Wildlife or a cure for cancer. Tara Strong, the voice actor for the main character for MLP:FiM and self-designated Queen of the Bronies on Twitter, helped organized the Kiki Treatment fund which aims to help save a girl named Kiki Havivy. Kiki was six years old when diagnosed with a brain tumor and her family's health insurance did not cover the expenses for the expensive treatment (giveforward.com). Her father Ami Havivy, an Egyptian immigrant to the United States, has been instrumental in organizing the fun and as of now the fund on giveforward.com has $60,000 out of the $70,000 dollars stated as the funds goal.
Raise This Barn in Real Life by Victorio Utomo
Raise This Barn (Song) by Daniel Ingram
Returning back to the morals of the show, it is not uncommon for individual Bronies to apply individual moral lessons from the show to real life. Each episode ends with a moral which helps Hasbro justify marketing the show and its merchandise to children. Victorio Utomo in Raise This Barn in Real Life exemplifies this in the video linked above. After seeing the episode Apple Family Reunion online soon after it aired in the United States, Victorio Utomo filmed this in which his own family reunion is used to reflect 'Apple Family values'. Victorio Utomo wears a round-brimmed cowboy hat emulating the main character of the episode, Applejack, who almost always wears a Stetson. A girl, his sister probably, stands behind him throughout the piece pretending her violin is a fiddle. His family also pitches in by attempting to square dance. The song is not about dancing, however, and halfway through the piece, the video cuts to a storm which causes Utomo's grandfather's house to experience several problems mostly dealing with a leaking ceiling. The family works together to take care of the house, mirroring the Apple family in the cartoon who come together to fix the barn when the family reunion takes a sour turn. Again, this is just one example of a fan taking a specific moral from the show into his life.
FiMpressions: Feeling Pinkie Keen by Tommy Oliver (aka Brony Curious)
Not all morals the show expresses are without controversy. The most controversial episode is Feeling Pinkie Keen which can easily be interpreted as an affirmation of religious doctrine, according to Tommy Oliver, fan who reviews episodes. Show creator Lauren Faust, according to her deviant art page, was shocked that what people took from the episode that it had caricatured scientific skepticism as close-mindedness in favor of accepting what one does not understand in faith (mylittleponynew.com).
Ponies Everywhere Graffiti by Shinoda
This piece copies the captioned image style. The image is of Rainbow Dash telling Twilight Sparkle, two major characters in the show, “Ponies...Ponies Everywhere.” This comically reflects the fact that this is street art.
Bronies are known for sharing their passion with many, mostly on the internet. Coder Brony's 2013 Herd Census reveals that about 80% of Bronies share their passion for the show with friends and about 40% share it with siblings and schoolmates (46). Beyond just spreading the passion with others, the fact that Bronies create so much content in so many niches of the internet causes them to be called by some non-Bronies 'The Cancer of the Internet' (knowyourmeme).
Talk of the Town – Octavia Nasr on MurrTelivision Lebanon
I am Octavia [Titanium Parody] (Song) by EileMonty
Because the sheer amount of Brony content on the internet, it is not uncommon for this content to spill into places it is not expected. One recent example is, on April 14, 2013, MurrTelivision's Talk of the Town interviewed Octavia Nasr, a journalist known for covering Middle Eastern affairs, had her named qualified and a song played by the Brony singer and voice actress EileMonty (pseudonym probably) called I am Octavia. Interestingly, the song is about a female pony cellist with the name Octavia whose girlfriend does not make any time to go to her concert leading to a great sense of betrayal in her love.
Another example of Brony content going to places it is not expected is Fighting is Magic by the game development group Mane 6 (the name of the group is a reference to the show having six protagonists). Mane 6 originally comprised of three members, one from America, Mexico, and New Zealand respectively (Campbell). Their game is basically the six main protagonists fighting each other while remaining in character, creating an irony of sorts. Fighting is Magic became so successful that it got nominated for Evo 2013 Fight Game tournament, which is a charity event to help 'fight breast cancer' (Plunkett). Because the game became so popular, Hasbro saw it as competing for its intellectual property (IP) and sent a cease and desist letter to the group right before the game was completed (Campbell). In the aftermath, Lauren Faust has started working with Mane 6 to create new characters that are owned by any corporation, and LabZero, a fellow 2D fighting game developer, has donated the group a professional-grade software engine (Campbell).
Combining spreading the passion and fan content appearing in unlikely places is the Indonesian Bronies Stand at Hot Event 2012 in Jakarta, Indonesia. The video linked above shows this Brony group displaying artwork, video games, and music aimed at demonstrating to non-Bronies that MLP:FiM can be 'awesome' and 'cool.' According to the description of the video, the Indonesia Bronies are advertising the show but are trying not to force the show on others (ErzaGhz). A good portion of the video is dedicated to playing a leaked version of Fighting is Magic.
Controversy is not uncommon for the Brony Fandom. Most controversies revolve around actions of Hasbro like the cease and desist order sent to Mane 6. Some explore issues of prejudice and stereotypes. This section will focus on three stereotyped characters and three different angles in which Bronies who identify as Muslim or live in predominantly Muslim countries reacted to those phenomena. The first angle is taking the same or a similar viewpoint as main stream fans. The Second angle on stereotyping is taking an interpretation of a character that fits with ones own cultural agenda. The third is to create a new stereotyping for a character. The difference between the second and the third is that the second only slightly changes the interpretation while the third creates a new interpretation.
Chat Reaction to in the “Last Roundup” by swainize (username)
Many fans do not have the channel in which MLP:FiM airs so watch it on online video streams.
The first is Derpy Hooves, the fan-favorite background character. In early 2012, the first airing of the episode Last Roundup had a scene in which Derpy talks and interacts with the main cast. This was an extremely important event for fans as this meant that a character in which they had invented and given a back story was being incorporated into the canon of the show.
Derpy Hooves is very much a stereotype. The characterization of Derpy Hooves as clumsy and unintelligent derives from her having crossed eyes. In short, crossed eyes marks someone as being 'stupid.' Because the voice actress Tabitha St. Germain thought Derpy was male, the low voice for the female character led to many reading that as a marking the character as having Down syndrome (Keating-Rogers). The name Derpy can also mean something along the lines of an act resembling mental retardation (Keating-Rogers). Shortly after airing, the episode was removed from itunes and We Love Fine was pressured to remove Derpy-related merchandise (DerpSquad). A new episode eventually aired which altered Derpy's voice, removed any mention of her name, and toned down her crossed eyes (Spazz).
The first episode of the MBS show aired during controversy over Derpy, so they discussed it (a link: http://www.thembsshow.com/2012_02_01_archive.html ). At this point, there were only two hosts for the MBS Show. Both have different opinions on the matter, one sympathizing with Hasbro, and the other seeing the censorship as far more discriminatory. Often throughout the podcast, they use the politically-incorrect term retard to describe what is the central point of conflict for Derpy Hooves. Their views for the most reflect the same interpretation as the fans in general.
Rainbow Dash Pride (Name of the image collection)– the artist is unknown
Rainbow Dash, one of the main protagonists, is often interpreted as a lesbian for three reasons. First, a rainbow is a symbol for gay pride, so the characters rainbow mane can be interpreted as a marking her as a homosexual. Second, she has a deeper voice than many of the other characters, which can be interpreted as butch. Third, she fits well within the 'tomboy' character type.
Rainbow Dash Pride (Name of image collection) – Artist Unknown
The sign says: “There's more than one way to be a girl” – Lauren Faust
Rainbow Dash does not only have to be interpreted as a homosexual. Many Bronies also see her as an exemplifying that girls can be many different things like in the image above. For instance, a female Muslim Brony from Norway who reveals her first name Hania on her deviant Art page and is the founder of the Muslim Brony Society on deviant Art seems to hold strong positions on being an empowered female Muslim (~CuteFluffyKitty). Her deviant identification shows that she desires a 'free Palestine', 'supports the veil', and wants people not hate her 'because she is a Muslim' (~CuteFluffyKitty). She also has a picture of Rainbow Dash on her deviant identification page, which probably means Rainbow Dash is her favorite character. Often people find the character they relate to most as their favorite. While nothing is explicit, it is very possible that this artist has taken the empowered female individual interpretation of the character over the popular homosexual one. If this is true, this would be an example of modifying the interpretation of a character in respect to ones own values and interests.
MLP – Humanized Fluttershy by Jeanna R. P. (aka ~Future-Gamefreak)
The artist is a fifteen year old from Canada who is a member of the
The third stereotype is Muslim Fluttershy. This stereotype seems to have originated from Muslim fans, particularly the artists of the Muslim Brony Society on deviantArt. This group comprises of mostly female fans from Saudi Arabia and Indonesia but includes notables like the male fan Muslim Brony from Malaysia. Muslim Fluttershy was controversial not only for Muslim fans but fans in general because many saw it as Islamophobic. The comment section for the image above was disabled due to this controversy.
A heated exchange between one who identifies as a non-religious Muslim and a female Malaysian who identifies as a liberal Muslim.
The above exchange reflects some of the controversy this image and idea comes from. It seems from what has been said that the controversy is over three different aspects. One is what caused this connection. Fluttershy is another main protagonist of the show, and like her name suggests is very shy. Her shyness, modesty, and skill with children has made some artists like the one above see her as a female Muslim. The second is that she wears a headscarf which is used to make it very clear that she is a Muslim in the image. The third is the racial component, particularly the tan skin. Many Muslim Brony commenters felt that seeing all Muslims as Middle Eastern is offensive. This all reflects a unique perspective to a character from the Muslim Brony community.
- Off-the-cuff Theories
Now that the Muslim Bronies have been explored in relative depth, mostly focusing on the way they both interact with their own cultural situations and in ways transcend it to operate in a global community, it is possible to explore some common theories scholars and journalists have given for the Brony phenomenon. Understanding causal forces behind a phenomenon is just as important knowing the content of the phenomenon. Theories can be tools that help explore these causal forces; however, theorists, particularly cultural and religious studies theorists, can sometimes use theory to dismiss phenomena. Theorist for the most part have used theory to dismiss or merely categorize the Brony phenomenon. Because of this, these theories will be referred to with the term 'Off-the-cuff' due to their lack of attention to the actual phenomenon. The goal is after these theories have been criticized is that in the next section to explore actual data and provide an example of how a theory may be applied to formulate an hypothesis which will not partially explain the Brony phenomenon but also attempt to make claims about why Muslims may also find interest in MLP:FiM.
There are two popular Off-the-cuff theories for the Brony phenomenon. The first relates it to Japanese animation and the fandoms revolving around those. The second categorizes Bronies as an example of Neo-sincerity. Cultural Scientist and comic expert Florian Hadler thinks show is executed very cheaply but has an aesthetics reflecting manga, which he thinks is what attracts the fans (Elektrischer Reporter). He thinks that the show is ultimately about the commercial interests of Hasbro. Venetia Robertson, a PhD student in the religious studies department for the University of Sydney in Australia, shares the opinion that MLP:FiM has an appearance similar to that of Japanese animation and manga (Robertson 9). She specifically makes an attention between kawaii (roughly cuteness) in Japanese anime fan culture and MLP:FiM (Robertson 9).
There is evidence in their favor. First, many fans of MLP:FiM seem to also be fans of Japanese animation, though an accurate percentage is unknown. Second, as has been said, the fandom began on 4chan, a website dedicated for the discussing of anime and manga for English speakers. Third, anime has had significant influence in popularizing animation for adults. Other reasons exist, but these are probably the most important.
This theory, however, is very superfacial and many other theories about the style can be made which are more accurate. Florian Hadler's opinion in particular is very dismissive, and by making loose connections, he misses how very different MLP:FiM's style is from the manga-style of Japan. MLP:FiM is made in Adobe's Flash animator and makes no attempts to resemble a hand-drawn cartoons. Manga is a hand-drawn style, and anime for the most part reflects that. A better theory would point to how popularity of Flash animation on the internet.
Robertson's theory connecting the style of the show with Kawaii while definitely having influence on fans familiar with the genre is missing one major aspect: Lauren Faust. The creator of the show has a distinct style which she has used on shows that many Bronies are familiar with which do not come from Japan. The number one example would be Powerpuff Girls which many of the same elements (big eyes, a diverse female cast, highly simplified anatomy, etc). It is far more likely, given the age demographic, that many grew up with the highly successful cartoon Powerpuff Girls which also had popularity beyond a young female audience.
The other theory Neo-sincerity derives from Angela Watercutter, a journalist for Wired, which characterized Bronies as being ironically genuine in the show. Watercutter's article “My Little Pony Corrals Unlikely Fanboys Known as 'Bronies'” states that “their [Bronies'] love for the show is internet neo-sincerity at its best” (Watercutter). Robertson also shares this opinion, expanding on how it is neo-sincere for men in a cynical postmodern age to geniunely like something so pure and happy as a 'girly' show like MLP:FiM (7).
Again, there is evidence for this which partially justifies this theory. First, as stated, most fans identify as males, and in Western culture, males have a stronger sense of neo-sincerity in context of MLP:FiM. This theory helps explains why there are so many who identify as males, for if the show was just good, then the gender demographics should be more equal. Second, this fandom does exist within the context of postmodern cynicism, so this helps to explain why the fandom exist now.
The problem with this explanation is that is does little more than classify the phenomenon. Better explanations would also explore why MLP:FiM rather than the many other shows with similarly genuine moral messages which it would be ironic for adults to like (e.g. Care Bears). This theory also comes with almost no exploration beyond an understanding of the description of the fandom. For this theory be anything better than off-the-cuff , it needs to actually make predictive claims which studies can verify.
The kind of facts which would weaken the absolute nature of Watercutter's 'at best' limit to the phenomenon is to explore the relation the Brony has with the show from something more penetrating than the mere cultural outer layer which her theory derives.
- Cognitive Theory and Cartoon Animals
Cognitive theory is a useful tool for explaining Brony behavior because it is a theory that applies to all human beings cross-culturally. Personalities and mental conditions common within the Brony community will be the base data. It is assumed with good reason that personalities and mental conditions appear with statistically equal frequency cross-culturally. This means that hypotheses can be made about a portion of Muslim Bronies from this data which will help explain their relationship with the show.
The two main concepts from Cognitive theory essential to my hypothesis are theory of mind and minimally counter-intuitive ideas. Theory of mind refers to the cognitive ability for humans to attribute mental states to others. In context with MLP:FiM, it is the ability of its audience to attribute mental states to the cartoon ponies based on their faces and actions. Minimally counter-intuitive refers ideas which change a basic way of understanding an object in the world which is makes it more memorable. An example would be a deity, which is a slightly changed way of understanding of person to allow it to have power or knowledge that people do not have. In context of the show, the ponies that act like people would be a modified way of understanding animals.
Journal articles and Coder Bronies reveal that some Bronies need a modified Cognitive theory to apply to their unique mental disposition. First, many journal articles including Watercutter's have interviews with people with Asperger's syndrome, which means they have difficulty attributing emotions to faces. The following are quotes from various articles about the way people with Asperger's consume the show:
“This weird alchemy that Lauren Faust tapped into when she set out to make the show accessible to kids and their parents hooks into the male geek’s reptilian hindbrain and removes a lifetime’s behavioral indoctrination against pink. As a person with Asperger syndrome, I learned more about theory of mind, friendships and social interactions from this season [the first season] than I had in the previous 31 years of life.” - Luke Allen, a Brony from New Mexico (Watercutter)
Kirsten [Lindsmith, a female Brony] had been working hard with her own therapist to develop strategies for soothing herself. When she found herself in a bad-mood rut, she had agreed with her therapist, she would visualize Twilight Sparkle, the nerdy intellectual character in the animated children’s show “My Little Pony” — of which her knowledge bordered on encyclopedic and whose goofiness made her laugh. She also kept a list of “twisted thoughts” that she sought to resist when they came, like her tendency to presume Jack [her boyfriend who also has Asperger's] was angry when he was making a neutral observation. (Harmon) [Note Twilight Sparkle is a character obsessed with lists.]
Daniel from the UK has Asperger’s, but “My Little Pony” eases his anxiety. Through the fandom and a trip to a BronyCon he makes friends and finds himself feeling confident. (Osterheldt)
All these quotes reflect the same narrative that Bronies with Asperger's syndrome are attracted to the show for purposes related to their condition.
A description of INTJ
A Pony for Your Thoughts by Ryan Mullin
This documentary interviews a few Canadian Bronies and covers the way the show has helped fans deal with anxiety and depression.
The second factor is personality. According to Coder Brony's Herd Census, the most common personality for Bronies is INTJ (introversion, intuitive, thinking, judgment) (52). Bronies were given an option to take the Jungian Personality Test, and 85.7% of respondents did (Coder Brony 51). This personality resembles many aspects of Asperger's syndrome when it comes to social cues and difficulty with romance. The important thing to note is that INTJ is about 1-3% of the general population, so it is very likely that MLP:FiM has some aspect which strongly attracts them to the show (Coder Brony 52). Above is a link to a documentary which explores the fandom from this angle but on a personal angle.
Returning back to cognitive theory, this data seems to indicate that MLP:FiM has a unique ability to communicate to people who normally have difficulty using their theory of mind. This may be because the highly emotive faces the characters use and the way the show explains the relation between how one character feels and the actions of other characters. MLP:FiM in short creates a world in which other characters are easy to understand and relate to. People with Asperger's and similar mental dispositions might find this world a preferable alternative to complex world in which humans live in.
Farewell, My Good Friend by MuslimBrony
The image is of MuslimBrony's and his late friend's OC
Returning back to the section on Muslim Bronies, there are several things that can be explained according to this hypothesis. First, the longing for the world of MLP:FiM in the song Long Way From Equestria and the pride in being different despite how that creates anxiety in social situations in Great to Be Different both can be interpreted from this angle. The review of Feeling Pinkie Keen by Tommy Oliver (aka Brony Curious) utilizes his Original Character with several stock facial expressions which is common in many Brony analysis of episodes and fan topics. This system of using stock facial expressions is related to the unique theory of mind that the cartoon utilizes. Above is a piece of digital art by MuslimBrony which epitomizes uses the emotional language of the show to deal with very emotional topic (death) concerning his 'good friend'.
While this is only a hypothesis, which requires a more detail set of evidence and a better grasp of cognitive theory before being verified, it serves its purpose of demonstrating that a more data-centric model of theorizing cultural phenomena is more penetrating into the possible nature of a phenomenon.
Conclusion: Bronies, Religious Studies, and Theory
Bronies can easily be interpreted as a positive influence for Muslim-global relations from both a descriptive and theoretical angle. From the description, Muslim Bronies are participating in a culture which emphasizes loving and tolerating people despite their differences, which allows them to both present their socio-political issues like Palestine liberation in the moral language of Bronies. From the theoretical angle, many Muslim Bronies may participate in a theory of mind that connects them to others cross-culturally because their unique cognition makes them have more in common with other Bronies than those in their respective societies.
Religious studies for the most part has ignored online communities. This paper assumes it has to deal with the outdatedness of the field rather than being some form of prejudice for online hobbyists. This paper also critiques the sometimes superficial nature of the theories of cultural scientists and religious studies scholars on these very recent online phenomena.
Theory as this paper claims is a tool for analyzing and just as important as the description. In this sense, the paper is not radically reductionist as it still claims that description still has value in understanding a phenomenon. In summation, it is absolutely necessary to combine both at some point in every analysis of a phenomenon if one is attempting actually understand their subject.
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Bronies For Good. Seeds of Kindness. Broniesforgood.org. 2012. <http://broniesforgood.org/seeds-of-kindness/>
Coder Brony. Herd Report. Herdcensus.com. March 17, 2013. <http://herdcensus.com/2013%20STATE%20OF%20THE%20HERD%20REPORT.pdf >
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MuslimBrony. Lyra Heartstring Supports Palestine. DeviantArt. 2013. <http://muslimbrony.deviantart.com/art/Lyra-Heartstring-Support-Palestine-354634725?q=gallery%3Amuslimbrony%2F37187221&qo=20 >.
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Scootareader. Scootareader Looks Into: Love and Tolerance. The Daily Oat. April 14, 2013. <http://thedailyoat.com/2013/04/14/scootareader-looks-into-love-and-tolerance/#more-4568 >
Verbose. Opspe. Survey of Brony Subculture. 2012. <http://www.scribd.com/doc/94234033/Survey-of-the-Brony-Subculture >
Watercutter, Angela. My Little Pony Corrals Unlikely Fanboys Known as 'Bronies.' wired.com. 06.09.2011. <http://www.wired.com/underwire/2011/06/bronies-my-little-ponys/ >