Monday, August 19, 2013

In subcultural news

In galloped the bronies. People like Matt Labash keep journalism (and, by extension, this blog) alive.


Alpheus said...

Arethusa teases me for being a Brony, and I do like the cartoon. The animation is cute and it's cleverly written. It really won my heart when one of the characters delivered the line, "They're messing with the wrong pony." The "anybody, nopony, somepony" thing also makes me smile.

I'm not about to dress up or write fan fiction or attend a BronyCon -- in fact, to be honest, I've only ever watched the show when I've flipped past it by accident -- but I suspect BronyCon has to be more spiritually nourishing than a classicists' convention.

I'll go further and say that I really think I get the idea of Bronydom as a rebellion against out culture's pervasive irony and suspicion of simple kindness. Whatever else "My Little Pony" may be, it's remarkably free of the cut-rate Nietzscheanism that pervades so much of our culture. And it's pretty clear from Labash's article that that's what a lot of these guys are responding to. Just a generation or two ago, TV consisted mainly of kind people defending simple pro-community values. Now it all looks terribly naive and unhip, but that was when our culture wasn't yet in its death throes. Goodness is always at least faintly ridiculous, isn't it?

Andrew Stevens said...

I have a four year old daughter. I also quite like "My Little Pony," by far the best show I can watch with her. I'm not remotely close to being a "Brony," but I like the animation and have a fondness for Fluttershy. Like Alpheus, I too enjoy "nopony, somepony, anypony." I also like that all the main characters are female (for my daughter's sake, you understand) and the lessons about friendship.

And, yes, part of my fondness for it is expressed in a quote from the article: "it's against excessive cynicism and irony and people not being kind to each other." It's hard to think of better things to be against.

Miss Self-Important said...

So you're both telling me that our culture has so decayed that all that we have left to cling to is a children's cartoon about pastel ponies? Or that there is really no more serious or worthwhile object towards which to channel sincerity and kindness than said pastel pony show? I mean, I understand that nihilism is bad, but I just don't see how My Little Pony is a reasonable cure, or even a short-term panacea.

Alpheus said...

I don't think "My Little Pony" is all we have left to cling to. But I do see the show's appeal -- and if grown men, casting about for something to express their longing for seriousness and decency, latch onto a children's cartoon about magic ponies, it doesn't seem to me like such a bad thing. I imagine that when a culture is sick, expressions of the desire for health can take odd forms.

A serious question: what are the alternatives, nowadays? What other contemporary products of our culture are both easily accessible and entirely wholesome? Trying to think of examples depresses me a bit.

Miss Self-Important said...

The alternatives in terms of consumable mass culture - country music, most chick flicks and rom-coms, the apparently burgeoning genre of televised historical re-enactment? Most of evangelical culture? There are probably also entire genres of non-cynical fiction, but I hardly read contemporary fiction, so I wouldn't know. These are more or less wholesome, and not cynical. Plus we do have a whole 2000 year-old civilization's worth of stuff stored up if the products of the present displease. But why can't the alternatives also be a sincere and non-cynical way of living your actual life, w/o recourse to mass culture one way or the other?

I'm not sure how partaking in the rainbows-and-sunshine interests of 6 year-old girls is a sign of desire for health on the part of grown men. Why don't they partake in the traditional activities of grown men instead, only without cynicism? It seems more obvious to me that if you want to live un-ironically, you get married and raise your children un-ironically. Or you raise other people's children. Maybe you can show them My Little Pony as part of that goal if you think it's actually good, but getting really into it yourself instead does not seem like a very good alternative.

Miss Self-Important said...

I was particularly struck by this:
One Brony study​—​yes, there’s some academic to study everything, and most of them seem to be conducting panels at BronyCon​—​says 84 percent of Bronies report being exclusively heterosexual (only 1.7 percent report being gay, while the rest are bisexual or asexual). More tellingly, 22.4 percent have no interest in dating, and 60.9 percent are interested but not dating.
The same demographic as video gamers, who do not seem to be working very hard toward a life of sincerity and integrity against cynicism.

Andrew Stevens said...

Well, you're looking for the wrong person to defend this. I find the whole thing more than a little silly. I was just defending it as a good children's television program, particularly for young girls. And I don't see why grown men can't admit to enjoying it unironically. Conventions? Dressing up as ponies? Well, to each his own, I suppose, but definitely not my thing. But then I don't dress up in Spock ears, Doctor Who scarves, or paint my face with the local sports team's colors either. I would put this on an approximately equal level with all of those things.

Alpheus said...

MSI: I think the answer to those questions lies in the situation in which contemporary men find themselves. I'm sure "game" theorists and conservative "war on men" writers like Helen Smith are overstating their cases, but I also suspect it's broadly true that the prospects are not particularly bright for most "nice guys" who just want to settle down and raise families. (I could say more about this, but by now the arguments have been thoroughly ventilated on the interwebs.) If the Bronies have opted out of dating and mating, I doubt it's entirely by choice. Ditto for video gamers.

Pursuing this line of thinking, it becomes pretty clear why the Bronies (or men generally) aren't going to go for chick flicks and rom-coms. Evangelical culture probably works as a mode of rebellion, but there's a whole metaphysics, increasingly foreign to modern sensibilities, that you have to accept. I'm very sympathetic to the idea of identifying with the past as an antidote to present discontents, and some people do that, but I'm not sure it's a good way to find a sense of connection to other people, which is another thing most human beings want.

I probably should have mentioned the plight of contemporary men in my earlier comments, but I thought it went without saying. Bronyism seems like a way for "nice guys" to embrace their niceness without feeling too much like victims.

Arethusa accuses me of "getting on [my] high horse" about all this. (Rimshot.)

Ben A said...

“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating, and has a silky, shiny mane.”

-Simon Weil, objectively pro-My-Little-Pony

Miss Self-Important said...

Andrew: Other men tell me that sports-based tribalism is a deep feature of manhood which my personal failure to grasp does not at all invalidate, so I think we have to leave the face-painting stadium fans out of this, but the Spock ear-wearers are probably on a level.

Alpheus: Haven't these people considered book clubs, or activity clubs, or doing some volunteer work? Some sort of social interaction grounded in reality? I don't understand how feeling lonely and underappreciated would ever cause me to don a costume and attend a convention, of any sort. When you said above that this seems more spiritually nourishing than a classics convention, I agree that academic conferences are not a good source of counter-loneliness experience, but the impetus to seek social gratification in places like conferences seems misguided in itself.

Ben: A pink mane. She overlooked that detail.

Alpheus said...

I didn't mean to imply that I think the Bronies are only looking for an antidote to alienation. I think there must be specific features of "My Little Pony" they find attractive. Then again, a lot of the message of the show seems to be about friendship and community, so maybe it *is* all one thing. (I don't have a fully-worked-out theory of Bronydom...I'm really just suggesting we should try to understand these gentle creatures.)

I agree it would be better if people who go to BronyCons or Star Trek conventions or whatever could do something more...productive. But I'm afraid that much of the mainstream culture is getting more alienating for many people. And maybe -- I'm speculating here -- some folks don't feel safe connecting with those who don't demonstrate their commitment to particular values in dramatic and risky ways (like wearing colored manes).

If you still have your free Netflix trial, there's a documentary available for instant viewing called "Achievers." It's about Big Lebowski conferences. The people who attend these things clearly love The Big Lebowksi, but they're also clearly looking to form connections. One of the Lebowski fans says something about how nice it is to be able to bond with people over something as simple as a movie. You'd think that sort of thing would be possible even in ordinary life...but evidently many people disagree.

Miss Self-Important said...

Well, neither Matt Labash nor I suggest that we send the bronies to the slaughterhouse, only that we gently mock the gentle creatures for partaking in a misguided effort to restore their manhood by dressing up as technicolor ponies. Perhaps the existence of bronies points to a problem, but it surely cannot be that problem's solution.