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Christopher Bell, "The ballad of Derpy Hooves: Transgressive fandom in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

Christopher Bell, "The ballad of Derpy Hooves: Transgressive fandom in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic

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Published by Ross Wolfe
This study examines the culture of fandom by highlighting a distinct shift in how media creators interact with their fan communities. Recently revamped children's television series, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, inadvertently created a highly devoted group of young-adult, male fans dubbed “bronies.” Many view this fandom as transgressive — adult men should have no interest in a series targeting young girls. The series’ producers, however, chose to acknowledge the fan subculture, incorporating a brony-named background character, Derpy Hooves, into the show. This inclusion of non-traditional, “transgressive” fans marks an evolution in the creator/fan relationship.
This study examines the culture of fandom by highlighting a distinct shift in how media creators interact with their fan communities. Recently revamped children's television series, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, inadvertently created a highly devoted group of young-adult, male fans dubbed “bronies.” Many view this fandom as transgressive — adult men should have no interest in a series targeting young girls. The series’ producers, however, chose to acknowledge the fan subculture, incorporating a brony-named background character, Derpy Hooves, into the show. This inclusion of non-traditional, “transgressive” fans marks an evolution in the creator/fan relationship.

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Published by: Ross Wolfe on Mar 29, 2014
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Humanities Directory Vol. 1, No. 1, 5-22, August 2013
The ballad of Derpy Hooves - transgressive fandom in
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
Christopher Bell*
University of Colorado Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States
Abstract
This study examines the culture of fandom by highlighting a distinct shift in how media creators interact with their fan communities. Recently revamped children's television series,
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
, inadvertently created a highly devoted group of young-
adult, male fans dubbed “
b
ronies.” Many view this fandom as
transgressive -
adult men should have no interest in a series targeting young girls. The series’ producers, however,
chose to acknowledge the fan subculture, incorporating a brony-named background character, Derpy Hooves, into the show. This inclusion of non-
traditional, “transgressive” fans marks an evolution in the creator/fan relationship.
Introduction
Author C.S. Lewis (1966, p.34) once wrote:
To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark
of really arrested development …
When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up
. Nowhere is this sentiment more palpable in modern popular culture than in the recent
phenomenon of the “Bronies”: adult men, typically childless, that are intense fans of The Hub’s
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
 (hereafter MLP:FIM). Fandom, by its very nature, is a contested space; one of the hallmarks of fandom is that it resists attempts to categorize and/or label it. Henry Jenkins (1992) described fandom as a loosely structured space in which popular culture texts can be interpreted and negotiated, with recognition that the experience of being a fan is just as important as the experience of interpreting and negotiating the text itself. The culture of fandom
 –
 the relationship of fans to one another
 –
 can be just as integral to the fandom experience as the relationship of the fan to the text itself. Cornel Sandvoss (2005, p.8) further defined fandom as
the regular, emotionally involved consumption of a given popular narrative or text
’,
 layering on an element of emotional attachment to the text. In both of these conceptualizations of fandom is an inherent belief that there is a distinction between the casual consumer of a particular text
and those who would be considered to be “fans”
ISSN 2050-6171 http://dx.doi.org/10.7563/HD_01_01_01 
 
 
6.
Bell 
 Contemporary fans of many popular culture properties have demonstrated an amazing proclivity toward creative expression of that fandom, particularly online. Fanfiction.net boasts thousands of fan-wri
tten “episodes” of television programs, films, comic books and
so forth. DeviantArt.com is full of drawings, paintings and photographs depicting popular cultural icons and texts. Typically, these fan-created properties remain within the confines of their respective fan communities; the originators of the popular culture texts themselves rarely get involved in the production of fan-created properties. However, a distinct change in the fan/creator relationship occurred on January 21, 2012.
The Last Roundup
, MLP:FIM
’s 14th episode of the program’s second season, aired with a
peculiar cold opening. In the scene, series regular character Rainbow Dash interacts with a new character she refers to as Derpy. For one and a half minutes, Rainbow Dash and Derpy play out an innocuous comedic scene. However, the implications of the scene are far from innocuous. In one of the very rarest instances in popular culture history, the fans of MLP:FIM had profoundly influenced their devotional text. Fans had created a canonical character. Derpy Hooves
 –
 an internet invention
of the Bronies’
 community
 –
 
was “real”
.
Friendship is Magic
In 1981, toy manufacturing giant Hasbro released a small line of plastic horses for girls, dubbed My Pretty Pony. The My Pretty Pony line sold fairly well and, in 1982, illustrator Bonnie Zacherle was contracted to redesign the line. The new My Little Pony line launched in
1983, and quickly became one of Hasbro’s biggest sellers. To capitalize on the high sales
figures, Hasbro teamed with Marvel/Sunbow Productions to produce
My Little Pony: The Movie
 (1986) and the television series
My Little Pony ‘n Friends
 (1986). The series ran for 65 episodes in syndication before its cancellation in 1987. Five years later, with sales lagging, Hasbro reinvented the My Little Pony line with a new television series,
My Little Pony Tales
. From July to December 1992, the series ran for 26 episodes and featured many of the same characters from the original
My Little Pony ‘n
Friends.
While the My Little Pony range c
ontinued to be produced and sold by Hasbro, the line’s
media presence was all but dark for almost two decades, aside from the occasional direct-to-DVD release. Following the success of the Michael Bay Transformers adaptation (2007), Hasbro saw an opportunity to revamp another of its signature toy properties. The manner in which My Little Pony had been previously marketed was deemed out of date for the current generation of girls, and Hasbro approached budding television network The Hub in search of a partnership. Meanwhile, independently, Lauren Faust was seeking a meeting with Hasbro regarding a possible toy line for her Galaxy Girls idea. Faust was a veteran of the animation world, having worked with Craig McCracken on both
Foster’s Home for Imaginary Fri 
ends
 and
The Powerpuff Girls
 for Cartoon Network. She dreamed of creating her own series aimed at girls, but spent
‘years and years … pitching original animation for girls to studios and networks and
always hearing
This is great, but animated shows for gi
rls don’t get ratings”
, or
“Girls don’t watch cartoons”
 
 (Faust, 2010). Hasbro was uninterested in her Galaxy Girls concept, but invited her to pitch ideas for a new My Little Pony program. Initially, Faust was dubious, as her memories of the previous My Little Pony series were unfavorable, to say the least:
‘I couldn’t tell one girl character from another and
 they just had endless tea parties, giggled over nothing and defeated villains by either sharing with them or crying
 –
 which
 
 
The ballad of Derpy Hooves
 7 miraculously inspired the villain to turn nice. Even to my 7-year-old self, these shows made
no sense and couldn’
t keep my interest
 (Faust, 2010). The show that Faust pitched back to Hasbro was conceptually different from anything Hasbro had previously attempted. In fact, it was a new frontier for thematic programming aimed at American girls. Faust decreed:
‘Cartoons for girls don’t have to be a puddle of smooshy, cutesy
-wootsy, goody-two-shoeness. Girls like stories with real conflict; girls are smart enough to understand complex
plots; girls aren’t as easily frightened as everyone seems to think.
 Girls are complex human beings, and they can be brave, strong, kind and independent
 –
 but they can also be uncertain, awkward, silly, arrogant or stubbo
rn. They shouldn’t have to succumb to pressure
to be perfect
 (Faust, 2010). This distinctly feminist ethic infused the new program, dubbed
My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
. The Hub debuted MLP:FIM on October 10, 2010 and the series has just finished its third season (as of this writing). It is one of the highest rated programs on the network, and one of the highest rated programs among children aged 6-11 on cable television (tvbythenumbers, 2012). But along with those children aged 6-11 came a new and interesting segment of fandom - the
“b
ronies
.
Birth of the bronies
The b
ronies’ naissance is tied to the rise of
4Chan as a home for a vast array of fandom communities. In 2003, Christopher Poole launched a small image-sharing website he dubbed 4Chan. Since then, 4Chan has become one of the most vibrant and often bizarre spaces on the internet, where visitors can anonymously post and discuss everything from pornography to professional sports. One of the subforums, the Comics and Cartoons forum (the/co/ board), hosted a post by Amid Amidi in October of 2010, wherein he laments the
death knell for creator-driven animation
 (Amidi, 2010). Citing the launch of MLP:FIM , among other Hub programming such as
G.I. Joe: Renegades
 and
Strawberry Shortcakes’s Berry
Bitty  Adventures
, Amidi lambasts the network for
prefer[ring] established properties over original ideas, and dislik[ing] dealing with individual artists who have a clear creative vision
 (Amidi, 2010). Interestingly, the vast majority of posters that rose to the defense of MLP:FIM were adult men. In fact, by February 2011, nearly 6,000 Pony-dedicated threads existed on /co/. Moderators grew tired of the constant stream of Pony talk, and decreed that all Pony-related postings would result in a one-day ban from 4Chan. Instead of quelling the stream of Pony posts, the moderators inadvertently incited an uprising. Thousands of Pony pictures and posts began to appear on every 4Chan subforum, not just /co/. Banned users would instantly create new accounts in order to post more Pony pictures.
These “Pony Bros”
launched an all-out assault on 4Chan, and eventually, Poole was forced to fire the moderator who started the controversy and issued a public apology, stating:
We fucked up and turned our back to one of the largest subcultures in 4Chan
’s history. This
was not out of malice, but ignorance, and responding to general upset from the rest of the community when pony threads began to overwhelm their respective homes
 (4Chan Adds a Pony Board, 2012). Thus, the bronies were legitimised and the community grew from there, eventually expanding to several websites of their own, including Equestria Daily, Herdcensus.com and Bronies for Good. Herdcensus.com has recently undertaken the task of categorizing the bronies community in order to find out who, exactly, the bronies are. Using a self-selected sample, largely through

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