Illustration by Ben Juers.
When the My Little Pony franchise was rebooted in 2010 as the TV series My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, it quickly garnered an unexpected cadre of fans. Bolstered by lively discussion on such sites as 4chan and Reddit, the franchise was adopted by males aged thirteen to thirty-five – hardly the predictable demographic for a show aimed at young girls. These fans came to be known as ‘bronies’—a portmanteau of ‘bro’ and ‘pony’—and today, according to the online Brony Study conducted by two psychologists from the University of Georgia and Louisiana State University, there are at least 50,000 self-identified bronies, eighty-five percent of whom are male, with an average age of twenty-one.
The precise course of the development of this fan culture is unclear. In some tellings the bronies began watching and discussing My Little Pony ‘ironically’. The fact that the fandom is thought to have begun on 4chan and Reddit—two sites where insincerity and unblinking absurdity are the lingua franca—lends credence to this. But the enthusiasm shown by bronies, and their use of a distinctive lingo (‘anypony’ for ‘anybody’), caused them to be marginalised by the host websites. Independent sites were established, and brony culture (based on the frequency of Google searches) expanded in 2011. Eventually, a sexual subset appeared: ‘cloppers’, who masturbate and profess sexual attraction to eroticised images of the My Little Pony characters. One figure puts the ‘clopper’ population at twenty percent of all bronies.