Essays on Technology and Culture

Like-Minded People and Internet-Enabled Subcultures

The Onion AV Club recently posted a gossip piece concerning members of the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fandom, aka “Bronies.” The gossip piece in question was reprinting an excerpt of a letter sent from one “Brony” to another, concerning sexual fan art of a character he considered his fiancée. Leaving aside, for the moment, the idea of being engaged to a fictional character, or drawing sexually explicit fan art, the reaction of the Internet was swift—complete mockery of both parties, and of the My Little Pony fandom in general.

I am not a “Brony,” and, while I do read The AV Club, I do not partake in its more gossip-oriented articles. What raised my ire enough to write this piece was the sheer dumbfoundedness of people to this behavior, including people on sites like Metafilter [1] which tend toward a higher standard of discourse, and the immediate jump to mockery. It’s as if these sorts of people—adult fans of children’s shows, creators of erotic fan art, and people with romantic attachments to fictional characters and inanimate objects—are creations of the Internet, and, as such, aberrations. The truth is, these sorts of people existed long before the Internet. It’s just that the Internet has given them a way to communicate with like-minded people in a way that no technology has before. It has all given them a way to communicate with a larger audience than they ever had before.

After all, it’s one thing to be the only person you know who is into, well, anything unusual. In the pre-Internet days, about the only way to meet like-minded people if you were into anything outside of the mainstream, was a college campus or, maybe, a major city, and even then, only if you were lucky. The weirdest of the weirdos occupied the fringes of groups and their conventions, and maybe publishing their near-samizdat fan zines. Come the arrival of the first online services, BBSes, Newsgroups, and IRC, it became easier. With the arrival of modern social networking, however, the gates fell for good. From LiveJournal, to DeviantArt, to Tumblr, subcultures of like-minded people with their own unique interests have been finding each other, connecting, and socializing.

And, like every other organized group of people, they have their own rules, their own sub-groups, and their own conflicts. Whenever something like the aforementioned letter emerges, the most vocal members of the subculture quickly speak up to say that “We’re not all that way!” Fundamentally, the populous at large knows this already, easy as it may be to stereotype. And, let’s be fair, nobody wants to own the person who draws sexually explicit fan art of children’s cartoon characters, or the person who is engaged to marry the same character. They’re disowned by the same group they thought would let them in, which does nothing to help the issues that already come from being that far outside the norm. These people have a hard enough road to travel already. Taking their issues public doesn’t help, especially when it’s presented in the way the AV Club has, to make light of everyone involved—which is, by extension the entire fandom.

What are we getting out of this besides the cheap, visceral thrill of watching a train wreck? Can we step back, for even a moment, and evaluate the effect that bringing these people’s actions to a public audience will have? The thing about most of these subcultures of like-minded people, is that their behaviors aren’t really hurting anyone. The worst harm you’ll have from the sexually explicit fan-artist is needing a bit of eye or brain bleach if you accidentally come across their work. The man who seeks to marry the cartoon character? He’s not hurting anyone, either. Bringing their private feud, even if it happens in a public space, to the world-at-large is shameful at best. We have better things to do with all of our time.

  1. I discovered this story on Metafilter. I’m unwilling to link to the actual thread, let alone the AV Club post, because I don’t think this sort of public ridicule needs to be encouraged.  ↩