Bronies are male fans of the “My Little Pony” cartoon. Wiki­media Commons

Every local news station in the United States fea­tured exposés on a rising and seem­ingly dan­gerous sub­culture in 2013.

“You probably sit with your kids some­times when they watch car­toons,” reported WREG in Memphis Ten­nessee. “But we’re about to introduce you to a group of grown men and women who are obsessed with one par­ticular cartoon: ‘My Little Pony.’”

News channels like ABC, FOX, CBS, and their local affil­iates all took time to explore this budding cul­tural phe­nomenon. “Red Eye Radio” and “The Howard Stern Show” sent reporters to con­ven­tions hoping to catch bronies on tape. Pod­casts, blogs, news­papers, and mag­a­zines fea­tured inter­views with pro­fessed bronies. Parents watched hor­rified, believing that their children were being exposed to brony culture and even worse: brony-themed pornog­raphy. Bronies drew attention, and everyone wanted clicks while the getting was still good. People soon moved on, and the cov­erage stopped. The bronies, however, have stuck around.

The website “What is a Brony” states that a brony is “a fan of ‘My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’ that is outside of the target demo­graphic of little girls.” The sta­tistics tell another story. According to the most recent “State of the Herd” report, a sta­tis­tical analysis of the brony fandom, a clear majority of bronies are males ages 14 to 24.

Hillsdale senior Steven Custer fits into this demo­graphic. Custer studies eco­nomics and plans to graduate next semester. He also loves “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.”

“At the end of my freshman year I saw some­thing on the internet men­tioning bronies,” he said. “I figured I would watch the first few episodes before passing judgement on it, so I watched the first few episodes, and I really liked it.”

Custer devotes about 10 hours a week to brony-related activ­ities. He watches the show, streams fan-created content, talks with other bronies on the chat service Discord, and makes music videos fea­turing the cast of the show.

“I’m a content creator,” Custer said. “I take clips from the show and rein­terpret them in the context of a piece of music to tell a story. They’re called PMVs, or Pony Music Videos.”

Custer has 250,000 sub­scribers on YouTube, with his most popular music video reaching 600,000 views. His ded­i­cation to cre­ating original content cen­tered around the show is far from unique in the com­munity.

“The fandom allows anyone who wants to be cre­ative in any aspect to par­tic­ipate. There’s art, music, fan­fiction, and ani­mation,” Custer said. “It really shows the cre­ative aspect of the fans.”

Hillsdale sophomore Joseph Frank Johnson has a simple expla­nation for this artistic phe­nomenon: “Ponies are easy to draw.”

Johnson hes­i­tates to call himself a brony, but enjoys the show and creates content in his free time under the YouTube handle “Joey, The Dark Lord.”

“It’s really stupid, but I’m taking ‘My Little Pony’ episodes, and I’m applying eco­nomics to them,” Johnson said. “The videos use ponies to explain eco­nomic con­cepts like com­par­ative advantage.”

Johnson first dis­covered “My Little Pony” his sophomore year of high school, but moved away from the fandom after being exposed to its more extreme facets.

“You look at stuff at the fandom has made and you think ‘Oh that’s cool,’” Johnson said. “But as time has gone on I started to realize how weird some of that stuff was. I think the closer you get to what a brony is, the more you want to step back and just like the show.”

Outside of buying a few shirts from Hot Topic during high school, Johnson kept his wallet far away from the fandom’s clutches. Custer cannot say the same.

“I’ve dropped about $1,000 on the pony fandom,” Custer said. “I’ve been to BronyCon in Bal­timore the past two years, so that includes flights and hotels.”

At last year’s con­vention, Custer met people he knew from the com­munity in person, watched panels, and par­tic­i­pated in live musical per­for­mances. He even made time to bring Johnson home a poster.

“The show is very pos­itive. All the mes­sages are about com­munity, friendship, and how to interact with other people,” Custer said. “That inevitably seeps into the psyches of the people who watch the show, so we pride our­selves on being a very open, loving, and accepting com­munity.”

The brony fandom thrives on its openness, to the point where it pro­duces every­thing that a fan could pos­sibly want or need. There’s brony news web­sites, brony support groups, brony shoes, brony char­ities, com­munist brony dis­cussion boards, and even a brony dating site called “Brony Mate.”

The brony fandom is often viewed neg­a­tively by the public, leading to tragedy. In 2014 an 11-year-old boy attempted to hang himself after his class­mates repeatedly called him gay for wearing clothing fea­turing the char­acter Pinkie Pie. Earlier that same year a 19-year-old with learning dis­abil­ities threw himself in front of a train after internet trolls accosted him over a pony fan­fiction.

Both Custer and Johnson claim that Hillsdale stu­dents never so much as sneer at them for their bronyism. Junior eco­nomics major Jenna Suchyta explains part of the reason why.

“My gut reaction is that the whole thing is weird, but its not hurting me so, ‘you do you,’” said Suchyta, when asked how she feels about bronies. “Anime is weird also, but they don’t bother me, so why should I be worried?”

Con­sid­ering Hillsdale counts itself among the few remaining col­leges in the U.S. that allow smoking on campus, this answer seems far from sur­prising. Self-gov­ernment extends into bronyism quite nicely.

“People know I’m a brony, and they don’t really care about it,” said Custer.

For both Custer and Johnson, the most dif­ficult person to discuss bronyism with was their parents. Custer’s father ini­tially resisted his bronyism.

“My dad would joke around about how he would never want any of his sons to be a brony,” Custer said. “That was a dif­ficult con­ver­sation.”

Johnson, on the other hand, found his mother dif­ficult to con­vince.

“I was pretty nervous leading up to telling my mom about it,” Johnson said. “I showed her a couple of episodes, and she thought it was weird but was cool with it. Later, I found out she thought I was gay.”

“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” recently wrapped up its 7th season. According the brony news website “Horse News,” the show expe­ri­enced a huge drop in the ratings during its 6th season and con­tinues to lose view­ership. After leaving the public eye, bronies began to abandon their once beloved fandom.

“There is def­i­nitely a sense that fewer and fewer people are involved with the fandom,” said Custer. “When the fandom first started it was weird and caught people’s eye. After the hype dropped people who were not as involved all left.”

Vis­iting brony web­sites gives a stark impression of the fandom’s falling pop­u­larity. Many of these web­sites post new content rarely if at all, and the few that persist lose traffic every day.

“I think that the whole fandom got big as a coun­ter­culture thing,” Johnson said. “People came on because it was a fad, and then things just even­tually blew over. People ana­lyzed the show way too much, picking apart each episode on an indi­vidual basis. It was talked to death.”

Johnson believes that bronyism now serves as an inter­esting case study more than any­thing else.

“I think bronyism is remarkable,” he said. “It’s the first culture to arise purely because of the internet. Some­thing like Star Trek or Star Wars appeals to guys on a uni­versal level, so they could grow nat­u­rally without the internet. Bronyism needed the internet, so it’s the first of its kind.”

As the world that they built crumbles around them, the few remaining bronies con­tinue to create. Rumor has it that the show still has two seasons left, and fans like Custer and Johnson hope to stick around to the very end. Custer just hopes for some like-minded company in the meantime.

“If there’s any bronies that haven’t made them­selves known, feel free to contact me because I would love to meet you. It would be great if we had a group here on campus.”

Custer sees the writing on the wall, but refuses to be swayed by the apparent exodus.

“There’s a fairly large core of really ded­i­cated members of the fandom,” Custer said. “Come hell or high water, these people won’t leave the fandom. Even if 90 percent of the fandom leaves I’m still sticking around. I’m still watching the show, I’m still going to con­ven­tions, and I’ll still have the friend­ships I’ve made.”