Apologies for extreme lateness, I am once again ill.
The recent Bob’s Burgers
episode “Equestranauts” offered a very funny take on the brony subculture, as the titular burger joint owner had to pretend to be an adult fan of Equestranauts
, an action- and friendship-packed show designed to market horse toys to little girls, in order to get back a toy a collector swindled out of his daughter.
Quite a bit of the episode is a simple, fairly gentle lampooning of convention culture in general and bronies in particular. The usual exaggerations for fictional depictions of conventions are in play, of course, most notably that cosplay is depicted as de rigeur rather than an expensive and time-devouring hobby pursued by a few. Notably, however, there does seem to be some awareness of the quirks of bronies. Admittedly, both Tina and Bob (especially Bob) are subjected to gatekeeping by defensive fans, more commonly a phenomenon of the science fiction, comics, and gaming fandoms, but here said gatekeeping is actually possible to pass, after which they are basically accepted into the community.
That community itself is depicted as, in large part, harmless silliness; unusual, perhaps imperfectly socialized, men hanging about and being faintly ridiculous. Most are welcoming and friendly and just looking to have some innocent fun feeling out over their favorite cartoon; only Bronconius is portrayed negatively.
Where the episode is most interesting, however, is in its climax, where the Equesticles are called out for allowing Bronconius free reign as he swindled little girls, pushed people around, and generally acted like a selfish, domineering jerk. And there, perhaps accidentally, the episode accurately depicts the bronies’ biggest problem, the paradox of tolerance.
This old philosophical problem is simply summarized: some people are, for whatever reason, frequently aggressive, controlling, and intolerant. Perhaps more importantly, most people are occasionally aggressive, controlling, and intolerant, and the more they get away with the behavior, the likelier they are to believe it is acceptable. There are few constraints on individual behavior more powerful than this aggressive intolerance; thus, a community which tolerates all behavior by its members is necessarily one which is experienced as intolerant by most members–put another way, in the absence of an asshole control mechanism, assholes run rampant.
Bronies, as a group, are extremely reluctant to police other bronies. A combination of factors, including the show’s themes of friendship and harmony, and statistical tendencies for bronies to be likelier than the general populace to be poorly socialized, victims of bullying, and neurotic, combine to create a subculture where most people are unwilling to rock the boat, even to deal with someone walking the boat. An embattled mentality, mostly originating with extremely negative mainstream media coverage early in the fandom and attempts by 4chan to expunge Friendship Is Magic
-related discussion, has created a culture of defensiveness, where criticism of bad behavior by individual members is treated as an attack on the community (which, to be fair, it sometimes is, because there is a natural tendency for said individuals become the most visible face of the community to outsiders).
For example, there is a frequent implication in mainstream media coverage that the majority of bronies have a deviant sexual interest in children (sometimes more than an implication, as in Amanda Marcotte’s characteristically knee-jerk Slate piece on Equestria Girls), which is hardly the case. (My own surveys and interviews suggest that very few bronies actually consume clop, for instance.) However, there are sufficient numbers of bronies that it is statistically certain that there at least a few members of the community who are sexual predators, and it falls on the community to identify and out them. Unfortunately, reports of such behavior at brony conventions are frequently rejected outright as “trolling” or outsiders trying to make trouble; a wagon-circling effect occurs which denies that such individuals exist within the brony community at all.
Derpygate is another good example of this phenomenon; fans expressing legitimate concerns regarding the use of an ableist slur in the show and conflation of physical and mental disabilities were met with accusations of trying to “censor” the show or “erase” the disabled, fan campaigns treated it as a personal attack on the character in question, and in some cases the concerned fans were subject to vicious harassment, to the point that some of the people involved in the show had to issue calls for it to stop. And yet, two years later, it is by and large the individuals who had those concerns who are remembered as the villains, for daring to question whether the show and its fandom are the perfect paragons of politeness, harmony, and equality bronies like to paint themselves as.
The instinct to circle around and protect a member of the community is not in itself problematic, but it must be tempered by a willingness to recognize that some members don’t deserve protection, and that sometimes the community itself is to blame. If we do not call out the Bronconiuses in our ranks, others will–and they will assume they represent who bronies are.