Black and Red and Alicorn, Oh My!
Defying social norms often makes individuals the subject of public ridicule. Gender norms in particular have created quite a debate over the years. Despite all of the courageous work done to promote gender equality over the years, American men and women are still subjugated to the concepts of gender norms and identity within those norms.
One only needs to walk through the toy department of any large department store chain to realize that gender norms are alive and well and being continually perpetuated. Aisles are often labeled specifically for girls’ toys or boys’ toys. Girls’ aisles feature prominently pink packaging and decorum while the boys’ aisles tend toward blue.
There is nothing about toy horses that make them inherently a female property. Bronies have broken with this gender norm and are often viewed harshly for it. Harkening to the psychological concept of the actor/observer effect, some will perceive a male’s enjoyment of My Little Pony as there being something wrong with that individual internally.
Bronies have been under attack since the fandom’s inception. There even exist hate groups on Facebook and Reddit that are focused to an anti-brony message. With such names as the Anti-Brony Brotherhood and Anti-Brony Coalition, these groups exist solely to unite a group of people against another group of people simply for having an interest that they do not share.
Cyber bullying attacks by these groups as well as by individuals acting out of their own malice can have dire consequences for their victims. In May of 2014, 19 year old Adam Smith posted a video to his YouTube channel apologizing to the cyber bullies who had been criticizing his My Little Pony fan fiction as well as his speech and grammar among other things. Despite his attempt to reach out, Smith continued to receive a barrage of hate online. Less than two weeks after posting his video, Adam Smith stepped in front of a moving train and committed suicide (Narain, J., 2014).
Researchers have shown strong correlations between cyber bullying and suicidal thoughts, particularly in teens and adolescents. A 2013 study of high school students confirmed the link between cyber bullying and suicidal tendencies. Not only is this link active for the victims of the attacks, but can also reflect back to the perpetrator due to their guilt over the situation (Bauman, S., et. al., 2013). Additional research by the Australian Catholic University has shown 68 percent of cyber bullying victims report negative emotional, social, and behavioral effects due to being attacked (Dredge, R., et. al., 2013).
It is imperative to note that Smith’s attackers were not merely those from the anti-brony groups, but also members of the brony community itself. Despite being fans of a show that promotes the magic of friendship, these individuals are just as quick to spew harsh and attacking words online.
The most common form of online bullying within the brony fandom is that of shaming an individual. People have been shamed by their fellow bronies and pegasisters for things as simple as having a favorite pony that is unpopular or having their personal OC styled in a certain manner.
OC is an abbreviation that means either Original Character or Own Character and can also be referred to as one’s ponysona. There are two commonly seen trends in OC creation that are largely looked down upon in the fandom. One is the use of a black and red color scheme, which is often viewed as being overly brooding and self-involved.
The other commonly seen trend that is certain to raise some eyebrows and inspire comments is that of the alicorn OC. In the world of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, There are only four known alicorns on the series and they all serve as princesses who help to rule over the land of Equestria. Those with alicorn OCs are often looked down upon as selfish and elitist.
While there can always be room for valid constructive criticism, comments are often times harsh and mean-spirited. An OC is a personal construction made by an individual to represent themselves and/or their creative interpretation of the My Little Pony universe. In much the same way that a musician composes a song using preconceived chords, an individual creates their OC to be their creative contribution in an already existing universe.
As much as I wish it wasn't true, I possess very little ability to draw, paint, sculpt, or complete similar artistic forms. I, like many others, created my OC with a pony creator application. I played around with it for a little while and selected the colors and shapes that spoke to me.
When it came to choosing what ability my pony would have, I paused and had to reflect on the options. At the time I had become quite the Rainbow Dash fan and my initial instinct was to be a pegasus as well. At the same token, as someone who tries to stay humble I thought that maybe I should select an earth pony.
Eventually I decided that if I were actually a pony in Equestria, I would be a unicorn — it just felt right to me. My OC is really more of an Own Character than Original Character. I did not write a backstory for him or create potential shippings between him and other ponies. All I wanted was a pony that could represent me — something that made me feel that much more connected to this fandom.
I knew that I could have made an alicorn, but that didn't feel right to me. I did feel that if I did, that I would be sending the message that I was on the same level as a princess. To be clear, this does not mean that I am judging other’s who have created alicorn OCs in this same manner.
I couldn't possibly know what another person’s thought process was when creating their character just from viewing an image of their OC. I know the thought process I had to go through, but my mind definitely works in a different way from others. I can imagine someone creating a black and red or alicorn OC for some deep personal reason that I couldn’t even begin to understand.
Think about something that you spent time to create, and then it’s suddenly destroyed. It probably feels something like this:
An OC is a form of intellectual property. It is a unique creation that someone spent time and energy to create. To attack its merit is to attack that individual and their inner creative process. Some people are naturally more talented than others and everyone has their own drive behind the characters that they create that is often times deeply personal.
Whether it be a fan fic or an OC, whether we love it or hate it — there has to be a better way to talk about this. Remember to take that extra moment to reflect on what you’re going to say in your reaction comment. Can you start a conversation instead of an argument? Can you explain your opinion without starting a war? Can you Keep Friendship Magic?
Bauman, S., Toomey, R. B., & Walker, J. L. (2013). Associations among bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide in high school students. Journal of Adolescence, 36(2), 341–350. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1364702802?accountid=13158
Dredge, R., Gleeson, J., & Garcia, X. (2014). Cyberbullying in social networking sites: An adolescent victim’s perspective. Computers in Human Behavior, 36, 13–20. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563214001484
Narain, J. (2014, December 17). Teenage my little pony fan posted heartbreaking youtube video apologizing to internet trolls who tormented him days before he threw himself under train. The Daily Mail. Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article- 2877190/Teenage-Little-Pony-fan-posted-heartbreaking-YouTube-video- APOLOGISING-internet-trolls-tormented-days-threw-train.html