My Little Soldier: The connection between the Bronies fandom and the military
Here’s why military Bronies think there’s a prominent crossover between the two communities
The target demographic of the “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” show was originally kids ages 2 to 11. However, after the show aired in 2010, it unexpectedly fueled the Bronies, a predominantly adult male fandom with members who connect over their love for the brand’s cartoon show, toys and merchandise. Out of the general Bronies community, with a Facebook group boasting more than 44,000 likes, came a different and equally surprising subcommunity: military Bronies.
Military Bronies make up a significant portion of the Bronies community, with a Facebook following of more than 9,000 followers and 9% of Bronies self-reporting as military in the 2014 Herd Census, which surveyed 21,686 Bronies. An Air Force class even dedicated their official patch to the show with “Little Pilot” threaded in pink, and other soldiers have donned patches of Rainbow Dash, a character on the show.
This subcommunity didn’t go unnoticed by the creators of “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.” After the first season, the show’s creative director and developer, Lauren Faust, told a Brony publication that she has “received a lot of notes from men in the military who are fans of the show.” In fact, the subgroup’s prominence led to a new plot line when a character trains and becomes a “cadet” at Wonderbolt Academy. When asked if the Wonderbolts, ponies who perform aerial acrobatics and demonstrations, are based on the United States Navy’s Blue Angels, Executive Producer Jayson Thiessen tweeted “yeah I think they were.”
Many military Bronies responded positively to the plot, even recording a reaction video in which many soldiers — some in uniform — expressed excitement about the “military-themed episode.” Another military Brony, who has asked to remain anonymous because active members are discouraged from talking to the press, said the Wonderbolts allow military Bronies to connect more with the show.
“That literally deals with their version of the Blue Angels and stereotypical scenarios that we’ve all known, which makes the show more relatable on those specific points,” the Brony said. “The whole premise is to be good people, which… is written in as part of our Core Values.”
The seven core U.S. Army values are loyalty, duty, respect, self service, honor, integrity and personal courage. Similarly, there are six Brony values as outlined by the show: honesty, kindness, laughter, loyalty, generosity and kindness.
“It’s a very positive show with a very positive message,” said James Udan, an army veteran and Brony. “The Bronies fandom correlates a lot to the morals and ethics of what it means to be a good member of the military community.”
However, some Bronies say that the connection between the military and Bronies communities goes deeper than just morals.
Tracer, a rain infantryman in the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines who has chosen to go by a pseudonym, first saw the show in 2011 while he was deployed in Afghanistan because a fellow marine was a fan. He began watching “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” habitually and fully joined the community in 2012. Tracer doesn’t think the communities’ similar morals is the main connection between them because ethics are innate rather than taught.
“A couple things like loyalty and stuff line up, but other than that, it’s personal,” he said. “I know plenty of marines, soldiers and military personnel who don’t have those morals. Just because they’re passed on to you or emphasized doesn’t mean you’re going to grab them up.”
Another military Brony who has chosen to remain anonymous agrees that core values are personal and therefore can’t be a steadfast link between the two groups. “I can see the connection, and I’ve made the same points in the past,” the Brony wrote. “[But] perhaps it is a thing that links it to specific people, but maybe not to the military fan community as a whole.”
Instead, Tracer thinks the main reason why the My Little Pony show has such a loyal military fanbase is because the community provides support during time of hardship.
“I went through some hard times,” he said. “I had a lot of support from that community, so that definitely helped me trust that community of Bronies.”
He even credits his military Brony friends with helping him find his way after he got out of the Marine Corps. He said someone sent him a link about volunteering in Iraq, and he decided to go. Many Bronies financially and emotionally supported him while he was there. “A lot of my character development after going through some hard times was based on my interaction with them.”
Dmitri Williams, a communications professor who has been studying online communities for 15 years, says that the two things someone can get from joining a community are strong social support or access to new ideas, called bonding and bridging. He thinks that in the case of the Brony community, most members seek support.
“The topic is so specific, and because the topic itself and the morals that go along with the storyline are so much about social support and friendship and love, most likely it’s people who want those things who are going there for it,” he said. “They want a strong community, and I would guess that many of the participants don’t get enough of that IRL.”
Many vets and active military personnel struggle with social isolation, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder during and after the military. Tracer said that after long periods away from home and intensive trainings, the upbeat show and supportive military Bronies community can provide comfort.
“It’s a positive experience for [Bronies] in a negative environment like the military,” he said. “That’s the main connection: it’s something that takes you away from what’s happening in the moment.”