My Little Fan Club

Click to view full size. Infographic by Harmony Huskinson.

She is a beacon of ASU spirit — a light grey coat, a mane of scorching maroon and gold, a spiral horn protruding from her forehead, the image of a pitchfork on her flank and huge, bright yellow eyes that say “dare me.”

She is Paragona, the fan-made unicorn of ASU’s Knights of Canterlot, a group of students who join a worldwide community in watching, appreciating and gathering around the ponies of Equestria in the Hub television network’s “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.”

At their second meeting the new ASU club played pin the tail on Pinkie Pie, one of the equine protagonists of the show, and musical chairs to the “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” theme song.

While 30 to 40 people attended each of the group’s first two meetings, The Knights of Canterlot have 64 “likes” on their Facebook page.

“When the show came out I realized that there’s no real reason why I’m not allowed to watch this show: it’s well-produced, it’s pretty funny, it’s got this amazing community,” says digital culture senior and club member Jared Gonzales.

These ASU students are part of a larger worldwide fandom that discusses the ponies of Ponyville and their adventures primarily on the Internet.

But since mid-summer 2011, in-person groups have been cropping up around the world — from Malaysia to Minneapolis.

Students of other universities have also picked up the in-person trend, with fliers that say “Bronies Unite!” posted at Stony Brook University in New York and late-night marathons of the show at the University of Washington, according to a post and its resulting comments on fan-site Equestria Daily.

Ruby Ball, the press secretary for the Knights of Canterlot and a painting and printmaking sophomore, says she both appreciates the quality of the animation and the humor.

“It’s a really good show to watch when you’re in a bad mood,” she says. However, the actual watching of the show must be done outside of club meetings.

Ball says because episodes of “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” haven’t been released on DVD, the group can’t watch episodes at meetings because of copyright laws and a 6:30 a.m. Saturday air-time.

But they can make a gathering place for people with similar interests to discuss their favorite characters and episodes, she says — to create friendship, which happens to be magical.

The Knights of Canterlot don’t only want to discuss their interest in the show. Ball says they hope to represent the moral values of friendship, love and equality expressed by the ponies.

“We want to do some charity events. We’ve discussed doing a float for the gay pride parade in Phoenix,” Ball says.

But not because of an overwhelming number of gay club members: Kenny Abrahams, a self-described brony, filmmaking practices junior and musician says homosexual orientation is not a common factor among bronies.

“That’s the biggest misconception, truthfully, that it’s all for gay guys,” Abrahams says. “There’s very, very little of a gay community.”

The Wall Street Journal and The Oregonian have reported that the larger fandom consists primarily of adolescent to young adult males who call themselves “bronies.”

But gender representation for the Knights of Canterlot is split 50-50; just as many boys show up to meetings as girls, Ball says.

Female fans of the show have been called bronies as well, but also have garnered the nicknames “pegasisters” and “bronettes.”

The initially male-dominated brony population can be explained by the origin of the movement, Gonzales says.

“You look at 4chan, it’s mainly 24-year-old-males,” says Gonzales, “That’s what started it and that’s kind of what the whole culture has viewed as its main audience.”

Adult interest in the show developed on popular image-posting forum 4chan, specifically on “/co/”, which is a section of the website designated for comics and cartoons, Gonzales says. A group of artists began to discuss the modern quality of animation compared to older cartoons on this forum.

“The quality started lapsing. A lot of animation got back-forwarded to basic flash. A lot of shortcuts were taken. There just seemed a lot less quality and effort than there used to be when we were growing up,” Gonzales says.

But “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” is different, he says.

“They put a lot put a lot more effort into how they manage it and you have a lot more fluid character animation,” Gonzales says.

And the quality goes beyond the animation. Abrahams says he appreciates the show for the quality of its music, continuity and character development.

“It just seems like the entire cast and crew takes the show really seriously and has a lot of fun with it,” Abrahams says, “And it’s just a legitimately good show.”

Joe Plate, an information technology senior at Gilbert Community College, is the event coordinator for the Bronies of Phoenix, a group of locals from the Phoenix Metro Area who meet to discuss My Little Pony at the Gamer’s Inn, a gaming shop in Mesa.

The Bronies of Phoenix have around 150 members, but some are from out of state or meet in Tucson. Around 40 to 50 people show up at semimonthly meetings, Plate says.

Their goal is to “hang out and basically spread the love,” he says.

Plate is wearing a pin in the shape of a grinning lime-green unicorn with the name “Puzzle Plate” underneath it. This is his persona on the Bronies of Phoenix website, which was founded in early July on meetup.com.

His pony-pin was created by a local artist and member of the Bronies of Phoenix. The art community has gathered around “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” to make thousands of videos, animations, illustrations and even some video games based on the show.

“For a smaller thing like My Little Pony they didn’t expect it to be so huge in this other demographic. They were just thinking of it as like a sideshow. But now on the Hub, it’s become basically their headliner,” Plate says.

Many of the online discussions and My Little Pony fandom occur on Equestria Daily, a half-blog, half-community gathering place for fans of the show.

Glendale-native Shaun Scotellaro started the website in January 2011 and was pursuing a degree in business at Glendale Community College before his website exploded in popularity, he says.  A running tab of page-views is kept on a sidebar, increasing by one about every half-second. It was at 96,687,350 page views when this article was written.

“A lot of people don’t go to 4chan, the website where it mainly started, since it’s sometimes called the ‘scum of the Internet,’” Scotellaro says. “I figured somewhere a little more clean and less obnoxious would be good overall.”

Scotellaro attended one of the first meet-ups hosted by the Bronies of Phoenix.

He wrote a blog post on Equestria Daily about his attendance at the Gamer’s Inn and says he enjoyed himself but lives too far from Mesa to return regularly. Scotellaro, known as Sethisto on his website, says he wants to focus primarily on running Equestria Daily.

As the page views tick away on Sethisto’s website, more learn about My Little Pony. Google searches for the word “brony” have doubled since in-person groups started forming in July.

And these bronies say they’re only asking for people to give the show a chance.

“I still think it’s a very sophisticated show in it’s writing and it’s characterizations,” Abrahams says. “So as with any good show like that, like Lost or Fringe or those type of huge story arc shows you have to give it a chance to get to know the characters and get to know the world, and a lot of people don’t.”