Lauren Faust is a perfectly articulate woman. Anyone who has seen her give interviews about her career in animation knows her to be vivacious, opinionated, and unflappable—the only kind of person who could have pulled off the soup-to-nuts execution of a show like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in the first place.
Yet to see her at the opening ceremony of BronyCon June 2012, you’d think it was her first time in front of a microphone.
Taking the stage to thunderous applause following the introductions of all her VIP colleagues, Faust found herself struggling to find the words to describe how she felt at that moment. But then, perhaps anyone would have gotten tongue-tied facing down an enraptured crowd of 4,000, a sea of swaying blue and gold and pink t-shirts and costumes packed into the main hall of the Meadowlands Exposition Center for the merest chance to meet the person responsible for creating what has become the most meaningful and inspiring part of so many of their lives.
It’s enough to choke anyone up—but they’ll be smiling all the while.
I was able to speak briefly with Faust before the autograph sessions began, and I gathered from her that as the show’s first two seasons aired, she—like many others—had honestly thought the “brony” phenomenon would be a flash in the pan, a fad that would have faded from the Internet as quickly as specific memes wither and die. There was every reason to believe that by 2012, pony fans would be about as passé as lolcats or “All Your Base Are Belong to Us”.
This was in fact the explicitly stated reason why BronyCon, formerly held in the city proper and known as BroNYCon, was scheduled not as an annual event or even semiannual, but quarterly. There wasn’t any sense in creating a convention for a fandom that might have evaporated by the time the first anniversary came around. It was best to strike while the iron was hot, original organizer Purple Tinker reasoned, and so every three months an increasingly well-attended gathering served the needs of first 100, then 350, then more than 800 dedicated fans, attracted not just by the increasingly notable guests of honor but by the prospect simply of hanging out with like-minded peers seeking mutual understanding and communal enjoyment of the show.
Sure, the fandom was still growing as of the end of 2011. But how much bigger could it really get?
Little did anyone know, even as recently as the raucous and overcrowded January event, that within six months the attendance would have nearly quintupled—preregistrations filled the chosen venue’s capacity of 4,000 weeks before it opened its doors.
And this is just one regional convention. In recent months, cons have sprung up across the USA and indeed the world—from Seattle’s Everfree Northwest and Cleveland’s Canterlot Gardens to BUCK and Galacon serving Europe. Part of the draw to BronyCon itself was certainly the unmissable chance to meet Lauren Faust and John de Lancie; but even without that, the growth of the fandom in general has been ballistic.
“Let the chaos begin”
It’s no accident that news outlets from Bitch Magazine to the Associated Press have taken the opportunity presented by this summer’s convention to cover it with thorough, professional, well-balanced reporting that treats the fandom as a legitimate, if unusual, subculture rather than (as with most past press attention) a lurid freak show. A walk up and down the neatly gridded aisles of the dealer’s area puts an attendee in mind of a grown-up tech convention like Macworld or a small-press-friendly event like San Diego Comic-Con. It’s nowhere near the size of these big-league expositions, of course, but the difference between BronyCon’s current professional appearance and the delirious chaos of January’s breathless event is simply staggering.
On one hand, it’s because this time the convention’s organizers had the time and the resources to plan properly and to anticipate a wildly growing attendee base by booking an appropriately sized venue. Security staff and VIP handlers, in contrast with prior cons, were both efficient and invisible. Con books were professionally printed and smartly attractive. A big-rig parked in front of the entrance gate displayed bright full-color digital banners as it blared a pony soundtrack across the eager crowd standing patiently in line for hours for autograph vouchers. There was plenty that went wrong behind the scenes—from last-minute training of registration workers to out-of-order elevators, from an ill-thought-out policy of clearing the auditorium space between panels to a poorly balanced audio setup—but taking into consideration the available niceties such as on-site food stands and a nearby outdoor mall, as well as the efficient way the staff handled the guests of honor and shepherded them and their thousands of fans past each other throughout the weekend, it’s hard to fault the organizers or to think that the next event they put on won’t be a methodical evolutionary improvement. The overhead light fixture that caught on fire during the writers’ panel on Sunday could have spelled the end of the day’s festivities and been a huge black eye for the organizers’ credibility; but instead they efficiently brought in the emergency services, evacuated the venue, reworked the schedule, and brought everything back on track without even derailing John de Lancie’s immovable panel appearance. Instead of proving themselves unprepared, the con staff rose to the challenge through a literal trial by fire.
But on the other hand, the successful imposition of order upon the chaos that is the pony fandom has to do with the nature of the fandom itself. Two years into its life, the fandom is ascendant. It’s got more energy than it knows what to do with. A quintupling of attendance and the rise of multiple regional events speaks of a fandom that has not just failed to plateau during the show’s second season, but has in fact exploded. The fact that the show’s spread used to be dependent upon illicit YouTube uploads seems downright quaint now; even after a rash of takedowns (some by Hasbro, some by scoundrels assuming Hasbro’s identity), the show’s popularity has only ramped up all the more on the strength of iTunes and Netflix as well as DVD releases in the US and Australia.
The appeal of the show has broadened, even though its premise has barely changed. The second season, with its wider variety of accessible side characters and atmospheric imagery, has led to an even greater base of material for fans to use as potential hooks for becoming actively involved in the fandom—particularly in the case of cosplay. Men wanting to dress up as a male character have more possibilities to choose from now than Big Macintosh, Braeburn, or Discord; there are now options like Fancy Pants, Shining Armor, or even Mr. and Mrs. Cake and their twin toddlers. The throngs milling about on the show floor certainly still contain any number of Fluttershys or Twilight Sparkles, but by now there are plenty more opportunities for fans to show their unique creativity. (My personal favorite costume choice was Crackle, the dragon cheekily modeled on a bad disguise within the show itself.) The old ways of getting hooked by the show may no longer be as relevant, but there are more points of entry on a personal level than there ever have been before, and so the spread of the show is only accelerating.
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