Brony and Fan Escapism Through Animation

A normal example of fan expressionism via Equestria Daily
A normal example of fan expressionism via Equestria Daily

Where does the line between fandom and serious escapism lie and what risks do fans undertake by crossing over it? The Brony phenomenon and its popularity brings a contemporary focus to this topic.

Two Sides of the Same Coin

When it comes to fandoms and the properties on which they are based, there is always a range of levels when it comes to deovtion. There is the casual fan who watches occasionally, the more serious fan who will watch devotedly and may/may not buy the DVDs when they come out. From there, it’s a pretty quick graduation into serious fandom, where watching is not only considered mandatory, it is considered the gateway into further show discussion, which can consists of much more than just character and plot theories, but expand into philosophical musings on things like the deeper meanings behind the show to backstories for the characters. Fanfiction also comes under this grouping.

Even those top level of fans are capable of separating their fandom from their daily lives however. From there, we slide into a degree of fandom where the distinction between the universe within a show and the real world become quite blurred.

Just to note, cosplay doesn’t fall under this; it’s a method of expression and an outlet for creativity that resides either within the confines of conventions or photo shoots. That said, there exists fans for whom it is considered acceptable to either replicate, or mimic many characteristics of a show of character in their daily appearance who would.

So if regular fandom is one side of the coin, what is on the other?

Escapist Fans

Again, I need to emphasise that the line is a blurry one, and it’s easy to mistake an escapist fan for a very serious one. Escapist fans operate on a much deep psychological and physiological level. For them, their chosen show/film, is so much more than a source of entertainment, it is, in effect, a potent source for some, most or all their morals, decision-making and outlooks in life.

Escapist fans engage in much more than simple roleplay, cosplay (see above) and displays of their affection. Rather, they act and behave in ways that display heavy degrees of influence by the show(s) in question. They respond (or fail to respond) to problems and conflicts in ways that are based upon characters in the show. Again, this can occur in varying degrees/levels and even the vast majority of fans engage in a “what would X do if…” discussion. What this post is concerned with are the fans who base every dilemma on what a character would or would not do.

The Blurry Borderline Between Normality and Escapism

So where exactly does the borderline lie, and how can we tell when it’s been crossed? In the case of bronies (just to pick an example, but plenty of others exist out there), escapism would be somewhere in and around the point where My Little Pony becomes more than just a show. When we cross into looking at the show for advice and guidance, that’s when we’re either very near or over the line.

The influence of shows on kids and younger people in general has been known about for decades. Kids reenacting scenes, quoting characters and creating their own adventures has been part and parcel of televised entertainment and toys since the dawn of television. The introduction of various educational and informational programming (what it’s called in the US, but similar programmes exist around the world) were intended to ensure that kids not only took away the correct meaning from a show, but were also able to make a connection between the show and real life but still be able to draw a line of distinction between the two.

Where escapist fans inhabit is an area where there is little if any distinction between a show and reality. Sure the characters do not exist in real life, but they may as well given their influence.

Where Escapism Becomes a Concern

Escapsim itself can be a concern on many levels, but for most people escapism is temporary. It lasts only as long as they watch TV, play videogames or read a book. Temporary escapism can be beneficial; helping people relax and whatnot. It can be social too, in the case of Dungeons and Dragons. Where it becomes a concern is when it infiltrates real life and potentially affects a fan’s ability to function in it.

Coming across this Mashable post by Jessica Goodman, I read these few paragraphs:

“Our generation has a lot to deal with in life,” Marlow said, “We’ve had to deal with the cruddy-ness of progress, the changing economy. The early two-Ks have a gutter of pop cultural gross-ness. It’s post-9/11. Everyone’s been diagnosed with chronic depression, ADD, an eating disorder.” She paused and touched an emerald streak that stood out against her dark hair. “We like to pick up and go to a different world.”

….

With the growing popularity of Pixar movies and adult-oriented cartoons, it’s become easy for people her age to “extend our adolescence,” said Marlow, especially online. Her first fandom love was Harry Potter. A tattoo on her left forearm pays homage to Severus Snape, one of the series’ main characters.

While the part about escapism as a method of dealing with reality is a concern, her declaration that Pixar films and cartoons are a method for ‘extending adolescence’.

Look, the lure of youth and its presence in animation is as old as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (look up Michael Barrier’s excellent Hollywood Cartoons if you are in any doubt) and the emphasis on youth within the wider [American] culture is almost overwhelming. However, using animation as a tool to extend the immature and quite frankly, suffocating period known as adolescence is certainly an example of the kind of escapism mentioned above.

Anyone looking to extend their adolescence should realise that succeeding in the real world demands that you leave that period of your life behind. Sure you can keep your hobbies and interests (on a different level of course) but if you are relying on an animated show to sustain whatever exuberance you feel into adulthood, you will be in for a rude awakening.

One cannot but worry that escapist fans (especially younger ones) will face an even tougher time getting to grips with life than others. Plenty of geeks already inhabit their parents’ basements (and I’ve met plenty of them) and it is always sad to see a person invest more in an entertainment property than with real people.

Escapism at its deepest level certainly does permit a fan to withdraw from reality and inhabit a world that is comfortable and friendly (this includes online forums by the way) but it does so at the expense of their social responsibilities and connections. Conventions only come around so often and last for so long. Online forums and message boards provide communication and friendliness, but there remains the physical disconnect that will never be able to be replicated over a telephone line. Content itself is only so much and lasts for so long and one can only extract a finite amount of meaning from it.

Where Creators Play a Role

Needless to say, without creators, there is no content and without content, there are no fans or fandoms. The question is, what, if anything, can creators (individual and otherwise) do to either assist and promote social interaction by fans and ensure that escapism retains an undesirable taint?

Personally, it comes down to emphasising the temporary nature of entertainment and how it is certainly capable of playing a role within a fan’s life, but should remain a relatively small one. When content starts to dominate someone’s life, they are in trouble not matter what age they are.

Escapist fans who define who and what they are by a singular TV show have essentially sold themselves to whatever corporation creates it. Such people and those who tolerate it, contribute, in a meaningful way once they are numerous enough, to a degradation in overall society and a decline in overall quality of life, including their own.

How the Brony Documentary Makers Should Handle Filesharing

Disclaimer: I am not a brony.
Disclaimer: I am not a brony.

The fandom that surrounds My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has been discussed here on the blog before with the show’s creators and network rightfully being praised for their interaction with it. This was doubly evident once it became known that the show was attracting fans that were, well, far outside the show’s intended demographic. The result was the coining of the term ‘brony’ (bro+pony) and the proliferation of these fans throughout the internet and beyond. Bronies have since spawned many websites, forums and even conventions dedicated to their favourite show.

The phenomenon spurred the creation of a documentary about it after actor John de Lancie became acquainted with it thanks to a role on the show. As with many contemporary projects, a Kickstarter campaign was launched and it quickly reached its initial funding goal. Subsequent stretch goals resulted in a grand total of $322,022 being raised from 2,621 backers.

It was therefore with some dismay (and sadness) that the producers noticed that the completed documentary was available on internet filesharing sites almost immediately after its release to Kickstarter backers:

You may have heard that we are shutting down production. For clarification, this refers to canceling plans to invest more time and money into releasing a disc with additional material and segments that have already been shot but didn’t make it into the film. We have many great stories that just didn’t fit into the flow of what we were creating with the film but thought the Brony community would really enjoy seeing. Because the piracy within the Brony community is rampant and pervasive we’ve come to the conclusion that investing any more time and energy would be not be worthwhile.

So with additional work on the documentary being stopped due to ‘piracy’, how could the brony documentary makers respond to this in a way that not only enables them to continue the additional work, but also attract new fans who may be willing to pay for it?

Dump Kickstarter

First and foremost, this does not mean that they should neglect the people who have funded it through the service. Those that donated with the recognition that they would receive rewards have a legal right to what they were promised. That said, many commentators on the post announcing the stoppage were vocal in their support for an additional campaign to fund the extra features.

That does not make a lot of sense insofar that it is taking another drink from the same trough. Although backers are willing to pay for additional extra features, why would you need to pre-sell it to them? Surely those that will donate will buy them once they are completed? The vast success of the original campaign already proves that the demand exists. In any case, the additional costs that Kickstarter imposes would only serve to lower the funds available to create the features in the first place.

Fix the Downloads

The documentary was made available to all backers who donated more than $30 as a digital download. Since then, it has been released to the general public in three DRM-free formats. The reason it has been made available so quickly is that manufacturing takes time, and the producers (naturally) want the film to be out there as soon as possible.

The only problem is that the download is just the film, nothing more and nothing less. Did I mentioned it costs $12.99? Yeah, that too. Why is that a problem? If you are faced with a choice for something (legality aside for a minute), would you rather cough up $12.99 or $0.00? You’d plump for the latter I’m sure. Here’s a screenshot of the torrent as of writing:

TPB Bronie docu-1

All told, you’re look at under 400 people being involved with this torrent. That’s well below the 2,621 that backed it, and certainly a pittance of the 5,000+ that attend the BronyCon convention. That suggest that the numbers involved are relatively small compared to the size of the overall Brony community. The legal method also does not account for cases like this:

TPB Bronie docu-4

Understandably there are costs associated with digital downloads but there is a convenient way to eliminate those that are discussed further down.

The Discs

As part of the Kickstarter campaign, the rewards included a copy of the documentary on physical media (Blu-Ray and DVD). Those are (as of writing) being produced by the fabricator. However, there is (as of writing) no listing on Amazon (or eBay) for the disc and there is unlikely to be one until it is finished.

The problem with such a situation is that with a release date that is not readily apparent, potential viewers are unlikely to know that it will be available on physical media unless they do some research. Amazon has the ability to feature products for pre-sale, why wasn’t the documentary installed there before now?

Although the main issue is that viewers are moving away from physical anyway, there is an apparent failure on the part of the producers to adequately think out their release plan. As noted with Wreck-It-Ralph, releasing a film in digital format prior to the physical media will do you no good whatsoever. That’s not to say the discs should not go ahead, but that an effort but an extra effort will likely be required.

How to Help the Brony Documentary Make Money

With all the above in mind, it’s time to look at ways that the situation can be improved for everyone involved.

Why not put it on bittorrent?

The first question to answer is why shouldn’t the film be available in bittorrent? There are numerous advantages; namely the elimination of any costs associated with hosting, as individual users do that. They also pay for the bandwidth too, so there’s two significant costs immediately eliminated.

So if your major costs are removed, any monies you do receive will be almost total profit, right? Yes! Of course. So the simple solution is to find a way to extract money from people who view the documentary via bittorrent. Why not include a donation link in the video? Why not include the film’s website where you can sell them things?

Sell Some Merchandise

Via:  The documentary website
Via: The documentary website

Right now there is not a single shred of merchandise available relating to the film. Yes there are copyright issues surrounding the My Little Pony show itself, but not the documentary surrounding it. The film has a distinctive (if unremarkable) logo that could and should be plastered on t-shirts, hats and everything else that companies like to flog these days.

Shows like Adventure Time have been excellent at providing fans with things they desire and represent the contemporary way of connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy. Why don’t the documentary makers consider this? Fans have already paid for the film, why wouldn’t they also pay for merchandise supporting it?

Reaching outside of the fandom

The documentary has garnered some media attention but that alone will not attract non-fans and non-bronies alone. People who are not intently interested in the topic matter are unlikely, maybe even unwilling, to cough up money to view it. The advantage of it being freely available is that anyone can watch it, with the result being that people outside the brony sphere are much more likely to either become involved themselves or at least take a more positive attitude to the phenomenon.

Larger audience for conventions and festivals

Films usually require large audiences to achieve success and one of the ways they accomplish this is through festival and convention screenings. Such events are sometimes accompanied by the presence of the filmmakers themselves. If the film is freely available online, such screenings will be more popular (fans always like the personal dimension), raising the profile of the film and greatly improving the opportunity to make money.

Conclusion

It’s always disheartening when something does not turn out as anticipated. It happens to everyone and this documentary is no exception. The important thing to remember is that when faced with a situation like this there is more than one way to respond. The music industry found out the hard way that taking a hard line is certainly the one to avoid. Thankfully the producers do not appear willing to go down that road, but it is nonetheless disheartening to see them not consider the many proven alternative that are available to them.

 

5 Things I Realised After Reading Joe Strike’s Review of BroNYCon

 

Surprisingly enough, I didn’t have a My Little Pony image in the library already.

Over on AWN, Joe Strike has posted a review of BroNYCon, the get-together for fans of, yes, My Little Pony that took place at the end of June. The entire thing is very much worth reading whether you’re a fan of the show or not. It’s a positive, neutral look at the  show and the community that surrounds it as well as a description of the event itself. I found the article quite intriguing on a number of levels; here’s a few things I realised after reading it.

Fans Are Fantastic

Every show needs fans, a fact that is well-known and well-documented countless times over the years. Fans are however, finnicky. Just because a network throws globs of money at promotion, etc. doesn’t mean that fans will necessarily follow. When they do though, the signs are very good indeed.

Bronies are no exception. They watch the show, they buy the merchandise, they discuss it, the expand the universe, they write fan-fiction for their own amusement and they ultimately put a lot of money into Hasbro’s coffers. So do the target demographic of kids, but their purchasing power pales into insignificance in the face of grown adults.

Devoted fans like Bronies are what every show needs and desperately wants but are notoriously tricky to conjure up out of the masses. My Little Pony now has its own convention. Surely proof that fans can make a big impact.

Good Shows Will Smash Demographic Boundaries

This is another aspect to shows that is often rarely discussed. Networks don’t like it when shows grow beyond their demographic because the effects are much more difficult to measure and hence plan for. Having MLP garner an adult audience is great on one level, but will that same audience feel alienated after the hype has died down or the network declines to tailor the show to them?

That said, many shows have smashed demographsic boundaries. The Simpsons, while ostensible aimed at an adult-heavy, primetime audience became immensely popular with kids. The reverse could be said of Avatar: The Last Airbender, with story arcs and characters that many argue are better than the bulk of adult-oriented TV shows.

Breaking though the demo barriers is only a good thing for a show. In the case of MLP, it gave the newest incarnation of a toyetic show a life of its own beyond the TV set.

Lauren Faust is Soooo Underrated

Lauren Faust and Craig McCracken are a creative powerhouse that together have worked on some of the most undeniably brilliant animated TV shows of the last 20 years. However Lauren seems to get the short end of the stick when it comes to her own creations. Many animation fans know she worked on the PowerPuff Girls, but how many know she has her own girl-centric creation, Milky Way and the Galaxy Girls? How many own something from that? (Hint: this blogger is at least one).

That’s not to belittle Craig, he awesome too, but Lauren spells out the challenge pretty clear in this quote from Joe’s article:

And what about her dream project, the one she pitched to the Hasbro executive who instead asked her to reconceive My Little Pony? “The Galaxy Girls is the bane of my existence. It’s in stasis until I can do it right. I’m looking for the right partner who shares my vision for it.”

Here’s hoping an animated version sees the light of day soon.

Full Cast & Crew Support is Essential

Another thing that Joe’s article makes clear is that the cast and crew of the show are behind it 100%. They see it more than just a job, they see their success depending on its success, and if they can help it to succeed, they will! Voice-actor Tara Strong is particularly fond of her Brony fans, often tweeting to them and answering questions in addition to meeting them in person at cons.

A lot of TV shows rally behind their creator, such as Family Guy and Seth McFarlane, but others like Adventure Time and MLP focus on the team behind it rather than just one individual. This has benefits for everybody involved, and gives the all-important fans something even more to relate to.

Trust In Third Parties Is A Win-Win For Everyone

The one big thing that Joe’s article made me realise was the WeLoveFine and other outfits like it are perhaps the keystone in the link between a show and its fans. A quick cursory glance of the WeLoveFine website reveals more than a few famous shows have merchandise for sale there.

What makes companies like this so relevant is that they are simultaneously at the forefront of the fan movement while being actively engaged in the licensing/merchandise part of the network’s marketing machine.

Even better, WeLoveFine uses fan-made designs, running competitions with cash prizes. What better way to get fans excited than to give them the chance to have their very own T-shirt! The Hub naturally has to approve the design, but it’s a rubber-stamp process and basically eliminates a lot of risk involved with selling merchandise; let the fans tell you what they’d like to buy! Genius!

Apparel and clothing are very popular forms of merchandise because they let fans express their favourite show without permanence and with the ability to adapt to changing weather conditions; very important for temperate climates I assure you.

By trusting third parties and with careful monitoring, networks can ensure that they gain the best of both worlds. A fandom whose appetite for merchandise is fulfilled and a network who wishes to earn revenue from their content.

 

Linux Bronies? 6 Examples That They Do Exist

Bronies come in all shapes and forms, but one of the more niche categories has to be the ones that are also Linux nerds. While Linux is well-known for the devotedness of its fans (even more so than those in the cult of Apple) it’s still a bit of a surprise to see them interested in something as saccharine as My Little Pony.

Anyway, here’s what some of them get up to when they blend their favourite OS with their favourite show:

Themes

Linux is endlessly sutomizeable and the two main websites KDE Look and GNOME Look are more than happy to oblige with Pony themed items for your computer.

Wallpapers

Don’t know what /dev/null is? You clearly aren’t be a Linux nerd.

Putting cutie marks in Bash.

Bash is a command line shell (read: text-based interface) for Linux. This purports to put the cutie mark above into the window.

Memes

You knew this one had to exist didn’t you.

Everything!

A co-ordinated desktop is a pretty desktop.

Naming your host

Very important this one, spotted over on the My Little Pony subreddit, dedicated to Linux Bronies.

This Post Contains A Serious And Important Discussion About Bronies

Via: Total Media Bridge

It’s true, this post does contain a serious and important discussion about bronies. Although they are sometimes vilified by folks, they nonetheless represent a very special kind of fan that a lot of animated TV shows are sadly lacking.

Let’s be honest, there have always been fans who reside outside a show’s intended audience. This is nothing new and should come as no surprise to anyone, fan of animation or not. What is surprising about My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, is that the show’s producers have not shied away from acknowledging the existence of bronies.

Why would they do this? Why would the choose to break with unofficial tradition, which states that you shouldn’t engage with anyone outside the target demographic lest you alienate the intended audience? The answer is straightforward and simple, such fans are what shows like MLP need in order to grow.

Yeah, you could say that it’s really the little girls that are lapping up the toys, but at the end of the day, that is small potatoes to what fans with real disposable income can do. Now you could say, and I do agree, that such fans are not nearly as common nor as numerous than the targeted one, however, they do tend to:

  • buy more merchandise

  • buy more expensive merchandise

  • tune in regularly

  • participate in online/offline discussion.

All of these things are oxygen for a show like MLP for a number of reasons:

  1. It is broadcast on The Hub, a brand new network with no real audience to being with (it was a replacement for Discovery Kids).

  2. MLP as a TV show was as dated as ever and might as well have been a new show as far as its target audience were concerned

  3. Even though it had the might of Hasbro behind it, The Hub still needed viewers and consumers to watch its shows and buy its merchandise. Marketing and ads will only get you so far.

Arguably the greatest boon to the entire show was the now famous (infamous) post by Amid Amidi on Cartoon Brew. That brought the show a lot of mainstream media attention and focus. Not only did this bring this formerly obscure group of fans into the public consciousness, it also brought MLP and The Hub a lot of free publicity and attention that it never would have received otherwise.

All of this was undoubtedly beneficial to the show and network, however, it is outside of the show that is the most interesting; even though Bronies were tuning and and buying merchandise, they were also forming their own extensive ecosystem both on and off the internet.

Numerous (and I do mean numerous) fan sites have popped up. Yes, they are all the usual kinds you expect to see from a show, but they were all that and much more. They cater exclusively to fans, they help newbies get acquainted with the show, they run competitions, they have downloadable content, they post fan-fiction, they link to merchandise (both official and unofficial), they actively discuss whole aspects of the shows universe, they organise real-life meetups and conventions and yes, they run personality quizzes (that actively embrace new fans):

similar to Applejack.”]

And what is the one truly, unique, magical, fantastic thing about all of this?

The Hub embraced it! All of it!

They didn’t stand there and say: “Hey, there’s a whole bunch of 30-something year old guys watching our show. They’re going to give it a bad name, or worse, make it seem like its for “old people” or something.” No. Instead they said: “Hey, we’ve managed to gain a whole bunch of fans they we never thought we would have. We can’t openly cater to them for fear of skewing the perception of the show, but let’s be nice to them anyway because we’re gaining a benefit!”

Via: Daily Billboard

Via: Daily Billboard

That’s right, while the network was in a bit of a bind in that it was never going to actively cater to Bronies in the mainstream public’s eye, they at least had the wisdom to actively court fans in ways that would be construed as friendly. Examples include the parody ads for season 2, and the exclusive figurine sold at the San Diego Comic Con in 2011.

The very existence of the Brony fanbase has benefited those on all sides of the show. The creators know that they have created a product that is superior to what they were tasked with, the network got a lot of free publicity as well as extra viewers and consumers, and fans got a show that they really enjoy and relate to which gives them a sense of satisfaction.

Every show should have some Brony fans.

For the record, I am not a Brony.