2 Mar 2015
Referring to themselves largely (but not uniformly) as Bronies, members of the Internet-enabled MLP (My Little Pony) fandom span multiple platforms and generate a prolific amount of artwork and an intense sense of community. The most prominent fan fiction website, FiMFiction.net, hosts over a billion words from over thirty thousand authors. Reddit boasts over 50 separate subreddits (forums) dedicated to fostering community and content, from /r/MLPdrawingschool to /r/TheoryOfPony. I’ve spent the last month immersed in ethnographic study of online MLP communities, looking at ways that they share and care for one another. This blog looks briefly at some of the forms of exchange that happen among the fans of the show. How might the kinds of feedback provided in different online spaces suggest varying values within the fandom?
Featuring anthropomorphized ponies that espouse the values of “honesty, kindness, laughter, generosity, and loyalty,” My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic explores the utopian world of Equestria. Though originally created for young girls, the show has gained a following composed predominantly of males in their 20s. They have, in no uncertain terms, appropriated the world of the show and expanded it into untold universes and myriad formats. As Lawrence Lessig writes, “Once television characters enter into a broader circulation, intrude into our living rooms, pervade the fabric of our society, they belong to their audience and not simply to the artists who originated them.” Yet more than just generating content, MLP fans actively consume content made by other members of the fandom and provide invested, thoughtful responses to it. This kind of sharing epitomizes Lessig’s R/W (or read/write) culture, in which audiences both consume and reinterpret art. What’s more, Bronies care genuinely about improving both the quality of work that fuels their community and helping individual contributors improve their personal skills.
Lessig distinguishes between two motivations that could provoke people to participate in a sharing economy: one more selfish, the other more philanthropic. Both of these sentiments emerged in my discussions with FiMFiction contributors. Some stated that they began editing in order to meet people, to forge connections within the community—ultimately for their own benefit in order to get their own fiction read. Others expressed more altruistic feelings of wanting to help emerging writers—they would edit grammatical mistakes and help teach basic plot structures to those who were missing the mark. In a sense, the construct of My Little Pony provides a script by which authors can convene and interact—it is merely the vehicle for receiving attention and feedback on a work of fiction by those who already care about the world in which it takes place.
This said, the kinds of feedback that fans find varied alongside the attitudes that dominate a given platform. As Cygnet, a FiMFiction editor told me, “The fandom has a bit of a reputation for being very encouraging. It’s often seen as a positive, but to others it can sometimes be interpreted as “enabling” of bad artistic habits, or even behaviors in certain contexts.” On Reddit, however, Woodlandia expressed a more optimistic tone towards positivity in feedback:
I do my best to not be mean to the various artists and creators, particularly the writers… A lot of people don’t seem to get you’re a reader first, critic, editor, and proofreader second. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a fanfiction, browsed the comments, and find “I didn’t read because the premise was a piece of crap.” What’s the old adage? If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all? What happened to that? Right, the internet; the anonymous, mean-spirited person’s friend.
On Reddit, spaces for sharing personal experiences and emotional support (like MLP Lounge and My Little Support Group) are integrated with spaces for sharing art, fiction, and music. Here, acts of content sharing and discussions of personal experiences blend into one form of communal economy. Users interact across several different contextualized spaces, some of which allow them to be particularly vulnerable. This format may discourage the kind of objective literary feedback that gets exported to FiMFiction.net or its IRC board. As Fillycraft put it, “The IRC is kind of a bad place to be taken seriously with anything beyond fan fiction concepts.”
Ultimately, the discrepancies in how feedback is given and received belie distinct gratifications among pockets of the MLP fandom. While there are those who use the script of the show as a vehicle for skills-based benefits, there are others who engage in a thick sharing economy that involves giving and receiving both emotional and artistic support. Those who engage in the latter may esteem kindness higher than honesty in feedback—yet it remains difficult to discern which of the show’s core values supports a more fruitful fan community.
 Chinchillax, (2014) “Over One Billion Words of MLP Fanfiction” YouTube. 4 September 2014. Online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QViksRr98Q8
 Faust, Lauren. “Friendship Is Magic, part 1” My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Season 1, Episode 1.
 Jenkins, Henry (1992) Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture (New York: Routledge): 279