My friend Lauren over at the Daily Dot recently posted a rather interesting article considering the various signs of a dwindling fandom, and whether the G4-based My Little Pony community is burning out at the same breakneck pace of which it initially flared to life.
On one hand, the article is a more than a little tongue-in-cheek and clearly meant to ruffle the horsefeathers of a community that has proven exceptionally good at being ruffled over the past several months. Controversy, reactionary rants and drama wars forged in the fire of hurt feelings, damaged reputations, and public vitriol have been the norm lately. Far more of the negative than the unofficial (though overused to the point of cliché) motto of “love and tolerance.”
With the airdate of Episode 1 of Season 3 of Friendship is Magic just around the corner, the one thing that continues to be most troubling and, truthfully, a real problem within any fandom, is the issue of bullying. By nature, fans are simply people from virtually any background who gravitate toward a similar interest. As I’ve said before, fandom is a double edged sword. Since literally ANYONE can declare themselves part of the whole, it means the most noble and the most depraved and everyone in between will be found within our number- commenting on websites, creating artistic content, and attending get-togethers. The drive to be part of a social community is not mutually dependent upon the means to actually function in one. There are those who simply want to hurt and deride others and will seek out victims for mockery and shaming and all manner of mistreatment because, sadly, that is often the nature of the internet and, consequently, the communities that spring up around it. It’s a product of both anonymity and an unfortunate level of knee-jerk overreaction and defensiveness towards “haters.” Artists, musicians, and other community members who behave despicably are often protected by a hive-mind mentality to circle the wagons and defend them against real and deserved criticism and rebuke.
But does that mean this community is dying or failing? Not at all. It’s simply grown to the point where the fandom is made up of a tremendously wide cross section of people. Early on, our technicolor world of little ponies was little in itself. Being a jerk to a small community is much harder to get away with and burning bridges more likely to ruin your reputation with the entire fandom. As communities grow, cults of personality form, villains and heroes both appear. People act in ways that are inspiring and kind and moving. Other people jockey for power and use their time and influence to cause hurt and embarrassment. Some people will fawn embarrassingly over everything pony related regardless of quality others will hate everything with larger-than-life bile and vitriol. All these things happen with more frequency because the churning, roiling ocean of news and content swallows it up almost as fast as it happens.
Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but I feel inclined to say again that our responsibility as fans is to hold fast to the things we love most about whatever it is we are fans of. There are many blogs out there documenting the worst parts of our community, and reading through them it can often seem like there’s little more than racism, cruelty, pornography, and ignorance at the heart of this fandom. But, like the notion of “love and tolerance,” the idea that technicolor ponies hide a seething undercurrent of hate and intolerance is a skewed concept. People are simply people. Whether they are fans of the Minnesota Vikings, Star Wars, Doctor Who, Dark Shadows, American Idol, Anime, Sonic the Hedgehog, vintage Barbie dolls, coins, stamps, or civil war letters people are people. They are good and bad, involved and indifferent, honorable and hateful, kind and cruel. A community is a tapestry, there is no election board, no governing body, and no entrance exam. Anyone can declare themselves a brony, pegasister, casual fan of my little pony, or any other moniker. They can go on to act in a way that reflects poorly on themselves AND the rest of us. The only real and true influence we have is to remain upstanding ourselves. To do our best, to BE our best within the fandom and in our own daily lives. We needn’t worry about loving and tolerating because a show tells us to act a certain way. But we do have a responsibility to simply be good people and good stewards of any community we happen to be part of- whether it’s My Little Pony, our homes, our schools, our cities, towns, and countries.
Let me end by saying that I do my level best to generally ignore the bad behavior in our community. And I also know many fans disagree with that approach, mistaking it for indifference. Yes, I could rant and rave, retweet and blog and shout at the top of my lungs until I’m blue in the face and fingertips and at the end of the day people will continue to do their own thing. But I’m not a celebrity- just a fan of a children’s show who happens to make some silly pictures. I’m not a voice of reason and no amount of art or social media, on my part, will change the heart or mind of someone devoted to their own point of view, right or wrong. I’ve spent a lot of my life taking part in political discussion as a hobby, and have held steadfast opinions on both extremes of the political spectrum. I am keenly aware that the notion of debate is lost on individual opinion. Because as much as we may want to have the last word, to call out injustice, to fight to our last breath, the truth is that you don’t win a difference of ideals with raised voices and caps lock. The truth is that you win people over by living as an example and showing them the right way by doing the right thing. The best and only way to change someone’s mind is not by fighting for your opinion, but by representing and living your values.