The following guest post is a bit longer than our usual articles but it’s well worth the read. A big thank you to Rando for this great guest column! -Hillary
The 1980’s – From Muscles and Missiles to Pink Ponies
I can’t be sure how many of you remember the 80’s. Some would say I have no claim to the 80’s – but I was born in 1981. That means I was alive for most of it, but those memories of mine are of childhood. Still, this means I experienced the decade much differently than any teenager or adult and this is where the story begins.
Let’s get the gender issue out of the way. I’m a male, I have always been a male, and I have never felt otherwise. Growing up, I played with Hot Wheels, G.I. Joes and He-Man. I helped my dad hammer nails and build things. I played in the mud, broke things to find out how they worked, caught bugs, and probably touched more gross things than I ever should have. Now, none of these acts should particularly be called boy/male activity, but for all intents and purposes of this article, the general public considers them so – which means, in turn, my 80’s childhood was typically ‘boy’.
Enter our neighbors: three girls around the same age as myself (3, 4, and 6). These girls had a castle with rising pink towers capped with baby blue turrets. It had pastel colored horses with colorful manes. I these ponies from television. Just like Thundercats, G.I. Joe or He-man – these little ponies had their own slice of 30 minutes on television, and yes… I watched it.
Why not? I had nothing better to do and our TV didn’t have a remote, so while getting my fix of the Joes or He-man, My Little Pony would be somewhere in the mix.
Re-watching these episodes now, they are a bit (very) crude today (G1 Pony fans are screaming at me for that one) – and well, let’s face it, the show was typically 80’s. The little ponies saved Dream Valley from an assortment of typical 80s baddies, and in the end it all worked out with some messages of friendship thrown in.
Maybe it was the fact that they had a show, or maybe it was that these bright colored ponies were more punk rock then I could ever imagine (not that I knew anything about subculture movements age of four) but whenever I went to the neighbor’s house, we played My Little Ponies in that big old dream castle of theirs.
No – I didn’t comb their hair, or braid their tails, and I can’t to this day tell you why they intrigued me so much back then. Perhaps it was because they smelled like fruit loops and showed me a hint into the world of girls. A strange world I never had at my house (I had a brother and my friends were boys) and a world so different than the guns, swords, muscles and missiles I’d grown so accustomed to playing with at my house, that it was mind opening, and slightly bizarre.
Granted, I also knew these were indeed ‘girl’ toys. If I had asked for them for my birthday, my progressive parents probably would have got me one (probably hoping ‘it was just a phase’), but regardless, at that age it never crossed my mind to ask.
As I grew up, mostly obsessed with video games, girls, and the outdoors – My Little Pony faded into the back of my mind for quite some time. Ten or eleven years later – they came back into my life and never went away.
Into the 90’s
When I was 16, I was pretty typical. At the same time, I also had become quite comfortable with who I was. Straight, white and 16 – but I wasn’t afraid to step into those styles and worlds of what might be called ‘girly’. I wore hot pink Chuck Taylor’s (back then I had to buy size 13 white Converse and dye them hot pink because the brand was neither popular or relevant to offer such a shoe), and in the fashion of what MIGHT be called improv – I started a skirt day my senior year of high school where the guys (and girls joining them) jokingly all wore skirts to school (you’d be surprised how many guys joined in for this, and surprisingly the tradition carried over to the next year after I had graduated). I even let my girlfriend at the time paint my nails hot pink. Let’s say I wasn’t afraid of messing with gender roles at an age where everyone is completely awkward and confused about them. Perhaps it was my height (I was 6’3, still am) and broad shoulders that gave me justification to wear hot pink in this sort of world (Oh, I got it plenty bad with some kids) but what it came down to was that I wasn’t afraid to like what I liked and to be who I wanted to be.
However, I had also gotten back into 80s culture. I had uncovered a heap load of my old He-Man stuff, and so I began the get back into the decade of excess. Back then, we didn’t have youtube as a source to watch our memories play across the internet – but we did have ebay.
And I bought plenty of 80s crap.
The real part of the story begins in 1997. My girlfriend at the time had a ton of My Little Ponies from her childhood. Bringing them out of the storage box brought back a lot of memories. It was part of the 1980’s I hadn’t touched since I was a kid – not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t think of it. Somewhere in the dark dusty recesses of my mind, ponies were prancing around – but now they finally trotted back into the light again.
As I filtered through the bin of ponies, I noticed the sheer amount of accessories. These ponies had different sets and types, they had stories and names. It was a collectors dream – and I also liked the color pink.
Then I went on ebay. Together, with my High School sweetheart we bought a small lot of G1 ponies for a fairly low price. Of course a few G2 and non-Hasbro ponies made their way into that mix, but it was still pretty neat.
We spent hours cleaning up that batch of ponies. We were in High School. We grew up in a place where winter lasted 8 months. There wasn’t a lot to do (though that would be my excuse, I would have done it anyways). And so the collecting took root.
G3 and the Early 2000s
As life moved on, after the eventually break-up, I did get away with some ponies for my own. As I went off to college, these ponies followed, being displayed with my other 80’s collectables. Then I noticed something. Visiting friends always mentioned the ponies.
Mind you, this was a time when the only people who remembered MLP were those children of the 80s and their parents who raised them. The My Little Pony fan base was obscure and exclusively on the internet across a few websites and a dozen message boards. It had been ages since anyone had glimpsed the television show unless they went out of their way to find it.
So for these guests, friends and family entering my apartment, seeing these old little ponies the first time since their childhood, had turned those few ponies into a major talking point.
And I won’t lie – the girls I invited over liked them the most. I’m not going to say I was sleazy about it, I mean, I didn’t walk a woman into my apartment with the intention of showing them ‘my ponies’ – but being a 6’3 guy with a huge head of hair and a loud personality, well, the brightly colored ponies probably did help break the ice a little.
Regardless of what they did for my love life, I loved those ponies for what they were.
Then I received a gift one day. A G3 pony. A friend had seen my old G1 ponies and had picked up a Kimono G3 pony as sort of a joke. I was pretty impressed – here Hasbro had forsaken that awkward G2 design and gone back to a nearly original pony design, streamlined and nicely executed all around.
I was 19 now, almost 20. The G3 ponies rolled in as gifts, I began taking trips to Target and Toys R’ Us. I can’t say why I went out to summate my collection. Perhaps that, even though I was comfortable with my gender, my sex, and all angles of male-hood, these ponies brought me somewhere safe, different, colorful, bright, and let me tap into a side of life that was just a tad girlish.
I need to emphasize this now: the My Little Pony fan base was not huge. There was no such thing as a Brony, there was no witty/cool/hip show to go along with it. There were no onslaughts of internet memes. I was the only male I ever found (in real life AND on the internet) who collected My Little Ponies. I seemed to be alone.
So did it all happen as a retreat away from the standard societal male gender roles I was forced to instill in many places in life? Maybe My Little Ponies were just cute and colorful (doesn’t our life need cute, bright, and colorful?), but throughout my late teens and early 20s, from my first years in college to my first years in the real career world, those ponies followed, and all my friends knew about them. Over the years I would receive MLP birthday cards, toys, and everything else in the mail or on Christmas from even the most distant friends. Was it okay for a 19 year old guy to like these? I never thought otherwise.
As the G3 line grew (and so did my collection – both of G1s from ebay and G3s) friends came and went in my life. Some thought me strange, some thought me ironically hip – but everyone still enjoyed the fact that when they stepped into this guy’s apartment (now 21) he had a fairly large collection of ponies.
The FiM Renaissance
One day, something strange happened. I went on the internet and I saw ponies everywhere. They were different from those 80’s ponies. Digitally drawn/animated – differently designed. I had been out of the pony loop for a few years. I had begun work in the film industry and my time was fully consumed. Finally leaving the world of production to focus on my writing in 2010, I found myself looking at these new my Little Pony toy line releases.
I can say they didn’t vibe with me at first.
It seemed ponies were everywhere – and how? Where was I when this happened? What was going on? What bizarre world did I venture into? There was a new show. What was the hub? Not just that, but the male fan base was huge! These questions needed to be answered. I felt lost, and suddenly the world loved ponies – I had put my head under a rock for a while and suddenly there were male pony fans everywhere… and they have a name: Bronies. “I was a Brony first!” I cried out to my collection, my dog cocking his head curiously at me, looking at me like I was crazy.
It took a few months to accept this new world we were living in. Maybe I was bitter I hadn’t kept up on the world of ponies, or now I just sounded like a hipster: “I liked ponies before they were cool.”
I did eventually watch the show and I did realize how charming it was. Lauren Faust’s My Little Pony makes fun of itself, teases at the cheesiness of the 80’s, but at the same time, embraces it, makes it important, delivers a good story, with good morals, and at the same time, offers a level of creative humor that is rarely seen in both children or adult television shows. Now I understood – there was an excuse for a male to like MLP now. Why? Because the show is legit – but regardless, I know for many bronies there’s still the ability to escape their forced gender role for a small sliver of time and enter the world of Equestria where it’s okay to be whoever you want to be (there’s a chunk of cheese for you) but on the other hand, My Little Pony has also become a bit more diverse.
Male ponies may not be any of the major players, but they exist in large quantities unlike those old shows where there wasn’t a single male pony mentioned. Well, I mean, the G1 series did have a collection of male ponies, but they were just a tad Village People. There may also be the aspect of ‘ironically hip’ for some of these bronies and current pony fans. Plenty of males in their late 20s, early 30s remember watching Sailor Moon when it came to the states – and there was a lot of ironic, hipster love for that show too… even though it is insanely incomparable (don’t think I’m comparing shows here). I suppose what I am trying to get across is this: FiM doesn’t take itself too seriously, and perhaps the fan base realizes that, and this makes it easier for the male to play off his love for a ‘girls’ thing.
The Gender Identity
And I would hope our society is a bit more accepting of ‘boys who like girl stuff’ these days. Fulfilling your ‘proper’ gender role as deemed by society is ridiculous anyway. If you’re a real man, you’ll know that being a man isn’t to like beer and football (besides, just as many women like that stuff anyways) or knowing how to fix a car, or being a macho meathead. All those things are perfectly fine (like what you like) – but being a man takes so much more in terms of maturity, morality, humanity, and emotion. It’s about knowing how to stand up for your loved ones without being the typical ‘tough guy’ and its about the accountability of your actions.
But I’m not here to write about what it takes to be a man. I’m here to write about brightly colored ponies.
The first impression I give off to many is that I’m a typical male who wouldn’t have anything to with something like My Little Ponies. As I said before, I’m 6’3, have a broad frame, and now I sport a shaved head and goatee. As far as hobbies, I work on cars, I shoot guns, I love beer and hockey, hiking, camping, SCUBA diving and the outdoors, I ride horses – I like Thai kickboxing. Some of these are typically associated with males (even though hobbies and likes should NOT be associated with a certain sex) and I have a bunch of other hobbies that might make the outsider perceive me as a man’s man – and yet here I am with a collection and love for My Little Ponies. So can I say that I am proof that you don’t need to be a certain type of male to like a little pony? Maybe.
But alas, I still hear males going on about how they are nervous to venture down those bright pink aisles in the toy department (those aisles which were such a foreign and forbidden land in their childhoods). They are scared to walk past the dolls and pick up that Applejack pony they’ve been wanting. Let me tell you fellow bronies: there’s no shame in it. Embrace who you are. I have done so since 1985 and it’s brought me nothing but good things.