When I first started writing here about getting into Dance Dance Revolution in late 2003, I got a lot of negative e-mails. Most of them were along the lines of, “You can’t go play video games where kids are present because you’re one of them queers and everyone will be right to assume that you’re just going there to try to ‘pick up’ or kidnap kids for whatever perverted things people like you do.” There were also some inferences there that I was somehow too old to be playing video games, even though someone older than I was had just won the DDR National Freestyling Championship. (When I went to that big tournament in North Carolina in 2006 one of the players there was nearly ten years older than me, and she was also way better than I could ever hope to be.)
The whole concept of “the closet” gets talked about a lot when it comes to GLBT people, but for all the improvements in public recognition and acceptance of GLBT people these past twenty years, there is still a very large part of the population that is doing everything it can to try to put us all back in the closet, whether through legislation, or trying to shame us, or continuing to spread falsehoods about us, most notably this lumping in of anything that doesn’t fit with their narrow idea of what sexuality and gender identity should be with the most dangerous and illegal extremes of sexuality, so that if a man is gay then he must automatically be a pedophile. (This is why so many conservative commentators mention NAMBLA at every opportunity, because it makes their listeners associate homosexuality with pedophilia, even if they don’t make that association explicitly.) There’s a lot of money to be made in scaring people into believing that their children are at risk from something (“Send your donation now so we can clean up America!”), so this problem isn’t likely to go away any time soon.
Being an adult fan of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic — a brony or a pegasister or whatever term you choose for yourself — is not like identifying as non-heterosexual or as transgender, to be sure, but being a brony/pegasister means having to deal with a lot of the same misconceptions. Thanks to the rise in television shows dealing with pedophilia in fictional or real-life contexts, like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit and To Catch a Predator, the “ways” of pedophiles are much more well-known, and amateur detectives from coast to coast are looking for potential pedophiles in every person they see. One of the big supposed “telltale signs” is if an adult has deep knowledge of a movie or television series intended for children, like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, the idea being that the adult wants to talk with children about that series, hopefully getting them to let their guard down before they conduct their nefarious schemes. This has been going on for ages, even as the anime/manga boom of the past twenty years has blurred definitions of animation/graphic novels being “for children,” and all the series, like Rocky and Bullwinkle and Animaniacs, that deliberately include material for older audiences. (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has been doing that since the end of its first season.)
This is what makes Michael J. Nelson referring to BronyCon attendees as “pervs” so galling. It pains me to say this, because Nelson was one of the geniuses behind Mystery Science Theatre 3000, one of the greatest television shows of all time (and a personal favourite of mine), but in not only making this claim, but then continuing to defend it in the face of criticism from bronies and pegasisters, he is absolutely, completely wrong.
Nelson’s main line of defence is that his initial comment was meant in a joking way, so let’s take a closer look at this. The closest analogue I can come up with for Nelson’s line of reasoning is George Carlin’s routine about people who claim that rape can never be funny, in which he uses the example of Elmer Fudd raping Porky Pig as an instance of how rape can conceivably be funny. Even if you agree with that specific example — and there are good arguments to be made on all sides there — Carlin is not talking about a specific, real instance of rape there because he’s using fictional characters and putting them in a situation absurdly different from anything you would normally see them depicted in; if there is humour there, it derives from the absurdity. More importantly, by treating it in this manner, Carlin reduces rape to a merely conceptual idea, not something specific. You can conceivably make any concept funny just by taking it to its most absurd ends, but when you attach that concept to a real person, in a real tragedy, finding humour in that is all but impossible, and trying to do so usually makes you a first-class jerk. Carlin may have joked about Elmer Fudd raping Porky Pig, but he never dared to make fun of a real, specific instance of rape.
By pinning that “perv” label to bronies and pegasisters, Nelson is making it specific. He is saying that all the adult fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic must be perverts, playing to popular ideas that adults who like shows nominally made for children (even if they include elements specifically for adult viewers) must be pedophiles. That is not funny.
The other line of defence I’ve seen people make for Nelson is that what he said is no different from calling fans of the Twilight books “losers.” Since when is “loser” synonymous with “pervert,” may I ask? The word “loser” may carry its own baggage, but there’s certainly no connotation of danger to it like there is with the words “pervert” or “perophile.” The word “loser” has been thrown around to refer to people who are such big fans of shows that they go to show-themed conventions for ages; that Saturday Night Live sketch of William Shatner telling a convention of trekkies to “get a life” is the stuff of comedic legend. For the well-adjusted fans of a show, there is a certain self-deprecating humour in taking those tags for ourselves, knowing that we’re going to be associated with the most extreme elements of the fandom who take the show way too seriously (and yes, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has fans like that, but so does every show). Whether you’re a brony or a pegasister, or a trekkie, or even a MSTie, you know you’re going to be perceived as a loser by a lot of people, and the best thing you can do is try to wear that label with a sense of humour. There’s a world of difference, though, between being labeled a loser and being labeled a pervert or a pedophile.
Maybe I’m stupid for trying to make this argument on the Internet, where Pedobear images run rampant and there’s a substantial culture of irresponsible jerks who glory in poking fun at the worst of tragedies, but throwing around the pervert and pedophile labels, however explicitly or implicitly, is insensitive to the point of cruelty. Speaking as someone who, unless I make a deliberate effort to act and dress in a way that is not who I really am, can’t walk through a crowded store or mall without knowing that some of the people there assume, from a first glance at me, that I must want to sexually abuse their children, having those labels stuck on you really, really stinks. I am strong enough to know that I am not responsible for their misperceptions of me and that I’m under no obligation to take them on for myself, but a lot of people aren’t that strong, and some of them collapse under the weight of all the misperceptions they have to deal with and turn to things like drugs or even suicide. No one — no matter your race, your religion, your sexual orientation, your gender identity, even your favourite television show — deserves that burden, and perpetuating the myths and stereotypes that create those burdens is irresponsible.
I can accept that Nelson was simply being careless in his comments and didn’t intend to cause harm, but the fact remains that he did cause harm to a large number of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fans, and continues to do so by not taking his statements back. Nelson was smart enough to help craft one of the most legendary comedies in television history; I find it hard to believe that he isn’t smart enough to realize what a mistake he’s continuing to make by not retracting his comments about the fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.