Bronies Behaving Badly


BronyDoc Production Shutdown Cleared Up (Equestria Daily)

I’ve never had an account on any file-sharing service, from Napster back in the day to whatever the big services are today. This is more due to my own desire to keep my own nose as clean as possible than anything else; I’ve always had a very uneasy relationship with piracy. Coming from a family of artists, all of whom have had some musical pulls over the years (including me), it’s hard to look at the piracy that’s out there and not worry about what that means for the struggles we artists go through to make a living out of our passion. During my rounds of editing The Prostitutes of Lake Wobegon I sent earlier drafts out via e-mail for critique from people I trusted, and all it could conceivably take is one e-mail account being compromised for my story, even in an earlier form, to be out there free for all to read before I even get a chance to make a dime off of it.

At the same time, though, it’s hard to look at what big entertainment entities like the MPAA and RIAA have done over the years, creating virtual monopolies for themselves, overpricing products for the consumer, and still giving the artists a relative pittance for their hard work. Worse yet is how the industries have taken that money they’ve hoarded to buy politicians who create new laws to impose insanely disproportional punishments on those who engage in piracy, and then hire a never-ending stream of lawyers to make sure that ordinary citizens will never have the ability to fight their cases in court. For a time I even condoned Internet piracy as a form of non-violent protest against these industry giants misusing the power their accumulated capital affords them, even knowing what harm it could potentially do to artists, simply because the MPAA and RIAA were acting so ridiculously.

What’s changed over the past few years hasn’t been the MPAA or RIAA, at least not in any significant way. Rather, it’s the industries themselves that have changed, as advanced technologies and new methods of distribution have made it much easier for artists to gain headway in the industry without having to tie themselves to industry giants. I really haven’t watched that much television over the past few years — so little that I’m balking at replacing the television in my room, even though it’s rapidly deteriorating — but there are a number of web-distributed series that I watch when I have the time. Likewise, I find myself purchasing more music from artists who have no record deals at all, and instead distribute their music over the Internet or through other alternative channels. This has always been going on to a limited extent, but it’s never been easier for artists to produce their work for these channels, and the expansion of social media has shattered all previous models of publicity and outreach.

The problem is that when the works of these smaller, up-and-coming artists are pirated, the loss of revenue is much more crippling for them. Back when Metallica was waging its war against Napster, no one was worried that James Hetfield was going to go to bed hungry, even if his loss of revenue would have echoes elsewhere. If a Metallica album only sells three million copies with three million more being pirated, that’s still a much less profound loss of revenue, from the artist’s end, than a smaller artist who only sells three hundred copies of a CD with three hundred more being pirated. There is the ripple effect on the lower-level employees hired by the recording companies and the artists, yes, but piracy still affects smaller artists much more than it does larger artists.

Contrary to what some people seem to be assuming, Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Fans of My Little Pony is not a production of Hasbro, the Hub, or any of the other media conglomerates behind My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Although the documentary was organized by some of the talent behind the show, it was financed entirely through fan donations through Kickstarter, and the additional donations the documentary got above its initial request went to expand the reach of the documentary, adding more staff and shooting in more locations. Many of the people who worked on the documentary did so with an understanding that they would be paid on the “back end,” the money that came in from sales of the documentary, as the Kickstarter money was spent to get the documentary to market. Pirating the documentary does not take any money out of Hasbro’s hands; it’s taking money out of the hands of the independent workers — people who hardly make the same kind of money that the talent hired by the show makes — and now, because of the rampant piracy, we end consumers will no longer see the additional material that was originally planned for release because the documentary producers can no longer afford to pay workers to make it ready for end consumers.

Before I go any further, I do think attention needs to be called to the fact that it is hardly just the fans of My Little Pony: Friendship in Magic who have been engaging in piracy. Since the show’s debut and meteoric rise in popularity there have been a number of very vocal groups and people who have opposed the show, sometimes violently so, either because they don’t like the positivity of the show, or they just like to be contrarians, or they have a misunderstanding of the role of “cloppers” in the fanbase or what have you. (At some point I’m going to have to do a whole blog about the whole clopping thing, and I apologize in advance for having to delve into that, but there are a lot of misconceptions out there about that phenomenon that need to be cleared up.) It’s practically impossible to even utter the word “brony” online without haters flocking in to make their negative opinions of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and its fans known as loudly and obnoxiously as possible. Doubtlessly many of them are engaged in piracy of the documentary to try to hurt the show and its fans by any means possible.

That said, there’s no denying that a lot of the piracy of the documentary that’s going on right now is being perpetrated by alleged fans of the show, in spite of all the warnings that came from the talent who helped organize the documentary almost as soon as the film first went on sale. (One of my housemates actually got to interview John de Lancie about this problem recently, and I can’t help but be envious.) I find it hard to even think of these people as fans given how obstinately they insist on giving away the documentary for free in spite of the warnings and in spite of the messages of responsibility My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic puts out there and that the real fans of the show are trying to spread across broader culture. Not only are those who are pirating the documentary hurting the people who’ve worked so hard on it, but they’re hurting the show and its fans as well.

In addition, other “fans” (if you can call them that) have engaged in personal attacks against one of the convention organizers featured in the documentary, ridiculing her appearance in both private messages and public fora. I understand that there is some behind-the-scenes controversy surrounding convention organizers that I can’t make any comments about because of my lack of  knowledge of those machinations, but nothing, nothing excuses body shaming. Attacking others based on their personal appearance is a theme that My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic has explored numerous times (especially with the Cutie Mark Crusaders), and even if the show hadn’t explored that issue directly, body shaming runs so contrary to the spirit of the show that it’s hard to believe that anyone who claims to be a fan of the show would need to be told that making fun of other people’s appearance is unacceptable and contrary to the show’s themes and messages.

I didn’t become a fan of the show until after the second season had aired, and in that time some of my friends had first identified as huge fans of the show, then backed off of that identification because of problems they had with the fanbase, although they were more concerned with the fans whose fandom became excessive to the point of obnoxiousness. These fans exist in all fan communities, but the more popular a show is, the more attention these “superfans” get. There are some fans who, well-intentioned as they are, do a disservice to the community when they ask us to focus only on the positives of the show and its fanbase, and to not talk about (or ignore) problems with the fanbase or even the show. (I’ll be the first to say that I think this current season has been lacking stories as good of those in previous seasons.) If we, as fans of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, are going to present the show and its messages as a salve to many of the problems of the world — and I still believe it can be that, as evidenced by the personal stories showcased in the documentary — then we have to be honest about the difficulties in the fanbase, from personal attacks to piracy, and the show as well.

At the same time, I don’t think we can let ourselves become discouraged with the bad seeds in the fanbase to the point where we throw in the towel. As John de Lancie has so elegantly pointed out, a large part of the draw of the brony/pegasister community is that, like the Star Trek fandom he’s also immersed in, there is an underlying current of hope that runs through both communities, infused by the visionary thinking of Gene Roddenberry and Lauren Faust, that things can get better, no matter how bleak our present-day world may be. If things are going to get better, though, we have to work on making them better. That work is always difficult — the forces of negativity in the world are legion — and it can make you a lightning rod for public ridicule, and it often feels unrewarding, and there are always missteps and failures along the way, but if we don’t do it then who will? We must be honest and acknowledge when things are bad — whether it’s “fans” pirating a documentary and hurting people, or mistreating other fans, or what have you — but we cannot allow the bad apples to spoil everything that so many have worked so hard at.

For my part, now that my tax refunds have been deposited in my bank account, I plan on buying additional copies of the documentary to give to friends, even if they aren’t big fans of the show, just to help the people who worked on the documentary make up some of the money they’ve lost due to piracy. I also plan on continuing to advocate for the show and its messages, even if it costs me readers who’d rather I write about other topics. It’s not much, but it’s a start, and I can only hope that others will follow my example.

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