The original Star Trek television series was the backdrop for a lot of the bonding I did with Mom when I was young. Back before we had cable, reruns of the original Star Trek were one of the few things my mother made a point of catching whenever they were on, because she’s always had a huge crush on William Shatner dating back to before he even appeared on The Twilight Zone. For my part, I identified a lot with Spock, if only because he was the closest thing to a “cool nerd” there was on television until long after I finished high school. (Oh, if only Daria had started ten years earlier.) How Spock dealt with Doctor McCoy through logic (and a healthy dose of sarcasm) was the closest thing I had to a template for dealing with the crap I got from other kids as I was growing up. I wound up loving The Next Generation even more, although there wasn’t a character on there I could identify with like I did Spock; Deep Space Nine didn’t hold my interest beyond the first season, I was already in college when Voyager started, I was back in college when Enterprise started, and don’t even talk to me about what J.J. Abrams has done with the franchise …
I definitely enjoy science fiction, but I hesitate to call myself a fan of the genre because nearly every self-described science fiction fan I know is far more involved in it than I am. Still, I have studied the genre’s history, and if you go back and look through the science fiction magazines that came out in the years after the original Star Trek first went off the air, you’ll notice advertisements in the back for what were essentially the first pieces of Star Trek fan fiction. This was back in the day when these things would be typed up by their authors and then copied by a ditto machine, then sent out for a nominal fee. Some of this work still survives, and not only does it provide a fascinating look at the history and evolution of fan fiction, but it also shows that even back in the day there were fan fiction authors who were placing Captain Kirk and Commander Spock in romantic and/or sexual relationships. Kirk and Spock may be the original OTP, at least of science fiction.
It’s likely that back in the day there were people thinking about what would happen if Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Watson developed feelings for each other, or if the Bennet girls decided to sexually experiment with one another, or if Shakespeare had Brutus stab Caesar with something other than a dagger. Times being what they were, though, it’s likely that no one dared to commit these what-ifs to paper. Even if Star Trek was the first instance of people creating erotic fan fiction, it’s a practice that’s been going on for decades now. It’s only because fan fiction has become much more well-known as a genre in the Internet age, and news/entertainment shows like to use it so much as a source of “Can you believe people do this?” segments, that it seems like a new phenomenon. (Fan fiction also got a jolt in notoriety with the Fifty Shades trilogy, because several stories about it noted that E.L. James originally wrote that story as a work of Twilight fan fiction entitled “Master of the Universe.” This meant, before I could read Fifty Shades to determine how I might use its success to help market The Prostitutes of Lake Wobegon, I had to read all the Twilight books first. I’m still recovering from that.)
I certainly understand the impulse that drives people to create fan fiction, if only because my own creative process relies heavily on carefully observing the world around me and then going off on those “what if …” tangents to come up with ideas for my own stories. For those on the consuming end of fan fiction, it’s easy to see why people who become heavily invested in a series or a character would want more content involving their favourites, especially when there’s no more “official” content left to consume (or the official content starts stinking). Sexually fantasizing about fictional characters is something I’ve never seen the point in myself, but in the end it’s just another form of “what if,” so even if it’s not to my taste, I can still understand where that impulse comes from.
This leads me to wonder if part of the aversion many people have to fan fiction (in its broadest terms, not just the overtly sexual stuff) has to do with the general distrust in the creative process and creative people in our culture. We artists have been stereotyped as bizarre for a long time, but even more so in post-World War II American culture (thanks to the hard-headed “pragmatism” that arose in the fifties), and it seems to be getting worse as schools cut arts programmes more and more, leading to generations of young people who’ve never really been given outlets for their creativity by their schools or their overworked parents. The only value many Americans place on creativity is its market value; certainly smartphones get lots of love, but not so much the Star Trek writers who thought of the hand-held communicator and Tricorder that inspired smartphones. Fan fiction writers probably get slammed just for giving expression to their creativity, no matter what shape it takes; worse yet, they also get a lot of flak from so-called “real” writers who don’t consider fan fiction “real” fiction because the writers aren’t creating all their characters and settings out of whole cloth. (“Literary” exceptions like Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone and Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea seem to be exempted from this scorn.)
Creativity has always been one of the hallmarks of the brony/pegasister community; the sheer volume of fan art, fan animations, fan fiction and so on attests to that, and yes, some of it is sexual in nature. “Clopping” (a play on “fapping,” an Internet-age neologism coming from the onomatopoeic “fap” sound of penis masturbation) and “cloppers” get talked about so much that in some cases they seem synonymous with bronies. (Some deliberately try to conflate the two, including some female My Little Pony fans who want to drive out the male fanbase entirely.) Erotic fan-produced works are hardly a new phenomenon, so what is it about erotic fan-produced My Little Pony work that merits such increased scrutiny and derision?
We’re over twenty years into the anime boom in America, so I reject the whole “cartoons are for kids” notion, especially now that terms like hentai are understood by a large percentage of Americans. Yes, My Little Pony is a show that’s targeted in part to young children, although it certainly includes enough stuff in it that’s clearly meant for older audiences. Characters from kids’ shows have been getting the erotic fan work treatment for a long time now, though; if you don’t believe me (and don’t say I didn’t warn you), just do an image search on Bing for Kim Possible — without any other words — and see what shows up in the first hundred images. (Google’s image search has been cutting out erotic images — even when you search for explicitly erotic words — for a while now, even if you have SafeSearch off.) The fact that the characters in My Little Pony are, well, horses could have a great deal to do with that, but again, remember Rule 34; Twilight Sparkle and company are far from the first non-human characters to be eroticized. (It probably doesn’t help that the ponies have been humanized in the Equestria Girls movies, although this raises the whole issue of age because the characters go to high school in Equestria Girls, but in the television series they live on their own and even run their own businesses. Best to save that conundrum for later analysis.)
I think it’s the terms “cloppers” and “clopping” that are primarily at fault here, because outsiders, on hearing that there are special terms for people who get off on My Little Pony, are probably led to believe that there must be an epidemic of adults masturbating to cartoon horses if there are special terms for them. Really, though, this goes back to the whole creativity thing, because one of the ways bronies and pegasisters show their creativity is in coming up with special names for everything, from the terms brony and pegasister themselves to “brohoof” and so on. This comes from My Little Pony‘s own wordplay that’s been there since the start of the show, with place names like Canterlot and Manehattan and Fillydelphia; hardly an episode goes by without some kind of wordplay like that. Every term associated with the word clop is really just an extension of that. “Cloppers” didn’t get that name because they became this huge movement like bronies and pegasisters as a whole; they just got that name because creative fans found a nice little wordplay to define a sub-group within their group.
I don’t have hard numbers to back this up, and I doubt anyone does at this point, but I think it’s highly likely that the percentage of bronies and pegasisters who get off on My Little Pony isn’t significantly greater than that of the fandom of any other show currently being produced. The same probably holds true for creators of erotic fan fiction and other erotic fan works. Again, I think a lot of the hoopla is just because there’s a misconception that the existence of the terms “cloppers” and “clopping” means that these things are happening more with the My Little Pony fanbase than the fanbases of other shows. It would be interesting to see formal research done on this, but I doubt it will ever happen, if only because of the problems of getting people to truthfully self-report on their sexual proclivities.
It’s okay if you don’t understand why some people get aroused by the universe of My Little Pony; I don’t understand it either. It’s okay to be repulsed by people telling you that they like to masturbate to cartoon horses, and again, I don’t like hearing about that stuff myself. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t like anyone telling me what they like to masturbate to, period. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s My Little Pony or Supernatural or even explicitly erotic work; unless I’ve directly asked someone what turns them on (and it’s been a very long time since I’ve had reason to do that), I don’t want to hear about it, end of story. I would like to think that this is a fairly common sentiment. (Also, no adult should ever share what they find erotic with an underage person. I should hope that goes without saying.)
If you take nothing else out of this blog, just understand that yes, there are people out there who eroticize My Little Pony, but they are a comparatively small number of people to the larger brony and pegasister population, and the two are not synonymous. To repeat a hypothesis from my last blog, I think everything on this planet is erotic to at least one person. The landscape of sexual fantasies and fetishes is bizarre, and it is vast, and it can be at times incredibly funny and then stomach-churning horrifying, and unless someone asks you about what turns you on then it’s none of their business, and other people shouldn’t be making their sexual proclivities your business unless you ask them to. Let’s try to focus more on this basic courtesy, and less on what some people get off to in the privacy of their own homes.