Friendly Ponies And Their Magical Bronies Will Soon Gallivant Into Dreamy Grand Prospect Hall

Friendly Ponies And Their Magical Bronies Will Soon Gallivant Into Dreamy Grand Prospect Hall
Ponycon mascots Cabbie, Bowtie, and Liberty. (Courtesy of Ponycon)

There was a sizable line downstairs leading to the elevator banks, and I was anticipating a crush of bodies on the ride up. I got what I expected — well, with a bit of a surprise.

Indeed, riding that elevator felt like I was in a closet — but a closet so colorful you’d be able to see with the lights off.

And so, the pony-friendly ascended.

Keep in mind that Ponycon 2016 hasn’t begun yet. Not to worry, we’ll be giving you all the details about their big Grand Prospect Hall debut below (It’s happening Saturday, February 13 – Monday, February 15, if you’re dying to know when your dreams will be coming true).

This event was a “rehearsal” of sorts at Pearl Studios in Manhattan  — and an opportunity to have a working session with almost 150 volunteers.

As Co-Executive Director Keith Butler said, “We’re here to spread the pony joy.”

The Ponycon greeting
The Ponycon greeting. “It’s a cute way of saying hi,” says Co-Executive Director Keith Butler. (Photo by Donny Levit / Park Slope Stoop)

And so that joy was spreading. These volunteers — devotees and enthusiasts — had an opportunity to mingle with the like-minded, debate their favorite My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (MLP:FIM) episodes, and gear up for one of the most fascinating exercises in fandom.

This will be the fourth Ponycon to take place, and the first one to take place at the Grand Prospect Hall (last year’s took place at St. Francis College in Downtown Brooklyn). “It’s hard to run a convention in New York City but we made it to the fourth,” says Co-Executive Director Karen Wills, “There’s something special about the fourth. You know it’s going to last.”

In many ways, the annual event replaces BroNYCon — which last took place in the New York area (the Meadowlands) in 2012, before relocating to Baltimore, MD. And with that, the “NYC” is no longer capitalized.

Ponycon mascots Cabbie, Bowtie, and Liberty
Ponycon mascots Cabbie, Bowtie, and Liberty. (Courtesy of Ponycon)

For those of you who haven’t had MLP on your radar in awhile, well, a lot has changed. The current series and fandom surrounding the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (G4) is vastly different than the one you may have known from the 1980s. The G1 – G3 (the “G” stands for Generations — hey, you have to get the lingo under your hoof) pre-date the G4 series that both BronyCon and Ponycon focus on.

In addition, the audience for the show is also vastly different from the one in the 1980s.

When the producer Hasbro released the G4 animated series in 2010, little girls were the primary target audience for it. But all of that changed. Through the internet and in particular an image sharing site called 4chan, an unlikely trend took place of men connecting deeply to the series — and developing a rapidly spreading network of devotees.

The term “Brony” (plural: bronies) was coined to represent these fans — think of it as a combination of “bro” and “pony” (the etymology, however, continues to be debated). And although the brony culture was considered deviant by some at the outset, a lot has changed.

Bronies — and Ponycon in particular — belong to an artistic and philosophical movement referred to as “New Sincerity.” The term is used in all sorts of literary criticism, philosophy, aesthetics, music, and visual art — a movement that radically departs from postmodern irony and cynicism. And of course, the debate rages as to whether or not “New Sincerity” is a large force in our culture.

In The Atlantic‘s excellent article written in 2012 during the development of Bronyism, author Jonathan D. Fitzgerald writes:

“If that phrase sounds familiar, it may be because Professor Wampole brings it up toward the end of her essay as an example of an attempt to banish irony. She notes that the New Sincerity has been around since the 1980s, and is a response to ‘postmodern cynicism, detachment and meta-referentiality.’
She’s right about that, and the examples she cites—David Foster Wallace, Wes Anderson, and Cat Power—are right too. But the New Sincerity failed, she tells us. She wants us to take her word for this, even though each of her examples still wield a great deal of cultural influence and continue to model the New Sincerity even, in the case of Wallace, posthumously.”

The New Sincerity outlook connects to understanding the makings of MLP fandom in general, and Bronies in particular.

Karen Wills and Keith Butler, Executive Directors of Ponycon
Karen Wills and Keith Butler, Executive Directors of Ponycon. (Photo by Donny Levit / Park Slope Stoop)

“August 18, 2013 is an important date in my life,” says Ponycon’s Co-Executive Director Keith Butler. “The day after was just different than the day before,” he says.

This was the date Butler first started watching MLP:FIM. As he runs his hand through his rainbow-dyed hair, he discusses how he joined a comic book group within the Brony network. “We were sitting in Central Park. I looked around and realized that within 15 minutes, I found my people.”

The group is also how Butler met Karen Wills — the other half of the Executive Director team. “I saw him and hoped he’d be friends with me,” she says.

And while the love for MLP:FIM centers so much around the connection Bronies make to the ponies — that’s not the main topic of discussion. The most common words used throughout the afternoon are “community” and “creativity.”

“One of the defining aspects of our community is the artistic ideas, the creativity,” says Butler. “We produce more art than Star Wars fans. It allows us to enhance and treasure what we do.”

Butler says the community loves the creators of the series. “The writers and directors are fans of the series. They are fans of the fandom. None of the people who write for these shows are culturally banal,” explains Butler. “These ponies are archetypal characters. Like humans, they have serious character flaws. And the stories, they are dense. One episode is practically post-apocalyptic.”

Wills explains that while the fandom is huge, they want to keep Ponycon as intimate as possible. “We really don’t want to ever get more than 4,000 people in attendance. We want to make sure our growth doesn’t get out of hand,” she says.

Compared to the 2015 BronyCon conference attendance of over 10,000 fans, Ponycon sounds relatively cozy.

Brony Psychology with Yvon Nives
Brony Psychology with Yvon Nives. (Courtesy of Ponycon)

But in Ponycon parlance, intimacy is grand.

The sheer amount of workshops, programs, and entertainment that will take place over the three-day event is impressive. A sliver of events include an interview with MLP:FIM creator Lauren Faust, a Legends of Equestria Developer’s Talk (technology and media), Fan Comic Creators (an insight into fan art) … and then there’s Lady Aria Phantasy.

Lady Aria Phantasy
Lady Aria Phantasy will perform at Ponycon. (Photo by Donny Levit / Park Slope Stoop)

Lady Aria is a classically-trained soprano who specializes in both musical theater and classical music. She’s also a huge fan. “I was the target demographic in the 1980s,” she says. She has taken her own love for all things MLP and has developed a persona that defines pony music.

While all this may be a bit hard to contextualize for those still yet to be indoctrinated, Ponycon is heading to our very own neighborhood in about a week. The event promises to be a haven for the fans, but welcoming enough for those interested in the world of fandom to become engaged and embraced.

To paraphrase Twilight Sparkle, Ponycon has a “wonderful talent dealing with all kinds of animals.”

The Event Rundown: Ponycon 2016
Where: Grand Prospect Hall, 263 Prospect Avenue (near 5th Avenue)
When: Saturday, February 13 – Monday, February 15.
Schedule Information: Events are diverse and extensive. View the full schedule here.
Hours: Saturday and Sunday (10:00am-11:00pm); Monday (10:00am-5:00pm)
Admission: 3-day and 1-day passes are available. Details and tickets are here.
About the kids: Children age 4 and under are free (max four per paying adult). Children under 13 need to be accompanied by a paying adult.

FYI: We’ll be covering the event next weekend, so stay tuned for a post-Ponycon article!


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