When Hasbro successfully re-launched the My Little Pony franchise in 2010, the cartoon quickly found an unexpected and committed audience in teenage and twenty-something men. Much of the commentary surrounding these “Bronies” has applauded their counter-cultural daring and progressive flouting of gender norms, while the collisions between flat-topped fathers and pink-tailed, rainbow-hoofed sons in the documentary film Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony (2012) underline a sense of a generational shift. The Bronies hold regular international conventions and their love of the show is now avowedly taken into account by its writers. But why should the most specific and recurrent protestations of interviewed Bronies be, first, that their enjoyment of the cartoon’s happy-go-lucky inspirational morality is in no way ironic, and second, that they are not homosexual?
The first point to realize is that the two charges the Bronies feel compelled to defend themselves against may not be unrelated. In her ‘Notes on Camp’ (1964), Susan Sontag discusses the relationship between an arch ironical worldview which sees “everything in quotation marks” and for which “sincerity is not enough” and homosexual culture, while Alan Sinfield, in The Wilde Century (1994), goes as far as to argue that the modern stereotype of the effeminate sarcastic homosexual was effectively invented during the trials of Oscar Wilde. By contrast, My Little Pony’s producers have spoken out against what they perceive as a smug irony dominating children’s entertainment, saying that they wanted to make a show with a sincere message of self-belief and friendship. This might save My Little Pony from postmodern irony in the Pixar mould, where children’s films are constantly interrupted by knowing winks to the adults in the audience, but it is far from preventing it being camp. “Camp”, in Sontag’s analysis, is specifically “art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is too much”. And My Little Pony is nothing if not too much.
The other peculiarity about the eagerness with which the Bronies emphasise their heterosexuality is that the appropriation of lowbrow entertainment by a cultural group far outside its stated demographic is obviously another major hallmark of queer culture. The Bronies embracing of My Little Pony to the point where they have become part of its business model is structurally identical to the at once ironic and sincere embracing of Marlon Brando, Princess Diana and One Direction within queer culture. As such, the Bronies’ denial of irony and homosexuality in particular is anything but arbitrary. Rather, it points to a disavowal of a queerness at the heart of what they do that is far more structural than any merely literal same-sex acts. Far from being too camp, as the Bronies tend to fear the world perceives them, the Bronies could do with embracing their structural camp a little more, and in the spirit of another of Sontag’s maxims, “be alive to a double sense in which some things can be taken”. They are after all “too much”.