Conventional Wisdom: BronyCon
Photographer Arthur Drooker mingles with My Little Pony enthusiasts in his series on convention attendees
BronyCon, the annual convention for fans of Hasbro's animated television series "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic," took over the Baltimore Convention Center for four days this August and photographer Arthur Drooker was there with his camera in tow. Continuing his Conventional Wisdom series—which has already brought us ventriloquists, taxidermists and a horde of Abraham Lincoln look-alikes, Drooker's been gathering insights from a hand-picked selection of the convention industry's most eccentric centerpieces, while amassing images for a new book-in-progress. BronyCon might be the most viscerally explosive to date and, as Drooker notes, "Of all the conventions I attended thus far, BronyCon was definitely the most spirited. If conventions at heart are about community, culture and connection, then BronyCon is at the head of the herd."
The term Brony—a portmanteau of “bro” and “pony”—defines, as Drooker explains, the recent and "unexpected rabid following of mostly young adult males," regarding a show created with a preadolescent female audience in mind. Last year in New York 100 people attended the convention; over 8,000 attended this year. The event offered "talks and autograph sessions with the show’s writers, animators and voice talent and a vendor floor" selling all things MLP. Even further, there was a costume contest and a nightly rave called Bronypalooza that encouraged social engagement. Panel discussions ranged from "Hearts and Hooves Everyday: Brony Couples;" "Poniverse: Building a Supercommunity;" and "Uplifting the Brony Soul." For casual observers and an active participants, BronyCon reveled in a burgeoning, colorful community antithetical to an equally growing negative stereotype that fans of the fluffy unicorns are weirdos.
While researching for the convention, Drooker learned that "a trio of psychologists conducted the "Brony Study"—an extensive survey of 40,000 Bronies." These psychologists presented their findings at this year's convention, having concluded that the typical Brony is educated, employed and open-minded. The study sought to answer, "Who is a Brony?" but not why. Drooker took it upon himself to continue along this path for information, in an effort to refute stereotypes. Rather than simply photograph the attendees, he also spoke with them, and he found their fandom roots valuable. "Many of them had heard about the show from a friend or watched it with a younger sibling and got hooked on the easily identifiable characters, the catchy songs, the sharp writing and the eye-candy animation," he began. "Still, they know all too well that their appreciation of the show may seem strange to those who have never seen it," he said, before calling attention to the fact that giving people a chance is always worthwhile.
With deft attention and vision, Drooker himself observed that "on a deeper level, the show’s positive messages about friendship, honesty and kindness resonated deeply with these young adult males. Bronies came 'out of the stable,' took to the internet and found out they weren’t alone." In the survey, one participant asked, “Why can’t a guy like pink?” Drooker's BronyCon images prove that they can, and do. The photos also demonstrate that there is a community out there for everyone. The photographer found, once again, that people are drawn toward sharing their interests. This convention and its documentation reveal a safe place where like-minded people engage in a culture they find dear. Drooker captures their passion, and shows how meaningful it is.
Cool Hunting was invited to follow Arthur Drooker behind the scenes as he continues to survey and photograph conventions around the US. All images in this ongoing series are by Arthur Drooker.