Saturday, March 23, 2013

Chasing the Fringe

One of the challenging aspects about writing against general opinion is that it's very easy to be painted with the same brush as your subject. People like their labels; it makes a very complicated world easier to comprehend. And there's some truth in labels certainly, but labels are imperfect by nature. Worse, when you slap one on a movement, a group of people, or even a piece of media you close avenues of debate.

And I like debate.

This article was supposed to be about My Little Pony.

I've considered writing something about the show since I saw the latest incarnation almost two years ago. There's a plethora of subject matter to explore and to write about.

About creator Lauren Faust, her successes and the circumstances surrounding the show's creation. About the surprisingly wide appeal of her creations and the implications of that appeal for the world of girl-centric children's entertainment. About the irony that in the 1990s it was more likely to find well-rounded female characters in shows aimed at boys such as Gargoyles or Batman: The Animated Series than in shows actually aimed at a young female crowd.

That's what I'd love this article to focus on, but this show has a LOT of cultural baggage.

More specifically its adult fan base, mostly male, colloquially called Bronies.

You can't wave a horse around without hitting brony hatred on the internet or some disturbing story of someone taking their fandom too far in the eyes of the general populous.

It got me thinking about a few other sub-cultures that have spent their time on the fringes.




For decades, the accompanying images for the above groups would've been considerably less flattering*. Gradually recent years has allowed these cultural sub-sets to become mainstream, or at least much closer to it. The internet has let people of shared interest to gravitate together in a way that was never before possible. And in coming together, marginalized communities suddenly have a lot more power than they've ever had to shape how they're perceived.

Geek can be sexy.

Rebellion, the height of fashion.

When was the last time you looked at The Star Wars Kid and seriously considered him to be the face of the Star Wars fandom?

In the nineties The Kid would have dominated the cultural image of the Star Wars fanboy. No need to stretch the imagination far, there were many other examples. It's human nature to take what you don't understand and put it in a box. And if that was a Warmonger (no really, that's the term), then Trekkies were anti-social man-children who bath less often than they should, as far as the cultural shorthand went. Of course this is unfair. It ignores the fundamental fact that nobody is their hobby. That underneath the plastic Clingon forehead is often Johnny Normal, who works as an accountant and grew up the third of four children.

It's not difficult to understand how a sub-culture develops; the most public example stands in for the whole. Stepping away from geek culture for a moment to the third of the above examples, Punk developed with a kind of one-up-manship attitude. Compare the music of one of the earliest punk groups The Ramones (who's name is a reference to The Beatles) to Black Flag (who's name is decidedly not) and tell me with a straight face they sound like they're from the same musical genre... Even though Black Flag followed a mere two years after The Ramones formed.

It's interesting to note that the intended purpose of another influential early group The Sex Pistols was, in part, to promote a clothing line by their manager Malcolm McLaren.

The punk rocker look itself evolved over time in tandem with the movement's sound. Newspapers would print photos of only the most extreme examples of punk rock fans. This, as you might imagine, created a skid row version of 'Keeping Up With The Jones'; a fashion arms race with a huge populous pushing to find new ways to piss off the status quo (in the process simply replacing Brand A with Brand X, if you want to be cynical about it).

The movement defined itself unilaterally with what it was against, but not really with any clear cohesion as to what it was for. Many of those who embraced those conflicting ideals did so emphatically, regardless. The extreme modes of appearance, by being featured in widely distributed newspapers, gave new fans a template of what it was to be a punk rock fan; this was what it looked like to live a lifestyle defined by the music you loved. Not going to those extremes seen in print meant that you were a poser. So get another piercing, shave your head, and buy army boots.

Strange as it may seem, the parallels drawn between the punk rock and geekier sub-cultures aren't all that outlandish. After all, the reasons people gravitate together only really vary in the details.

That's what it is to be human after all.


Maybe now I can get around to writing about ponies.

Until then, I'm the Trenchcoat Anti-Critic.

* I am not implying here that less flattering images don't still exist, merely that they are not the ONLY images representing said the more geeky groups of people. So while the ubiquitous Star Wars fanboy image still exists, the fan culture is larger than that. The creations of that culture can be seen and embraced by the larger community (George Lucas In Love, Troopers, et al).

1 comment:

  1. I'd honestly never heard the term "warmongers" in relation to Star Wars fandom before. Interesting.