Gawking at Bronies
The Power of the Internet
The Internet allows for freedom of identity. Molly Lambert describes the Internet as, “a utopian alternative, a place to create the society you wish existed. A world of jarred brains.” The Internet has allowed people to connect with others, whom they would otherwise be unable or unlikely to reach. Further, the Internet allows users to hide their identity and remain anonymous, if they choose so. David Gauntlett states that, through these faculties, the Internet enables users to “reveal secrets, discuss problems, or even enact whole ‘identities’ which they would never do in the real world.” This open space facilitates the formation of virtual communities and subcultures. Individuals who have quirky or unique interests are able to find others who share their enthusiasms. Those, who once felt isolated or alone, are able to find community with other likeminded individuals. Because they no longer feel alone in their eccentric interest, individuals of these subcultures are no longer forced to hide themselves and will even proudly out themselves to the world. This new stability and self-esteem comes from the unique nature of the Internet.
While the Internet offers these new experiences for people, it is important to note, from Lambert’s description, that the Internet is ‘utopian.’ The Internet can offer an idealistic and perfect world. The utopia of the Internet allows once isolated individuals to take pride in their eccentric interests. While this progression is favorable, it is difficult to sustain outside the realms of the Internet. The disconnect between the Internet and the physical world causes problems for the proud individuals of these subcultures who wish to go public about their hidden interests.
The Disconnect between Two Worlds
The power and security found in various subcultures usually does not translate into the everyday world. As, Valentina Gueorguieva states, “The hypothesis of anonymity and identity play is grounded in a supposed distinction between the real and the virtual, hence the assumption that one’s virtual identity does not necessarily coincide with her/his offline self-presentation.” The open-minded, ‘jarred brains’ philosophy of the Internet is not present in the real world. In the real/physical world, people are much less tolerant. It is difficult to deal with this intolerance because, stating the obvious, the physical world is physical. Unlike the Internet, individuals being victimized cannot simply block a user, exit out of the forum, or walk away from the computer. The physical world can allow individuals to become trapped and may offer no escape from the tormentors. While there is safety within a group online, this stability is not guaranteed outside the domain of the subculture.
To avoid the conflict and confrontation of the physical world, many individuals of these communities refrain from publicizing their true identity and expressing their interests. They are forced to hide in the real/physical world and can only truly be themselves online or only among other individuals of their subculture.
It is extremely difficult for the people of these subcultures, like the Bronies, who are able to be themselves and connect with people in some parts of their life, but must suppress that part of themselves in other parts of their life. It is a truly bizarre and sad phenomenon, which many people must undergo, because of the rejection and judgment they face from society. It is extremely difficult to only be one’s true self at certain times. The times, in which they are expected to suppress themselves, is requiring them to deny a fundamental part of who they are. People should never have to be subject to this horrible situation, out of fear of harsh judgment and harassment. Yet while this should never happen, it is a common occurrence, which many minorities have to face.
The problem is rooted at the desire to fit in. People frequently integrate themselves into a mainstream. Once apart of this mainstream/group they turn against those who are not apart of their group and judge those who are unlike them. This is a vicious cycle, which repeats itself over and over again. People integrate themselves into a mainstream, not necessarily the mainstream, but any mainstream.
As David Muggleton and Rupert Weinzierl state, many subcultures uphold a “romantic vision of symbolic rebellion.” Many subcultures have a strong attitude that is not only extremely anti-mainstream/authority but also very exclusive of anyone who differs from them. Although bronies are more welcoming, many subcultures, such as juggalos and cyberpunks are exclusive and cold to outsiders and people unlike them. Thus, the cycle repeats itself: people find solidarity in their groups and then become exclusive and judge others who are not like them. Gueorguieva also notes, “And since to become an insider one has to invest time and resources, the candidate will be more motivated to remain in the group, once s/he is accepted, rather than switch to a different group and style.” The exact same problems and reasons, which caused them to feel isolated and then seek out the company of the group, are being repeated in a similar manner. Members of groups like Anonymous and cyberpunks can be critical of people and denounce others by calling out those who are imposters. Within virtual forums, users insult and yell at people who are not ‘real’ members of the subculture. One must prove their authenticity and meet the group’s requirements. If they do not fit the mold, they are outcast once again. This behavior is so surprising because one would expect people to be more accepting and empathetic, after they, themselves, have been subjected to the same kind of harsh judgment and exclusion. Yet many times, subcultures repeat the cycle of exclusion.
My Personal Experience
In my experience, I have never been ostracized or excessively harassed for my interests or personality. Although, I briefly experienced being gawked at while drawing the Bathgate apartments in my sketchpad outside the Finlay gate. It was bizarre to be gawked at and visibly judged by the pedestrians on the street. The people passing by me did not realize that, although many of them did not communicate their opinions with me verbally, their body language and facial expressions sent a message. People outwardly stared, did double takes, and scrunched up their faces in scrutiny or distaste. Because drawing outside on an oversized sketchpad is not common, people took notice. Drawing is not a past time that is looked down upon or judged by a vast majority of society. Artists do not have an overwhelming taboo and are not usually discriminated against as minorities. Yet despite the lack of offensiveness, my mildly strange act of drawing elicited a strong response from people. People’s reactions ranged from intrigued to disinterested to congratulatory to critical. Regardless, it was fascinating how drastically the pedestrians of Fordham reacted to a miniscule change from the norm.
From my own experience, it is easier to understand the psychology of such violent behavior from people who torment the subcultures/minorities. The people passing by me did not find my interest off-putting, yet they responded drastically to someone have a peculiar interest and acting outside the norm. Many subcultures promote interests that the vast majority of society has deemed unacceptable. Individuals of these subcultures outwardly express the opinion of the minority, which have been concluded to be deplorable by many. People’s intolerance stems from being insecure in their values. When observing a subculture, one makes judgments of other people’s values and thus one is forced to recognize his/her own values. Many subcultures, like the Bronies, feel secure with their perspectives and opinions that have been rejected by society. This indifference is threatening to others whose beliefs are more fragile. People who are insecure react drastically to the secure individuals, and many times this insecurity manifests itself in violence.
Appearance plays a large role in the gawking phenomenon. It is very interesting how we tend to judge by appearance. Outsiders typically judge and deem people to be a part of a particular subculture by their outward appearance. In fact, as Leonard Mlodinow states, our perceptions of people are “built largely on unconscious inferences that are made employing factors such as a person’s body language, voice, clothing, appearance, and social category.” However, merely looking the part does not satisfy the insiders of a particular subculture. A physical appearance does not qualify for authenticity. In fact, members usually dislike those who only fulfill the physical qualifications/cliché look and do not fill the other, more important criteria.
Again, I have never been ostracized, but people do not typically guess all of my interests by looking at me. When people learn that I am creative and enjoy creating art, they are usually shocked. Many people, unknowingly assume that, because I do not look like a cliché artist – covered in paint, odd tattered clothing, and disheveled – that I am not so. Thus, they unconsciously categorize me as inartistic off of clichés and my physical appearance.
It is odd that we judge by physical appearances, even though they do not necessarily define many groups. Many groups choose not to publicize their identity, for a variety of reasons. These reasons are not always known and remain hidden. Do not feel comfortable enough or go public or do they simply do not feel the need to? Are they being forced to hide? Or have they simply not met other likeminded individuals? Regardless, these people remain hidden because their physical appearances do not give them away. Although we typically do, we should not judge others by their outward appearances. People’s appearances are deceiving and do not show the full extent of a person.