I dedicate these thoughts to Derpy, aka Niki. Thank you for your letter, your story, and your smile.
I've been watching MLP for about a year and generating creative fan content since spring, but until now I've never actively engaged the brony community. After perusing EQD and a couple message boards, along with reports of some other conventions, I've gotten a pretty good taste of the lighter and darker sides of what bronies experience. But I wanted to attend a convention in person to get a true sense of these people. In short, instead of "these people," I am now ready to say "us."
The Nightmare Nights convention itself was expertly organized with regard to both planning and problem-solving. The talent present from the show and the community were all personable and engaging; Brenda Crichlow was my favorite guest for her warmth and exuberance. The panels and other activities were informative and entertaining.
But I believe the encounters I had with other fans of the show will stay with me the most. I immediately observed a great amount of diversity—age (from 16-ish to 60-ish, with quite a few children), gender (probably 30% female), race, personality, a fair number with disabilities, and as many folks in street clothes as in costume. The attendees defied stereotype, except for the commonality that everyone I saw was polite and friendly, eager to enjoy themselves and spread that enjoyment to others. We don't agree on all the issues (I do seem to be in quite the minority on a number of famous debates), but the negativity and cynicism I've seen crop up on the Internet was absent here.
One thing I observed, as various bronies told their stories, was the effect the message of the show has had on its viewers. Quite a few bronies were once depressed and/or friendless before watching the show, and I saw confirmation of the show's special appeal to the autistic and Aspies like me. As someone once said about the Book of Psalms, this series can take a heart broken in two and teach both parts to sing. Equally many others were already happy and well-adjusted before discovering the show. But just about everyone I heard from has been prompted to apply the value of friendship to their lives and learned new ways to be a good friend. We were all there with Princess Celestia's instruction in mind: "Make some friends," and I believe that contributed to the positive atmosphere.
The constant connectedness of our social networking culture, message boards, and Twitter feeds, has, I believe, given the Millennial generation an illusion of bonding that veils their need for true friendship. This, coupled with the cynicism of an increasingly polarized and politicized culture and the ease of abuse that comes with online anonymity, has given rise to a large cohort of young people who may be sad, hurt, and alone without necessarily realizing it.
Along comes a show about friendship, and while teen and young adult viewers may be drawn by its quality or its memetic status, its message lays open their need for friends and sets forth a solution of intentional friendliness. Ironically, the brony community initially formed around the very same online structures that had stood in the way of true friendship before. The end result has been described by Tara Strong as a "worldwide hug" that is likely to outlast the TV series itself as bronies bond over the show and offer mutual support.
Based on my own experience, I'd say the enormous creativity and generosity we see coming out of the brony community are a twofold effort to express appreciation for the show and spread "the magic of friendship" to others. These efforts got downright sacrificial at this convention, where bronies gave $9,122 for St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in a charity auction (in addition to all the net proceeds, which have yet to be tabulated) and donated $3,120 and 186 pounds of food to the North Texas FoodBank. Together with the other conventions in 2013, the total money raised for charity by brony conventions is estimated to be well over $100,000.
As a Christian, I feel compelled to point out that happiness, friendship, and acts of kindness are futile if they're only done for earth-bound purposes. (See my thoughts on something more lasting and ultimate here.) Nevertheless, bronies both Christian and non- are helping make this world a better place, inspired by the show and its cast and crew, who are themselves engaged in a multitude of worthy causes.
I also have to say a word about the vendors and other creatives at the con and in the community at large: Writing encourages critical thinking and imagination, as do music and the other arts. Such creativity is a sign of generational health. And bronies are constantly producing an incredible amount of artistic work, from book-length fiction to digital art to shadowboxes to custom toys to animation to electronic and orchestral music. Almost none of these folks make enough money to break even, and most put it out there at no charge. In a few years, once the show has ended and bronyism fades into pop culture history, most of this work will be filed away in drawers, closets, and flash drives, forgotten except for brief waves of nostalgia. But the skills learned are timeless. People are writing who have never written before, composing who have never composed before, etc., and they can apply those skills more broadly having become experts through practice. Twenty years from now, I imagine a lot of artists will be saying, "Can you imagine I got my start doing this because of a show called My Little Pony?"
The creators of MLP set out to make a show that was good enough to be enjoyed by all ages. I'm sure they had no idea how much it would motivate many thousands of people from all walks of life to help make the world a better place.