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Two documentaries: "Bronies" and "The Institute" - Gordonzola

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July 7th, 2014

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11:24 am - Two documentaries: "Bronies" and "The Institute"
We saw two documentaries yesterday, both unsatisfying for different reasons.

“Bronies” –

I still don’t get it. The creator of the edition of “My Little Pony” that seems to have started this craze says something very smart. Basically that boys being ridiculed for liking something that is aimed at little girls devalues all girls and that the Brony world is super positive in fighting this societal problem. I am totally with her there. A documentary working this theme could have been awesome.

Instead we get a mostly unimaginative documentary following a bunch of Bronies – many of whom seem on the spectrum – that doesn’t really go anywhere. There’s a bit of bait and switch: adult male Bronies are talked about but not really examined.

So many questions that could be asked: “Is this just simple, unremarkablke escapism?” “Is this part of the trend that sees so many adults reading y/a instead of other novels or even genre fiction?” “What is Hasbro’s role in all this?” “Is there something about MLP that attracts people with Asbergers?” “Didn’t this whole thing start on 4Chan?”

But hey, during the credits I realized that this is a Kickstartered documentary with – as far as I can tell – no theatrical release and no professional reviews so I’ve probably spent enough time thinking about it already.

If you want more, this is a pretty good feminist blog review here.

We also watched “The Institute” which, I have to say, I knew nothing about despite the fact it was centered around Bay Area artists. Starting with absurdist flyers put up on poles around town, this secret art project was part RPG, part self-help group, part social experiment. I am not necesairly the intended audience. I am aging out of these demographics for hip art, but I saw some of these flyers around town and I thought they were dumb, not intriguing.

I am a huge fan of fake flyers and political art projects. The anarchist fake campaign that “ran” a particularly authoritarian sectarian for Sheriff? Hillarious. The fake “Legalize PCP” rally mocking pot smoke-ins (“as safe as blue-green algae”)? Funny? Official looking advertisements that weren’t? Awesome. These though, just seemed de-politicized and boring. The blunt-knife mocking of self-help gurus? A little more timely in the ‘80s than the ‘10s and I never thought about pulling the tab and calling the number.

Don’t get me wrong though. I enjoyed the movie.

There were times, especially in the first half hour/45 minutes where they really had me going. I like the crypto-vison of an alternative world, the pirate radio broadcasts, the street demonstration. At it’s best, it had a Craig Baldwin* feel, re-purposing popular culture to make clear its contradictions and hidden meanings. I was willing to buy into the artistic vision.I was willing to examine "Elsewhere", certainly a more intellectually stimulating endeavor than the My Little Pony friendship tenets. I was willing to buy into the emotions the participants were feeling. I was willing to buy into their buy in, whereas -- if described to me before I started watching -- I would have remained distanced. In these ways, the filmmakers succeeded.

It’s certainly well done and – at times – though-provoking but in the end I just kept thinking, “I can’t believe how much time and money went into this.” That, to me, is a sign that the art didn’t work, at least as documentary. Also, I was left feeling punished by my buy-in, which leads me to question the point of this piece as a work of interactive, experimental art. Perhaps it was different for actual participants (if there were actual participants) who had time and physical experiences to reflect upon. In the shorter time frame of a movie, instead of having enough time to soak in the wonderment of the alternative societal vision -- and exchange cynicism for exploration, the more heavy-handed aspects of scripted actors made me feel like the message was less "open yourself up to the possibility of a better or different world" then, "You should have been more guarded and closed yourself off more."

The first half of this movie intrigued me but the more “interviewees” that were clearly actors, the less involved I became. In the end—it’s hard to understand how much – both documented here, and in the documunentary itself – is “real” or “fake”. Which is, I guess, the point. This documentary turns documentary against itself, making you question whether, actually, this entire thing is just fiction.

Here’s the trailer:

Also, here’s a review. You know a reviewer is in trouble when they hedge their bets with an I-don’t-get-it-but-I-think-the-kids-will ending.

Also, this Rumpus review is actually a much more interesting take than what I've written, written by someone who participated and then watched the documentary.

*Tribulation 99

(7 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:July 7th, 2014 07:40 pm (UTC)
Thanks smallstages!

Edited at 2014-07-07 07:40 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:July 8th, 2014 09:04 pm (UTC)
Small things from smallstages ...
[User Picture]
Date:July 7th, 2014 08:11 pm (UTC)
This is an unrelated anecdote about My Little Pony but I wanted to share.

I have a Princess Celestia "Obey" t-shirt that I wear on occasion to signal my ambivalence about MLP -- the kids are huge fans and it's true, compared to other children's media it is highly watchable and particularly noteworthy for its lack of winks or irony, something you can't say about, for example, the Powerpuff Girls, another show-for-girls that once upon a time had a lot of adult fans. That is to say, I like it more than I care to admit but I don't like it in quite *that* way.

One day I wore it to the kids' school. One of the older kids, a 4th or 5th grader, stopped to compliment me on it, which always embarrasses shy little old me (we can discuss why I wear eye-catching t-shirts if I don't want to discuss them another time). "I'm a Brony too," this kid proudly proclaimed. Only she didn't say it with the customary pronunciation, to rhyme with pony. She said, "I'm a Brawn-y."

I love this and want to make it a thing. "I'm a Brawny."

Edited at 2014-07-07 08:12 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:July 7th, 2014 08:22 pm (UTC)
I would think a "Brawny" would wear plaid shirts and hang out in forests.
[User Picture]
Date:July 7th, 2014 08:39 pm (UTC)
Indeed! While watching My Little Pony.

I think i just earwormed myself with a Monty Python routine.
[User Picture]
Date:July 8th, 2014 03:19 pm (UTC)
I will choose to read it as "bra-ny", as in "I am a brony who wears a (training) bra," a method of reclaiming MLP fandom from boys.
[User Picture]
Date:July 8th, 2014 06:19 pm (UTC)
This has to be a subculture already, no?

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