In the near future, historians will struggle to locate the precise moment when civilization’s wheels finally, irretrievably came off. By then, there will have been too many such moments to pinpoint one with any certainty. But I’ll mark the day as having occurred on a recent August weekend when, standing in the concourse of the Baltimore Convention Center, I watch grown men with problem skin and five o’clock shadows prance around in pony ears, rainbow manes, and braided tails lashed to their belt-loops, doling out “free hugs,” starting “fun! fun! fun!” chants, and spontaneously breaking into song. “Give me a bro hoof,” says one, trying to knuckle-bump me. It’s what you might imagine heaven to be like, if your idea of heaven is hell.
Yet such a “precise moment” of decline could also be easily attributed to either of the aforementioned groups. I can imagine feeling similar horror watching a grown man shake a rattle as a woman wipes away his drool. Merely being able to readily access the Male Chastity Manifesto from the ostensible security of my living room fills me with a grim sense of foreboding.
But what disturbs me more than the existence of this stuff is the utter lack of shame connected with it. There may have been a man in 1951 who wanted nothing more than to suck on a pacifier and get his diapers changed, but chances are he would never have acted on it. If he acted on it, he sure as hell would never consent to allowing anyone to even take a picture of him with a pacifier and Winnie the Pooh, much less consent to having it shown to the entire world.
Today, we’re relativists. We only call it abnormal if it’s something at least 9o% of Americans did seventy years ago. Only those who attempt to shame others deserve any shame themselves.
There’s also the internet. Imagine a “man” in 1989 who finds himself enamored of the My Little Pony television show of the time. He’d feel weird about it, maybe watch it every once in a while, but he’d definitely keep it to himself. If he found himself overwhelmed with insatiable MLP cravings and just had to go to Blockbuster to rent every episode in existence, he’d desperately hope that he doesn’t blurt out something stupid when the checkout girl asks, “So how old’s your daughter?”
Now, that same guy posts anonymously on some forum on the internet. He puts out his freakdar and recommends the show to some other weirdo. That weirdo checks out the show himself and writes back that he thinks MLP is awesome, too. They coax some other dude into checking it out, and if that guy (who obviously has no friends because he’s willing to sit through My Little Pony) really wants to belong, he’s inclined to like it himself, even if a part of himself finds it disturbing.
Before you know it, dozens, then hundreds of males reinforce those parts of each other they really ought to quash and form a movement. They no longer feel shame about their “unique” taste, for “one is never truly alone among the Bronyhood, discovering the magic of friendship with bros whose fondest wish is to show off their pony plushy toys, picking their favorite according to which pony’s personality most matches their own.”
United in their inability to grow up, finding community in that which should deprive them of it. According to The Weekly Standard my account of the beginnings of Bronyhood doesn’t fit literal history, but the principle is the same. You’re a freak, and it’s easier than ever to find freaks just like you. You therefore develop a sense of community with others around the world based on your freakiness. Instead of either hiding your freakiness (or maybe even growing out of it), it determines who your friends are. They encourage it in you, help it grow, and make it even harder for you to ever let it go. Sure, you’ll get a bit of shame, but you’ll also have plenty of defenders.
Modern men are often as isolated from each other as they are from their own masculinity. We’re individualistic by nature, but we also seek a tribe, a place to belong.
The internet has enabled the growth of the manosphere, but it’s also helped spread some pretty warped crap. We can’t shut down the internet, but we desperately need to foster a sense of belonging in men that’s healthy if we want to counteract the subservient husbands, adult babies, and whatever other freakdoms might try to fill that void instead.
The manosphere’s a great start, but it has to be more than just a start.