Note: This is a small section on fanon that I had to cut out of this post for space reasons. I was initially not going to post it, but in honor of this map being released, it just seemed like I should waste even more of your time. It is all complete and utter crud, so feel free to ignore this.
One of the most interesting aspects of a fandom, especially one as large and diverse as the FiM community, is the proliferation of fanon. In essence, fanon is what happens when the headcanon of one person or group within the community successfully spreads out across a significant portion of the fanbase, until the theory itself is accepted as a stated "fact." One of the advantages (and disadvantages) of the Internet is the ability to spread such ideas even faster, make them more accessible to new fans, and eventually indoctrinate entire legions of naive young bronies into thinking that Celestia wants to molest everypony in sight. Needless to say, there is a LOT of fanon within the FiM community to wade through, so here's a look at how fanon is created, spread, updated, expanded, and finally abandoned.
There are basically two origin points for fanon:
* The show itself introduces a plot element that isn't explored, or leaves a plot hole that just screams to be filled. Eventually, a fan will decide to fill in the blanks themselves by drawing their own conclusions from the source material.
* Someone decides to create art or fiction for the fandom based on what they see in the show, and manages to draw in enough fans.
An example of the former would be Lyra being obsessed with humans, due to being drawn sitting in a very human way in "Dragonshy," or also the many Fix Fics that popped up after "The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well." The latter would include things like Luna's abacus, Abacus, from "Progress." Either way, for the fanon to take hold in people's minds, it has to be able to either serve as a reasonable enough explanation for everyone to accept, be amusing or clever enough to be idealized and ripped off, and viewed as generally acceptable within the loosest confines of the canon. So no matter how amusing your fanart of Applejack being a five hundred-foot tall kaiju that fires streams of liquid nitrogen from its eyes and poops apple fritters may be, it will never really be fanon because it doesn't fit with the show.
PROLIFERATION AND REFINEMENT:
So, now your epic story explaining why Trixie is such a loudmouthed jerk to everypony is up and ready, it's time to see how the public responds. Perhaps it was just one idea, or your art caught someone's eye, but eventually one of your fans falls in love with your creation so much that they design something similar. Or perhaps you create enough of a discussion that enough are exposed to your bit of headcanon and find themselves agreeing. In any case, it's time for the next stage in the journey. Now that enough people know that Luna is better than everypony else in every way, Discord is in love with Celestia, and Pinkie Pie makes cupcakes out of ponies, eventually someone will create art or stories based on the information you've provided.
Once the new fanon enters this stage, it experiences a massive amount of growth, reinterpretation, and closer examinations from the rest of the fanbase. Some will reject it outright, on the grounds that they simply don't like it, it doesn't fit into their headcanon at all, or they just don't view the material the same way. Others, however, grasp onto these ideas, and gradually spread them out until they become commonplace. For example, did you know there were once fics that shipped Octavia and Vinyl Scratch with ponies besides themselves? But once "The Vinyl Scratch Tapes" gained widespread popularity, it attracted enough followers that recycled the same pairing in their own works that a large swath of the fandom (and nearly all of their fans) gradually turned the two into a One True Pairing.
Eventually, however, the idea will be whittled down into a single, central representation of the initial concept. Going back to the Lyra example again, the initial fanon was that she was a reverse furry; that is, a funny animal that wanted to be a human. Nowadays, that short, one-sentence theory has been expanded and refined until Lyra is literally obsessed with humans, wants hands, and likes to wear pants while walking on her hind legs. Just how far one wishes to explore or push a piece of fanon is up to individual preference, but the fact remains that enough of the fanbase has heard about it to have an opinion on the matter.
Now comes the part where things get dicey. The idea has been spread, enough fans are behind it, and about five to ten fics per day are being added to Fimfiction about it. At this point, the fanon reaches the third stage. The theme or concept has become so widespread, and so ingrained within the culture of the community, that more and more fans begin to see it as an unquestionable truth. On paper, this isn't too thorny of an issue, but what happens when someone writes something that doesn't stand by that bit of fanon? That was one of the reasons the star system was discontinued on Equestria Daily; far too many people were one-starring fics that didn't conform to their OTP or stood contrary to what they drew from the show, and all without so much as a glance at what was actually written.
In many cases, this is where the fanon finally settles down. As long as nothing happens in the show to challenge the status quo, things will continue as needed. In all other cases, we get to the last part of the journey.
Any fanon that makes it this far might be strong, but nothing is indestructible. FiM is still in production, with at least one more season still unaired as of this moment. That means any number of things can happen. Heck, Season 2 pretty much strafed fanon left and right, before coming back and napalming what remained before salting the earth. So, what happens at this point? A lot of things, potentially.
There are two common ways fanon can be finished:
Ascension: Sometimes, fanon will become so widespread and accepted that the production team will actually throw it in. Often, this will take the form of a brief shout out, so as not to alarm the normal folks that don't spend their time debating Rainbow Dash's sexual orientation. For example, "Putting Your Hoof Down" had several small fanon bits in the market scene, including Derpy having a muffin buckle on her saddlebags and Lyra trying to reach for a cup with her hoof. "Feeling Pinkie Keen" had Derpy dropping a piano on Twilight's head. And that's not to mention "Where's Derpy?", a game where the wall-eyed Pegasus played hide-and-seek with us fans just to keep us on our feet.
You might have noticed that I mentioned Derpy a lot in the preceding paragraph. That's because she also happens to be the Most Triumphant Example of this fate. She started as an animation error/joke, became a popular feature in the fandom's early days, and gradually morphed into almost a mascot for the community at large. Unfortunately, this almost came to a crashing halt when Amy Keating Rogers was told to include her name as part of one such fandom nod. This backfired immensely, as those outside the fandom just saw the word "derpy" as being a derogatory word (which it kinda has turned into, unfortunately) and finally forced Hasbro to edit the scene. AND WE SHALL SAY NO MORE.
The thing is, once fanon has "ascended" into canon, it no longer counts as fanon. The fans no longer have a total claim anymore. Its corporeal form is destroyed, but its spirit has pierced the heavens and joined the gods that govern the universe. May it perform its duties fairly and justly.
Destruction: Unfortunately, a more likely fate for fanon is to suffer an inglorious end at the hands of the production team. You see, while some of the animators and writers might now about bits and pieces of what we are creating, they are not bound to follow what the fans want, nor can they even look at most things without causing some rather troublesome legal problems. Because of this, they can easily (and often unwittingly) do something to crumble the very foundations of everything fans know and love. It might be just a little flash in the background, or an otherwise innocent remark, or even a big scene, but for whatever the reason, suddenly everything you have ever believed has been challenged. Perhaps an eye color is suddenly different, or one of the characters goes through a sudden shift in power levels, or all that worldbuilding you were planning went kaput because of Season 3 spoilers. (Damn you, Crystal Empire.) It doesn't even have to be in the show; someone could say something in an interview or panel that discredits entire philosophies. In any case, you are left with nothing but debris when the storm is done.
When this happens, there are a myriad of ways to react. Some simply abandon that piece of fanon entirely, moving on to something else that interests them. Others react poorly to the change, rail against any notion that the fanon is wrong, and act like the canon itself had just been desecrated. Still others will stand like rocks in a hurricane, remaining firm to their beliefs and just soldiering on like nothing had happened. Others will try to mold the old fanon into a new form that takes the changes in canon into account. No matter how fans react, however, the fact remains that the old fanon is rendered incompatible with the show.
There is also a third possibility, boredom, but that rarely comes along. Sometimes, a piece of fanon will be so widespread and so inescapable that some fans will just grow bored of it altogether. This leads to stories specifically targeted to discredit and destroy the belief that offends them so, which in turn inspires its own fanon. So by the end, you have fanon created just to do battle with fanon, hopefully with Michael Bay-level effects. (Just as long as he stays away from the director's chair.) Unfortunately, such things are rather rare, especially given that - for the most part - this is a pretty tame and friendly community.
Fanon is a fun thing to play with. It allows us to give more detailed personalities to characters that are only used to populate the background of scenes, creates an epic history for Equestria, and even supplies us with a starting point for our stories. There are, however, two things I've noticed through my fanfiction career, both in this fandom and in others:
1. FANON ISN'T CANON: But I already covered that in the other, less annoying blog post, so let's continue.
2. Don't Use Fanon as a Crutch: Fanon is a starting point, not the totality. Because it isn't canon, you should feel free to mess with it as you wish. Perhaps you could write an Octavia story where she isn't the straight mare to Vinyl Scratch, or have Celestia get sick of bananas after downing an entire crate of the things. "Anthropology" seems to play the "Lyra wants to learn about humans" fanon straight, but rather than just stick to the concept alone, it explores how her obsession has impacted her life, her friendships, her family, and her perception of Equestria as a whole. (And then the story took an unfortunate turn, but that's another story.) Another example was a story from last summer, which took the "Rainbow Dash is a lesbian" theory and inverted it, making all of the Mane 6 gay except for Dash. Just feel free to play around as you wish; the important thing is to create an entertaining and/or insightful story using the show's universe, not to show how well you follow the crowd.
When the show finally ends, fanon will finally have free reign to root and become more unified in its scope and purpose. Until then, we as a community must remember that what we create is at the mercy of the show's producers, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable or meaningful. Perhaps Derpy and Dinky will never be truly related, but that doesn't mean their stories are meaningless. We may have learned that Celestia and Luna are not limitless like we once thought, but that doesn't invalidate the stories that were written before. As a community, we have produced some amazingly high-quality stories, gorgeous pieces of art, and rather creative fan theories and ideas, and for that we should be proud.
Well...that was pointless. Here, have a free invisible cookie.