My Response to NPR’s Attempt to Define ‘Bro’
Definitions for “Bro” are like opinions, guacamole recipes, and assholes: Everyone has one. Here at BroBible, almost every single day we’re asked to define what exactly is and isn’t Bro. For the five BroBible bloggers who sit in an office together all day, every day — churning out “bro-worthy” content for the Internet to gobble up — we’re always delightfully amused by the many different ways people try to define our audience of Bros from afar. Often it’s as a preppy, elite, lacrosse-playing I-banker. Sometimes it’s as a sunkissed, stoned California surfer. Occasionally it’s a fist-pumping Jersey Shore meathead who still rocks out to “Levels” every Friday night. Sometimes it’s the Southern frat-daddy good-ole-boy looking for his sorority wifey. Maybe even the regular dude walking down the street with a tank top and a Charlotte Hornets snapback slung on his head, dipping into a sports bar for a boys night out.
We agree: It’s a loaded, complex term.
The latest attempt to define “Bro” is from NPR’s Code Switch Blog. It’s by Gene Demby, who boldly claims to have “mapped out the four basic aspects of being a Bro.” As the biggest online destination for Bros on the Internet, I feel a need to respond. Oh NPR… You have so much to learn about the complexity of the Bro demographic, starting with the fact that cargo shorts have always had an extreme negative stigma in the Brommunity.
The essay starts out on the right foot. Via NPR:
Over the past decade or so, though, “bro” has evolved into a shorthand for a specific kind of fratty masculinity.
But then, one sentence later, immediately cuts into a silly cosmetic descriptions:
Baseball cap with the frayed brim (possibly backward), sky-blue oxford shirt or sports team shirt, cargo shorts, maybe some mandals or boat shoes. Y’all know who we mean. These cats right here.
Ugh… Cargo shorts and boat shoes. One of those things I’m wearing as I write this, but the clothes don’t make the Bro, the Bro makes the Bro. Of course NPR couldn’t resist using the much-beloved Lakers fan GIF to illustrate. Is this what “Bro” looks like?
And then the floor was opened up to race:
Uh, weren’t bros fratty white guys? Could dudes of color be bros independently of white bros? Or are they just like That Brown Friend in all those beer commercials — bro-y due to his social proximity to white bros?
Is bro-ness, well, raced? We asked folks to conjure up an image of a typical bro in their mind’s eye. What race is that dude in your head? Most people nearby said that guy was probably white.
In my opinion, the best part of the essay is when Gene draws attention to the fact that no, Bros to not necessarily need to be white, straight dudes. Yes, we absolutely believe Bros are of every color, ethnicity, and sexual orientation:
Lots of people told us that, yes, a bro is definitely a white dude. (But per Bryan Lowder at Slate, bros aren’t necessarily straight.) Other people said that while most of the bros in our popular culture are white dudes, you could find plenty of bros of color in the real world at places like USC. (Alas, even in bro-dom, people of color are underrepresented in the media.) Some folks suggested that there were lady-bros — think Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids. And, of course, many people drew the distinction between bros and the term bruhs, which has a different (but occasionally still fratty) connotation among black folks speaking to other black folks.
And it comes to rattling off examples of famous Bros:
A few of the same names kept popping up: Matthew McConaughey, Joe Rogan, John Mayer, Dane Cook, the conveniently and appropriately named Brody Jenner. But we ultimately concluded that at the chewy nougat-y core of bro-dom lay the eminently quotable Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte.
Ugh. Lochte? That’s the idiot people first gravitate to when defining Bro? We’re all doomed.
Finally, things get really, really good. NPR presents its Bro-Map Venn Diagram, via Code Switch.
For further explainations of NPR’s Jockish, Dude-ly, Stoner-ish, and Preppy, go read the damn story. I love almost every single example here (yes, even Tim Tebow), but I can’t quite wrap my head around why Lochte is still the common bond binding these four descriptors. I’ve never heard anyone — Bros old and young — say “Jeah!!” except in blatant mockery of Lochte’s nethanderal tendencies. NPR tries to rationalize the decision:
With the elements of bro-dom thus explained, let us return to Ryan Lochte. He’s a jock. He has a stoner affect. He competes in a preppy sport. He tweets pics of him and his dudes doing bro-ass things. So you can see why Lochte is the platonic ideal of bro-dom.
The problem with this description is that a lot of other high profile Bros out there do these exact same things. Why not Tom Brady, who has almost all of the same traits without making a fool out of himself? Or Rob Gronkowski, Jay Cutler, or Matthew Stafford? Or go for some IQ points with Andrew Luck? Or even Johnny Manziel? If you’re deadset on going with a swimmer, even Michael Phelps feels like a better choice. Lochte is clearly only here because he’s everyone’s go-to pop-culture Bro right now thanks to that silly TV show. Three years ago it would have been someone just as dumb thanks to a reality TV show: “The Situation.”
I don’t hate NPR’s breakdown of Bro qualities as Jockish, Dude-ly, Stoner-ish, and Preppy. These definitions of “Bro” are neither right nor wrong. But my problem is when “Bro” is used as some stupid cosmetic sterotype. I feel it causes the term to lose it’s demographic significance. There’s a superficiality that comes with defining “Bro” as a Brooks Brothers-wearing, surfing stoner fratstar running around screaming “JEAH!!!” This doesn’t actually define the underlying traits of what it means to be a Bro. It just describes the way one looks and acts. There’s no authenticity in that beyond baseline observable behavior. And as a result, culture at large is left with nothing more than cartoony caricatures and idiots screaming “cool story, Bro” or, even worse, “don’t tase me, Bro!” like it’s 2007. Simply put, we’re more evolved and complicated than that.
A few weeks ago, Gabby Dunn at The Daily Dot asked me a question to define Bro for a piece on the blogging ecosystem BroBible exists in. I commented that our content is catered to “the everyguy,” especially the college everyguy: Here’s my blurb:
Manhattan-based BroBible actually began as a “brocial network,” but Editor Brandon Wenerd said the site’s direction has changed a lot since then, as the idea of the “bro” morphed into a more mainstream model.
“I realize people associate ‘bro’ with douchebag and I think that’s unfortunate. We try to do as much as we can on BroBible to combat that by celebrating what ‘bro’ is and also by putting on blast what ‘douchebag’ is, because there’s a difference between the two,” he said. His site often styles the word with a capital B, as in, “And Bros, YESSSS that is a miniature poster of Mel Gibson in The Patriot.”
“I enjoy spending time with my guy friends. I like sports, I like music, so yeah, I am a bro.”
I really truly am troubled by the popular connotation between “Bro” and douchebag. There’s a belief out there that they are synonymous. I think almost every single regular reader of this site will agree this is bullshit. The toxic Bro-douche cultural stain was worsened by the Jersey Shore‘s shit-smear on the term back in 2008. For long-time readers of the site, hopefully our battle-cry against douchebags has resonated in our editorial approach. Over the years, we’ve called out downright offensive fraternity stunts, creepy, extremely troubling Kickstarters about seducing women, and toolbags like Spencer Pratt. BroBible will continue to publish things like this on a daily basis. It’s part of our editorial voice and publishing DNA.
Just pause for a second and think about what “Bro” is actually an abbreviation for: Brother. That’s it! It’s a simple term of endearment between guys. Here at BroBible, we’ve always avoiding defining “Bro” as a lifestyle. It’s just… Life. “Bro” is descriptor for masculine brotherhood that’s really more inclusionary than exclusionary: You don’t have to be in a fraternity, do bong rips, crush mad Nattys, dress like Scott Disick, play a D-1 sport, or even be attracted to the opposite sex to be one.
Just be a stand-up guy who’s social, selfl-aware, maybe has a few goals in life, and likes to have fun. That’s really all there is to it.
It’s not that difficult, Bro.
Follow Brandon on Twitter here.