Male friendships in the media: a golden age or a bad bromance?
By Jacey Gibb, Editor-in-chief
Rare by nature and nearly impossible to encapsulate into words, the bromance is a remarkable thing. Defined by the social bible Urban Dictionary as, “the complicated love and affection shared by two straight males,” a bromance can hit you like a brain aneurism: suddenly and without warning; no one plans on having one, yet sometimes it just happens.
As wholesome as a bromance may sound, platonic male friendships are often bogged down by gender stereotypes and niche interests; the instances of true male companionship are as celebrated as they are scrutinized. But before I dive into an analysis of modern portrayals of bromances, I suppose we should ask what is really meant when we say two guys are in a bromance. What special leap lies between simply being friends and engaging in a full-on bromance?
There has never been a shortage of close male friendships on television. In contrast, an Entertainment Weekly essay titled “Where are all the female friendships on TV?” explored the question of what happened to the golden-age of girl-on-girl friendships à la shows like Sex and the City and I Love Lucy. While the piece overlooked many full-fledged and prominent female friendships populating the television landscape, its reproach of the unevenness between male and female friendships helps demonstrate just how strong the bromance sector is. From the years where Friends’ Chandler and Joey were the roommate combo every guy aspired to, to present day BFFs like Community’s Troy and Abed (who shall henceforth be known as the friendship that launched a thousand GIFs). Even this article’s title comes from the definitive bromance anthem “Guy Love,” a Scrubs ballad between two male best friends about, you guessed it, their unexplainable connection. There’s no shortage for inspiration on what a bromance should be, but that’s also one of the issues; for every accurate and honest representation of what real male friendships are, there’s a bromance that crosses the line as homophobic.
So how is it that a depiction of something as genuine as a bromance can be viewed as offensive? The discrimination is in the details, as a lot of behaviour displayed in these friendships inevitably leads to queer jokes. Even the aforementioned “Guy Love” can’t steer clear of these skewed expectations surrounding two guys being close friends. “It’s like I married my best friend,” Zach Braff leads, before Donald Faison follows up with a “but in a totally manly way.” At the implication of gay marriage from Braff’s character, there comes an added clarification.
There’s no denying that the whole bromance culture has at least one foot in homophobia. Take another instance from the television show Seinfeld, where Jerry worries about a new friend coming on too strong after he asks Jerry to help him move. Jerry is immediately taken back, worried that the friendship is moving too quick for comfort. “He wants me to help him move… I don’t feel right about it. I mean, I hardly know the guy. That’s a big step in a male relationship… That’s like going all the way.” While asking someone to help you move can be a defining moment for friends, the direct conclusion that it’s the equivalent of sleeping with someone leads to an entire conversation mirroring someone being rushed into a physical relationship—ignoring the basic fact that Jerry’s friend simply wants help moving boxes and furniture.
New to the scrutiny of pop culture bromances? There’s actually a substantial amount of denunciation online, something I was completely unaware of when I first began researching bromances. Not everyone’s prepared to climb aboard the bromance love train and fully embrace the term as a celebration of male bonding. As harmless as the word may seem, some people interpret bromance as fostering homophobia. In a 2013 Tumblr post by Queeradical, the author outlined five major criticisms against the term, saying bromances “are based on mocking and rejecting queerness,” “are used to queerbait,” “enforce white supremacy,” “enforce cis male dominance,” and ultimately “are about asserting privilege.” The post largely focusses on the atrocious “Bound 2” parody starring Seth Rogen and James Franco and accuses television shows of using bromances as a way to rope in queer viewers who might expect to see these relationships evolve romantically—something that will apparently never happen, since ostensibly “queerness is bad for capitalism.” Queeradical finishes their exhaustingly negligent post with this knowledge nugget: “In conclusion, bromances are literally built on racism and homophobia by mocking othered identities for humour.”
As the author’s name would suggest, these are all overly radical interpretations (not sure how someone could find “Bound 3” to be enforcing white supremacy, but we’ll just let opinions be opinions); but it brings attention to the fact that some people out there are unhappy with the portrayal of male friendships in the media. Of course there are going to be instances where people use the concept of a bromance to act out petty gay jokes and masquerade stereotypes as humorous behaviour. But for every I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry and I Love You, Man, there’s a Wayne’s World and Superbad to provide an example of what genuine male friendship is all about
Let me dispel some misconceptions for you here, as a hopeless bromantic myself. A bromance isn’t a bunch of “no homo” jokes strung together in an attempt to ward off speculation from other people about your sexual orientations; it’s not a parody of what straight people suppose queer friendships are like. A bromance is simply a relationship where two guys are comfortable enough—with themselves and with each other—to wander outside the preconceived rubric of what male friendships are supposed to be. No longer founded on a triad of sports, girls, and beer, a bromance contains all of the ingredients that any other normal pairing would offer. In retrospect, it seems silly to even need a word specifically for a close bond between two males, but if that’s what it takes for some people to understand, then bromance on.