What up, bro? What's good, brah?
This is the chant of the bro, an equally parodied and celebrated genus of young men. (They've been designated "bros" mostly because, well, they say "bro" a whole lot.)
The usage of "bro" as a term of endearment isn't new, obviously. (As the indispensable Know Your Meme points out in a useful short history, people have been abbreviating "brother" this way for centuries, although its iteration as a synonym for "friend" — or more accurately, "friend-dude" — is much more recent.) Over the past decade or so, though, "bro" has evolved into a shorthand for a specific kind of fratty masculinity. 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.
The other day, the Code Switch team fell into a winding conversation about bros, as we're wont to do regarding all sorts of seemingly trivial topics. After a Code Switcher described a person of color as being a bro, some of us wondered whether the description even made sense. 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.
We tossed the question out to Twitter.
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.
(Damn right we're overthinking this.)
We quickly realized that folks were employing different working definitions of bro-ness. We got the farthest in our articulation of bro-dom by asking people to send us examples of famous folks who fit the bill. 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.
We noticed a few themes from the Twitter suggestions, and after a few days, we settled on four major dimensions of bro. These pillars, which may overlap, are stonerish-ness, dude-liness, preppiness, and jockishness. (Judging from our replies, bro-ishness seems to preclude any uncomplicated ease with sexual and gender fluidity, it seems.)
Below, we explain those dimensions in greater detail. But without further ado, allow us to present — the Bro-Map:
Bros can be schlubby or scrawny, to be sure. But physical prowess, particularly in sports, seems to be a major part of the construction and performance of bro-ishness. Does the putative bro play a team sport? (And is that sport lacrosse?) Is the party thought of as his team's inspirational leader? Does the party somehow manage to juggle a sporting life and his salubrious appetite for alcohol? That bro ranks high on our jockishness index. Fist bump!
Dudeliness is one's propensity to do bro things with other bros. You talk with your bros about bro things, and you conspire to do bro things with your bros. Dudeliness is a measure of homosociality, a fancy gender studies term for what folks often call bromances — very close, platonic friendships between people of the same sex. A particularly dudely bro is someone you usually think of as an intrinsic part of a larger pack of bros. (Would that be a murder of bros?)
We're thinking less ascot-and-yacht preppy and more Abercrombie and Fitch preppy. The bro uniform isn't Brooks Brothers, but the sons of guys who wear Brooks Brothers. A bro's sartorial inclinations are conservatively casual. But in the event that a bro does suit up, it's all Barney from How I Met Your Mother: a nice suit that doesn't look like he's trying too hard.) A lot of people suggested that bros gleefully wield their social privilege. (But privilege and preppiness doesn't automatically equate with bro-dom; Carlton Banks, for instance, would be no one's idea of a bro.)
We don't use the stoner tag lightly; the racial politics of actual weed consumption are pretty complicated. Stoner-ish bros don't necessarily get high, but they do have a surfer vibe, and probably a speaking voice that simultaneously expresses both relaxation and bewilderment. This isn't to say that stoner-y bros aren't smart; James Franco is by many accounts a really intelligent dude behind his stoner-bro veneer.
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.
You could plot any number of youngish, contemporary celebrities somewhere on this Venn diagram. Andy Samberg is all about that crew love. Dudely. Tim Tebow is the bro-iest dude in a major American sport. Jockish. Armie Hammer is the quintessence of preppy; he even has that fourth-generation, high-society name.
So we need a couple favors from y'all. Tell us some public figures of color who might count as bros. (In the interest of keeping these comments relatively civil, let's avoid political figures.) Who are some youngish celebrity types who are most decidedly not bros? Is there anyone that you can think of who more typifies bro-ness than Lochte?
And you may disagree with some or all of the names on our map. So we also invite you to use this Google form to share your substitutes with us: