Bromancing the stone

By Jaya Dixit

Morning radio is a great forum for the aspiring social scientist. The advertising and banter, saturated with socially discursive subtext, is often embedded with sociological or political specimens that make for either delicious or distasteful critical mastication. Such has been my experience with a discussion I heard on a Calgary rock-alternative station that spoke out openly against the sharing of popcorn by male friends at cinemas. The male co-hosts agreed that two male friends attending a film together should not share popcorn, err they should provoke some speculation as to the nature of their relationship, deter females from approaching them or (heaven forbid) accidentally touch hands amidst popcorn retrieval. I was a bit taken aback by the obvious resurgence of cootie concerns among grown men, but more than that, I was somewhat struck by the magnitude of normalcy that characterized these homophobic comments.

This episode of disenchantment was almost cosmically responded to by a later morning discussion, just a few clicks further down the FM spectrum, as I listened to sociologist Michael Kimmel speak on the topic of “Guyland” and the phenomenon of bromance. Kimmel described Guyland as a period in many men’s lives, between adolescence and adulthood, during which they form strong bonds of brotherhood with other male friends. Any expressions of brotherly love tend to be prefaced by or qualified with the addendum of “but not in a gay way.” In fact, research on male friendship in which young men are interviewed is often marked by a proactive (and defensive) assertion of heterosexuality, before researchers have even posed a question. Guyland is often characterized by the phrase “bros before hoes,” and, Kimmel remarked, is paradoxical in its tension between strong male allegiances and extreme homophobia. Guyland used to be a period of two to three years, its end marked by graduation and marriage, but this stage of life now spans a period closer to 10 years, as Kimmel noted that men and women are pursuing more post-secondary education or work, often returning or remaining in their parents homes and postponing marriage until later in life. The result is that more men are adhering to the tenets of “brotherhood” for a longer period of time, alongside the homophobia that prohibits them from ever expressing affection or platonic love for one another.

Kimmel made reference to the reality television show, Bromance, on which contestants vying for the friendship of minor star Brody Jenner attempt to prove their immutable loyalty through a series of challenges. If Entourage and Bromance can elevate brotherly love, in the way that Sex and the City promoted sisterly bonds, Kimmel thought that this, in tandem with confronting homophobia even a little bit, could be the driver for a “viable and possible (lasting) movement to mark an overall change and possibility for bromance in the long term.” In his discussion, Kimmel even resumed the movie theatre situation, noting that while a pair of female friends usually occupy two seats in the theatre, the same number of male friends will almost always occupy three. He hopes that popular culture, transmitted through shows such as Bromance and Entourage, can provide the catalyst for the downgrading of homophobia and perhaps even the sharing of popcorn among friends.