Hannah Hamad made a recent post on the Flow TV blog about the bromance between two members of the UK pop group Take That, and considered this event as an example of the recent trend of bromantic themes in movies and television.
I kind of hate the coined word “bromance,” a conflation of “brother” and “romance,” according to Wikipedia, but I guess we’re stuck with it.
Apparently film and TV critics and scholars are definitely seeing examples of this sort of male/male friendship, marked by emotional intimacy and openness and more physical touching, cropping up everywhere these days. Wikipedia, again, notes that it’s a post-feminist expansion of what is allowable in male friendships.
What is socially acceptable for Western men to do in friendships may indeed be changing, thanks to the impact of feminism, and it makes sense that these changes would show up in the culture, and in the buddy picture genre, from Butch and Sundance to “Boston Legal” and everywhere in between. And that pop stars would spin their friendships this way in their PR.
I’m kind of tickled when I read about bromance, though, because it’s as if the “conventional wisdom” about what happens in male friendships is now basically saying that it’s okay for men to nowadays do friendships the way women always have — hugging, touching, telling secrets, being intimate. More than just getting together for shared activities or sports, the traditional “common knowledge” about how men “do” friendship. So all the dither about “bromance” seems a little obvious to me, perhaps.
And I imagine there’s a huge disregard of history going on here — weren’t there periods in Western history where male friendship looked very different from the way John Wayne or Sam Spade are depicted as conducting it? Where more intimacy was considered ordinary and not a new sign of feminine influence, or perhaps relaxed expectations of gender roles thanks to the influence of gay culture?
And regardless of this newfangled trendy attention to bromance, literature featuring male friendship — and scholarly analysis of same — go back centuries.
The same buddy pictures and buddy TV shows that serve as examples of bromance, of course, are where slash fan fiction finds its characters and stories. In this genre of movie or show, the primary relationship is between the male protagonists, and any female romance is in the background, or relegated to some sort of Babe of the Week event.
Slash fan fiction pushes the friendship seen in these shows and movies further into intimacy, of course — to sexual intimacy and love, and that is sometimes offered as a criticism of m/m slash — that it focuses too much on sex and ignores or discounts other forms of friendship and affection that aren’t romantic or sexual.
Slash, of course, is a special case when it comes to reimagining or expanding what is possible in male/male friendship. For one thing, it’s written overwhelmingly by women. I’ve pondered many times the elegant saying I heard on Live Journal years ago: “Slash is about men the way “Watership Down” is about rabbits.” I tried very hard to track down the source of that aphorism, and both the writers to whom it’s usually attributed disavow saying it, though they both remember the online conversation (apparently now deleted or lost in the mists of time?) in which it was offered.
And while I am fascinated by the way slash fan fiction reimagines or reinterprets male/male relationships, I always readily admit two things: First, slash is, unavoidably, a very small and very specialized part of whatever societal conversation or evolution is going on about men and their gender roles, whether it’s bromance or the Victorian era or Abraham Lincoln’s friendships that is being discussed. And I’m noticing that often, in conversations both about bromance and about slash, the impact or effect or input of gay men isn’t considered much. There seem almost to be three separate conversations there. And they only rarely intersect.
Of course, depictions of gay men in Hollywood are occurring with glacial infrequency, and slash until recently was usually not trying at all to accurately depict actual gay men based on real life or real communities.
But I remain fascinated by all the ways society depicts the changing expectations and roles for men, in the media and in life, and it’s interesting to compare these different conversations.