‘Utopian fantasies have long gripped the human imagination. Famous, brainy – but sadly, not very buff – thinkers such as Plato (in the 4th Century BC), Thomas Moore (in the 16th AD) and HG Wells (in the 20th), sketched out what an ideal society might look like. But their philosophical visions were never realised.
It wasn’t until the early 21st Century that someone finally had the brilliant idea of ditching ethics for aesthetics, taking a sun-drenched island, covering it in decking, astroturf, pools, lip gloss, and musical, steel-reinforced double beds. And then adding cameras. Lots and lots of cameras, to catch all the love-hate action between the goodly, beauteous creatures that inhabit this brave new world. And who mostly speak with an Essex accent.’
My take on ITV2’s Summer hit reality show Love Island in today’s Daily Telegraph. Read the essay in full here.
Just over half of British and American men are currently in or have had a ‘bromance’ in the past according to a survey, not by Dr Kinsey, but by Badoo (‘the world’s largest social network for meeting new people’).
The Badoo press release – issued on Valentine’s Day last week – claims that the survey of 2000 men ‘reveals the extent to which British men have embraced the “bromance” phenomenon’. We’ll get to that bit later.
What’s immediately and gratifyingly clear is that the Badoo survey doesn’t insist, as many would and have done, very loudly, that a bromance is a close friendship between two STRAIGHT men – no gayers or gayness allowed, thank you very much.
Instead, Badoo defines bromance as ‘a close platonic relationship with someone of the same sex’. And we all know about that Plato guy and those Greeks….
Badoo’s British respondents listed these famous male friendships in their ‘top ten’:
1. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson
2. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
3. Ant and Dec
4. Buzz and Woody (Toy Story)
5. Harry Potter and Ron Weasley
6. George Clooney and Brad Pitt (Ocean’s Eleven)
7. Gavin and Smithy (Gavin and Stacey)
8. Joey and Chandler (Friends)
9. Frodo and Sam (Lord of the Rings)
10. Simon and Will (The Inbetweeners)
Some of these male friendships are more platonic than others. You don’t have to be a slash fiction writer to see something slightly erotic in, for example, Frodo and Sam’s smouldering on-screen relationship – or Newman and Redford’s. I have to say I was pleased but a little surprised that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid made it into second place (that movie was released 43 years ago) – I suppose there must have been a lot of respondents as middle-aged as me.
It’s a crying shame that Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin didn’t make the list – but then the era that they reigned supreme as the world’s favourite ‘platonic’ male lovers was well over half a century ago. And they were probably too explicit for today’s tastes.
It’s also a shame also that the great, passionate early twentieth century psychology male double act of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung was ignored. But I suppose that the recently-released A Dangerous Method didn’t pull in quite as many punters as Sherlock Holmes 2. And besides, it has a unhappy ending: Freud and Jung have a very messy divorce.
But Freud and Jung personify in an oddly neurotic fashion the way no ‘bromance’ is ever quite ‘pure’ of libidinal impulses: Freud famously fainted more than once in the presence of his anointed successor the young Jung, blaming it on some ‘unresolved homosexual attachment’ – the cigar aficionado considered homoerotic attraction the basis of all male bonding. And although the split occurred because Jung rejected Freud’s all-embracing libido-theory, emphasising instead ‘spirituality’, it was Jung who had the major nervous breakdown after they parted.
It was the non-Freudian Michel Foucault who, as I recall, attributed the emergence of ‘the homosexual’ to the decline in the institution of male friendship. Foucault was immensely interested in friendship:
‘As far back as I remember, to want guys was to want relations with guys. That has always been important for me. Not necessarily in the form of a couple but as a matter of existence: how is it possible for men to be together? To live together, to share their time, their meals, their room, their leisure, their grief, their knowledge, their confidences? What is it to be “naked” among men, outside of institutional relations, family, profession, and obligatory camaraderie?’
(Michel Foucault, ‘Friendship as a Way of Life’)
For Foucault, experimental friendship and ‘new relations’ was what male homosexuality was for. Or at least the bit of it that he was interested in that wasn’t about leather and whips.
The arrival of companionate marriage in the early twentieth century left increasingly little room for close male friendships – friendships which, along with greater physical affection such as kissing and holding hands, occassional passionate declarations of love, and also the custom of chums sharing bed (see Abe Lincoln), had meant that the difference between a sexual relationship and a non sexual one was largely invisible to the world. Close male friendships cover the pre-gay past with a blanket of discretion.
Perhaps the popularity of ‘bromance’ even just as a buzzword represents a resurgence of interest in close male friendship, as the medical, legal and social force of ‘the homosexual’ and for that matter ‘the heterosexual’ declines. A quarter of the Badoo respondents admit to having ‘the most fun they have with anyone’ with their bromance partner, and ‘just like Holmes and Watson’ over one in ten are ‘often mistaken to be more than friends’, while 10% of them claim to get stick from their partner for it.
Marriage is also now in steep decline, of course. Fewer and fewer people are getting hitched and if and when they do it’s usually much later than their parents or grandparents. (According to Badoo, 28% of single British men are currently in a bromance, with this figure dropping to 10% for marrieds and 15% for co-habiters.)
Before the Second World War, when working class men tended to get married in their late twenties and early thirties, the now-defunct institution of ‘trade’ gloriously filled the gap between adolescence and domesticity. And despite the name, the traffic between ‘normal’ working class lads and queer gentlemen was not always commercial or hedonistic – surprisingly often it developed into a long term and emotionally close friendship.
After being initially rather sceptical, I’ve begun to re-evaluate my attitude towards ‘bromance’. Over time it seems that the ‘romance’ part of ‘bromance’ is becoming less irritatingly ironic – and the ‘bro’ part less annoyingly fratty. And also less insistently hetty. In this Badoo survey at least, ‘bromance’ cuts right across ‘sexuality’.
Like that other annoying word ‘metrosexual’, ‘bromance’ seems to be potentially acting as a solvent of gay/straight boundaries, giving men whatever their sexuality permission to express stuff that they otherwise might not. Facilitating and encouraging close, emotional friendships between two straight men. Or between gay and straight men. Or straight and bi men. Or maybe even between – one day, in the far distant Utopian future – gay men.
The recently launched ‘Bromance’ app, a location-based network ‘that helps you organize activities with friends and nearby people with shared interests’ was mocked by many (including me until I found out more about it). The people behind the app, like Badoo, don’t insist on the heterosexuality of their ‘bros’ – and go one step further in suggesting that ‘bros’ don’t have to be male, either.
I’ve no idea whether it will be popular or not, but the gayist and bro-ist scorn which greeted the Bromance app seems to be precisely down to the way it might facilitate new kinds of platonic friendships. And new kinds of sexual relationships. Under a blanket of smart-phone discretion. And we won’t know which is which.
Despite all the name-calling, it’s precisely the inability to define what’s going on or the people taking part that is the ‘problem’. I suspect Foucault would have been one of the first to download the Bromance app, in his fervid search for ‘experimental friendships’. I get the feeling Michel was quite a lonely guy. (Or ‘FUCKING LOSER’ as the Brobible would put it.)
The new technology of information and communication and the new social networks it has spawned seem to be enabling new kinds of relations and experimentation away from judging eyes – and exploiting it, of course. At the same time as perhaps making us all lonelier.
A Badoo spokesperson explained why they commissioned their survey:
‘Everyone always talks about relationships and dating – but actually a bromance buddy is also really important to men. For the 44% of British men that have never had a bromance – Badoo.com offers them the chance to meet someone that’s like minded – whether that’s for bromance or romance.’
It’s not clear where Badoo found their respondents from, and I’m not sure their findings are terribly scientific. I’m not even sure what Badoo is, to be honest. But something is definitely afoot with male friendship.
Another survey published this week should certainly be taken very seriously indeed for what it says about the yearning of British men for close, intimate friendship. According to Travelodge, half of the men they asked admitted they still have a teddy bear from their childhood. A quarter admitted to sleeping with their teddy bear when ‘on business trips’. While 15% confessed they ‘treat their teddy as their best friend’ and ‘share their intimate secrets with their bear’.
Does bearmance stand in for bromance with British men? Or t’other way round?
Tip: Lee Kynaston & Topak
'Don't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.'
Middlesbrough, Teesside, one of the last steel-making towns in the UK or in fact one of the last places in the UK where they still make anything, is probably the right place to go and see, as I did last week, Warrior, the recently-released, much-hyped MMA Rocky remake set in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Warrior is essentially a bromantic MMA Rocky. This time there are two Rockies: Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy, playing actual brothers (rather than ‘bros’) forced to fight one another. Both Rockies are considerably easier on the eye and ear than Sylvester Stallone ever was.
The cinema in ‘Boro was (half) full of groups of young, mostly working class men, several of them even more worked-out than the stars of the movie – but in contrast to the resolutely ‘timeless’ grainy Hollywood faux butchery of Warrior that often looked as if it were set in an MMA version of the 1970s, they were fake-baked, shaven-chested, sexily dressed and very much Twenty First Century tarty. (The North East of England is after all home to Geordie Shore the UK version of Jersey Shore)
Of course, not everything about the film is trying to be timeless. I assume the young men had been drawn, like me, by the poster and trailer for the movie featuring naked, hulking Hardy and a ripped Edgerton eyeballing each other, and the promise of a very sweaty, if incestuous porno climax. (Or, as the promotional copy has it: ‘…the two brothers must finally confront each other and the forces that pulled them apart, facing off in the most soaring, soul stirring, and unforgettable climax that must be seen to be believed.’)
Like all trailers, of course, it lied. Unlike Captain America the deceit wasn’t that the trailer provided you with the only tits in the movie – for free. There were oodles of shots of Hardy and Edgerton’s tits and abs. In fact, toplessness was the default setting of Warrior, and for much of the movie Hardy’s intricate tattoos were the nearest thing he had to a shirt. No, it lied about the spornographic climax. But more of that whinge later.
There were though plenty of homoerotics. It’s a movie about brawny male love – because they’re beating the crap out of one another it can afford to be sentimental and tender, not to mention physical in a way that most ‘bromances’ (essentially a middle-class version of the buddy movie) can’t. It’s about two blue-collar brothers’ twisted, jilted love for one another. About an alcoholic, abusive father’s love for his angry, bitter sons (who of course, love him really). About the love between a coach and his eager charge. And the love between comrades/warriors.
And also about the hero-erotic love that so many straight men have for MMA fighters.
The MMA winner-takes-all tournament both brothers enter (and end up fighting one another) is called ‘Sparta’ – the Ancient Greek City State so famously warlike that according to legend, women had to dress as boys on their wedding night to lure their husbands to bed. Hardy is an ex-Marine who is the subject of a YouTube tribute from another young (cute) jarhead whose life was saved by Hardy. The Theban/Spartan band that is the US Marine Corps turns up en masse and in uniform at Sparta to profess their love and sing the Marine Corps Hymn to Hardy. If this sounds a bit camp, that’s probably because it is.
There are really no women in the movie (and there were very few in the cinema). Edgerton’s equally pretty wife (Jennifer Morrison) is sometimes glimpsed in the background worrying about his fate. But it’s almost as if she’s there as proof of his domesticated goodness – and to make the wisecrack about his flamboyant, handsome ‘unorthodox’ trainer (played by Frank Grillo) who uses classical music to ‘condition’ his fighters being his ‘boyfriend’.
(The coach chooses Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ as Edgerton’s swishy entrance music, reminding me of the Allegretto from B’s Seventh Symphony in The King’s Speech, which then made me think: a) The King’s Speech is something of a bromance, and b) It’s also something of a boxing movie – voice coach.)
The on-screen relationship with his trainer is clearly coded as a romance. The moment Edgerton persuades him to take him on again is a classic seduction scene. In fact, Edgerton is all come-hither smiles and giggles around his coach and when Edgerton professes later ‘I LOVE MY COACH!!’ it’s quite clear what he means.
Hardy has nothing to do with and doesn’t talk about women, except his dead mother. At one point he calls a woman with kids and reassures her he will live up to his promise – and then you realise he means his promise to his deceased USMC buddy, who we learn described Hardy as his ‘brother in arms’. So it’s about male love again. Male love with big kissable titty lips.
Hardy takes on his father as his coach to train for the tournament, but abuses him in revenge for the treatment meted out as a kid. But after a drunken confrontation finally forgives him and literally takes him to bed, holding his old wreck of a dad between his legs and arms and petting him to sleep. He loves his coach too.
After a long, exhausting, slightly tedious and very clichéd final reel, Edgerton gets Hardy where he wants him in the ring, holding him tight in a ‘rear naked choke’ echo of Hardy’s tender moment with his dad – and whispers “I love you” in Hardy’s ear. They stagger out of the ring and out of the arena, clinging to one another. Brothers in arms, finally.
Essentially Warrior is one of those movies about ‘brothers’ that isn’t really about brothers at all. It’s a movie about how ‘real’ brothers are usually no match for those that men call brothers. The way that “I love you like a brother, man” is something of a lie, because most boys and men don’t love their brothers that way. As in this movie, sibling rivalry, age differences and family stuff tends to get in the way. It’s the ‘brothers’ you choose to love that you really love. At least for a while. The phrase men use, and the strapline for this movie, should really be: ‘I love you like I don’t love my brother – that asshole! – man’.
But in one way Warrior is true to the sentiment of ‘I love you like a brother, man’ – the sentiment of ‘not in a gay way’. For all the passionate homoerotics it’s channelling – and despite the very norty, very arousing trailer – it manages to clean-up MMA. A feature-length movie, Warrior is considerably less pornographic than almost any UFC match, which usually last just a few minutes. The fight scenes were mostly a headache-inducing blur of shaky, grainy, poorly lit camera movement. None of the vulgar, compromising and downright lewd positions that characterise the sport and none of the shadowless, multi-angle, explicit, zoomed, overhead voyeurism of pay-per-view UFC (that I wrote about breathlessly here) were permitted.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the audience disappointed not to see Hardy and Edgerton going at it in HD. Any red-blooded UFC fan – and there are loads of them in the UK, as it fast overhauls boxing in popularity – would be.
Perhaps the chasteness of Warrior’s MMA down to the fact that the two actors are just that – actors, not actual MMA fighters, let alone top-level fighters. So the director couldn’t afford to show too much. Or maybe it was because the gritty, obscene mechanics of MMA were too much – for the bromantic storyline. In the end, despite the trailer, Warrior didn’t want you to think it was that kind of girl of course, and offered an emotional climax rather than a physical or even visual one.
Though admittedly, any film starring Hardy’s lips can hardly be called clean fun.
Mark Simpson pays tribute to Lewis & Martin, ‘the hottest male comedy double-act of all time’
(Originally appeared in Out, May 2009)
Forget hair whorls, genomes, amniotic fluid, older brothers, domineering mothers or disco. I can reveal with absolute, religio-scientific certainty that the cause of my homosexuality was just two words. Jerry. Lewis.
As a kid in the 1970s I watched re-runs of his movies, especially the ones from the early fifties with his on-screen boyfriend Dean Martin, with a level of breathless excitement that nothing came close to – until I discovered actual buggery in the 1980s.
Films like Money From Home where he pins Martin to the bed wearing a pair of polka dot shorts camper than Christmas in West Hollywood (1953), and Sailor Beware (1951), where he is pricked by several burly USN medics wielding ever-bigger needles until he squirts liquid in all directions and faints made me the man I am today.
Earlier this year, after a lifetime of being ignored by a cross-armed Academy Awards that never gave him so much as a nomination when he was making movies, Lewis is finally getting an Oscar. But not for his hilariously cute films with Dean Martin or his solo classics such as The Bellboy, The Errand Boy, The Nutty Professor, and The Disorderly Orderly – in which, memorably, he happily hoovers with the appliance plugged in up his own ass – but for his fundraising for Muscular Dystrophy. It’s a charity Oscar – in every sense. Lewis is 82 and has had serious health problems for some time.
The Hollywood gays though were reportedly Not Happy. They had a hoover up their ass about Lewis. Apparently some tried to block his Oscar because this ill, old man born in 1926 almost used the word ‘faggot’ last year after hosting a twelve hour telethon. In effect, The Gays are running down the street screaming Maaaaaaa!!
Likewise, because he isn’t himself gay, and because his early nerdy, ‘retarded’ sissy persona has been deemed ‘exploitative’, Lewis has been almost completely spurned by gay studies, when really he should have his own department. If nothing else, Lewis Studies would be a damn sight more fun than Queer Studies (as long as they didn’t include the Telethons).
His films should be set texts, but it was his anarchic early 1950s TV shows with Martin when a twenty-something Lewis was at his queerest and giddiest. Their heads so close together in those tiny 50s cathode ray tubes, gazing into each other’s eyes, rubbing noses, occasionally stealing kisses or licking each other’s necks to shrieks of scandalized pleasure from the audience. They were a prime-time study in same-sex love. And were adored for it – literally chased down the street by crowds of screaming young women and not a few men (especially popular with sailors and soldiers, they were the Forces’ sweethearts).
This half-century old double act from the homo-hating 50s is much more alive, much more flirtatious, than today’s supposedly liberal and liberated ‘bromantic’ comedy, which goes out of its way to purge the possibility of anything physical. Next to Dean and Jerry’s simmering screen-love, bromance just looks like bromide.
Whatever the nature of his off-screen sexuality, Lewis’ comedy partnership with Martin – the most successful of all time, along with most of their best gags – was based around the matter-of-fact, unspoken assumption that they were a couple.
Their very first TV show opens with our boys arriving at a posh ball full of Waspy straight couples being announced: ‘Mr & Mrs Charles Cordney!’, ‘Mr and Mrs Walter Christiandom!’. And then: ‘Mr Martin and Mr Lewis!’. The dago and the jew. Setting the tone for their series, Lewis promptly trashes the place with his nervy-nerdy slapstick.
The Martin and Lewis partnership was queer punk rock before even rock and roll had been invented, trashing normality right in the living rooms of 1950s America, courtesy of Colgate. No wonder they’ve been almost forgotten.
They should never have existed. True, the explicitness of their pairing depended on the official ‘innocence’ of the times, and the nostalgia for buddydom in post-war America, allowing the audience to enjoy the outrageous queerness of what was going on without having to think too much about it. Literally laughing it off.
But official innocence is a mischievous comedian’s gift-horse. A skit depicting (fictionally) how Martin and Lewis – or ‘Ethel’ and ‘Shirley’ as they called one another – met climaxes with them being trapped in the closet together: pushed together mouth to mouth, crotch to crotch, by Martin’s vast, vain collection of padded jackets. In another skit our boys end up sharing a bed with Burt Lancaster playing an escaped homicidal maniac: Jerry: ‘Boy, Dean, these one night stands are moider!’
Moider was exactly what they got away with. In a skit set in prison, Jerry’s bunk collapses on Martin below. ‘What are you doing?’ asks Martin. ‘I felt loinesome,’ replies Lewis.
Lewis’ on-screen queerness may have been just a phase – but what a phase! It was so unruly, so indefinable, so crazy, so ticklish, so exhilarating that gays – and probably most people today – don’t know what to do with it. Or where to put it. It’s a bit scary, frankly.
But that – in addition to still being piss your pants funny – is precisely what is so great about it. And why I still think classic Lewis is as much fun as sodomy.
An ‘exploision’ of D&J kisses in this cheeky and charming clip painstakingly compiled by a YouTube fan.
The noise made by the audience when Dean falls on top of Jerry in the bath wouldn’t be heard again until Elvis shook his pelvis.
Jerry joins the Navy, gets some big pricks, and then sprays everywhere.
Jerry, Dean and James Dean – the perfect locker room threesome.
Dean and Jerry join the Army as paratroopers. Watch Dean’s eyes during the blanket scene.
‘I was loinesome!’
A slightly fictionlised account of how our boys met, complete with closet clinch climax.
Never been kissed… Yeah, right.
Special thanks to Elise Moore and Hannah for sharing their pashernate love of Dean & Jerry — and reminding me of mine.
The trouble with very smart dames who ‘get’ what’s happened to the male of the species is that they threaten to put this particular one out of work.
Over at the HuffPo Caroline Hagood has written an annoyingly good piece about Lynn Shelton’s bromance-dissecting movie Humpday, about two straight male buddies who decide to make a gay porno together as a kind of dude dare. I’ve yet to see Humpday, but sort of feel that I don’t need to as I appeared in it — having notoriously allowed myself to be dared into joining in the action by some military dudes when when researching a piece about (mostly straight) US paratroopers making gay porn.
Unusually for a journalist, Hagood understands exactly where masculinity is today:
Hovering somewhere between the heterosexual and the homosexual is modern male sexuality — with its metrosexuality and bromances — in all its ambiguous splendor.
Just as unusually, she also understands metrosexuality.
…. the word describes the man whose sexuality is more linked to urbanism and consumerism than it is to either gender or sexual proclivity. A post-sexual, he is no longer homo or hetero, but just metro.
…there are two opposing forces that are powering films of late: an intense desire to pay tribute to the unique relationship that exists between men and an equally intense fear that this relationship may contain homosexual undertones. The result of these warring impulses are films like Humpday that blow open the dread and disgust surrounding homophilia that Hollywood strives to keeps under wraps in its average bromance flick. In the end, Shelton’s movie just may function as a mass therapy session for all the Judd Apatows of the world who live in terror of their bro-love.
I’d like to find something to disagree with, if only so as not to become completely irrelevant, but aside from perhaps some academic quibbling about the continuity between the dandy and the metrosexual, I can’t really think of anything.