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UND lecturer, MSUM professor weigh in on the cultural phenomenon of 'bro'dom

From popular "cool story, bro" memes to the Bro Code that Barney Stinson lives by on "How I Met Your Mother," the term "bro" is all over social media, pop culture and college campuses.

Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte (left) the ultimate bro, and Barney Stinson (right)
NPR declared Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte (left) the ultimate bro, and Barney Stinson (right) from TV show "How I Met Your Mother" help catapult the term "bro" into popular culture.

From popular "cool story, bro" memes to the Bro Code that Barney Stinson lives by on "How I Met Your Mother," the term "bro" is all over social media, pop culture and college campuses.

So, what exactly is "a bro"?

Urban Dictionary has more than 35 pages of results for the term. One describes bros as "males often seen at college parties" and others seem to have narrowed it down to a life style. One says a bro is "an 18- to 24-year-old male who wears Birkenstock sandals, watches 'Family Guy,' plays ultimate Frisbee and wears an upside-down visor or a baseball cap ..."

The term "bro" may be a fairly recent phenomenon, but the concept has been around for ages.

"It's nothing new; they just give it a new name," said Christopher Jacobs, a senior lecturer of film at UND.

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Jacobs said the idea of bros in television and movies goes back to '50s and '60s sitcoms, where the husbands would all sit at home, drinking beer, watching football and making jokes about their ex-wives.

He referenced the 1970's show "The Odd Couple," a sitcom about two divorced men who share an apartment in Manhattan. While the characters greatly differ from today's "bros," the main concept is the same.

Jacobs said the idea of bro behavior could even go back as far as French and British theatre that used parasites, stock characters identified by their nonsense behavior, irrational thinking and tendency to mooch off the success of others.

The bro mentality can be found in westerns like "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," war films like "Wings," gangster movies like "The Godfather" and almost all entertainment that involves multiple males. Jacobs also mentioned the comedic duo Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. "Part of it is comic relief and part of it is the bromance," Jacobs said.

It's impossible to pinpoint exactly where the "bros" character first developed, but Raul Gomez, publisher of the High Plains Reader and adjunct communications professor at Moorhead State University Moorhead agreed it's not a new concept.

"It goes back to surfers, to stoners ... a bro in my mind is almost jock-ish in persona," he said. "And jocks have been around since the beginning of time."

Although the term can come with negative connotations, Gomez said he doesn't think being a bro is a bad thing.

"People identify with these groups. They have a subculture of music they listen to, beer they like to drink, even political stances they like to follow," he said.

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He added that the term "bro" is constantly evolving and changing. "(It's) kind of adopting into a male camaraderie term," he said. "It's a big umbrella term."

Types of bros

National Public Radio's blog Code Switch recently tackled the phenomenon, putting "bros" into four sub-categories: stonerish, jockish, dudely and preppy.

Gomez said there are other labels or titles, as well. Stoner bros are like hippy bros, known for their chill attitude and desire to smoke marijuana. These bros, like Jeff Spicoli from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," just want to party.

He said the jockish type is similar to weight-lifting bros, who spend a lot of time working out and playing sports. They are best demonstrated by the "do you even lift, bro?" memes and Youtube videos.

"Then, you have the surfer type, with the type of lingo that's kind of laid-back and dumbed down," Gomez said. He said this sub-category might be combined with dudely bros, who just want to spend time with other bros doing bro-ish activities like surfing or hanging out.

Finally, Gomez said preppy bros might be grouped with members of a fraternity, who dress nicely and often wear Greek gear.

Of course, not all bros fit perfectly into one of these categories; some fit into all four. NPR declared Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte the ultimate bro, stating that: "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."

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So, how do you know if you're a bro?'

Gomez said, "You know you're a bro if you refer to males and females as bro."

Maki covers Arts & Entertainment and Life & Style for the Herald and can be reached at (701) 780-1122, (800) 477-6572, ext. 1122; or jmaki@gfherald.com .

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