Bro Culture, Fitness, Chivalry, and American Identity
December 3, 2020 10:17 AM   Subscribe

Imperial wars overseas always come home eventually, and they do so in complex ways. The fact that millions of people listen to Jocko Willink, buy Black Rifle Coffee Company merchandise, and dabble in more extreme fringes is a product of decades spent elevating not just military service writ large but violent combat overseas against ill-defined Others. For every Jocko Willink, there’s an Eddie Gallagher, the SEAL who was convicted of and then recently pardoned for war crimes after becoming a cause célèbre for large swathes of the online right

But this kind of Bro Culture is also intimately connected to the emergence of a new kind of American ethnonationalism, rooted in its peculiar conception of masculinity, its collection of lifestyle products, its worship of guns, and its aversion to self-reflection. Maybe you can just have the big dudes lifting stones without the drive to pardon Navy SEALs convicted of horrific war crimes; but then again, maybe the algorithms make them impossible to separate.
posted by Carillon (38 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is super fascinating. I do think there's a connection between bro culture and Veteran culture -- not every bro is a vet and not every vet is a bro, but they can feed off each other. My dad is a good example -- he's really NOT part of American bro culture (too old, too British), but he is part of a ton of Veteran communities, drinks the damn coffee (it's fine), etc. And the younger Vets he hangs out with online really are part of the dynamic this article describes.
posted by feckless at 10:36 AM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]


Really thought-provoking piece. Thanks for posting. The author (who is new to me) has an appealing, grounded style in detailing Bro Culture as he experienced it, sees it now, & frets about what it portends.
posted by foodbedgospel at 10:53 AM on December 3, 2020


This was very good, and intersects with the graphic essay "About Face", the subject of not one but two lengthy threads on the blue. In the latter one, Major Clanger (and maybe others, I don't have time to re-read all the comments) noted the intersection between military and fitness gear. Before Chris Kyle decided (against the advice of innumerable people who treat veterans with PTSD) that it would be a great idea to take vets with PTSD shooting--a decision that led directly to his death--he was involved with a charity that provided fitness equipment for vets in need. I also looked at Jocko Willink's instagram, and about a quarter of the pictures are of his watch; he seems to need or want to prove that he gets up at 4:30 AM (or earlier) to work out .
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:04 AM on December 3, 2020 [6 favorites]


I'm still spending a lot of time rolling around Wyman's essay on American Gentry , which I'm starting to realize is a prime source of white/small state/electoral power that continually ensures limits on progressive policy that would dilute their quietly elite control.
posted by bendybendy at 11:44 AM on December 3, 2020 [7 favorites]


The part of the article that caught my eye was the notion of how this culture is being marketed as a buyable identity (follow the workout plan in this ebook! use this protein powder!), because that's a similar thing I've noticed in a lot of other "lifestyle" movements targeted towards women. Interestingly, too, the ones for women seem to follow more traditionally "female" topics (buy this Scandinavian blanket for a truly hygge style! bake the recipes in this ebook for a cabincore fall!).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:48 AM on December 3, 2020 [12 favorites]


Upper Middle Class Lax Bro Culture (which is where the real bro power emanates) isn't like this at all. Like at all at all.
posted by JPD at 12:00 PM on December 3, 2020 [4 favorites]


Upper Middle Class Lax Bro Culture (which is where the real bro power emanates) isn't like this at all. Like at all at all.

Well, obviously, you don’t let everyone into the country club. We can’t have tradesmen crowding the bar at the 19th Hole. Heaven forfend!
posted by thivaia at 12:19 PM on December 3, 2020 [2 favorites]


add in the rise of "Tacti-cool" and companies marketing to this demographic.
posted by djseafood at 12:48 PM on December 3, 2020 [3 favorites]


I always think it's interesting how these cultures both follow the trends their members are interested in, but also how they shape and guide it as well. It's an interesting push/pull that's accelerated by the vaunted youtube algorithm, how quickly do recommendations for such videos lead to right wing chuds you know.
posted by Carillon at 12:58 PM on December 3, 2020


The rise of the "tacticool" mindset is extremely dangerous. I wish I understood why so many men want so badly to play soldier or consider themselves warriors who need to be ready to kill at the drop of a hat.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:02 PM on December 3, 2020 [10 favorites]


Because in large part there's a huge segment of the culture that defines a man's worth by his willingness to do violence and his abilities in doing said violence. Which profession is closest to violence? The warrior/solider is, thus they become the objects of veneration and emulation, specifically those who are elevated to special status like the special forces.
posted by Carillon at 1:32 PM on December 3, 2020 [15 favorites]


Well, if you're convinced that you're under constant threat, or that somehow all control is about to be lost, you reach for those things that you think will prepare you for Whatever.

This stuff bleeds over into a hobby as Ur-nerd as ham radio, believe it or not. The tacticool/prepper types can be spotted a mile off.
posted by jquinby at 1:36 PM on December 3, 2020 [4 favorites]


This must suck for people who want to lift weights or do martial arts, but who want nothing to do with the tactical-bro-Joe Rogan scene.
posted by thelonius at 1:39 PM on December 3, 2020 [11 favorites]


Well, if you're convinced that you're under constant threat, or that somehow all control is about to be lost, you reach for those things that you think will prepare you for Whatever.

Right, there's a lot of gut-level uncertainty and fear in America today, and many find that "preparing" for bad things makes them feel less afraid.

Of course, if you preparations all boil down to plans for violence then, well...you're thinking violent thoughts and owning violent things and planning violence.

What I want to know is, how do women vets avoid this?
posted by wenestvedt at 1:39 PM on December 3, 2020 [2 favorites]


Tribe suggests that the American society has actively worked against the reintegration of returning veterans by putting them on a pedestal, the constant refrain of "Thank you for your service", silly displays of patriotism at sports games, etc. so now being a "veteran" is part of their identity and not just their past.

Now we're seeing a whole generation of people growing up with this hero worship (and actually joining the military), not realizing it was all something that people did to assuage their guilt at sending people to die in a needless war.
posted by meowzilla at 1:48 PM on December 3, 2020 [10 favorites]


This must suck for people who want to lift weights or do martial arts, but who want nothing to do with the tactical-bro-Joe Rogan scene.

I mean, maybe a little, but since men are allowed not to be a monolith, it's not that big a deal to wear tacti-cool clothing (which has some advantages over Old Navy clothes in certain situations) while not being particularly interested in the 'tacti-cool' culture or being a right-winger. Tacti-cool is also a culture, somewhat like rock music, that has a media reach beyond it's actual number of adherents. At most gyms (there are tons of gyms - literally nearly one on every corner) there are very few bro-culture warriors.

The author even tries to over-emphasize it's reach (if you ..."hang out in combat sports gyms, are in the military, or listen to Joe Rogan") and imply differences that don't exist "rising gap between those with college degrees and those without."- niche gyms, workout food, bro culture clothes, jacked up trucks, and guns are expensive, so if you are trying to make some point about college degrees vs those without it needs to be much more explicit.

The demographic paragraph is equally as vague and has to be written as some kind of parody of marketing:
"The assumed subject of this culture is a straight, young-ish (18-40) dude who’s kind of into fitness of some kind, whether that’s lifting weights, a little jiu-jitsu, or what have you. He probably played sports and currently enjoys watching them. He’s familiar with but not super dedicated to video games and likes beer and maybe some weed from time to time. He may or may not have a college degree, but either way has a solid but not extremely high-paying job. He probably lives in the suburbs, exurbs, or a rural area, rather than a dense metro. He’s probably but not necessarily white. He’s disproportionately likely to have served in the military, and if he hasn’t, he knows people - family or friends - who do or did. "

Way to break it down for us. We all know...that guy.
posted by The_Vegetables at 2:00 PM on December 3, 2020 [8 favorites]


I'm surprised there wasn't an FPP about this, but CrossFit basically imploded this year when the founder mocked both the murder of George Floyd and the pandemic. High profile athletes cut ties with the organization, sponsors left, many gyms removed their CrossFit branding, and the founder was forced out. This is an organization that's proud about members giving themselves serious injuries, names their workouts after fallen military members, and rejects decades of sports science.
posted by meowzilla at 2:31 PM on December 3, 2020 [6 favorites]


Check out litquidity on instagram for peak finance lax bro.
posted by JPD at 2:34 PM on December 3, 2020


My goal is to die without getting into any fights, killing anyone, getting “swole”, or anything in that lane. So I guess I can’t relate to the subculture. Something like Joe Rogan tactikungfumma-fighting another YouTube star is like ... no. Just no.

Also, any (cishet I guess) young man’s fascination with stuff that’s black, chrome, leather etc. is going to get stomped at the first live-in relationship. Your black leather couch and chrome and smoked glass coffee table is about to get the When Harry Met Sally wagon-wheel-table treatment. Ask me how I know... “I’m just trying to help you have good taste!” I guess I’m saying that men make some uh, interesting life choices when left to their own devices.
posted by freecellwizard at 3:09 PM on December 3, 2020 [2 favorites]


I'm still spending a lot of time rolling around Wyman's essay on American Gentry , which I'm starting to realize is a prime source of white/small state/electoral power that continually ensures limits on progressive policy that would dilute their quietly elite control.

I just read that. It's a really good essay. It reminds me of the family that controls the local tv/radio station in the mid-size metropolitan area in which I grew up. The people he describes pretty much formed the backbone of the American right since Goldwater, and they fully took control of the Republican party after 2010 with the Tea Party. Trump was kind of a bridge figure for these people because of his media connections and celebrity, even if he didn't necessarily come from them.

Trump also was kind of a bridge figure for the "tacticool" people too. I've definitely noticed a string of videos appearing in my youtube feed covering election conspiracy theories of varying types. I wonder what happens when nothing comes of them and Trump leaves office.
posted by eagles123 at 3:27 PM on December 3, 2020 [1 favorite]


Luckily my only awareness of the Black Rifle Coffee people was their gleeful photo with Kyle Rittenhouse, who at the time the photo was taken should still have been held awaiting trial for murder.

They're not only okay with people being murdered for having different political beliefs, they're celebrating the murderers.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:15 PM on December 3, 2020 [7 favorites]


This must suck for people who want to lift weights or do martial arts, but who want nothing to do with the tactical-bro-Joe Rogan scene.

Maybe. I have a friend — not super close but I have known him for twenty-five years. Most of the time I have known him he has been tremendously fit, a personal trainer, a gym owner, a martial arts practitioner, a stunt guy for action sequences onscreen... and a socially progressive husband and father who has worked as a professional graphic artist.

Partly because of the roganization, I understand, he closed up his gym a couple of years ago and now he works in a bakery. He seems much happier.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:46 PM on December 3, 2020 [4 favorites]


The rise of the "tacticool" mindset is extremely dangerous. I wish I understood why so many men want so badly to play soldier or consider themselves warriors who need to be ready to kill at the drop of a hat.

It's so very hard to buy a flashlight these days that doesn't also want me to kill people.
posted by srboisvert at 6:09 PM on December 3, 2020 [15 favorites]


I'm still spending a lot of time rolling around Wyman's essay on American Gentry

yes, this is how small to medium sized cities in the u s work and their influence can be total, up to a good part of a state - this local gentry is exactly what keeps the republicans in charge of michigan's legislature

it's not exactly on topic here, but i'm thinking that trump's current problem is much of this gentry is realizing that he's no longer useful to them and it's time to make accomodations with the democrats - the gentry's current problem is their businesses are really hurting in this crisis

above all, they're going to protect their wealth - and they're not going to be doing that by rising up against a "stolen" election
posted by pyramid termite at 6:17 PM on December 3, 2020 [5 favorites]


The author, Patrick Wyman, has a great podcast. Tides of History.
posted by double bubble at 7:47 PM on December 3, 2020 [2 favorites]


This must suck for people who want to lift weights or do martial arts, but who want nothing to do with the tactical-bro-Joe Rogan scene.

I'm a power lifter and I'm active in some online communities centered around it. There are a larger proportion of far-right hyper-masculine types (being an individual sport there are no teammates one has to get along with) than the general population but not as many as you might think. Some of the strongest people I know are not far off from being as woke as the average mefite. Some lifters make with the yelling and grunting 'cause it's manley, some 'cause lifting heavy things is very primal. Plenty of women lifters do it to.
posted by VTX at 8:14 PM on December 3, 2020 [7 favorites]


Fitness culture, one of Bro Culture’s constituent pieces, has been around in various guises for a long time; weightlifting came to prominence in the 1960s and 70s, Crossfit in the 2000s, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the last decade, but other manifestations - like respectable men’s Muscular Christianity around the beginning of the 20th century - have been around for much longer. Bare-knuckle boxing was a manifestation of rough-and-tumble, working-class manhood in later 19th century America. That working-class manhood revolved around taverns and drinking, gambling on fights and races, a combination of activities familiar to any self-respecting Bro today whether he participates in them or not.

*Touko Laaksonen draws on a cigarette and regards the sketch on his drafting table*

"Not a lot has changed since I was on Earth, has it?"
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:31 PM on December 3, 2020 [2 favorites]


add in the rise of "Tacti-cool" and companies marketing to this demographic.

There's a wargaming setting you may have heard of, called Warhammer 40k, set in the 41st millennium, where you paint 3cm high plastic models, and optionally push them round a table and roll dice. I was into this game in the 90s as a teen, took a long break, and am back in now a bit for the modelling and painting side mostly (and am a bit of a grognard). The style was, and still is, rather dark gothic, with extra skulls.

Anyway, there's a thriving supply of unaffiliated 3rd party parts for the models, and it seems like 50% of them are "tacticool" bits, i.e. m4-alike guns, 'jungle style' magazines, red dot weapon scopes etc.

Even the company behind it has started producing models that are suspiciously tacticool looking.

And my response has always been -
"dude, that's totally anachronistic. Tacticool is not the appropriate style for the post-human celibate super-muscled warriors of a fascistic society, made up of cults that worship their father-figure as a god, and whose only purpose is to kill aliens and heretics."

I uh, may need to rethink that.
posted by Absolutely No You-Know-What at 8:14 AM on December 4, 2020 [5 favorites]


Good reflection. I'd add this passage to our discussion:

In a moment of stagnant social mobility, rising inequality, and incredible uncertainty around the future, this strongly visual message of self-betterment and improving one’s socioeconomic status through literal sweat can resonate deeply.

Beyond the linked article, though, I'd add one crucial development. America has marginalized warfighting for the first time in its history. Since the end of the Vietnam war, military experience is no longer something people (men, of course, until the Cold War's end) of all classes and regions participate in. The wealthiest, the best educated largely skip it. And enlistment draws very heavily on the south and west.

Compare to WWII, WWI, the Civil War, when you find a majority of senators and representatives serving, then being vets.

There's a major social shift underpinning this martial bro culture, in other words.
posted by doctornemo at 9:01 AM on December 4, 2020 [3 favorites]


Also, are there more vets around these days? In the 80s sure there were conflicts that the US was involved in but they didn't feel like the same scale as the Gulf War in the 90s and then the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. It could be because I was a kid in the 80s and just didn't notice though.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:03 AM on December 4, 2020


There *should* be more vets now than before 2001, since America has been fighting its longest war ever.
posted by doctornemo at 11:38 AM on December 4, 2020


This must suck for people who want to lift weights or do martial arts, but who want nothing to do with the tactical-bro-Joe Rogan scene.

It can, but martial arts/fight sports had plenty of other brands of dickheads before the MMA-culture types showed up. Definitely a lot more camouflage print around these days, though!
posted by retrograde at 4:27 PM on December 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


I'm interested in a whole lot of stuff that's bro-adjacent (and have the ads in my Facebook feed to prove it), and it's frustrating how it's gotten tied in with this fascist shit. I want to read about weird diets, exercise, outdoorsy hobbies, whatever weirdness Tim Ferris is up to now. I spent hours a week at archery ranges attempting to "practice enough to shoot a tight grouping." I can happily read reviews of flashlights. I have spent probably two hours of my wild and precious life watching YouTube reviews of coolers. I would love to find a podcast that covered all that stuff but wasn't Joe fucking Rogan. He and his clones have sucked all the air out of the room.

Help me, Swole Woman! You're my only hope.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:46 PM on December 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


If you'd like to go on some DEEP dives into some science around strength training and all the stuff associated with itI highly recommend the site StrongerByScicence.com

Articles, podcasts, all that good stuff.

Like most research most of the conclusions are along the lines of "more research is needed" so very little of what I read or hear there has any practical impact on my training decisions but nerding out about this stuff is a big part of what I like about it so I enjoy the hell out of it.
posted by VTX at 7:29 AM on December 5, 2020 [4 favorites]


Bring back the draft. See how cool they think it is when they’re serving.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 12:29 PM on December 6, 2020


This must suck for people who want to lift weights or do martial arts, but who want nothing to do with the tactical-bro-Joe Rogan scene.

This is probably gym dependent, but my experience with this is that the martial arts scene is much less bro-y than the culture surrounding it, if that makes sense. People who already spend ten hours a week wrestling each other don't feel as strong of a need to perform masculinity, for the most part. Most of my training partners couldn't stand watching the UFC in sports bars, for instance, because the people who were watching -- who didn't tend to train -- were obnoxious drunks who wanted to start fights. I still remember going out with some friends for Halloween, and some fellow wanted to pick a fight with one of my friends and we kept trying to talk him down: we are all together because we train together, in fact we train with the bouncers at this establishment, please leave us alone. His response was to pull out his USMC reserve ID and show it to us.

Or there was an episode of one of those dating shows where they had a UFC fighter on and his date was visibly disgusted that he insisted on drinking 'girly drinks' and not performing masculinity to her standard. I mean, people who get really good at something do it by doing it obsessively and this is entirely orthogonal to being a bro. But men are socialized to be weird about fighting.
posted by Comrade_robot at 12:56 PM on December 6, 2020 [4 favorites]


The discussion of the impact of veterans on culture has me thinking -

When the Boomers were kids, the veterans they might have met were veterans of World War II, or maybe some from World War I. These were wars that had a very specific narrative to them - the veterans were regarded as heroes, and the wars they fought were heroic. The veterans themselves were more humble, but a whole lot of heroic stories cropped up around their wars. So the World War II vets didn't need to prove themselves to anyone because they were already being celebrated.

By contrast, the boomers who BECAME veterans were Vietnam veterans; the narrative was totally different. They were regarded as either victims or unwilling participants, or as perpetrators of war crimes; and the narrative about that war was that it was a mistake. They also met with a lot of pushback from civilians when they got home. This may have made a lot of the veterans double-down on their "I was a veteran, you know" to get the kind of respect they'd seen their fathers and grandfathers get. And that's also been the case with the Iraq War - the onset of that war has been shrouded in controversy and the public has largely gotten bored with it, so the narrative of The Vet has become almost like a trope.

So maybe the rise in TactiCool has been influenced by the change in opinion of The Vet in American culture, and the change in opinion of The Vet has in turn been affected by what knd of wars we've been fighting.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:50 PM on December 6, 2020 [1 favorite]


...that's totally anachronistic. Tacticool is not the appropriate style for the post-human celibate super-muscled warriors of a fascistic society, made up of cults that worship their father-figure as a god, and whose only purpose is to kill aliens and heretics."

I uh, may need to rethink that.

Subscribed to this thread when I saw it but was busy with other things, then just now ANYKW's Warhammer 40k comment here caught my eye and made me laugh-barf out loud.

Please mark your 2020 bingo cards for:
▣ Incels
▣ Toxic masculinity
▣ Eugenics
▣ Deification of Trump
▣ Fascism
...the fascists have their outfits...
The OP is written so vividly too:
I’ve spent my entire adult life in gyms of various kinds [...] Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gyms where just looking at the floor could give you a staph infection or ringworm.
EmpressCallipygos, you were involved in another recent thread where the War in Vietnam and WWII came up. And here's more Pacific Theatre discussion recently.

These discussions drew my attention back slightly further, to the environments the wars and the people who would become WWII veterans and heroes originated in. So riddle me this: if you take the future as undetermined, in February 1938—after the 1935 Nüremberg Laws but before most concentration camps had opened and before Anschluss and Kristallnacht—what was the difference between Nazi Germany and the United States? What was the difference, at that pre-war point, in national moral virtue?

At that point, any vestige of democracy and freedom there ever were in Russia were long gone and the Four Horsemen stalked the land already: the Golodomor had happened in Ukraine, the Year of '37 / Yezhovschina had drawn to a close and state violence and political violence were momentarily plateauing. But in Germany, though many foreshadowing oppressive and autocratic things had already happened, and there had been privation and chaos in the Inter-war period, so far everything I've thought of I've been able to match up to events in early 20th century U.S. history or late 19th century stuff. And of course the Great Depression was not exactly tranquil here, though IIRC uprising-wise our 20s was more like 30s Germany.

So... yeah. It kinda seems to me that as of February 1938, the U.S. and Germany were pretty much the same. Which I find difficult to think about directly, because it violates the fundamental framing of my understanding of history—even though I've read a fair bit of stuff from the Soviet perspective, but even in the (post-war historiography, of course, just like our perspective on the Soviets changed after the WWII Allies were no more) Soviet perspective Nazi Germany were the unambiguous bad guys and the U.S. and the Nazis weren't simply equivalent.

Another thing which has spurred my thinking about this has been, during the past several years, contemplating what would have happened to George Takei and the other U.S. citizens in our concentration camps if the War in the Pacific had stalemated or been lost.
posted by XMLicious at 8:28 PM on December 6, 2020 [1 favorite]


« Older Arecibo collapse   |   “A neo-Buddhist sci-fi romp through the embryonic... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments