Peyton Manning — 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, the knowing grin, that moonish forehead stretching nearly all 71 yards of his 400th career touchdown pass last Sunday — that guy, he’s the guy.
The guy with the most popular jersey in the NFL. The one selling us DirecTV packages between downs this season; the guy who persuaded us to buy a bunch of Papa John’s pizza during the Super Bowl back in February. The man who, at 36, is not just a Denver icon, but an icon for American bros young and old, far and wide. (Not least his little bro, Eli.)
We have arrived at the moment of the bro — “the broment.” Hipsters can leave now. Hipsterdom is dead. Bros reign with an iron fist pump.
Cut to Lebron James wearing dark-rimmed glasses in his postgame conference during the NBA Finals earlier this summer. Go visit Brooklyn, the once less-than-safe Bohemia teeming with avant-garde warehouse spaces, now the second-most-expensive place to live in the United States — Brohemia. Search Google for a photo of ’90s bro David Hasselhoff at the formerly bro-less oasis of Coachella. He’s there, right in the middle of the crowd, accentuated crow’s-feet, touched-up hairline. He’s giving a peace sign.
Skinny jeans are no longer “skinny,” they’re just jeans. Foodies refer to the highbrow monthly Bon Appetit as “Bro Appetit.” In Hollywood, “The Avengers” broke nearly every box- office record with its team of super-bros. “The Expendables” is a mysteriously successful franchise rooted in past-action-hero bros. “Magic Mike,” with Channing Tatum, was, really, just a bunch of naked bros.
Manning, Channing, Gosling — these are the cool guys now, the new role models for both the mainstreamers and the alt crowd alike. Even the word “bro” is undergoing the same stigma cycle that “hipster” faced from 2005 through just recently — aversion, acceptance, self-deprecation, normalcy, saturation.
This new bro is everywhere, and he’s compounding pop culture one shotgunned beer at a time. Today’s bro wears many hats: flat-brim, fedora, backward baseball. To call him a “meathead” would be missing the point. The postmodern bro went to see Mumford & Sons at Red Rocks last month, but he’s also thrilled about Jason Alden’s new endorsement dealwith Coors Light. He manscapes, he tans, he puts product in his hair, but he’s not necessarily a metrosexual. He took his girlfriend to see “Battleship,” then she took him to see “Moonrise Kingdom.”
Foster The People’s perpetually inescapable hit “Pumped Up Kicks” was downloaded more than 3 million times during 2011. The song’s official music video — awash in sleeveless shirts, frisbee tosses and other picturesque California scenes — is nearing 100 million views on YouTube. Lead singer Mark Foster, a former commercial jingle writer, must have knowingly crafted this summer-ready song with a hook destined to become a “bro anthem.” It followed in the footsteps of Kanye West’s “Heartless” and Kings of Leon’s “Sex On Fire” with its minimally edgy lyrics served in a polite package (and just enough swagger to justify repeat listens at tailgates).
More recently, electronic artists Bassnectar, Rusko and Skrillex have made the bass-heavy subgenre of dubstep so popular among a certain sect of listeners that many now refer to the once highly experimental, inaccessible style as “brostep.” Skrillex, the former screamo goth kid turned keg-stand-soundtracker, was nominated for Best New Artist at this year’s Grammy Awards. “Decisions,” the genre’s latest pop crossover, shows longtime bro-ette Miley Cyrus collaborating with rising dubstep producer Borgore.
The Avett Brothers, two literal bros, went from playing punky-folk-bluegrass in the early 2000s to signing a major-label deal and working with hitmaker Rick Rubin. Last year, they simulcast their big Red Rocks gig at a NASCAR speedway in North Carolina. This fall, they are part of Gap’s “Icons Redefined” campaign, trading in pearl snaps for peach-colored cotton.
As both Phil in “The Hangover” and Sack Lodge in “Wedding Crashers,” Bradley Cooper has defined the contemporary bro on the silver screen for much of the past decade. Cooper, the Georgetown-educated, blue-eyed-big-guy, successfully portrays well-to-do jerks that you, for whatever reason, still sort of root for in the end.
His latest work, this month’s “The Words,” has Cooper playing the role of a faux intellectual entrenched in a plagiarism scandal. A quick glance at the film’s official poster shows Cooper lying contemplatively in the bosom of his love interest (Zoe Saldana), mutating into Bro 2.0 in a wrinkled Oxford shirt and sport coat. He’s thinking, sure, we’re just not sure what about.
After this brief detour into “high art,” Cooper will resurrect his role as “Phil” in “The Hangover Part III,” currently in production.
Cooper’s “Wedding Crashers” co-star, Vince Vaughn, made a career as the modern buddy bro — from Trent in 1996’s”Swingers” to the suburban alpha male Bernard “Beanie” Campbell in 2003’s “Old School.” It was this particular role that kickstarted Vaughn’s career thereafter, leading to seemingly recycled bro-trayals as dumb-guy-with-an-awakening in “Dodgeball,” “The Break-Up,” “Four Christmases” and, of course, the playboy lusting for monogamous love in “Wedding Crashers.”
On-screen, the archetypal bro’s value system is as basic and monochromatic as Vaughn’s power ties or cabana shirts.
Cooper and Vaughn, in particular, routinely play a bro whose character arc revolves around the idea of escape when midlife crises and arrested development collide. In the case of “Old School,” Vaughn’s Beanie may own six Speaker City franchises with a net worth of $3.5 million (that the government knows about), but he lives vicariously through the childless, spouse-less Mitch (Luke Wilson). Beanie goes so “bro” as to start an unsanctioned fraternity inside Mitch’s home, if nothing else, to get out of the house and spend more time with his bros.
Another Beanie — Billy Beane — bro’d out over professional baseball with a mega-nerd statistician in last year’s “Moneyball.” Brad Pitt’s leading performance as Billy was simply his latest in a long string of films exploring the idea of bro-bonding (“Fight Club,” “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Snatch,” “A River Runs Through It”).
“Bridesmaids,” the breakout, Oscar-nominated comedy of 2011, was, in its purest form, a story of women acting like bros, eschewing traditional female relationship dynamics in favor of toilet humor and drunken escapades. (All that ethnic food gave them the runs, bro!) Its success, arguably, begat this season’s “The Bachelorette,” which mines similar she-bro territory.
Through eight hit-or-miss seasons, HBO’s “Entourage” offered the fantasy of bro stardom with so much excess, celebrity cameos, pointless nudity and product placement that it very much became a parody of itself by series end. It was a bro show about two brothers (Vinnie Chase and Johnny Drama) and their lifelong nonchromosomally bros along for the ride (Eric and Turtle.)
It was a show in which characters drank Budweiser with the label facing the camera, in which Vince had a multi-episode relationship with a real porn star. It was a fictionalized take on executive producer Mark Wahlberg’s personal experience breaking into Hollywood. And for a hefty chunk of the coveted 18-34 male demographic, it served as almost a “how-to” guide in post-college life.
Series creator Doug Ellin is reportedly finishing a script for a big-screen version.
Just as “Entourage” altered the status expectations of many young bros, ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” now in its 31st season, defined the daily routine — and language patterns — of an entire generation. The essential broadcast, with its fast-paced segments, sharp cuts and take-’em-or-leave-’em stats stakes its success on sound bites from anchors (“He busts out the whuppin’ stick!”) and players (baseball phenom Bryce Harper’s “That’s a clown question, bro”).
On network TV, bros saturate the 30-minute sitcom market. Take Andy Bernard on “The Office” — pastel pants, sweater vest, nostalgic for his glee-club days at Cornell. Or Barney Stinson womanizing his way through New York City in “How I Met Your Mother.” The irony of Barney is that this sex-crazed “man’s man” is portrayed by a gay actor, Neil Patrick Harris. This fall, NBC will shove “Guys With Kids” down our throats — a buddy comedy about three bros trying to navigate their way through the early stages of fatherhood. (“Change a diaper? But the game is on!”)
Watching Peyton Manning take down the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday was thrilling, of course. But almost equally entertaining was the string of prime-time commercials, more overtly “bro” than ever. There’s Denis Leary describing the benefits of a Ford pickup truck in that hard-nosed, utilitarian dialect. There’s a guy waxing poetic over the relationship he has with his fast food from Sonic: “It’s like we’re not even taste-buds; we’re taste-bros.”
And there’s that one legendary Bronco, in a loose-fitting golf shirt and jeans, shimmying awkwardly in a new 30-second spot for a traditionally female brand (Dove). He’s still looking like the guy who owns a popular steak restaurant, still the man you would trust to run your football team. Still a bro that, at the end of the day, you’d really love to have a catch with.
And last Sunday, during the fourth quarter, he was selling you a new line of men’s hygiene products. And it didn’t seem that weird.
Neither did it seem particularly shocking when Vikings punter Chris Kluwe came out — vigorously — in support of same-sex marriage. Or when “Breaking Bad” bro Aaron Paul recently told Spin magazine that his go-to iPod playlist, ” the best playlist known to man,” features M83, Arcade Fire and Radiohead.
As bro culture increasingly becomes the norm, the worst parts of traditonal bro stereotypes are thrown in the trash alongside last night’s 30-rack of Miller Lite. (The empties, of course.)
“My name is John Elway, and I’m definitely comfortable in my own skin,” he assured us last week, all-bro-wingly.