Bro. The word probably sends a shiver up your spine. Probably conjures up images of backwards baseball hats and bottom lips distended with chewing tobacco. Or mall security guards. (“Can’t skateboard out here, bro.”) Or a college meathead trying to antagonize you into a fight. (“You think you’re a tough guy, don’t ya bro?”). Or white guys listening to rap. (“Dude, the RZA is sick, bro.”)
Believe it or not it wasn’t always like this. Before it became a symbol of male officiousness and all-around stupidity, Bro started out as a good word with positive associations, meant to bestow good feelings to everyone. But history has not been good to Bro. What happened?
The Youngbloods – “Get Together,” 1967
The Youngbloods released their version of “Get Together” in 1967, which became their only Top 40 hit. Adapted from a tune written earlier in the ’60s, the Youngbloods’ timing was perfect: Tensions over Vietnam were mounting and the backlash hippie movement that would culminate in the Summer of Love two years later was just starting.
The song’s lyrics, “smile on your brother, everybody get together and try to love one another right now,” struck a chord and became something of an anthem for the young generation.
Stemming partly from the song, the word “brother” became a way not only to show respect and empathy to peers, but to defang the hippies’ confrontations with authorities. Addressing a riot cop as “brother” was a way of reminding him that you were both human—you’re both in this together.
Etymologically speaking, this is where our modern Bro comes from. Not a bad start, really. Until…
The ’60s hippie became reincarnated as ’80s California slackerism, a personality subculture that spread like wildfire, thanks in part to its MTV poster-child in the form of Pauly Shore. Shore, like ’80s slacker prototype Jeff Spicoli from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” was all positivity gleaming through a haze of pure laziness. Shore’s endless “Bros” and “Hey Bud-dys” were sincere, meant to evoke the same kind of goodwill and kinship as the ’60s incarnation of “brother” had before.
By the early ’90s “Bro” began to migrate into the culture of second-tier punk bands. Pennywise included the single “Bro Hymn” on their 1991 debut and 1997 album “Full Circle.” While written about some friends who had died in a car crash, the song became a rah-rah anthem among jocks. “Bro Hymn” was used as the official stadium pump-up song for no less than 17 pro sports teams.
Also coming into existence around this time: Limp Bizkit. ‘Nuff said.
Between shitty bands and their music being commandeered by sports buffs with terrible taste, the modern Bro began to emerge. And where do crappy music and sports both thrive? College.
“Don’t Tase Me Bro.”
It’s therefore fitting that our next point on the evolutionary timeline of Bro came at college—in Florida, no less.
In 2007 Andrew William Meyer, undergrad at the University of Florida at Gainesville, disrupted the Q&A session at an event with Senator John Kerry by insisting on answers to his serious, lengthy questions. When cops detained him, a violation of Meyer’s free speech rights, they used excessive force including Tasers, to which Meyer famously cried, “Don’t Tase me, bro!”
It was the Bro heard ’round the world. In a way it was appropriate—Meyer’s use of Bro mirrored the ’60s counterculture purpose of “Bro.” But there was something different—there was a subconscious appeal for mercy in Meyer’s cry that differed from the conscious, manipulative “Bro” of the ’60s that showed just how far the word had evolved in popular culture.
Bros Icing Bros
This brings us all the way to 2010, when Smirnoff ruined Bro forever. What had been a powerful symbolic word used to dissipate Cold War paranoia and ease tension between the toxic generation gap of the ’60s had been reduced to a corporate-sponsored prank in which dudes forced each other into chugging a drink meant for girls (and sissies).
Totes hilars. Perhaps appropriately, the man who ushered the phenomenon to its peak was the nerd-turned-king-bro, the hoodied-billionaire himself, Mark Zuckerberg. After all, Facebook is as close as we get to revolution these days.
And with that, we can bid goodbye to Bro. You had a good run, Bro, and you served us well. Now please go away.