I, for one, am thrilled that “bromance” has been officially added to the newest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Bromance: “a close but nonsexual relationship between two men.” The word received its 2010 OED stamp of approval along with “chillax,” “frenemy,” “exit strategy,” and “defriend,” among others. Now that bromance is part of our venerated lexicon, we can wield it with authority, apply it smartly, inject it into our elite discourse. No longer must we wave the word around with a wink and a nudge, smugly proving our pop culture literacy and familiarity with the film “I Love You, Man.” Let the studious scholarship on bromance—Bromance Studies—begin in our literary and cultural circles. Bromance has been given the green light, man.
I imagine that literary critic Leslie Fiedler (1917-2003) would approve of this development, whispering “I told you so” from beyond the grave. Fiedler rocked the literary world with his 1948 Partisan Review essay, “Come Back to the Raft Ag’in, Huck Honey!” in which he pointed out that a dominant archetype in American literature is the homoerotic love affair between two men who light out for the territory in order to escape civilization’s responsibilities and constrictions (and its women). Moreover, as Fiedler observed—even more controversially—these bromantic pairings tend to involve a young white man and a man of color: Huck Finn and Jim, Ishmael and Queequeg, Natty Bumbo and Chingachcook. These “mythic” relationships are always characterized by the “pure love of man and man,” offering the reader a model of “chaste male love as the ultimate emotional experience.” The love is of course always innocent; there “lies between the lovers no naked sword but a childlike ignorance, as if the possibility of a fall to the carnal had not yet been discovered.” Bromance! The OED should cite Fiedler.
Fiedler elaborated on his argument in his 1960 book Love and Death in the American Novel. I propose an updated edition of this book be released with a new title: Bromance and Death in the American Novel. With an introduction by Judd Apatow. I suspect this would make Fiedler’s argument more legible than ever to the reading public. And to dudes, especially.
Bromance can now be applied without shame to literary studies of other male pairings, even to those men who do not abandon civilization for the wilderness. Take the bromance between Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby. Or Joe Starrett and Shane. Or Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty. At long last we have the word to describe these complex character relationships.
And why stop with bromance? I believe several other new additions to the OED would prove quite useful to literary critics. Ahab just needed to chillax. Hemingway’s Old Man needed an exit strategy when the fish proved too much for him. Hester Prynne should have argued that she merely had a wardrobe malfunction. Portnoy overthinks sex. Biff Loman couldn’t get a hold in Death of a Salesman because maturity was too much of a buzzkill for him (and his dad needed better soft skills). Faulkner’s Compson family should have defriended one another. Were Gene and Finny friends or frenemies in A Separate Peace? How did Silas Lapham’s toxic debt affect his moral compass in Dreiser’s novel? How would Sonny’s blues have sounded different in James Baldwin’s short story if he had played a vuvuzela?
The possibilities abound. Book critics would do well not to be fussbudgets or haters and follow the OED’s lead. Time to update the literary glossary. As for me, I’m off to take a chill pill and eat some turducken while I reread that prescient cool hunter, Leslie Fiedler.