We all know Paris Hilton is the black hole towards which all wannabes gravitate. Lauren Conrad, Speidi, and the rest of the gang from The Hills and its off-shoots are only the most obvious symptoms of this diagnosis. And among the increasingly obvious, we can count himbo Brody Jenner.
MTV’s reality vehicle for Jenner, Bromance, makes this heroine-worship of Hilton and the repetitious nature of tween, teen, and twentysomething idealizations of “celebrity” crystal clear. Bromance is a re-tooled (literally and figuratively) version of Paris Hilton’s My New BFF, in which Jenner and pals Frankie Delgado and Sleazy-T preside over a houseful of nine guys from various backgrounds competing to become Brody’s “new best bud.” Jenner puts the bromantic hopefuls through Jackass-like stunts (yes, MTV’s self-referentiality knows no boundaries) to see who has “balls.” He sits down with them for “one-on-ones” to talk about friendship and family. He gathers them round to engage in collective sex-talk and objectification of “chicks.” And he pits them against each other to maximize the “guy drama” for viewers.
While most of it is typical MTV reality fare, Bromance‘s cultivation of male drama queens makes this show especially queer. Straight guys aren’t “supposed” to be all emotional and back-stabby, but Bromance demands they perform such “female” and “feminine” histrionics. On the touchy-feely side, during a fireside chat with Brody about complex daddy issues, contestant Jered is reduced to tears, and proclaims that even though he hasn’t known his hopefully new best bud for that long, Brody is just sooo comforting to be around. Similarly, dance teacher Gary tells Brody how his best friends have always been girls, how he is a peacemaker and not an aggressor, and how he has gotten flack his whole life for being so into dancing. Given such “feminine” confessionals, it’s clear that stunts like slaloming down a city street in a Lazy-Boy, picking up pizza and beer along the way, are vital for the guys inside the show and for viewers on the couch to reassert and maintain at least a thin veneer of normative heterosexual masculinity.
When it comes to backstabbing bitchery, the undisputed queen of the house is Femi. Full of bluster, he’s the most outsized personality of the bunch, as well as the most confrontational and performative. Femi talks trash constantly, comparing himself to the other guys in the house by way of different animals, hierarchized according to the “manly” attributes associated with those animals. The narrative of his family background and life experiences is constantly changing and getting more elaborate, presumably to set himself off as more “deserving” and less “privileged” than the majority white guys in the group. His story of being arrested at a party for something he didn’t do (start a fight) and subsequently kicked out of university has already changed to his, or maybe a friend of his, being shot at the same party. When confronted about his antics by the other wannabes, Femi is immediately confrontational, and when asked about the others by Brody, Femi sings like a canary.
Femi’s desire for all things Brody was emphatically demonstrated in Episode Three (“Who’s Got Game?”, 12 January 2009). In a desperate ploy to get Brody’s attention, Femi got a tattoo memorializing his time on the show and devotion to La Jenner. Famously, Jenner has “Jenner” in an Olde English style font tattooed down the left side of his torso, from armpit to hip. Femi gets his own last name, in the exact same font, and in the exact same spot, tattooed down his own trunk. The homoerotic spectacle of it all could have only been more overt if Femi had decided to get his own “Jenner” tattoo.
Bromance specializes in such displays of homoerotic excess. Another recent episode featured a scene of Brody in the shower, soaping himself up, complete with cheesy musical scoring. When he was interrupted by boyfriends Frankie and Sleazy-T, it was like the set-up of a hardcore gay porn scene. Throughout the rest of the episode, for no apparent reason, slo-mo clips of the shower scene were edited in at random times, so we could all repeatedly gaze longingly at Brody’s body.
Such repetition suggests the producers, directors, and Brody himself are quite aware of the queerness of Bromance. Episode Two, “The Bro-athalon,” established the show’s nonchalance about its own queerness, when Brody met with the bros one by one, proclaiming they’d do it “The Bachelor-style.” Just so, the men were presented with Brody, sitting poolside, before a romantic fire, with candles and cocktails tableside. Deep gazes and heart to heart conversation followed.
This direct and self-conscious homoeroticism complicates Bromance‘s representation of hetero masculinity and sexuality. Here, male-male intimacy and erotic frisson aren’t barriers to straight male sociality, even amid all the homophobic and sexist rhetoric. In fact, such language is central to what, in Brody’s scripted estimation, “really” constitutes male friendship. Straight guys, Bromance insists, can and should be more “feminine,” more emotionally attached to each other, and more supportive in their same-sex friendships. It’s all so bromantic.