Bro insults

The Zits strips for 10/10 and 10/11, on bro insults: what bros do instead of complimenting one another. Because actually complimenting another guy would be kinda faggy, totally not according to the Boy Code. And girls just don’t understand this basic fact.

(#1) Not any old insults, but ritual insults, like baboon-butt, which won’t be taken seriously; there’s no injury here

(#2) And monkey-heinie and flame brain, all of them serving not as insults but as signs of male bonding — male friendship and mutual regard

Earlier on this blog, in my 10/6/21 posting “Masculinity comics 2”:

[in a One Big Happy strip:] Ruthie heaps formulaic insults on her brother Joe (including the kid insults stupid head, monkey face, and nachos for brains — poopy head, a stand-in for the stronger shit for brains, would be the classic kid insult)

Kids slinging insults. I don’t know the literature on this — and I’m in no position to do a search for it — but anecdotally it seems clear that young children in our culture learn fairly early to sling sincere insults and also to lie; I don’t know when they put the two together to hurl false accusations. Separately, they pick up certain kinds of physical play aggression, especially chase games; and, at least among boys, wrestling with one another. All this eventually knits together to allow verbal play aggression, which can be a very tricky business, easily sliding from playfulness (itself serving several possible functions) into an attack masquerading as playfulness and on to frank genuine aggression, aimed at domination, humiliation, the infliction of pain, and the like.

Kids can practice verbal play aggression, without veering into genuine hurt, if they have available some verbal formulas that are fully conventionalized as playful only: this is the beauty of expressions like poopy-head.

… Formulaic ritual insults like poopy-head can be used without risk for the full range of functions of ritual insults: but also in

— expressing affection, closeness (we’re such good friends that I can call you poopy-head and you can call me stinky-feet);

— projecting a critique of power (from the less powerful against the more powerful: younger against older, girl against boy, protected against protector, weaker against stronger; in these situations, the more powerful will often choose not to respond in kind but to deflect the critique, for example, by a display of indifference …);

— or, in accordance with the Boy Code, providing a toughening-up ordeal, in which a boy learns (in a controlled situation) to “take it like a man” and “give as good as he gets”, in preparation for a lifetime of genuinely aggressive competition with other males

Toughening-up will move boys in a male band from the formulaic to powerful (but situationally tricky) insults like bastard, fuckface, dumbass, little-dick, and even faggot — insults that are are intended to provoke the target to respond in kind (or to exhibit heroic contemptuous endurance — nothing can rattle me, you fucks), just as physical aggression is intended to provoke what amount to controlled fights, in which the winner demonstrates his power and the loser his valor, and the two become the best of friends thereafter.

Or, more positively, in one-on-one interactions (rather than male-band interactions), the ritual insult can serve as a deflected avowal of friendship, expression of admiration, or compliment. Actual avowals of friendship, expressions of admiration, and compliments go unspoken; their recipients are expected to be able to infer all this from the rough camaraderie.

I know (see Sara in #2 above): Guys!


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