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Declan Wilson

Men Need Better Portrayals of Platonic Male Friendships in Film and T.V.

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Declan Wilson
Declan Wilson
 2021-05-11

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Photo by Matheus Ferrero on Unsplash

Of all the demographics that are least likely to win sympathy points, men are at the top of the list.

Nevertheless, there is one problem that needs attention:

Men need better portrayals of platonic male friendships in movies and television.

Good examples of platonic relationships, even ones between men and women, are lacking in pop culture today. Men need better role models — those who can teach emotional intelligence and show what deep, meaningful, non-romantic relationships look like.

Platonic male friendships certainly exist in real life, but when presented in media, they’re stripped of their vulnerability, affection, and intimacy, and whitewashed with prototypical bromance.

Two men plotting to win over the same woman has become as pointless a trope as slipping on a banana peel. The audience, if we’re lucky, watches as the two men slowly realize their friendship means more than the woman they’re dueling over. And just when they’re about to break a cultural stereotype, the two men crack a homoerotic joke to defuse the situation. Roll credits.

Dan Kahan from Popdust feels the same:

“Unfortunately, Western media offers lackluster representations of male friendship, oftentimes relegating anything deeper than surface-level bromance to the realms of goofball comedy or “gay panic” humor. Movies like I Love You, Man and I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry turn male friendship into a source of laughter rather than a genuine connection between two people who care about one another.”

This, of course, is a problem more so in Western culture, specifically in America rather than in Europe. It isn’t uncommon, nor is it stigmatized, to see a European man draping his arm around another.

We need to see men who aren’t afraid to be emotionally vulnerable. We need to see men who aren’t afraid to be affectionate. We need to see men who aren’t afraid to shed their toxic alpha male demeanor and just be themselves.

Non-sexual physical intimacy isn’t the only thing we are missing, it’s emotional intimacy as well. Men keep their emotions bottled up, which hinders the creation and retention of friendships, further alienating them.

Shallow bromances should not be accepted as the standard operating procedure for male friendships. Men’s health and society at large is at stake.

Can’t Burt and Ernie just be friends?

Again, I’m well aware straight men aren’t considered pity material. However, I’d be lying if I said I often feel a bit of disappointment when two male characters in a film or show express levels of affection towards each other only to end up in a homosexual relationship.

I’m not disappointed by their sexuality, of course, but rather from being cheated of a budding non-sexual platonic male friendship.

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Crashing is a perfect example. Sam, a gregarious and outgoing guy, meets Fred, who is shy and timid. When both are paired up for a scavenger hunt, the audience clearly sees the chemistry.

Both Sam and Fred sense it too. Sam throws out slightly homophobic jokes to defuse the tension and call awareness to their friendship. However — and spoiler alert if you have not seen the show — both Sam and Fred are closeted gay men and end up in a romantic relationship.

Crashing is an excellent show and handled both characters well. It was clear Waller-Bridge’s intention from the beginning was for Sam and Fred to end up together. Even still, a tiny piece of me hoped to see two men express non-romantic love for one another and not be afraid to show it.

There are, of course, well-known examples of platonic male friendships in media:

  • Samwise and Frodo from The Lord of the Rings
  • Finn and Jake from Adventure Time
  • Sherlock and Holmes from Sherlock (the Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman version)
  • Eric and Otis from Sex Ed
  • Nick, Schmidt, Winston, and Coach from New Girl

Contrary to fan fiction, Bert and Ernie might just be two close friends. I support — and I want to make sure I’m clear on this — the need for more LGBTQ representation in film and television. However, what does it say about us as a society when we can’t see two puppets as anything more than sexual creatures?

Why can’t we accept the fact that between two people, having a deep and meaningful friendship is at least as important — and often has more impact — than a sexual one?

Isolation, loneliness, and men’s health

Humans need one another. According to an article published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences:

“Recent research suggests that the social pain of loneliness evolved as a signal that one’s connections to others are weakening and to motivate the repair and maintenance of the connections to others that are needed for our health and well being and for the survival of our genes.”

For many heterosexual men, women are expected to fill their deepest emotional needs. Instead of turning to other men to fill these needs, pent up frustration leads to potential ill-will towards women and further isolation from society.

Social norms are beating out evolutionary traits. According to an article published in the American Journal of Men’s Health:

“[M]en’s social support networks are limited because seeking support or discussing emotions goes against male role expectations emphasizing strength and emotional restraint.”

Like all humans, men also require physical touch. Those who are “skin starved” can develop anxiety, depression, and even immune system problems. Women, again, are expected to fill this need.

Men, in order to maintain their heterosexual social status, typically avoid such physical contact with one another unless it comes from a more socially acceptable form, such as sport.

Isolation, loneliness, anxiety, depression — these problems diminish if men learn to build healthier platonic friendships with each other.

In 2018, Tom Brady faced backlash on social media after a clip of him kissing his son on the lips appeared in the documentary, Tom vs Time.

“Proper” parenting etiquette is always a hot discussion, but the backlash centered less on him as a parent, and more so on him being a man. As a father of two boys, and a die-hard Steelers fan, I was ashamed of the way my fanbase mocked Brady.

Maybe our hope for better male platonic friendships lies in the next generation. Maybe this problem extends beyond pop culture. Maybe it begins within the family.

I make an effort to tell my sons how much I love them. I give them kisses on the lips. I hold them close when we watch movies.

I want to raise men who know it’s okay — and completely human — to want physical and emotional connection, and to understand it doesn’t exclusively need to come from a romantic relationship with a woman.

Men need better role models, better portrayals in media, and more acceptance of their emotional needs.

More hugs, fewer fist bumps.