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Bromance and Reality TV: The Real Reinvention of the Soap Opera

When I sat down to watch Bromance, the show already had three strikes against it for me. First, I don't watch reality TV and second, I'd rather be watching my usual favorite (now canceled), Boston Legal. Finally, it is rumored that classic soap operas are disappearing, but I believe reality TV has emerged as a new form of soap opera to engage the emotions of today's audiences. I don't like soap operas.

But I decided to watch Bromance anyway because in Boston Legal the main characters  Denny Crane (William Shatner) and Alan Shore (James Spader) have been considered a really "bromantic" couple of guys for a few years now. And, in the final episode, they tied the knot in a double wedding ceremony with other characters played by Candace Bergen and John Laroquette. While Denny and Alan's marriage was not for "romantic" reasons and was strictly for inheritance-based purposes, it signaled the final, and maybe not entirely absurd, act of their intimately emotional man-to-man friendship.

How much more absurd and playfully staged could Bromance be? I wanted to know.

As a relationship expert and 20+ year veteran therapist, I wondered how the "nonfictional" Bromance episode would stack up with the fictional bromance between the Boston Legal characters and my experience with men in therapy and coaching. For me, this brings up the subject of men and feelings. In relationships, men are often stereotyped as emotionless horn dog villains and women as being emotional high maintenance pains. Neither is a healthy approach to emotional intelligence in relationships.

I refuse to stereotype men as being emotional voids (or women as too touchy-feely). I have met plenty of guys who admit that they are the ‘emotional one’ in their relationships. And the guys who appear to be emotionally non-expressive or non- responsive in their relationships are the ones with the strongest feelings to hide. Highly emotional men are frequently hooked up with emotionally restrained women. Relationship patterns and emotions are not totally gender determined. Emotional investments from both the man and the woman make a relationship strong.

Professionally, I think it is important to de-stigmatize emotionally expressive men. Being emotionally intelligent and aware is critically important for quality relationships. The basic idea of Bromance, to reward and value a guy because he knows his own feelings and can be genuine in expressing them, is outstanding. But how far from absurd and laughable can the show go to stimulate a new standard for men and still be entertaining? Breaking stereotypes is never easy. Okay, I know this is just reality TV, but can't I have higher aspirations for the show?

In this episode, Brody admits that he is "looking for a friend who has balls and willing to try anything". (I think he really meant crying in front of millions of viewers, but brought out the bikes instead.) So the group embarks on a ‘significant’ challenge of ramp jumping small pink bikes with tassels. Predictably, the guys who wiped out at less than two feet were booed and ridiculed. Most laughed at themselves. Subsequent scenes were littered with attractive women, guy games, and the curvy blowup doll.

Later in the show, just like the female stereotype, Brody stirs the pot by asking his guest, Gary, to gossip about the others behind their backs, which he did. Gary ratted out Femi for getting angry and causing trouble. Then Brody encouraged Gary to air his feelings directly with Femi, which he did. And so it went. Femi took great offense, got angry, and terminated his friendship with Gary. Intimate cameos of Gary with voiceovers revealed his tears and pain over being rejected and hurt by Femi. Shades of soap opera?

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