Confronting The Shadow: The Preppy’s Dark Alter-Ego, The Bro

There’s a guy you probably encounter on a regular basis. Sometimes it seems like he’s right over your shoulder, following you. He kind of looks like you. He has a neat haircut. He wears khakis and boat shoes. On festive summer occasions he’ll wear patch-madras shorts and polo shirts in bright, go-to-hell colors. When he has to dress up, he puts on a navy blazer. This guy is often found in groups consisting of those identical to him. Men of genius require a great deal of solitude, and this guy’s no deep thinker. He needs the safety of his wolf-pack in order to bolster his ego. Or perhaps, when alone, he finds he can’t live with himself.

This guy may look something like you, but he’s decidedly lacking in your admirable qualities. In his mildest form he is merely boorish, full of bravado masking insecurity. At his worst, he is a criminal with women, spiking their drinks with blackout-inducing drugs in order to sexually assault them, as if he believes the only way he can get a woman is by force. This is the guy commonly referred to these days as a “bro,” and he is someone we must confront for several reasons. First, to rehabilitate him from his obnoxious, adolescent ways — for the bro is an archetype associated with youth, not maturity — and because the bro is the shadow figure of the prepster.

The concept of the shadow comes to us from Jungian psychology and is frequently seen in myths and stories. In “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” for example, Indiana Jones finds his shadow figure in Belloq, who is also an archeologist but one willing to collude with Nazis in order to achieve his egotistical goals. At one point he even tells Jones that they are essentially the same, and that it would only take a small push for Jones to become just like him. The shadow, then, can be seen as a distorted version of ourselves, the dark underside of personality traits or identity manifesting in a negative way. But the shadow can also represent things within ourselves that are repressed. “Encountering the shadow means rediscovering the unlived faculties of one’s life,” writes Jungian analyst Robert A. Johnson in “Transformation: Understanding The Three Levels Of Masculine Consciousness.” The office yes-man who is high in the personality trait Agreeableness, who never stands up for himself and is pushed around by coworkers, is likely to become resentful, even vengeful, for his inability to healthily assert himself. He is like Dr. Jekyll with a Mr. Hyde bitterly simmering inside, or a Bruce Banner with an Incredible Hulk, a sort of raging Freudian id, waiting to be unleashed.

The following graphic is taken from the work of two other noted Jungian specialists in masculine psychology, Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette, in their book “King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering The Archetypes Of The Mature Masculine.” Moore and Gillette envision four main masculine energies that ideally develop from an immature version into a mature one. Each energy, however, has a bipolar shadow consisting of a passive and aggressive side. The man who is not manifesting an energy positively in his life will usually vacillate between both shadow negatives. President Trump, for example, failing to develop his King energy and become a wise and noble leader, alternates between the two shadow negatives of Tyrant (“you’re fired”) and Weakling (“not fair”).

It’s not hard to imagine the stereotypical bro and note his arrested development on the chart. He is either of college age or perhaps deep into his thirties but never got on the path to mature manhood, and still acts like a boorish fraternity member. He never found a way to embody Hero energy, and so slipped into its shadow, becoming simultaneously bully and coward, for in his bullying of others he is psychologically bullying himself, for he knows he has weaknesses, as every man does, but he despises himself for them, either from his own failings, or from being raised by a tyrannical father or devouring mother.

It is important to acknowledge shadow energies so that they can be corrected in ourselves and in the young men around us. But there is another reason, which leads us back to another core belief of Carl Jung: that the shadow must be integrated into oneself in order to become a complete human being.

Children can be cruel, and most of us can remember witnessing — and probably participating in — various acts of sadistic glee on the schoolyard. The line between good and evil runs down the center of every human heart, and to deny the evil within us is both foolish naivety and yet another form of emotional repression. The first step is to recognize that the bro’s negative qualities reside somewhere inside us. If we are civilized and mature, they will not manifest negatively in the world, and we will not find ourselves referred to as a “douchebag” by our peers. However, to become a full human being in the Jungian sense, we should seek to integrate the shadow’s negative energies within ourselves and repurpose them for good.

For example, the man lacking the athleticism and physical aggressiveness of the stereotypical jock would become a more fully developed person by taking up a sport or activity — billiards, bowling, archery — that would allow him to engage in competition with other men, thereby learning how to bring out the best in himself physically, and benefitting from all the character-building qualities that come from athletics. The unpopular prep would see his life improve by emulating the tendency of bros to gather in wolf-packs. He could take up a new hobby that would allow him to interact with a large group, or he could add another friend to the only one he has and start hanging out as a group of three rather than one-on-one, and see what dynamics and new adventures result. The young man who’s shy when it comes to girls would benefit from a 10% injection of bro attitude into his search for a girlfriend. Instead of being afraid to approach women, he should summon the courage to swagger a bit and start asking girls for their phone numbers. There is much wisdom in the cliché “fake it till you make it.” After a few successful digits and dates, the shy guy will start to believe he’s capable of finding a girl, and that he doesn’t need to fake confidence anymore: he has it. And finally, the meek office yes-man needs to stop stewing in his resentment and bring out his jerk shadow. Since he’s so imbalanced, what will feel like being a jerk to him will be more like normal healthy boundary-setting and ensuring credit where it’s due.

There have always been natural-shouldered jerks at our finest educational institutions. However, the contemporary iteration of bro has appeared at a particular post-preppy point on the social-sartorial timeline. In the ’60s he would have been merely a rowdy jock, while in the ’80s he was the rich jerk as caricatured in cinema. But in the 21st century the bro is a grotesque, distorted descendant of the Ivy League Look and the tastes and values of high WASPdom. Clad in Vineyard Vines instead of J. Press, he is not only a shadow, but the ghost of a dying culture, what remains when preppy clothes continue to exist, but not the preppy ethos that once animated them. — CHRISTIAN CHENSVOLD

45 Comments on "Confronting The Shadow: The Preppy’s Dark Alter-Ego, The Bro"

  1. rvpress59 | July 30, 2017 at 2:14 pm |

    Once again the ageless words of Pat Moynihan: “Defining deviancy down.”

  2. The problem is a “deification” of bro culture in certain circles, such as Long Island/Wall Street types (caveat: I grew up on Long Island and it isn’t all “bros”).

  3. Mitchell S. | July 30, 2017 at 5:22 pm |

    Very well-written and erudite.

    Asian cultures have the concept of yin and yang, or light and dark. At the heart of every darkness is light and vice-versa.

  4. Devin Lindsay | July 30, 2017 at 7:16 pm |

    I’d like to see fewer posts like this.

  5. MBriggs-ian INTJ | July 30, 2017 at 7:38 pm |

    A masterpiece. Standing ovation!

  6. I look forward to a piece on Dudes.

  7. Mark Russell | July 30, 2017 at 11:43 pm |

    Being a real man has always been difficult. Contrary to popular belief, the clothes don’t make the man. But, they can be a reflection of his choices. Camoflge can be effective, but only to a certain extent. Truth will out.

  8. Prescott Langford | July 31, 2017 at 1:01 am |

    “a grotesque, distorted descendant of the Ivy League Look and the tastes and values of high WASPdom.”

    That certainly hits the nail on the head, CC.

    They appropriated our look and turned it into a caricature of itself.

  9. A trad Confused | July 31, 2017 at 8:43 am |

    I’ll take a “Bro” over a “Thug” any day.

  10. Marc Chevalier | July 31, 2017 at 10:42 am |

    I’ll take neither one.

  11. Gibson Gardens | July 31, 2017 at 11:02 am |

    CC wrote:

    “Children can be cruel, and most of us can remember witnessing — and probably participating in — various acts of sadistic glee on the schoolyard.”

    Probably participating in cruelty in the schoolyard?

    Certainly not.

    And I’d wager that most IS posters did not.

  12. I’d wager that it’s a bell curve distribution with the vast majority at the middle of the totem pole, who both got bullied and bullied/encouraged it themselves.

  13. Gibson Gardens | July 31, 2017 at 11:47 am |

    I have only anecdotal evidence. And I’d be surprised if it were the majority. What was your experience , fellow commentators?

  14. whiskeydent | July 31, 2017 at 12:20 pm |

    Very well done CC.

    I saw so many of these guys at UT-Austin in the late 70’s to early 80’s. In fact, I admit to being one of them for a time, but I turned away after a couple of years and headed in a different direction.

    They had many shared characteristics. Their fathers were new-money successful. Their moms were sorority sisters — for life. They had more accomplished siblings who were the positive shadow of themselves.

    They skipped more classes than they attended and were constantly on the edge of the school giving them a “vacation” for a semester. When they finally graduated or just left, they went home to ruin perfectly good car dealership, drill dry holes for oil, or blow money on bad real estate deals. Their parents and then those accomplished sibling usually bailed them out.

    And if you dress trad today, a guy can get lumped in with them, especially in a young and progressive town such as Austin. It happens to me all the time. I kinda fun to surprise them.

    Oddly, I think fewer bro’s are around UT these days. It’s much tougher to get in and to stay in now, and the students appear to be more serious than my era’s.

  15. whiskeydent | July 31, 2017 at 12:24 pm |

    “It’s kinda fun…” Grrr.

  16. The pic of the “bros” used for this post look like they got the Time Magazine/OJ Simpson cover treatment, which fits perfectly with its theme.

  17. @Paul, indeed! And isn’t that the infamous William Kennedy Smith at the far left, which is an inspired choice to illustrate the dark side that shadows the light of trad style?

  18. I agree with the person who said they would like to see fewer posts like this. Once again, Christian, you used your site to make a political dig. Not at all becoming.

  19. Dude-bros infest American college and university campuses today. It is not a condition that goes into dormancy or remission at 22 or 23 following graduation however. A cure for the blight has yet to be developed although researchers at The Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins have been hard at work for the last two decades. The best solution remains to excise dude-bros like the societal cancers they are. Kill them. Kill them now. Without hesitation.

  20. @Chris

    If you’re so partisan that you’re irked, to the point of leaving a semi-anonymous comment, by a passing reference to the elephant in the room — the president of our country — referred to as a failed Wise King and instead a tyrant/weakling, in an essay about Jungian archetypes and the concept of the shadow, then you definitely don’t want to read this story that posted today at the National Review:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/449988/donald-trump-cant-close-deal-failing-salesman

    And as the Wise King of Ivy-Style.com, I will continue to use my website to make digs at whatever I deem deserving of a dig, which, right now, is you.

  21. Nice work CC. You are spot on. I spent last fall term “mentoring” 15 fraternity freshmen. We met weekly to discuss leadership with the overarching goal to help these young men become gentlemen. I had high hopes for this effort. Unfortunately, these students wanted to be bros. They embraced the stereotype. They aspired to it. It’s sad that these students have perverted the meaning of what it means to be a gentleman. As you wrote, they look like gentleman of old, albeit in brands that did not exist 20 years ago, but it’s all exterior. They do not care to live life to a higher standard. They in fact took pride in it. I’m painting with a broad brush, but these guys did represent their fraternity and many others like it on this campus and elsewhere.

  22. whiskeydent | July 31, 2017 at 4:39 pm |

    @Chris

    Now don’t you worry your pretty little head. It’ll all be bowties and button-downs in no time.

  23. Well, they were freshman and they want to ape the Big Man On Campus. I think the fault lies not with these froshes but with the role models held up to them. And that, of course, is all our fault.

  24. @ whiskeydent
    May we also have some of the most elusive Ivy element of them all “in no time”: some natural shoulder? That really would be something. BB had the formula “back in the day”, but apparently mislaid it.

  25. I see the Bro (unfortunately) in far too many of my students. As a group they are entitled, shallow and self inflated. As individuals they are shallow, scared and severely insecure. Because I dress in the manner I do, they make an immediate association with me; when they realize I stand for none of their views of life and few of their actions, they run away. Again, frightened and questioning; immature children.

    Billax was heavily criticized by some leaving comments to this site for his early excoriation of the Bro. He called them out and questioned not only their values, but what role other men had in not calling out this poor behavior. Billax knows it is more than just the clothes, it is an ethos. He lamented the destruction of that ethos, and he was correct to do so. It is why he stopped blogging. And it is why, for a myriad of reasons, that I miss his blog so much.

    I’m not surprised this post by CC has garnered like-minded criticisms. Just goes to show this post correct. You can tell a lot by one’s critics. Well done, CC, keep up the good work.

    NDC

  26. JB (formerly JAB) | July 31, 2017 at 8:05 pm |

    Very interesting article. My son has often spoke of “bros” at school, etc., particularly the “frat-bro” and the “lax-bro.” The frat-bro insists good things are “totally frat” while the lax-bro (male lacrosse player with long hair, etc.) resembles an athletic Jeff Spicoli (however, it may be in jest.) These fellows generally hang in packs, as described in your article.

    The article also makes me think of a quote from the book “Spider” from gothic writer Patrick McGrath: “Clothes make the man, and the less of a man there is, the more need for clothes.”

    Regardless of the political dig, I find this article a strange, but interesting departure. By the way, it may just be my age, but the shorts in the above photo look a little too-short. I guess that’s the idea, though.

  27. CC

    Reading your response to Chris the following quote from Winston Churchill came to my mind:

    “Never give in – never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”

  28. As I am sure many Greeks can attest, there’s a wide gulf between the fraternity manual’s dicta on decorum and any given chapter’s behavior. From my experience, it’s the blind leading the blind. Barely developed 20-somethings impress the wrong sort of aspirations onto teens who haven’t left home before, and have no strong adult male voices guiding them. Chapter alumni share part of the blame too for reminiscing about their glory days instead of developing future professionals and leaders. As a result, fraternities can become echo chambers where the highest values are how well you can party, disrespect women, or patronize others.

    It’s a shame that the frat bro has replaced the fraternity man as the pinnacle of campus life.

  29. @BT

    Tried to email but it bounced. If you want to write a follow-up with personal observations, let me know.

  30. This I liked:
    “They appropriated our look and turned it into a caricature of itself.”

    Also the comment on the the “occupier” of the White House.

  31. Harkness T | August 1, 2017 at 1:02 am |

    @Heathton

    Liked your use of occupier rather than occupant.

  32. Gibson Gardens | August 1, 2017 at 3:04 am |

    Interestingly, a remark I made on the Catcher in the Rye thread a few days ago caused such consternation over the road at that bastion of British Ivy Brohood that a thread has been started on the literature of Richard Allen a pulp fiction hack writer who provided a mirror for skinheads and suedheads who in some instances morphed into patrons of John Simons and his neat offensive. It will be interesting to see how that thread develops, if that site has any posters left.

  33. “There have always been natural-shouldered jerks at our finest educational institutions. However, the contemporary iteration of bro has appeared at a particular post-preppy point on the social-sartorial timeline. In the ’60s he would have been merely a rowdy jock, while in the ’80s he was the rich jerk as caricatured in cinema. But in the 21st century the bro is a grotesque, distorted descendant of the Ivy League Look and the tastes and values of high WASPdom. Clad in Vineyard Vines instead of J. Press, he is not only a shadow, but the ghost of a dying culture, what remains when preppy clothes continue to exist, but not the preppy ethos that once animated them.”

    Well stated, especially the last paragraph. “High WASPdom” — CC, did you borrow this or is it all yours?

    So, what are the traits/characteristics of High WASPdom? And how is it that an (old) J. Press tweed jacket* represents High WASPdom better than, say, a Vineyard Vines polo shirt?

  34. I believe it’s a herd instinct similar to any club. The young trad cognoscenti can feel empowered by the sartorial secrets they share. Akin to being given too much too soon and not having to earn it but rather having it handed down. The power is abused. There’s a sense of belonging and tribalism that accompanies this socioeconomic grouping. Hormones and alcohol do nothing to stave the miscreants from taking advantage and pushing the boundaries. I think all public colleges should have a Hampden-Sydney type handbook in order to secure funding. I went to a Protestant college for under grad and while this element was ever present there was a general sense that a higher power was watching disapprovingly. It doesn’t stop but helps stymie. A godless environment will always result in a perversion of tradition.

  35. @JB (formerly JAB): “Clothes make the man, and the less of a man there is, the more need for clothes.” I love this, not least of all because it’s the perfect contretemps to the inane slogan (used by our old friend Fred and others): ‘the better you dress, the worse you can behave’. Which, now that I think of it, fits in well with the “bro” conversation: put on pink pants and a bow tie, and you can be a boor. Some ethos, that.

    @WFBjr.: as I’ve chronicled here before, I spent some very good times at HSC in the late 80s/early 90s, and while I did witness certain shenanigans, there was also something else (positive) going on there; I don’t know if it was directly attributable to the handbook, and an honor code that students actually paid attention to, or what. But it was there. I hope it still is.

  36. Excellent post, Mr. Chensvold.

    NDC, if you’re still reading the comments, you wrote: “Again, frightened and questioning; immature children.” Why is “questioning” included there, apparently pejoratively? Questioning is how one learns and, if you’re the one questioning, it implies a bit of humility: you admit you don’t know something. What am I missing?

  37. “I went to a Protestant college for under grad and while this element was ever present there was a general sense that a higher power was watching disapprovingly. It doesn’t stop but helps stymie. A godless environment will always result in a perversion of tradition.” — “WFBJr”

    Actually, there’s plenty of evidence to support the hypothesis that it does more than (just) “stymie.” Faith in (awareness of) a “higher power” who enjoys the authority to judge human behavior(s) makes an an enormous difference:

    https://www.amazon.com/God-Watching-You-Makes-Human/dp/0199895635

    Since we’re talking HSC: “Rev. Willie” (Thompson) would agree. Stonewall Jackson beard and all.

  38. Mitchell S. | August 1, 2017 at 1:30 pm |

    Shakespeare wrote that “apparel oft proclaim the man.” However, very few people know the next line. The following lines say that this is more so in France among men high in rank and station.

    My opinion is that most preppy dressers are upstanding, respectable guys and bros are an aberration, NOT an alter ego. What is the alternative? Do we really want to see fraternity guys get face tattoos and wear baggy pants and behave like Mike Tyson? I don’t think so.

    I for one, think Ivy Style should be first and foremost a clothing blog. When are we going to see the new arrivals for fall from Polo?

  39. whiskeydent | August 1, 2017 at 2:16 pm |

    @Mitate

    Love the natural shoulder, but it does not feed my unhealthy alliteration addiction (Oops).

  40. WBFjr:

    I bought a copy of “To Manner Born, To Manners Bred: A Hip-pocket Guide to Etiquette for the Hamden-Sydney Man” online a number of years ago and gave it to my son before he set off to college. He was very familiar with the content due to his upbringing, but I also wanted to see if he’d read it and find it useful as he prepared to enter the larger world of the college campus. I think I found it more important than he, but there are numerous subjects he found interesting. I didn’t think the guide would transform him by any means, just open his eyes. He gave me a “Thanks, dad” and I left the subject alone, thereafter. By the way, I learned about the guide from reading “The Official Preppy Handbook” in my youth. I graduated college as a non-traditional student and had the benefit of age, experience, and awareness on my side. Avoiding the pitfalls of youth came easy.

    BT’s comment at 8:33 above is spot-on.

  41. Isn’t “bro” just “boor” misspelled?

  42. I’m familiar with three public universities in my state. The first had a horrible Greek life reputation. The second institution, much smaller in population, had a Greek life whose reputation was neither good nor bad. The third university was the largest of the three and therefore, naturally, had Greek life as larger social aspect. At this university there was a wide variety of good and bad in the Greek scene. Independents (GDI), at least the ones I talked to, didn’t like Greeks and Greeks, depending on who you talked to, didn’t like GDI’s. Unfortunately there wasn’t much trad/ivy apparel give it being located in the Midwest, but nonetheless the negative stereotypes did fall on the Greeks and it was their job to prove doubters and skeptics wrong.

    In my experience in Greek life our chapter advisors highly emphasized to combat any and all negative stereotypes. The values that were written in our constitution were taken seriously.

  43. @Marc Chevalier, he certainly held his own. Three against one isn’t very fair, but bros run in packs don’t they.

  44. A snob calling out boors. I love a good collar roll, but God save us all from the values of high WASPdom.

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