Lately, when I log onto Facebook, all I see are dudes. I have no idea where they come from or who they are. All I know is that they are dudes, and refer to one another exclusively as such. They appear to have various dudely concerns and curiosities, which they pose in the dudeliest of terms, looking for feedback from fellow dudes.
Whence this dudening?
It all began when I snagged an invite to a closed group called “More Dudes: The Renaissance.” I’m currently one of more than 140,000 members. The stated rules and expectations of this community are simple, if not tautological.
Here’s what to do in this group:
1. Add more dudes.
2. Post funny shit about adding more dudes (or dude culture).
3. Enjoy funny shit that other people have posted about adding more dudes (or dude culture).
That’s it dudes, that’s all there is to it.
Posts must be approved by an administrator; rejection occurs if the content is promoted for personal gain, was posted earlier in the day, delves into politics (especially racist/sexist stuff) or is “just too fuckin’ stupid to post/not funny/doesn’t involve adding more dudes.”
This adding-more-dudes imperative is a major one: The first day of each week is “Add More Dudes Monday,” when the admins will only approve “posts/memes/stories about adding more dudes/not having enough dudes, etc.”
Because that’s “what this group was founded on.”
Plenty of web forums put a premium on recruitment, but nowhere else is it an end (or joke) in and of itself. “More Dudes” is a giant snowball rolling downhill, racing toward an unthinkably dense agglomeration of dudes. As the ranks swell, a certain viral dude-energy begins to feed upon itself.
Nobody knows that better than Bret Klein, a dude living in Vegas and one of the earliest adherents of “More Dudes.” At the time, he says, “there were no more than 400 members.” This was about three years ago, when he was a senior at the University of Oregon, the alma mater of the group’s founders. The concept amused him, though it didn’t have much staying power. “I got a good kick out of it and thought it was a hilarious idea, but I honestly stopped paying attention until a few weeks ago,” he tells me.
That was when Klein noticed it blowing up. “The group suddenly exploded to 2,000 literally out of nowhere,” he says. “My other friends started posting funny stuff, so I started getting involved.”
A short while later, the dudes were 15,000 strong. The surge in popularity was intoxicating, and Klein wanted to ride the wave. So he made an oath.
What happened next may not surprise you, but it’s no less thrilling for being predictable. In a matter of days, “More Dudes” quadrupled in size. Klein saw the writing on the wall — or in his case, ass.
Finally, the moment of reckoning came: 69,000 members and counting. Klein now had an obligation to deliver, thereby keeping the sacred ideals of dudehood alive.
He didn’t flinch.
Which got me thinking: We live in a social media era defined by hashtagged “challenges.” These run the gamut from the very stupid (setting yourself on fire) and the relatively safe but silly (jumping into snow without any clothes on) to collaborative performance art (all those mannequin videos) and charity (is anyone still dumping buckets of ice on themselves?).
Most are powered by teen contagion — the monkey-see, monkey-do attitude and peer pressure that come with being a kid. But Klein’s butt tattoo is different. It was born of the same dude impulse that gave us keg stands and high-fives. The evolutionary glitch that makes dudes utter sentences beginning with “Bet you can’t…” or “What’ll you give me if I…” and which never quite wears off in adulthood. It’s something done for the glory that other dudes are willing to see in it.
And judging by the response, Klein became King Dude.
The sway of a bunch of dudes collectively egging each other on is palpable in a small frat party; imagine it at a hundred times that scale, harnessed and centralized by the internet. Klein promised to get the “dude” tattoo “purely to rile people up,” as if he were out on the town with some dudes and buying a round of shots. “I definitely underestimated the power of the internet,” he says, adding that he was “in shock” when he saw the 69,000-dude threshold had been crossed.
He contemplated his choices for several days. “Then I finally realized something,” he tells me. “When a man is stripped of everything, all he has left is his word. So I felt like I owed it to myself more than anything to follow through, because in the end, that’s what being a ‘man’ — a ‘dude’ — is all about. Sometimes I forget about the mark of the dude, but I’m glad that I got it!”
“I love it!” says Patrick Sgarlata, a dude of Eugene, Oregon, and one of the dude group’s half-dozen or so founders. His esteem for Klein is the essence of duderaderie:
“I don’t know him personally, but we have many mutual friends. I’m sure he’s a great dude, and I would love to enjoy a few casual kegs of beer some day. I love tattoos, especially funny and discreet ones like he committed to. So yeah, just nothing but respect and dude love for Bret.”
“I can’t claim that I started using the phrase [“More Dudes”] first, but I did put the group on Facebook first,” Sgarlata says. The catchphrase caught on when he and the other founding dudes were in Eugene for summer school with nothing to do. “Many times, at the start, it was even making fun of ourselves, as we would try to throw parties and only dudes showed up,” he explains. “Then, after a while, it just stuck and we embraced it.”
It was a bumpy ride, however, from this spin on sausage-fests to the loving dude-stravaganza on Facebook today. As the name suggest, “More Dudes: The Renaissance” is the 2.0 version of “More Dudes.” The previous edition, Sgarlata says, was ravaged by drama and burned out at the 20,000-member mark sometime in 2013 or 2014. “We didn’t monitor it well enough. We let any and all posts go through. That got messy and we ended up with a lot of obscene posts, people fighting, politics, etc.,” he says. “This time around, we’ve been managing the posts far more closely.”
Sgarlata underscored this policy a few moments after our interview, officially shaming and exiling a member for a homophobic comment. “I can’t stand for this hate in our group,” Sgarlata wrote, warning everyone that these were the consequences for hate speech on the page.
That made perfect sense as far as dude philosophy is concerned, and it illuminated a critical divide in masculine culture, with other dudes condemning the homophobe as a “bro,” the dude’s natural adversary — a meathead with no chill and retrograde opinions. “This commenter is a bro. A real dude respects all others,” wrote one dude.
I wondered, then, how the group would handle a female applicant. Sgarlata acknowledges there is some “debate” about this, but his own stance is unambiguous. “The goal is always more,” he says. “More dudes, more dudes, more dudes. That’s what pays the bills around here. So if someone is saying that they identify as a dude, then I don’t really have a problem with them in our group. I have no problems with anyone in the LBGTQ community who wants to claim they identify as a dude and wants to join the group. I’m not going to make a big fuss about things like that.”
This thoughtfulness was born out of the cataclysm that was More Dudes 1.0, when Sgarlata and his dudes didn’t know what they had and “laughed it all off.”
Now they’re committed to preventing another shitshow, and that entails serious reflection on what it means to be a dude. Turns out there’s a lot more to it than cheap light beers and tattoos you get on a dare.
“I think the dudes are calmer, nicer and happier than your average man,” says Sgarlata, immediately conjuring the group’s go-with-the-flow, lightly buzzed mascot — the Dude of Big Lebowski fame. “Dudes have each other’s backs and love supporting each other. Dudes thrive on that shit. And you can see it, because some of our most successful posts have been from dudes who are looking for support in troubled times.”
Klein is on the exact same wavelength: “I believe ‘dude’ is the quintessential word of male-to-male social bonding,” he says. “The word isn’t demeaning in any way, and it’s man’s universal term of endearment.”
To err is human, to empathize dudevine.
That Jeff Bridges’ slovenly, bathrobed Lebowski character constitutes a dude at all — let alone “the” dude — is a testament to the word’s continuing inversion: In the late-19th century, “dude” was short for “Yankee Doodle,” or a “foppish, over-fastidious male,” a man who shaved regularly and wore stiff, well-starched white collars.
It may have taken a hundred years, but dude status is no longer contingent on class or appearance, only purity of spirit. Dudes are legion. Dudes are striving for a better world without sacrificing their laid-back vibe. These particular Facebook dudes sell dude-themed T-shirts, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to prostate cancer research, in support of the unfortunate dudes who battle the disease each day. Who could fail to be inspired by the decency of dudes?
As Sgarlata puts it: “Not all men are dudes, but all the best ones are.”