In the early 2000s, we were introduced to “metrosexuals.” In 2006, Johnny Diaz wrote in a column for The Boston Globe that the American male was experiencing a “Menaissance.” Today, it seems almost impossible for a comedy to make it into the mainstream market without being advertised as a “bromance.”
The identity of the American male has arguably been in crisis since the rise of third-wave feminism. In this new, strange world of male-female relationships, how do we as men define ourselves historically? How do we position ourselves in relation to others, especially female others? Do we embrace our masculinity “300” style, or do we retreat from it into an Apatowian shell of self-doubt? If only we had some guidance, some codified rules by which to live in this new, terrifyingly sensitive world!
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Thanks to Ben Applebaum and Dan Disorbo, we do. And it’s called “The Book of Beer Pong.”
Don’t let the title fool you; this slim, leather-bound volume is about far more than the rules and strategies necessary to play beer pong successfully. Despite the authors’ repeated insistence throughout the book (presumably for legal reasons) that beer pong is not a drinking game, and despite their claim that the game “provides the battle of the sexes a level … playing field,” this book is about bros and their beer.
The authors engage in the kind of ironic self-deprecation of one’s masculinity that we have come to know and love (“It takes balls to play this sport — seamless, celluloid table-tennis balls” they say at the beginning of one chapter), and it serves them well, although they are never quite as clever (i.e. ironically not-clever) as they want to be. Nonetheless, it’s a pleasant voice to read, and it carries the book along nicely.
The content is pretty standard for a novelty book: The chapters range from discussions of proper throwing technique and a guide to the best equipment to a speculative history of the game and a comprehensive guide to psych-outs. Peppered through the volume are blurb quotes from beer pong champions, fun factoids and interjections from “The Coach.”
In the rare moments during which “Beer Pong” does rise above the level of a novelty book, it is due to its almost touching subtext. The advice that Applebaum and Disorbo dish out sometimes seem as though it is intended for a bro in crisis. The chapter on beer pong skills, for example, features a relatively serious guide to relaxation, visualization and positive thinking. The authors seem to conceive “Beer Pong” (and beer pong) as an escape route for bros who have lost their way, who have become mired in the confusion of gender politics.
In their attempt to categorize, define and legitimize beer pong, Applebaum and Disorbo appear determined to create a safe male space, a sanctuary for wayward dudes where your only goal is to throw a ping-pong ball into a Solo cup, where your biggest obstacle is distracting your homedawg with your naked buttocks as he tries to make a shot and the only thing at stake is the glory of lording victory over your friends.
Applebaum and Disorbo include both a comprehensive guide of standardized rules and a chapter of suggestions for ways to make your own game unique. We are divided by many things, they seem to say, but by creating this Beirut Manifesto, we can at least say that we have this much in common: our manhood, and the Pong.