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How Big Dick Energy explains modern masculinity

Big Dick Energy is the meme we need in 2018.

Auckland Council Clamping Down On Urban Chicken Numbers Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

Adam Driver has it, as did Carrie Fisher. It fuels Themyscira and her Amazons. Imperator Furiosa and Mad Max both have it. Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wield it, as does Angela Merkel. So do Tilda Swinton, Cher, and Cate Blanchett. Johnny Cash had it, same with Prince and David Bowie. LeBron James, Serena Williams, and Katie Ledecky have it, too.

If you look hard enough, it’s everywhere around you. So is its absence.

We are talking about Big. Dick. Energy.

Big Dick Energy (BDE) is the unavoidable subject of the minute on social media. What began as a joke inspired by the death of one of the premiere possessors of BDE has since sparked an all-consuming cultural urge to determine who possesses it and who is lacking — as well as the urge to define it, which raises some trickier questions.

What is BDE? Does one need colossal male genitalia to possess it? How do we spot it? How does one obtain it? And why would one want to?

No doubt, the concept of BDE and the discussion it ignites are entertaining — but beneath the initial jolt of faux-erotic titillation and scandal is a bigger conversation about how we talk about masculinity and admiration. BDE is as fascinating as it is frustrating, in that you don’t need to be a man or have prodigious genitalia to possess it, nor does it necessarily refer to anything sexual, but rhetorically it’s still very much dick-dependent. And as we sort various members of society into those who have BDE and those who don’t, it ultimately says a lot about us and what we value.

A warning to those with delicate sensibilities: This piece includes some colorful descriptions of male junk.

With great power comes great responsibility: the history of BDE

BDE’s origin story begins with death. This month saw the death of chef/author/food personality Anthony Bourdain, a man known for his taste, intelligence, and irreverence when it came to food and travel. Bourdain had pure grit coursing through his veins, and the courage to try to change the way we look at the world.

And when he died, Twitter user @imbobswaget coined the term Big Dick Energy to eulogize him:

At first glance, remembering Bourdain’s legacy in connection with his genitalia might seem crass, but it works because Bourdain wasn’t afraid to be crass and humorous when the situation called for it. It’s not hard to imagine Bourdain laughing, possibly in a Vietnamese phở shack, if someone told him he was going to be remembered for having the air of someone possessing gargantuan reproductive organs.

That tweet went viral, amassing over 6,000-plus “likes,” but it took another factor to make BDE taxonomy inescapable: the alleged mythic proportions of Ariana Grande fiancé’s penis.

In a screenshot of a since-deleted tweet — which may or may not be photoshopped — Ariana Grande, a sentient affogato with a four-octave vocal range, intimated that her fiancé Pete Davidson’s Pete Davidson is around 10 inches long. This rapidly invited speculation that the magnitude of Davidson’s endowment might be one of the reasons Grande and Davidson got engaged after a short time dating, as Twitter user @babyvietcong noted:

That tweet also went viral, further cementing BDE in the public consciousness.

But the thing to remember here, even though Grande’s tweet about Davidson refers to literal inches, is that Davidson and Bourdain are connected by the concept of BDE — emphasis on the E — as opposed to literally possessing big genitalia. It’s more about attitude and personality than it is anatomy.

“What we’re talking about is really more of an aura, a vibe,” Allison P. David wrote for The Cut. “There are men with Big Dicks, but who do not ooze BDE. There are men with average to little ones who can have so much BDE you’re surprised to find that their wang does not touch their knee.”

BDE is not about brandishing large, flapping genitalia when someone insults you, or constantly proving to people that you possess a BD. BDE is the complete opposite. It’s the self-confidence to know that a colossal endowment isn’t a measurement of one’s value. BDE might stem from having a literal BD, but it’s not dependent upon any sort of genitalia. And in fact, perhaps the epitome of BDE is the complete security of not needing other people’s benchmarks — wealth, intelligence, beauty, or a BD — to know one’s own worth.

Any suspicion of tryhard vibes kills BDE, as does the kind of cockiness that speaks of insecurity: the true BDE-haver is respectful to those around them, but with swagger. Someone with BDE will never text an unsolicited dick pic, because it would simply never occur to them.

But if we’re talking about aspirational levels of confidence and security when we talk about BDE, and how BDE isn’t necessarily dick-dependent, it raises the question of why we’re all so enamored with making it all about the D.

What we mean when we talk about BDE

Rihanna arrives for the 2018 Met Gala on May 7, 2018, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Rihanna demonstrates the feminine strain of BDE at this year’s Met Ball.
AFP/Getty Images

We’ve established that BDE is an emotional rather than physical attribute: Rihanna does not have a dick, but she has BDE for days. Bourdain’s eagerness to learn from those around him was part of what gave him BDE. Chris Evans’s lack of arrogance is why he is the Hollywood Chris who most often makes the BDE list, while Hemsworth’s jock vibes and Pratt’s faint smarm disqualify them. (Pine maybe has BDE. It’s a debate the public deserves to have.)

Needless to say, any hint of misogyny destroys BDE. No one involved in the building of Gilead had any BDE whatsoever (they had the opposite, what you might call Tiny Hand Energy), but Themyscira, the island of the Amazons in Wonder Woman, runs on BDE.

That is why the inverse and the spawn of BDE is toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is what the Good Men Project calls “the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly ‘feminine’ traits — which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual — are the means by which your status as ‘man’ can be taken away.” It’s the belief that in order to be a “real man” you must be strong to the point of cruelty and never feel anything, and it underlies violent and damaging ideologies like that of incels and the alt-right.

Toxic masculinity is an unsuccessful attempt to mimic BDE, and then furious resentment when that mimicry becomes impossible. It is the belief that you are owed the kind of easy confidence that comes with BDE, and then a desire to destroy the world that has not granted it to you. “I was not born Chris Evans, so fuck you all.”

But while BDE and toxic masculinity are opposites, they come from the same not-great source (your fave is problematic, meme edition), which is the belief that men’s worth is in some mystical, Freudian way linked to the size of their penises.

Reducing men’s worth to their bodies is not harmful in the same way that it is harmful to do the same to women: one of the ways that the patriarchy systemically oppresses women is by reducing them to their bodies. Joking about big dick energy does not reinforce systemic sexism. What it does do is reinforce a system of masculinity that eventually leads to toxic masculinity. BDE as a quality has nothing to do with actual dicks and is valuable regardless of the actual genitalia of its possessor, but our collective cultural impulse is to link it rhetorically to penis size. The dick part of BDE is just a metaphor, but that metaphor is not value-neutral.

On the other hand: As far as reinforcing the gender binary goes, making jokes about which celebrities have big dick energy is a pretty harmless and entertaining pastime, and here in the dark days of 2018 we need all of that we can get. And labels aside, BDE is all about celebrating a masculine-coding energy that is constructive rather than toxic, and respectful rather than violent.

Anyway, Cate Blanchett has BDE, and so does Stanley Tucci.

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