I’ve always been fascinated by the appearance of the signifier “dude” in intellectual and academic debates. The appearance of this signifier in intellectual discussion is relatively new in the order of things, but it seems to appear at very specific points in a discussion. How are we to understand the semiotics of “dude”? I’m not entirely sure. But the specificity of the appearance of “dude” seems to occur only at a very specific point in any dialogue. Here I think we can best understand the appearance of “dude” in terms of animal ethology and, in particular, the ethology of wolves. As is well known, there are fairly well defined hierarchies in wolf packs. At one extreme you have the alpha wolf that leads the pack and gets to eat first. On the other hand you have the poor omega wolf that is at the bottom of the pack, getting tormented by the other wolves in all sorts of cruel ways and that is the last to eat (if it gets to eat at all). Between the alpha and the omega wolf you have all sorts of gradations expressing the social hierarchy.
“Dude” strikes me as a signifier that is highly reflective of masculinist wolf hierarchies. Occasionally you will hear women play with the “dude” signifier, but whenever this occurs it seems to have a sort of parodic function, poking fun at masculine behaviors and masquerading in a particular way in the masculine form. I might be mistaken here, so I’d be interested to hear what members of the other species might have to say on this issue. In the masculine context, “dude” seems to occur in two instances. On the one hand, it occurs as an expression of “pack” comradery. Dude functions as a term of affection, indicating connection or brotherhood. It is an informalism that violates a broader social rule of formality so as to bind men together.
In the course of heated debate, however, “dude” seems to serve a very different, yet related, function. The appearance of “dude” in the course of debate is somewhat equivalent to a wolf showing its belly during a tussle. Dogs and wolves show their bellies to show subordination in a wolf social hierarchy. The showing of the belly is an expression of submission and friendship to the other wolf. The appearance of “dude” in a highly heated intellectual debate seems to signify something similar. When “dude” appears the interlocutor is simultaneously baring his belly, saying “uncle!”, and expressing friendship. The incredulity of the “dude” says something like “man, don’t you know I’m your friend! don’t kill me!” Masculine debates are always difficult to end because, insofar as masculinity is always a semblance, masquerade, or semblance of being, concession is incredibly difficult because it reveals the “$” that lies behind any masculine identity and its will to mastery or S1. I can, perhaps, say this as my sexuality is so much all over the place and, as my partners have always said, I am such a bitch, that I am oddly outside of masculine discourse even while being in it. A hysteric by nature, I’ve never much liked boy games even though I play them endlessly. Perhaps, in this regard, I’m like Freud’s hysterics, challenging every master that comes my way. But perhaps the appearance of the signifier “dude” is as good a place as any to recognize where a discussion has completed itself.