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How can you tell if someone’s been to South America? They’ll tell you. They’ll tell you in this phony tone, their voice suddenly dropping as they falsely gaze at something in the distance. The act is miniscule and over in a matter of seconds but always ensures a super-casual front before they namedrop the continent, maybe pre-empted by a small laugh, finished with some story you have already lost interest in. While most commonly exhibited by adolescent gap-year males, it is a universal phenomenon and has been proven that there is not a single person who has been to South America who has not told everyone they have been to South America—not even the CEO of the New Zealand Freemasons. He dropped it into our conversation just as the manner above, like many a dudebro before him. In fact, throughout the course of the interview, I found that this was just one of many parallels between the everyday dudebro and the everyday Freemason.
The Freemason offices are conveniently situated on Willis Street. You can pick up pre-mixed Tikka Masala spices, get birth control pills and make an appointment with your local Freemason all within a stretch of twenty metres—all hail the modern age! I approached the unfamiliar entrance by the familiar Freemason logo and walked in. It is always unnerving to enter a foreign building you have no business in being in, especially when the purpose of your visit is to hopefully talk to someone from a secret organisation, your knowledge of which has been entirely derived from National Treasure.
Inside, I entered an 80s office-chic elevator, featuring an especially low ceiling, and selected the floor for the Freemasons’ corporate headquarters. In the triptych of mirrors I saw my nervous reflection and told myself “I am Louis Theroux, I am Louis Theroux”. The doors opened to a reception desk also emblazoned with the Freemason logo, where a receptionist was talking on the phone. I awkwardly hovered by the front of the desk as she assuredly stated lower prices from Warehouse Stationery to the other party, and I respected both her assertiveness and preparedness in her task of paper purchasing. Looking around, the offices were very much the same as any other medium density Wellington office. Tidy overall, slightly outdated furniture, fluorescent lighting amongst the speckled ceiling tiles—a far cry from the historically accurate recreations in National Treasure.
Once the receptionist had purchased some paper at a fair price, she fixed me up with an appointment for the next day, though not before asking in detail what the exact purpose of my visit was and what exactly I wanted to discuss. I really had no idea at all and I’ll admit that the receptionist was a bit intimidating. I can’t quite remember what I mumbled but I am sure Theroux would have been proud.
When I returned the following morning, the receptionist’s tone had changed remarkably. Perhaps her paper deal had been especially well received by the boss. “Ah, it’s Susanne isn’t it?” she cheerfully asked. It wasn’t but it was close enough and I felt much more at ease. The casual tone continued when I met my interviewee, who turned out to be the CEO of the New Zealand Freemasons, Laurence Milton, who resembled the beloved Captain Underpants.
In a sunny office, once again containing nothing out of the ordinary, Laurence discussed the basics of Freemasonry in New Zealand. There are over seven thousand Freemasons throughout the country, and about one and a half thousand in Wellington. It is hard not to notice the numeric parallels between Freemasons and another group in society, the dudebro—there are probably seven thousand dudebros in Wellington, and about one and a half thousand at Victoria alone. Freemason numbers peaked in New Zealand after World War II, when men sought avenues for male companionship and a place to drink after pubs closed at five pm. The need to resort to secrecy for male companionship is reflective of gender norms at the time, though no one is more heteronormative than the modern day dudebro, still embarrassingly heard justifying close dudebro friendships with “no homo”.
There are only two prerequisites to become a Freemason—that you are a male over twenty-one, and that you believe in a supreme being. Note that many dudebros are around twenty-one years of age and are seen sporting knockoff Supreme clothing—yes, I can also hear The X-files theme song. Laurence then emphasises the inclusiveness of Freemasonry and that any supreme being is acceptable, with your word being sufficient testament. Religious discussion is in fact discouraged as it can lead to exclusion, which is not the Freemason way.
For women, there is a masonic group called The Order of the Eastern Star, and wives and daughters of Freemasons are also welcomed into the community. Dudebros are also inclusive in this manner—the ubiquitous Puffer Jacket Girl acts much in the same way as an affiliate masonic group. Freemasons focus on the construction of King Solomon’s temple for allegorical teaching, while The Order of the Eastern Star focuses on the heroines of the Bible such as Martha and Ethel. In the same vein, dudebros find salvation at the temple of Hallensteins and Puffer Jacket Girls at Glassons.
If the prerequisites are met, all one needs to join is to get in touch with one’s friendly neighbourhood Freemason, either through the phone or online, have a coffee with them, go along to a few social events, and then decide whether or not it they want to proceed with membership. You are officially initiated through a “dignified” ceremony, where you are blindfolded and led inside a masonic lodge. Other Freemasons tell stories aloud as the new member is marched around the lodge, until they are finally asked to promise to uphold the principles and laws of Freemasonry, which are basically to have high moral standards. Then, the blindfold is removed, symbolic of the member having entered “in darkness” and now “open to the light”. This language is similar to the language used when a dudebro smokes weed for the first time.
As a member, you attend monthly meetings proper regalia, consisting of aprons, cuffs and sashes. The exact type of regalia changes as you move up the ranks or “degrees” of Freemasonry, which can be achieved through “time and choice”. Dudebros also have a uniform, which consists of singlets, too-long t-shirts and chinos or shorts. It is unknown at this point whether or not dudebros operate on a similar system to the Freemasons; do burgundy chinos denote a higher-ranking dudebro than one in mustard-yellow chinos? The uniforms of the two groups also highlight a point of difference—masonic aprons and robes are of thick material, while dudebros are often seen in shorts and t-shirts, even in winter. This can be attributed to the thick layer of insecurity that keeps dudebros warm, while Freemasons are more mature and secure with themselves so do not have this layer, hence requiring warmer regalia.
Finally, I asked Laurence about misconceptions the public may have and if there are really any “secrets”. He noted that Dan Brown’s writing, bar creative leniencies to create plot, was quite accurate its representation of modern Freemasonry. This surprised me, but I was even more surprised that not only is The Da Vinci Code a dudebro’s favourite movie to quote to appear intellectual (others include Shutter Island and Fight Club), have a look at the initials of Dan Brown—and the first letters of Dude and Bro…
As far as secrets go, Laurence stated that “everything is on the internet these days” and that the only real secrets are their handshakes and passwords. The knowledge of these also differs according to your rank, a tradition that began as a system for stonemasons to prove their adequacy for employment before there were regulated qualifications. When I asked what happens when a Freemason tells a non-member about these secrets, Laurence said that they would merely tell him “that was very silly”. This reflects a somewhat positive attribute of the dudebro, their laidback “whatever bro” attitude. In fact, the only way a member faces automatic expulsion is if they break the law, as this is not reflective of the high standard of ethics Freemasons live by.
In my attempts to become more informed about an organisation shrouded in mystery, I did not find what Nicolas Cage found on the back of the Declaration of Independence, but I did find a community of dudes active in charity (giving out $200k of scholarships this year alone), dudes swearing by good morals, dudes wearing special rings and allegorically learning from King Solomon, just dudes being dudes. Laurence’s message to the student body was to not be put off by the “old”-ness of Freemasonry—they are very much welcoming of younger members and he felt optimistic about the future of Freemasonry. As I have already highlighted, the parallels are already there—so dudebros, why not become a Freemason?