“I Know That Some People Are Not Front-Huggers”

(Photo: Tim Murphy)(Photo: Tim Murphy)Marfa, Texas—I have some closing thoughts on Texas’ ultra-weird Big Bend country in the pipeline, but while you wait, here’s a really quick sketch I found in my notebook, from the Marfa Lights Festival in (you guessed it!) Marfa:

“We do not preach a religion; we tell people about Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior,” says Betty Scarbrough, of Alpine. She’s wearing a white t-shirt with “Free Hugs” written in blue letters, and, as you may have guessed, giving out free hugs.

“People from all over have forgotten how to hug,” Betty tells me. “We’ll tell people ‘We’ll give you a free hug; we’re not trying to convince you of anything.’ Last year, I hugged a man, he said it was the first time he’d been hugged in 40 years! Can you believe that?”

At the big Christian music festival up in Midland, Rock the Desert, they had a prayer tent about 10 times the size of the one here, but then, Marfa only has 2,100 people, so what would be the point? They’ve been doing this fair for two years; a family in town asked them to come and they said yes, of course, so they come on over from Alpine. “It’s just a way of going out to different places” and making a difference.

So that’s the idea behind “Free Hugs.” But how does it work logistically? As this delightful Times trend story notes, there’s no right way to hug. What happens if someone goes in for a bro-hug*?

“Usually I will reach out, I will embrace them,” Betty says. “I know that some people are not front-huggers, so I get them from the side, like this.”

*Until I sat down to write this post, I, like you, was hopelessly unaware of the fact that the bro-hug has become become the subject of serious academic research. This Denver Post piece gives a pretty good introduction to the debate. Money quote: “At least two professors — Kory Floyd at Arizona State University and Mark Morman at Baylor University in Waco, Texas — have dedicated part of their careers to studying the male hug. The two often collaborate on research.” Collaborate? I believe the term is “scholarly embrace.”


The more we thought about how MoJo's journalism can have the most impact heading into the 2020 election, the more we realized that so many of today's stories come down to corruption: democracy and the rule of law being undermined by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain.

So we're launching a new Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption. We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We'll publish what we find as a major series in the summer of 2020, including a special issue of our magazine, a dedicated online portal, and video and podcast series so it doesn't get lost in the daily deluge of breaking news.

It's unlike anything we've done before and we've got seed funding to get started, but we're asking readers to help crowdfund this new beat with an additional $500,000 so we can go even bigger. You can read why we're taking this approach and what we want to accomplish in "Corruption Isn't Just Another Scandal. It's the Rot Beneath All of Them," and if you like how it sounds, please help fund it with a tax-deductible donation today.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.