Let's get over this "Beta Male" bull.

Posted 2/09/2010 by WHayes in Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

So...the Superbowl ads. To paraphrase everyone on the internet, including Psychology Today: what the f*ck was that? I had no idea I was a smelly, whiny, hopelessly whipped, chocolate-deprived manboy with ails seated so deeply that only an outdated, over-accessorized sport sedan could save me.

(Shoulda got a V8.)

Or you, if you're a "butch" lady.

(Pictured: role reversal. Get it?)

I suppose this makes sense, what with such faux-remasculating fare (because really, what did any of these movies do for you?) as The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Sex Drive, and Superbad already under our cultural belt, and She's Out of My League (as necessary and topical as Valentines Day) soon to blip-then-disappear on our radar, that advertisers would feel the need to tap our collective nuts and say "man up."

Jezebel brought up a thematically similar rant coming from The Weekly Standard lamenting how our Gen-Y hookup culture degraded gender relations to the point where our more inert, socially inexperienced brethren can't get any pretty girls at all. Its hard, you see, because all the women are letting the burly, semen-filled caveman bros take them away. Because of this, says the Standard, the nicer guys will always finish last.

Even NPR, on today's All Things Considered, ran a humorous story on British personal ads packed full of what Melissa Block described as "pathetic men."

This wholesale e-and-remasculation can't last, and yet here I am, re-watching the trailer for Youth in Revolt, wondering how much longer can this Cera archetype sustain itself? Do Beta-Buster movies legitimize this reactionary, unironically misogynist advertising? Honestly, I'd say yes, if only because getting this insulting dichotomy out of the way now will make room for media representations of maleness that are more fair to both men and women.

Mad Men isn't popular enough to turn the arche-tide (ew) by itself, especially with Jersey Shore fresh in our cultural consciousness. Even if the world of Sterling Cooper Draper Price were a product of ABC or CBS, what examples of maleness do we get on that end? Don's conflicted womanizer? Roger's fading star, clutching at the embers of his empire? Kinsey's hubristic, whining intellectual? Should we look up to the mack-daddy of all losers, that schmuck Campbell: a boy in over his head and playing dress-up in grown men's clothes? I love me some Pete Campbell precisely because, despite his more extreme dips into absurdity, I can identify with his troubles as a guy trying to "walk the walk" prematurely. In a similar vein, I admire Mad Men for its multi-faceted take on our gendered foibles, but the depictions still feel reactionary: we're watching something beautiful, but it's still a serialized takedown of our idealizing the "good old days," right as the cultural nostalgia was hitting full swing. Putting this type of drama out on a major network would do little good in pimping its value systems. Based on The Tonight Show fiasco, the series would likely stumble and fall flat behind neutered story lines and dubious product placements.

So what's next? Knowing how fickle and unoriginal our media culture is (just look at Fox's new pseudonatural procedural Past Life), I'd suggest that instead of further fragmentation, things are going to swirl in together. In other words, we're nearing the convergence point for all story-lines in the masculine narrative. Get ready for a LARPing Don Draper with kung-fu grip and a jailbroken iPhone.*

Like any transition, our descent into man-stew won't be consistent. This is why we get a Situation (a caricature of masculinity: a loser pretending to be a jock pretending to be something greater - a simulacrum, if you would) for every evolving Paul Dano, and an annoyingly trite Senate confirmation hearing for every triumphant President showing brass balls in upstaging a luncheon that I'm sure many were hoping would be a televised flaying.

Its this:

versus this:

Its how, days before that party luncheon, Jon Hamm (being quite meta about his status as the Man You Wish You Could Be) returned to Saturday Night Live for one of its better episodes this season, while the next week featured Ashton Kutcher, icon of indefinite "dude-ism." It's The Hurt Locker versus A Serious Man.**

I'm not suggesting a return to a monolithic portrayal of what it means to be a man. The monolith, just like todays dichotomy, makes women our undeserved foil: never equal, but either a challenge to be surmounted or an annoyance to dabble with at our leisure. Some days I haven't figured that "manhood" out in my own life, but when it comes to what comes to the movin' pictures, lets revel in these last few months of heroes occupying the extremes: Arnold in Predator, and you on your worst day in Jar Baruchel. When the halves finally mesh, I predict its all gonna look like Breaking Bad's Walter White: father, teacher, scorned lover, meth pusher. Season three starts March 21st, and I cannot wait to see what happens.***

Gimme more of that shit, please.

*Ok, maybe that's a stretch, but you can't blame me for looking at an actor like Paul Dano and admiring the change from principled but brooding teen in Little Miss Sunshine, to devious (but proactive!) pastor in There Will Be Blood, while his Apatowed contemporaries have been largely stuck in their 2007 incarnations like a Chinese-spec Jetta.

**Although, in all fairness, the Coen's were laughing at you with that one.

***This conversation shouldn't stop here, though. There's a lot of loose threads in this man-tapestry (there's a dirty joke in there, somewhere) to account for, and I haven't even touched the concept of masculine identity in media representation of gay men. If anyone wants to help with that post, let me know.

1 comment(s) to... “Let's get over this "Beta Male" bull.”


CtotheB said...

I think the tragedy is when you're a Beta Male in an Alpha's clothing. Or if you are an Alpha male but don't know when or with whom you can be vulnerable.

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