The perfect Beta Male
It seems clear that beta is the new alpha, when it comes to film and tv culture. Whilst it’s best for any young heterosexual man with good intentions, hoping to succeed in the western world to skim pretty quickly over what the music industry currently teaches you (tell her she’s REALLY pretty, or grow disproportionately large chest muscles), mainstream screen culture is shining a brighter light for those who want role models who could actually exist in the real world, without either failing abysmally or being labelled an arrogant, dishonest dickhead, as anyone who has ever tried to ape Jason Derulo or Jay-Z’s public personas in the real world will no doubt find out.
But how could the alpha male ever be dethroned as pop culture’s hero of preference, when by definition he represents perfection? Be it the ‘brooding’ alpha male, fighting his dark side as women watch on in shock and wonder (read: Vampires in films circa 2008), or the ‘boyscout’ alpha male; a witty, powerful champion of right who sees that the reason people attempt to solve their problems by talking is that they’re just pussies, and so puts this right with actions (read: superheroes in films circa 1998), alpha males have always been seen as, well, alpha. Bit of a double meaning there, makes the whole subject a little tricky, but please bear with me.
The fact is, Beta males are taking over. Attempts at launching new alpha-action-hero-actors in the Brad Pitt mould are failing quite poorly; Sam Worthington, for example, may play the lead character in the highest grossing film of all time, but his status as a pop culture icon is comparatively miniscule, and Channing Tattum – even after the twilight-esque success of Dear John – is having a similarly hard time landing any solid roles that anyone will remember in a few years’ time. No, the true rising stars of 10s-era Hollywood, the men catching the imagination of the twitter generation, aren’t the actors swaggering into the movie industry’s metaphorical bars with a bulging wallet declaring that everybody’s drinks are on them, but the social recluses quietly flicking through the pages of an art magazine whilst tentatively sipping cider at a table with a few close mates, completely oblivious to the girls at the bar attempting to catch their eyes. Andrew Garfield and Jesse Eisenburg, the leading lights that made The Social Network so damn good, are both quietly sneaking into the hearts of cinema goers, whilst the go-to man for making a potentially awful comedy amazing is no longer the mother’s-ideal-shag George Clooney or the impossibly quirky Jim Carrey, but the quietly awkward Steve Carrel, and Ryan Gosling is [insert my previous article on Ryan Gosling here].
However, I believe that none of these actors quite represent that perfect Beta male icon. None of their roles have managed to simultaneously pinpoint the strength that is an essential component in masculinity, and the insecurity/humility that is equally fundamental to being a man aware of his own situation. Ryan Gosling’s nameless role in Drive comes close with his displays of terrifying violence and gentle sensitivity, but his character is just too unique, in a way that is almost messiah-like, to be relatable. No, in my opinion the perfect modern Beta male icon is Oliver Tate, the young main character of the 2010 British cult film Submarine, played by Craig Roberts (of Tracy Beaker fame). This is because – aside from the perfect awkwardness and insecurity that comes from wondering if you’re problems are really significant enough to complain about or whether you should just shut up – he does what most beta males will do at least once in their lives; he tries very hard to be an alpha male, and fails. He makes a decent attempt at being a romantic hero, and after failing miserably, just deals with the consequences, and gets on with life.