Wednesday, March 31, 2010


Though I don’t have television, I have not escaped the images from Pakistan and Afghanistan of tall robed men in turbans with full beards and flashing eyes. Neither have I missed the strong dark jaws or penetrating blue eyes of the Marines. We are getting a full dose of the military version of the Alpha Male. Which is about where you’d expect to find Alphas. The concept comes from wolf packs where one wolf dominates all the others. The poor Beta wolves, plural, must wait until Alpha weakens or they grow stronger and can “take” him in a fight. (Actually it’s more complicated than that, but this is the way the concept is seen.) takes on today’s meat market among the employed, generally mainstream, mild-mannered, middle-class American men, those who aren’t so poor that they live in the shadows nor so rich that they can do as they please. He’s been spending some time trying to analyze how Alpha and Beta play into this and today he came to his conclusion. First he lists two fallacies. One is that everything good a modern man can be must represent an alpha trait. (The report card interpretation.) The other is that everything that represents an alpha trait must represent something good for a modern man to be. (The prescription interpretation.)

“The point of this whole series has been to point out why these fallacies are actually fallacies, especially for middle-class men. For middle-class men in modern society, the best response to take in many scenarios is often the beta response. And for middle-class men in modern society, many alpha traits can also be extremely counterproductive and even self-destructive.”

“RickyRaw,” the blogger, points out that in capitalist, democratic, developed, monogamous circumstances, the Alpha qualities of imposing order, suppressing violence even with the use of violence, making CEO decisions, and so on are delegated to what he calls “Alpha proxies” like legislators and the police. Protections, provisions for the needy, and so on are delegated to the state or the church or other organizations. And yet we insist on maintaining the myth that an Alpha male is one who defies all this. This causes what he calls “Alpha Dissonance.

I just watched the companion DVD to “Gladiator” that is three hours long and explains how the movie was made. (I’m not changing the subject.) It began with David Franzoni reading about Rome, which seems to catch the fancy of a lot of modern men, and he had creds from “Amistad” which he cashed in with Stephen Spielberg. Then he went to Ridley Scott with a print of a painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme, Pollice Verso ("Thumbs Down"), which was very much in the lush style of Alma-Tadema, depicting a grisly moment in the Coliseum when an opponent is down flat and the Emperor is signaling to kill him. Very Alpha.

Now I need a little schematic invented by Athol Kay, one of those quadrant charts like the Johari Window.

Franzoni is one of those men who understands that there’s a time to be Alpha and a time to be Beta. Ridley Scott is a movie director: movie directors are Alphas. I don’t care how they dominate (carefully), they DO dominate. So Franzoni just slipped this print to him and Ridley was on board.

Then it got interesting. There was no script, just an idea. Franzoni went to work but ran aground and brought in John Logan. Again later, they got stuck and brought in William Nicholson. All of these men were writers, all were seriously intelligent, all knew what they were doing, and they did not put each other down. (Gammas?) They went for the core ideas: this is a movie about a gladiator. Okay. His family has been destroyed. Okay. He’s going to kill the bad emperor. Okay. But it’s been done before. More thought. Finally, the epiphany was that this was a man who just wanted to go home. He was violent, he was ruthless, he was dominating, but in the end he just wanted to go home. The fact that “home” turned out to be the Elysian Fields was all the more poignant. Ridley Scott understood at once. Women love this movie so much because The Gladiator was a Gamma Male.

There were two men in this cast who didn’t really get Alpha Dissonance, who totally bought the idea that real men do their own stunts, drink like fish, have their own way, and so on. One was Oliver Reed, who had played the acting game that way all his life, but only on his own time. When he was on the set, he was a dependable Beta. Mostly. But his Alphaness killed him before the picture was finished. He died of a heart attack in a bar one Sunday.

The other person was Russell Crowe, who kept trying to rewrite the script himself. He just felt he WAS an Alpha, therefore, he knew what the character was all about and he would just be Australian about it. Evidently he has not resolved this Alpha Dissonance in the years since and Alpha Proxies have had to slow him down now and then.

The perfect Beta male in this movie was played by Djimon Hounson, drawn into a larger and larger part until he got the final word. In early versions he was only a buddy, just as formidable as a gladiator, but nurturing and protective of his friend as we understand black tribal people to be. What choice do they have when only white people can be Alphas? It’s a useful racism. (Cicero is also an honorable Beta.) And poor weak Commodos is an Omega who has been born into a role for an Alpha, as his sister could be, and has let his insufficiency deeply corrupt him. So the Alpha Proxies, the senators, are willing to help knock him out.

See how useful this stuff is? Excellent pot lifters for moving concepts around. And we surely need to work on this. The comments were appalling. One man insisted that only a sociopath had the balls to be a true Alpha and offered himself as an example. Most of them obsessed about getting enough sex. One reader suggested a new series analyzing women and another thought (evidently seriously) that such a series would have to be written by a lesbian. (Maybe he was trying to think of the word for “feminist.”)

As a humanist, I suggest an Alien from another galaxy be invited in. But I was encouraged that a commenter on Athol Kay’s blog suggested that Jean Luc Picard was the perfect strategic Alpha, willing to play Beta and Gamma when the situation was right. Never an Omega.


Athol Kay: Married Man Sex Life said...

Thanks for the kind comments much appreciated.

I think The Gladiator was an Alpha when he was a General in the Roman Army, but is stripped of that status to a large extent when essentially reduced to an Omega as a gladiator. He is nothing more than a walking meat sack to be killed for entertainment.

The interplay between the Omega Gladiator who continues to hold himself as an Alpha against the Alpha Emperor who internalizes Omega is the more interesting dynamic of the film.

Art Durkee said...

I think this way of conceptualizing male characteristics is utter bunk, and appeals only to those men who want to think of themselves as alpha males. Everybody wants to rule the pack. THe only men I hear spending a lot of time worrying about these kinds of rankings are those who are very insecure or desperate to be more than they are. It appeals to the same sort of insecurities that make corporate salary-men go out to the woods for a mythopoetic men's group weekend, don paint, and dance around a bonfire, playing mediocre drums and howling at the moon. LOL

As to whether this is useful towards understanding male psychology, again it's bunk. It's a construct that's useless for the understanding the whole person. Jung's four-fold typology is far more powerful, as in jung's concept of the animus and anima, the marriage of the feminine and masculine characteristics in the soul that makes the self whole.

Whisky Prajer said...

Tangentially related (talking about writers trying to come up with a script): uber-alpha male David Mamet articulates what he wants to see in a script (in this case, for his now canceled TV series).