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What do Jim from 'The Office,' Shrek and Al Gore have in common? They're beta males—losers who are winning. Look out, alpha dogs.
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Copyright 2007 Newsweek and Zapit.com
June 4, 2007 issue - Ben Stone isn't what you'd call a player. He lives with four buddies in a squalid slacker palace. He's chubby, furry and happily unemployed, unless you count a scheme to launch a Web site charting every female nude scene in Hollywood history. One night, Ben (Seth Rogen) and his C-list posse hit a neighborhood bar where, as luck would have it, they meet two A-list blondes. Ben is (typically) unshaven, wearing a rumpled, untucked shirt, and totally drunk. Still, he manages (miraculously) to persuade stunning Alison (Katherine Heigl) to dance, and proceeds to embarrass himself with his cheesy "throwing the dice" move. ("That's all he's got," one of his friends says sadly.) Alison, out celebrating a big job promotion, is drunk enough herself not to be scared off. In fact, she invites Ben to her house, where she elicits another geeky move when she strips. "You're so much prettier than I am!" Ben says. Considering the scene is from the upcoming film "Knocked Up," you can probably guess that what begins as an unlikely one-night stand doesn't end the next morning. More surprisingly, Alison ultimately falls as hard for Ben as if he looked like Colin Farrell.
Then again, the new movie star looks less like Colin Farrell than Will Ferrell. Or Steve Carell. Or Jon Heder. Or, if he's animated, Shrek or Homer Simpson. The testosterone-pumped, muscle-bound Hollywood hero is rapidly deflating—this summer, Bruce Willis is the last he-man standing. Taking his place is a new kind of leading man, the kind who's just as happy following as leading, or never getting off the sofa. "He's a guy who isn't concerned with status," says Justin Spitzer, a writer for TV's "The Office." "He's more concerned with getting through the day and not engaging in a pissing contest with the alpha males around him." It makes sense that our culture is embracing the mojo-free man right now. As America comes to terms with our diminished omnipotence in the wake of 9/11, the Iraq War and President Bush's international unpopularity, we're growing weary of Teflon-coated John Wayne stereotypes of masculinity. Donald Rumsfeld, Ken Lay, Mel Gibson, Don Imus—all chest-beating, leader-of-the-pack men, and look what happened to them. The alpha dog doesn't hunt anymore. The new role model is a beta male.
The Emmy-winning "The Office" presents a microcosm of this cultural shift. The show's star is the preening, hilariously un-self-aware boss Michael (Steve Carell), who is constantly shadowed by his sycophantic No. 2, Dwight (Rainn Wilson). Both of them are hopelessly deluded wanna-be alphas. They compete incessantly: for the attention of female visitors, in an impromptu karate match and, of course, during a company basketball game, where they shamelessly strip down to reveal their underwhelming physiques. (If the alpha male is all about ego, the beta is about id, and in popular culture, the sillier-looking the id, the better: Napoleon Dynamite, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," Shrek.) The soul of "The Office," and its stealth heartthrob, is actually easygoing, soft-spoken Jim (John Krasinski), who, in true beta fashion, turned down a promotion to management in the season finale. "Jim rejects the trappings of the alpha," says Spitzer, who pitched a sitcom called "Beta Male" to ABC. "He's not about the power or the money." Jim's signature move isn't a move at all. He simply turns to the camera, cocks his eyebrow and destroys his bosses without saying a word.
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