The Beta Male – a not so serious discussion

in Entertaining nonsense and profound thought

I re-read Lani Diane Rich’s  book The Fortune Quilt  this weekend and it got me thinking about the beta male. I personally tend toward alpha males in books, but in movies I think it’s the beta male who attracts me. I’m thinking Orlando Bloom in Pirates of the Caribbean. I’m thinking – hmmm, I keep thinking of alpha guys.

So why is that? Why is it easier to think of  Brad Pitt in Mr. and Mrs. Smith, than of Colin Firth in Bridget Jones’ Diary? Only now I can’t think of anybody Except Colin Firth. I’ve got Monday morning brain and I am going to have to get some help from Google…

Google only confused me more. Is Shakespeare in Shakespeare in Love  Alpha or Beta? He’s hiding from Colin Firth  so that makes me think he’s beta. And writing is a beta occupation (unless you’re Hemingway…). How about Hugh Grant in Notting Hill? Totally Beta, but he has to make a classically alpha move to win back the girl.

In Pride and Prejudice Darcy is alpha –  Colin Firth again.  Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle is definitely beta, and I absolutely love him. Of course I love Tom Hanks in everything.

Then, in P.S. I Love You –  Gerard Butler is alpha, I think. Can a dead guy be alpha? Another dead male lead in Ghost, is  Patrick Swayze alpha or beta? I think I have an issue with a dead person being alpha. Alpha is all about action, following through and making things happen. Can a dead person do that?

So what makes a beta, well beta? Is it  gentleness, sweetness of temper, and reluctance to impose their will on others? Or is it something else? If an alpha male is the guy who makes things happen, the leader, the commander, the top dog, what does that make the beta? Is he only a follower? Or is there more to it than that? Does the beta have to become the alpha to win the girl? Or can he do it by being his beta self?

So, after you answer all those, I have another question for you. When I started on this  ramble I was thinking of having a serious discussion of alpha vs. beta males. It turned into a Colin Firth fest. I have a thing for Colin Firth, can you tell? And I wasn’t even thinking of him when I began.

The question is – should I do like others and present a scholarly view of the subject, which I can do believe it or not, or should I let my brain do it’s normal  thing (see above) and free associate its way through my posts? Which would be more enjoyable for you? Would you rather be educated, or involved in a serious discussion, or entertained by my undisciplined mind?

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Judy, Judy, Judy October 25, 2011 at 1:29 am

Well I certainly think Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice was an alpha male.

I like betas in movies but they have to be alpha when necessary. I’m thinking Benecio del Torro in Excess Baggage; Steve Carrell in Dan In Real Life; Brad Pitt in The Mexican; John Cusack in Must Love Dogs; Keanu Reeves in A Walk in the Clouds.

But then in movies I tend to gravitate towards strong women leads.

In books I like strong women leads but I go more for alpha males. Like almost all the male love interests in Crusie’s books. And in Erin McCarthy’s books. And in Anne Stuarts Ice series. And who can forget Morelli, Diesel, Ranger & Hooker, all alpha males & yum.

Of course even that isn’t a hard & fast rule. The males in Barbara Samuels/O’Neals books tend to be betas & I love them.

And how about the men who love Bree McGowan? Betas who can be alpha? I definitely like them. In fact, aren’t we due a new one?

Provocative post, Kate. Loved it.

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Kate October 24, 2011 at 8:01 pm

But what about the big question, folks? Can a ghost be an Alpha Male? No one’s even touched that.

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Delia October 24, 2011 at 10:19 pm

The ghost becomes a more intensified version of whatever he was in real life, of course.

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Julie October 27, 2011 at 1:47 am

Ooops, I ended up missing this entire thing. Let’s blame that Alpha guy in my house, shall we?.
Answer: YES! Patrick Swayze, duh.
Dead or not, he was the main guy.

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Skye October 24, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Yes to all of the above, darling Kate! I like all of your ideas, but I’d really love to see your in-depth study of the differences between alphas and betas. One of my best friends is kind of an alpha, but something was bent or broken when he was young, so sometimes his alpha qualities don’t come out right. He owns his own company, knows immediately how to become the alpha dog in a pack situation, and taught me how to use dog heirarchy and behavior to interact with co-workers (very successful it was, too).

I really think there is something else, beyond alpha and beta. I went with a guy for a while, someone who’d been a friend for many years, and it drove me nuts how often he referred to what someone else said. He looked at his best friend and his best friend’s wife as the experts on everything, apparently, and every 3rd sentence was “Dean said” or “DJ said”. Very sweet man, but I wouldn’t even call him a beta to be honest. And his best friend considered himself an alpha, but really couldn’t pull it off. Beta with alpha desires. 🙂

I don’t know if I have a preference for alphas or betas, possibly because almost all of my boyfriends have been very damaged or jerks. I have a crush on my local alpha, but he’s married so it’s just theoretical and I don’t know what kind of alpha he is in his whole life.

I have another friend who might be a beta. He does amazing things and is very energetic and brilliant. But he likes when people underestimate him and he just goes along and gets things done his way under everyone’s nose.

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Kate October 24, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Yep, I think there are plenty of “others” out there. People who are damaged in some way, or just different. Who don’t relate to people with a pack mentality. Guys who are out front in what they are doing but just don’t care to involve others.

Then there are archetypes which cause use to look at personalities from a different point of view from the alpha/beta argument.

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KarenB October 24, 2011 at 5:54 pm

“The question is – should I do like others and present a scholarly view of the subject, which I can do believe it or not, or should I let my brain do it’s normal thing (see above) and free associate its way through my posts? Which would be more enjoyable for you? Would you rather be educated, or involved in a serious discussion, or entertained by my undisciplined mind?”
Um, well, yes.
About the males: I like the in between males – the betas who can step up to the plate when necessary, but don’t always HAVE to be in charge, the alphas who can let someone else take the ball (why is my mind going to sports metaphors? I don’t DO sports!) and be sensitive and sweet when needed. And absolutely no examples are coming to mind unfortunately.

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Kate October 24, 2011 at 6:42 pm

Karen, I take this to mean you want it all. I will endeavor to give it all to you, and in doing so will probably fail miserably. But hopefully that too can be entertaining.

I was wondering about Shane, from Agnes and the Hit Man by Jenny Crusie (not a movie, I know.) Is he both alpha and beta enough? I raaathaaar like him. Too bad Agnes already has dibs.

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Delia October 24, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Shane was far more alpha than beta. The confusion comes there when you introduce Agnes, who was plenty alpha in her own right.

Also, I loved Wild Target.

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Skye October 24, 2011 at 7:51 pm

I want Shane quite a bit. He reminds me of Luke, from Jayne Ann Krentz’s All Night Long, who is my true love. 🙂 Damn those fictional men!!

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Kiersten October 24, 2011 at 1:49 pm

I work with beta males and lo, they are not Tom Hanks. While I like the men I work with and think they are very good at specific aspects of their jobs, the passive-aggressive crap I have to deal with is mind-boggling. Seriously, there is more drama with these men than a gaggle of high-maintenance women. They are also majorly – massively – hen pecked in their home lives.

So when beta male is referenced, I don’t think Hugh Grant or Tom Hanks being all sensitive and gentle and sweet and honest (tho your examples hold true to the general description) I think men who can’t make a firm decision to save their lives. Also, I would argue that Colin Firth in BJD is an alpha in disguise. He has the job, the confidence, the pedigree and even the swagger (watch him walk and come talk to us when you’re done, like in an hour) but, most revealingly, he has that kick ass last line. Yeah, he fights like a ponce, but man, can he give the final punch.

I like Delia’s answer: Jason Bourne. Sure his brain is eff’d up six ways to Sunday, but the man gets the small moments too. RDJ’s Sherlock Holmes fits that pattern too. He’s brilliant and fussy with a hat Johnny Depp would covet, but he rules every room he’s in and can permanently injure an opponent in seconds. Plus, smart is always sexy. As for rom com alpha/beta mix, that’s a little tougher, and not only b/c I don’t watch many. The rom com genre by definition is for women, so it’s the heroine that traditional commands the alpha position. I think a good example of the alpha male with a soupcon of beta is Dermot Mulroney in THE WEDDING DATE. Soon as he walks in the room, all the women want him and all the men want to be/beat him no matter their place in the hierarchy (and not only b/c he’s secretly a prozzie). But he still says things like “I think I would miss you even if I had never met you” which makes little sense but gives me chills nonetheless. Watch that great dance scene; he’s totally in control, moving Debra Messing where and how he wants too, but he’s also open to the emotions playing out between them and not afraid to show it either. Dang, that scene is fabulous.

Wow. Perhaps I have thought about this issue a little too much? Blame it on the betas in my life.

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Kate October 24, 2011 at 2:17 pm

I haven’t seen THE WEDDING DATE so I can’t really comment, but it does sound good. And I agree, you make a decent case for Firth being alpha. And of course the real life betas in your life would make me nuts! Luckily, we aren’t talking real life or I couldn’t watch a romcom to save my life. What I like about them (the good ones) is the acceptance the flawed female character finds in the guy she ends up with. I don’t see much of that in my real life. As I said before, Wild Target is my absolute favorite and it’s more of a black comedy than a romcom. IMO anyway. 🙂

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Skye October 24, 2011 at 7:39 pm

I don’t know that betas are passive aggressive as a group. Maybe your group is the next group down … would that be deltas? 🙂

I think of alphas as the guys who have to own and run the big-ass, powerful companies. Betas can be the best in their field, but have no need (or interest?) in running the company. Let the alpha take all those risks. That way, the beta can just do what he is interested in doing.

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Meg Maguire October 24, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Delia said, “I like an alpha male with beta tendencies.” Agreed. And I also like the opposite, often, a beta hero with a subtle—perhaps even dormant—but intensely protective or possessive streak that he only unleashes when it matters, when he gets pushed past his breaking point. Rational man driven to territorial, pit bull aggression when it most counts. Rowwwr.

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Kate October 24, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Yep. I like that too. A guy who is confident in his abilities, knows he can kick ass, but doesn’t need to act like an ass all the time. Clark Kent? I know there are others, but I can’t think of them at the moment.

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Delia October 24, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Rowwwr, indeed.

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Kate October 24, 2011 at 1:30 pm

I can see Jason Bourne as attractive! There are definite possibilites there.

The thing about Romcom for me is if they are good. Really good. Then it’s excellent entertainment. Wild Target is one of my favorite movies. Not exactly romcom, but great. Shoot work just walked back in the door. More later!

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Judie October 24, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Well, I am torn – I enjoy the rambling goodness but it is also an interesting subject and wouldn’t mind a more indepth evaluation – especially if I can then re-watch many good movies, Colin Firth and others to, um, you know… research. Research is very important.
“No dear, we can’t watch that action flick – research rembmer? More popcorn?”

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Kate October 24, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Oh good one, Judie! Ha! I must remember that. Research. I need to do more research!

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Delia October 24, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Oh, you are asking the wrong person here. I’m an in-betweener. I like an alpha male with beta tendencies. To wit, I like someone who’s not so pushy he needs to take charge of every situation, but can and will if necessary. An observer more than a leader, but one who could kick the leader’s butt any day of the week and knows it. Think Jason Bourne. An unobtrusive killing machine whose job is to fade into the background, but who is also sweet and honest with the woman he loves and never tries to push anyhthing onto her. That’s my kinda hero. But then, as a movie genre, romcoms aren’t my favorite.

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Kate October 24, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Romcom isn’t your favorite?!!!! What? With so many bad movies to choose from how could you go wrong?

As for alpha/betas take a look at my earlier comments!

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Delia October 24, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Sadly, no. I’m an action and fantasy girl. Oh oh oh! You know who was sex on a stick? Paul Bettany in Priest. NOM! I likes ’em tortured. 😉

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