Have we become a beta-male culture, as Bill Whittle argues in his latest Firewall video? Are we just a little too in touch with our feelings to take the necessary risks to expand our horizons, grow our economy, and defend our nation?
As usual with Bill’s videos, there is a lot to unpack in them. First, I’d recommend that people watch High Noon if they have never done so, or hadn’t done so in a long time — because the theme is precisely about what Bill argues here. He’s right that Gary Cooper ended up taking on the bad guys, but the entire town was filled with “beta males” who wanted to hide from them, or actively appease them. They betrayed their commitment to their sheriff, who ended up saving the day, despite his disgust with the town. After that, watch another classic Western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, an even more cynical look at heroism and beta-maleness. Jimmy Stewart ends up with a brilliant political career after supposedly overcoming his pacifism and shooting the town psycho (a great performance by Lee Marvin), but the truth is that it took John Wayne to take out Liberty Valance, not the pacifist.
In other words, we’ve had this problem for a long time; it’s not just recent. Most of the kinds of movies Bill references have similar themes — the one man willing to stand against evil when all others quail at the thought. That’s because it reflects life as it is, perhaps especially so since industrialization and urbanization reduced the need for virtues of independence and self-sufficiency. The difference is that we have spent the last few decades celebrating the beta-male impulse rather than those virtues in our popular culture.
However, that’s not to say that the effort succeeds. As Bill points out, it usually backfires, because people respect those values despite decades of neglect or even attack by the entertainment industry. The catalyst to this video, the suggestion that we need Alan Alda types (as a pop-culture archetype, not Alda himself) rather than “right stuff” astronauts for deep-space exploration, is ridiculous on its face. Armstrong and Aldrin dealt effectively with crises because they didn’t waste time sharing their inner child when those crises occurred. That’s even more true of the Apollo 13 crew, who had every reason and plenty of time to “freak out” but maintained their discipline and survived an in-flight disaster that probably should have killed them. The submariner corps looks for calm, collected types, not hotdogs but also not people inclined to fret over tough conditions.
Those are the people who will advance American ingenuity, economics, and exploration … as they always have.