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Thirst Behavior: Meet the Heavy Hitters Of Our Beta Bro Hall of Fame

Recent writings about Drake's attitude toward friend Nicki Minaj during his beef with Meek Mill -- and the not-so-subtle misogyny surrounding his "I'm a nice guy" branding -- has helped clarify the exact nature of the "beta bro." The word "beta" was long attached to an archetype of non-aggressive, conflict-adverse males who weren't pillars of, shall we say, traditional masculinity. However, as (now-Paper managing editor) Michael Tedder's excellent Pitchfork essay on indie rock "nice guys" points out, trying too hard not to be alpha can turn inward and lead to something just as dangerous.

Just because a dude doesn't engage in overt abuses of power doesn't mean they don't want to -- they just might not have had the opportunity. Often, once these men have accumulated some semblance of power and freedom to do as they please, they act on it -- in what are arguably more exploitative ways than the alpha male, all while hiding behind their seemingly earned "nice guy façade." Consider Robin Thicke's Paula album, which is pretty much 50 straight minutes of performative guilt as Thicke repeatedly, publicly, begs his ex-wife to take him back. Or Mark Zuckerberg as he's presented in The Social Network, where he invents Facebook after being dumped by a woman. (See also: every Weezer album ever.)

Rather than simply being a straight-up bro who puts his own needs first, the beta bro first shows his sensitive side (or pretends to) -- think early, "soft" Drake. For a long time, Drake's whole appeal was about how invested he was in your emotional health. "I'll be there for you, I will care for you," he raps on the title track of Take Care. But that also hid a lot both spurned bravado and deep, primal, disgusting horniness ("thirst") -- all just waiting to erupt. The future Sprite salesman jump-started his career by rapping "I think I'm addicted to naked pictures / and sitting talkin' bout bitches that we almost had" -- or, as Meaghan Garvey puts it in a hilarious and venomous piece at Pitchfork, "Obey your thirst" is basically the subtext of "Marvin's Room," anyway."

Selfish, incessantly rationalizing, and annoying to the point where simple obnoxiousness threatens to mask a real problem, the beta bro is perhaps an overreaction to (deeply justified) disdain for "alpha" types. Over time, hopefully everyone will chill out and learn to be themselves. Until then, the recent re-emergence of the category has allowed us to look back at history and realize... wow, that dude was totally a beta bro. Here is our Beta Bro Hall of Shame: 

dante and beatrice.jpgDante Alighieri

I dunno guys, I like The Divine Comedy as much as the next person who had to read it in college but remember that he met Beatrice -- the woman he supposedly loved, and who serves as his divine benefactor throughout his supernatural travels -- when he was nine years-old, and decided, for no real reason, to love her for ever and ever. Some sources claim he only met her one other time, in passing, before her death. (The above painting depicts that encounter, and look how creepy he is!) And he still wrote all this poetry with her as the partial inspiration. Chill, bro.

508px-Elbridge-gerry-painting.jpgElbridge Gerry

Perhaps the saddest of our Founding Fathers (behind generally insane, awesome historical figure Aaron Burr), the namesake of gerrymandering had kind of a rough time of it. He ran for governor in Massachusetts a bunch of times, finally won -- and then had to be the guy who allowed partisan redistricting to become a perpetual cold sore on the mouth of democracy. (He didn't like it, but he did sign it.) Also, after he finally got to finish being governor, he asked James Madison for a job (and became vice president, the most beta of government positions) because he didn't have a lot of money. Woof.

kierkegaard.jpgSøren Kierkegaard

Like many of the most important thinkers of the Western canon, Kierkegaard was terrible at life. Deeply in love with Regine Olsen, Kierkegaard proposed marriage to her -- so far, so good -- but then broke off the engagement because of his "melancholy" or something, and made a huge deal out of the fact that he had denied himself a shot at happiness so he could write more philosophy.

Kierkegaard became a source of gossip in his native Copenhagen, where people claimed he had seduced Olsen and abandoned her. And while that wasn't quite what happened, he did eventually write an entire semi-fictionalized work of philosophy about the incident. He was something much worse than a wantonly cruel rake... an overly sensitive lame.

photo by John Salangsang/BFA

Ed Sheeran 

Probably the most painful example of the martyr-meets-white knight complex, Ed Sheeran fits the archetype of the beta bro who lurks in the shadows till it is "his time to shine"; something he made way too obvious on the extremely bitter "The Man" where he raps, "Now I don't wanna hate you/ Just wish you'd never gone for the man/ And waited two weeks at least/ Before you let him take you/ I stayed true, I kind of knew." Hey, Calvin Harris, watch out. 

photo by David X Prutting/BFA
Woody Allen 

The king of quirky beta male comedies, Woody Allen made his own long-fraught fantasy come true by waiting for his current wife Soon-Yi Previn to turn legal after years and years of dating her adopted mother, Mia Farrow. Guess he thought he deserved the latest goods?

Rivers Cuomo 

Oh, Rivers. I think you're mostly solidified in my memory as the guy who wrote those kind of awful "Pink Triangle" lyrics that went "I'm dumb, she's a lesbian! I thought I had found the one." And then you made things worse by hoping that maybe -- because you're such a nice, deserving dude -- the universe would do you a solid and make her, "a little straight." Not that your repertoire is only confined to Chasing Amy scenarios seeing as how you're also full of weird inappropriate weeaboo lust for a teen in "Across The Sea," and the fact that you penned the ultimate beta asshole anthem "No One Else." How does that hook go again? Oh yeah, "I want a girl who will laugh for no one else, When I'm away she puts her makeup on the shelf, When I'm away she never leaves the house." As one YouTube commenter aptly put it, "This has to be the most selfish song of the decade."

photo by Patrick McMullan

Chris Martin

You had to have known the sensi guy from Coldplay was going to be on here -- especially since he's been pretty vocal about how much he hates always being in the friendzone and the fact that he lost his virginity at 22. So what's the solution? Well become a sensitive rock star to get sex whenever you want! As he said in a 2008 Rolling Stone interview, "It was like, 'I need to be a rock star, because this is no good: being the kind of guy that everybody likes but no one wants to have sex with.'" Look at the stars, look how they pine for you, indeed.

Photo by Matteo Prandoni/BFA

Shia LaBeouf

Weird, self-styled art bro? A very surface-level sensitive intellectual who uses his "emotional turmoil" to excuse the occasional enfant terrible antic? Sounds like Shia's MO down to a pat. But beneath that quirky artisté façade lurks an entitled beta bro who threatens to kill his girlfriend for taking his backpack. 

Jonathan Safran Foer by David Shankbone

(photo by Daniel Shankbone via WikiMedia Commons)

Jonathan Safran Foer 

Extremely sensitive writer man Jonathan Safran Foer, the dude who wrote Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, has a, um, checkered romantic history allegedly involving repeated proclamations of love to Natalie Portman while he was... already married. You can find the whole story on Ratter (it's worth the full read, if you're into that sort of thing and like cringing at male midlife crises). This is kind of sad in some respects, but mostly because it so closely resembles the plot of a novel that someone like Foer might write, complete with a woman who the male character is incapable of acknowledging as a human being.

jerry-seinfeld.jpgJerry Seinfeld

So Jerry Seinfeld's early comic persona is, if not as nebbish-y as George Costanza, still very much the product of accumulated minor grievances and confusion ("what's the deal with"). But since he became famous and successful enough to never need to work on another joke in his life, Seinfeld has settled into screaming at women for dinging one of his many, many Porsches, complaining about women and people of color complaining about bad jokes, and laboring over each and every honey-combed frame of Bee Movie. Also, he dated a 17-year-old girl when he was in his 30s and literally compared it to babysitting in an interview with Playboy, of all places. Gross.

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