Why omega males are cropping up in TV and movies like Greenberg.

What women really think about news, politics, and culture.
March 18 2010 9:59 AM

Omega Males and the Women Who Hate Them

They're unemployed, romantically challenged, and they're everywhere.

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Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

The Mimbo: Unlike the liberal arts layabout, the mimbo revels in not participating in mainstream masculine culture. This character is very good-looking (hence the contraction—male bimbo) but doesn't necessarily use his looks for personal gain. Mimbos of TV and film include Cougar Town's Brian Van Holt, who plays the lead character's hapless, underemployed golf-pro ex-husband, and Dax Shepard's vain "male model" in When in Rome. Though Shepard's character is obsessed with his own "shredded" physique, he can't make it translate into gainful employment or public adulation: The photos in his modeling book were all done on spec, and when he takes his shirt off in a cafe, everyone hectors him to put it back on. Despite his lack of steady employment or fulfilling relationships, Van Holt's Cougar Town character, Bobby Cobb, is so secure in his alternative masculinity that in a recent episode he was not even embarrassed when he was beaten up and robbed by a woman.

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.

Beer Guy: As Kerry Howley pointed out in an XX Factor post from earlier this year, beer guy appeared in many of the sexist ads that ran during the Super Bowl. There are two variations on this type: original beer guy and sad beer guy. Original beer guy is a mimbo gone to seed. He's a happy couch potato, crashing a book club with his buddies from the softball league just to score some Bud Light. He is unbothered by his inability to live up to the masculine ideal—unlike sad beer guy, who is hyperaware of the fact that he is falling short. The middle-aged dudes on Men of a Certain Age—an unemployed actor, a man whose marriage fell apart because of his gambling addiction, and an unhappy car salesman—are sad beer guys. So are the miserable-looking men in the infamous Dodge Charger Super Bowl ad who appeared to be crushed by the responsibilities of their days, which didn't just include working long hours but also dealing with the demands of their wives. As a New Jersey Star-Ledger review of Men of a Certain Age says of Ray Romano's character in that show, "Joe is a man who misses his wife, cares about his kids, depends on his friends but also feels like he should be doing better with all of them, if he could only figure out how."

Illustration by Robert Neubecker.
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The Game Boy: The Apatovian stoners and the passive lads of Grandma's Boy (whom Reihan Salam termed beta males in this Slate article from 2006) are exemplary game boys. These men live in a perpetually adolescent zone, ignoring adult responsibilities unless they are forced to consider them. If they're employed, it's playing video games (Grandma's Boy) or creating a redundant Web site listing movie nude scenes (as in the Apatow flick Knocked Up). The newest entry in the game-boy posse is the star of She's Out of My League, Apatow crony Jay Baruchel. In that movie, Baruchel plays a nebbishy TSA airport screener who somehow nabs a blond, hot event-planner with a law degree. Though Baruchel may get the girl at the end of the film, as EW reviewer Owen Gleiberman writes, "He's a socially inept underachiever who works in airport security, and she's a high-end event planner who oozes poise and would never be drawn to such a gawky, shambling loser." Sounds like the writers are stuck in the same game-boy male dream-world that their characters inhabit.

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