Article: Evolution of the Alpha Male

I got an email recently from a reader who said my main male character, Devereux (an 800-year-old vampire), is the perfect alpha male.

What? Really?

I always thought alpha males were brawny, emotionless (except for anger/rage), cold (with the exception of occasional sexual heat, which is instinctual) and rather boring. Not someone I’d want to hang out with for more than a few minutes (unless I needed furniture moved).

I never would’ve thought to describe Devereux as the perfect alpha male.

Devereux is intelligent, intuitive, creative, toned-not-bulky and closer to beautiful than handsome. He’s long and lean with gorgeous, flowing, blond hair. He has the ability to delay his personal gratification and tends to think globally. Due to his mother’s powerful influence, he wouldn’t make the mistake of thinking strength comes in only one form, or one gender.

But perhaps the definition of an alpha male is changing – expanding? Maybe it’s been changing all along, and I’ve been behind the curve?

My father used to revere John Wayne as his ideal of manhood: hard-drinking, no time for sissy things like feelings, always ready for a rowdy fistfight – a man who knew what women were good for (and how to put them in their place) and who had no use for them beyond that. A man’s man.

No wonder I had such a negative and limited view of alphas!

I do find myself more attracted to the Johnny Depp, or intellectual/brilliant, types than the Arnold Schwarzeneggers.

Lately, I’ve read several descriptions of heroes where the man was described as either a “beta male with alpha tendencies,” (as in the case of the Edward character in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series) or an alpha with beta characteristics.

It would appear a blending is happening.

I remember being more attracted to the stoic, controlled Spock than drama queen Captain Kirk (although William Shatner cracks me up on Boston Legal). I need a respectful hero who can hold a deep conversation – who exhibits insight and higher consciousness – while at the same time appreciating the joys of the physical.

So, I started thinking about who I’d call my TV and movie heroes. This will make me seem even weirder than usual, but I saw Dances with Wolves 37 times at the $5 movie matinee when the film first came out. Seriously. The character of Lt. John Dunbar (Kevin Costner) – the depressed warrior who took that suicide ride across the battleground, only to live and be transformed throughout the tale – embodied a marvelous combination of beta and alpha characteristics. I’m a sucker for a man with great hair. I also liked Antonio Banderas as the charming and playful Zorro and as Armand in Interview with the Vampire (sensual and dangerous!). And there’s Johnny Depp in Don Juan de Marco and as the rebellious Gypsy in Chocolat. I loved Frank Langella’s arrogant, lost soul in 1980’s Dracula. (I agree with Maya below, about Michael Weston on Burn Notice. He’s clever and cute and loyal, and about the mad Dr. House. He’s just brilliantly crazy.)

I asked some writing friends (my sister members of Colorado Romance Writers) to share their favorites:

Viola Estrella: I really like the “men” from True Blood, the new HBO series based on Charlaine Harris’s books . . . The vamps, Bill and Eric, are mysterious and there’s always that threat of danger, but, of course, they never hurt the heroine. And Sookie’s boss, Sam, is also mysterious and he adores Sookie. So I guess a sense of mystery and their devotion to the heroine is what attracts me to them. I also love the husbands from Medium and Ghost Whisperer. They support their wives and love them unconditionally. Very romantic!

Liz Pelletier: Apparently, I have a thing for the Weary Warrior archetype: Han Solo, Zsadist, Jason Bourne, Riddick, Rick from Casablanca, John McClane, John Connor (original Terminator movie), Spike, Jerry Maguire, Rocky, and of course from childhood Steve Austin. But my favorite is Captain Malcom Reynolds of the short-lived series FireFly.

Michele Chambers: I love Han Solo – the charming rake/rebel with a good heart; Jerry McGuire – because he's smart, aggressive, driven, lost, and alone until he realizes the value of love; Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice (the movie) because he’s smart, reclusive, powerful, lonely, and will stop at nothing to win the heart of the woman he loves; Will Smith in Independence Day because he’s smart, confident, aggressive, and fearless, but is still tender and loving with his lady. I love smart men – men in romance stories that are powerful, alone and lonely, and that 'sacrifice' themselves for the greater good. Those men deserve to be rewarded with a great love.

Maya Milhous: Here're my list from recent TV shows: Reluctant Heroes (good), Michael Weston from Burn Notice, John Sheppard from Stargate Atlantis, Gregory House from House, Seeley Booth from Bones, Jayne Cobb from Firefly, Alex Karev from Grey's Anatomy, Mark Sloan from Grey's Anatomy, Spike from Angel, Josef Kostan from Moonlight, Sheriff Jack Carter from Eureka, Christian Troy on Nip Tuck.