Tuesday, 25 September 2012

King of the beta male misogynists: Why Rivers Cuomo would be the worst boyfriend ever

For a long time now, I've been struggling to find a phrase which accurately and succinctly describes men like Rivers Cuomo, frontman of Weezer. You know the type: skinny, 'shortsighted', owner of a million band t-shirts, aura of brokenheartedness. The 'sensitive' hipster type, who chalks every rejection up to the failure of women to understand his beautiful soul. See? Less than succinct.

 Then I read this article on The Quietus. Joe Kennedy describes the phenomenon as 'Beta male misogyny', saying:
The new man, apparently, will gradually come to assert his authority over the Neanderthals of days gone by, wielding his intellect and therapeutic literacy as, once upon a time, white-shirted archetypes splashed on the Brut and flexed their biceps.

I see the beta male as a sub-genre of The Nice Guy. Although beta males have a larger music collection, more facial hair, and higher (pseudo) intellect, both carry around with them a basically sexist assumption about women: that the vast majority of us are shallow creatures, who only fancy tough, cool, handsome men. These men are searching for one of the few women who are special enough to see through their woolly, myopic exterior, and bestow unto them a sexual relationship.

I've long seen Rivers Cuomo as the archetype of this variety of man. His Weezer lyrics are a tangle of self-loathing, obsessional love, and crude sexual references. My hope is that these lyrics are mostly tongue-in-cheek, or at least less autobiographical than they first appear. But whether they are a true representation of Cuomo's inner neuroses, or a sending up of male hipster culture, they're worth having a look at.

The thing that makes beta males so insidious, is the fact that they appear to worship women. They're obsessed with the idea that we're better and gentler than them, and they're not good enough for us. The women in Weezer lyrics are cello players (El Scorcho') and eighteen year old Japanese girls ('Across The Sea') who send him letter written on delicate stationery. Idealised women, who couldn't possibly live up to anybody's idea of them. On 'Butterfly' (the lyrics of which are basically a beta male manual) , Cumo sings:

I guess you're as real as me
Maybe I can live with that
Maybe I need fantasy

He's reminding himself that he's singing about a real human women, with flaws and emotions of her own. Not only that, he's not sure whether or not he can deal with this reality. In his world, only the men are real.

What makes that lyric creepier, is what precedes it:

I smell you on my hand for days
I can't wash away your scent
If I'm a dog then you're a bitch
It seems that it was sex that reminded him that his ladyfriend was real. This reveals the central problem for the beta male: men are real, and want visceral things like steak,and sex, but women are otherworldly and have no need for such things. A woman who wants to fuck doesn't fit within this binary. She becomes real and falls from her pedestal, disappointing the beta male with her earthiness. He impresses a woman with his knowledge of Pavement B-Sides and love of contemporary poetry, but it all backfires when he gets her into bed. For him, getting laid and falling in love are incompatible, as Cuomo neatly sums up in 'Tired of Sex':

I know I'm a sinner but I can't say no
Thursday night I'm makin' Denise
Friday night I'm makin' Sharise
Saturday night I'm makin' Louise
Oh, why can't I be makin' love come true

But say the impossible happens, and he finds a girl who he's sleeping with but not disgusted by? Great! Happily ever after, right? Wrong. The beta male is infamously possessive. He knows he's found the only girl cool enough to understand and appreciate him, and he doesn't want anybody else to get a look in. 'No One Else', Cuomo's describes his girlfriend in grotesque terms. She's got a 'big mouth' and 'eyes in the back of her head'. At least he's upfront about what he does want in a woman:

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.
I want a girl who laughs for no one else.
(For the record, I think this is one of Cuomo's most tongue-in-cheek lyrics, but it feels as though there's an element of truth in there, too.)

Most women would object to being told not to laugh or leave the house and so, understandably, the beta male often finds himself alone. Bitterness and resentment build up, and lead to lyrics like this: (from 'The World Has Turned And Left Me Here')

I talked for hours to your wallet photograph
And you just listened
You laughed enchanted by my intellect
Or maybe you didn't
You remain, turned away
Turning further every day

Beta males think of themselves as perpetual victims. Victims of callous, shallow women who trade him in for a model with bigger biceps and smaller record collection. The beta male thinks of himself as an intellect, a 'modern man' and a shoulder to for women to cry on. A generally good dude. But he doesn't feel women understand him. They leave him because he's obsessive, and controlling. but he thinks it's because they want somebody else, somebody more obviously attractive and cool. Each time he is rejected, this victim status is reinforced and his view of women becomes more reductive, as he ceases to see us as individuals, but as something to be conquered.

So next time you're in Dalston and you meet a man who wants to talk to you about Sharon Olds and Silver Jews, but seems to have a few too many harsh words to say about his ex-girlfriend who wore makeup and laughed at her friends' jokes, maybe unravel his sweater a little bit, just to check what's underneath.

1 comment:

  1. It still blows my mind that in amusingly ironic contrast Pinkerton was released the same year as Boys For Pele. (The Tori Amos record did a lot better, I think.) The critical response as it evolved with Weezer's fortunes is very interesting as well. It's a great album - I love Boys For Pele as equally as Pinkerton - but analyses like yours are always welcome and encouraging as the various levels of discourse initiated by Pinkerton are unlike what Cuomo no doubt anticipated. I love your focus on the lyrics because as good as they are in the songs, the underlying narcissism absolutely provokes critical analysis. Every song screams for it and your approach couldn't be more appropriate. Are you familiar with the movie La Maman et la Putain? Fascinating depiction of the male psyche, but also a very similar case of narcissism on par with the narrator in Pinkerton. It seems that vivid documents like this appear every generation and always with the same drift. As your reference to that Quietus article demonstrates, this generation feels the same, too. Thank you for doing everyone a favor and writing on Pinkerton.