Saturday, May 11, 2013

Alpha Males and Females

On news shows this morning we were shown images of Prince Harry (that red-headed English bloke who apparently has a famous grandmother) ‘receiving a rock star’s welcome’ in the U.S. First, I think it’s amusing how the Americans fawn over royalty, given the enthusiasm with which they divested themselves of George III. But the other topic to which this prompts me to return is the concept of celebrity. What is it about human beings that draws them to someone who is famous? What is it that generates in (apparently) rational, mature people (well, maybe not) this ridiculous devotion. As usual, I have a theory.

In many animal societies, including those of human beings, there emerges a hierarchy of power, with alpha and beta males and females. The alphas have special privileges, usually to do with access to mates and the right to other resources. For other members of the group it is clearly advantageous to be on the side of these alphas, to be in their good books. In that way we may win protection from our enemies and a share of those resources. My theory is that the pathetic fawning after celebrities that we observe today is a misguided expression of this evolutionary past. Celebrities represent the alphas, who are perceived to have power and/or access to ‘mates’ and/or access to resources (usually wealth). We think that by being near to them, by giving them our devotion, some of that power and wealth will flow down to us. If we can befriend them we will earn their (magical) protection. Of course, in present day society, this is ridiculous. First of all, the alpha status of the people we choose is ephemeral, fragile and based on nothing of value. Secondly, these people before whom we prostrate ourselves don’t give two hoots about us. In the tribal setting they would know us and, perhaps, take an interest in us; in our society, to them we are a blurred face in a crowd at best, or a never-even-glimpsed Twitter ID.

If my theory is true, this is yet another example of how we, as human beings, are hopelessly and blindly at the mercy of our evolutionary past.

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