I had an interesting discussion with a friend last night as we were digging far too deeply into anime. Almost every anime show (especially those set in a high school environment, which is the majority of them), have male protagonists that are your classic gamma male archetype. They are socially awkward, especially around women. When encountered with women they go into a crazed frenzy, female worship, nosebleeds, slapstick failings. We’re supposed to root for them to get the girl in spite of their failures. And sometimes we do, but we can’t help but wince every time they enter the scene with their female counterparts, who are usually far more composed and cooler than they are.
The result is a different kind of emotion than we receive from a more heroic character. When an alpha or beta protagonist confronts problems, we get the feeling of the basic human instinct overcoming dilemmas, whether they be spiritual or physical, and it fills us with a sense that uplifts us emotionally to a place where we strive to be something better than ourselves, or at least our thoughts are provoked in a direction to where we discuss the merits of certain values. Whatever that may be, that is the true sense of pathos that gets evoked from a good story with such a protagonist.
But with the gamma, we are still in the wince mode, hoping that he can get through the situation unscathed. If he does, we don’t exactly feel fulfilled after watching or reading the work. I believe this is part of the reason so many animes or mangas give us a feeling of let down with the ending, making a cool concept imminently forgettable when they don’t need to be.
My friend brought up another classic example of the gamma: The Phantom of the Opera. The Phantom is very non-confrontational, hiding, stalking, unable to interact at the basic human level. We feel pity for him, but we feel no true sense of pathos to where we as an audience are uplifted by it. It’s tragic to watch, and horrific, and though the musical is quite well done, we walk away from it as an audience as unfulfilled as when we watch anime. Our sense is that we wish things were different, but in an undefined way, or that we wish the phantom was simply a different person. We’re not moved in our emotional response to any sort of thought or action beyond a wish.
And so it’s my conclusion that a gamma protagonist does and cannot evoke a true sense of pathos in a general audience, as we aren’t stirred to a cause, a thought, or any sort of action. We’re only stirred toward pity.
What do you think?
My character Zaira Von Monocle is unrefined and untrained, but she’s certainly not a gamma. She’s driven by loyalty to King and loyalty to family, some of the most important things we can have as people. For Steam And Country has stirred a lot of emotions in people, but you should see for yourself if I evoked any sense of pathos. You can read it here.