Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Crush Wednesday: Lusting after the Lambda Male

by Anne Tourney

This isn't just a crush -- it's a manifesto. Not to diss the Alpha Males that make many of you so hot and bothered, but I'm here today to speak up for every horny foot soldier who never showed up for the battle because he was back in the tent practicing his cunnilingual skills on some mighty warrior's concubine.

So you've never heard of that elusive species, the Lambda Male? Probably because he's hiding behind a frieze of networking cables or a stack of amplifiers, or just wandering around a parking lot trying to figure out where he left the van he's living in until he sells his first collection of poetry (even then, let's face it, he'll still be in the van). In a discussion of hero archetypes at All About Romance, a group of romance reviewers and authors discussed the fine distinctions among Alpha, Beta, and Gamma Males. Alphas are the traditional heroes: strong, dominant, with a natural inclination to protect and rescue, when they aren't conquering and beheading. Deltas (the dangerous heroes) and Thetas (the wounded heroes) also come up in the discussion, but no one mentions my favorite: the Lambda Male.

Lambda is my all-purpose category for nerds, geeks, and misfits -- in short, guys who are too strange, too smart, too nice, or all of the above. If you peer back into the annals of classic American cinema, you can't miss the 1984 movie Revenge of the Nerds. Lambda Lambda Lambda was the brotherhood of outcasts caught in a dualistic struggle against a fraternity of hunky jocks, Alpha Beta. I'll never forget the immortal line uttered by Robert Carradine's character, Lewis Skolnick, when he was asked by his blonde cheerleader lover why he was so good in bed: "All jocks think about is football. All nerds think about is sex."

And for me, that's a big part of the Lambda Male's appeal, aside from his vulnerability, his quirkiness, and his mismatched socks: a constant preoccupation with all things erotic. Not that Alpha Males don't think about sex, but there are too many other things that clutter their leonine heads, like winning the Super Bowl, or saving the world. All that heroic activity prevents them from focusing on the most important thing on earth, which is, of course, right between your . . . eyes. Yes, Lambda Males are interested in your brains, too. They like to know what you're thinking. They might even (gasp) ask you what you're thinking, or reading, or listening to on your iPod.

If you doubt my enthusiasm for Lambda Males, here's a roll call of the "heroes" in my recent novels: Jeremy, the bipolar art geek who falls madly in love with his therapist (Taming Jeremy); Daniel, the has-been rock guitarist who drives across the West in search of the Epiphone that inspired him when he was fifteen years old (Head-On Heart); and Joel, the womanizing photographer who 's always stumbling over his own, uhm, tripod (Lying in Mid-Air). Then there's Nolan, the hero of my most recently hatched novel, Kiss Between My Lines. Nolan works as a clerk at the public library, while secretly inflicting his vision of "information anarchy" on the world by shelving all of the books out of order. On his nights off, he works the lights over a mosh pit. Nolan never ends up saving the world, but he does save the heroine from a life without orgasms.

These guys aren't just outsiders; they're so far off the radar screen that they don't even have checking accounts. Not only do they not drive racecars, a lot of them take public transportation. And God forbid they should work for the DEA; Lambda Males are more likely to be found firing up a bong than shooting up a crackhouse. Not that Lambdas aren't heroic, or brave, or bursting with testosterone . . . well, maybe they aren't. Maybe they're just slightly below average oddballs, with an intensity that makes them sexy, and a self-deprecating attitude that makes them irresistible. These are the sweet, skinny guys who wore Iron Maiden t-shirts in high school and smoked Camels behind the gym, then went home to practice the oboe in secret. They're the guys in the next cubicle at work who write you epic love poems that you'll probably never read. They're passionate about something -- an eccentric idea, a top-secret software program, the lyrics to the song that's going to make the world forget "Stairway to Heaven" (oh please, someone write that one soon). But most of all, they're passionate about you.

So now we come down to the nitty gritty, the question that underlies all this discussion: Come on, Anne, aren't these guys just garden variety losers? I mean, they don't actually win anything. They don't really rescue anyone. Most of the time, they can't even walk a city block without their shoes coming untied.

My answer is yes, on the spectrum of masculine sexuality, Lambda Males are definitely on the "loser" end, opposite the muscle-bound Alphas. But in my opinion, that only suggests that the spectrum of masculine sexuality needs to broaden its array of colors.

Here are just a few of my favorite Lambda Males. Who are yours?

Robert Carradine: The quintessential Lambda Male cleans up very nicely

Screenwriter/Actor Mike White, who wrote my favorite
Lambda Male movie of all time: The Good Girl

Jake Gyllenhaal: As the tormented novelist/poet/playwright/cashier
Holden Worther in
The Good Girl, he's the ultimate Lambda Male

Jason Mraz: See, he washed the t-shirt in the same load of laundry as the hat

Joaquin Phoenix: Lambda-esque actor playing Johnny Cash,
who was somewhat of a Lambda with a heavy dose of Delta

Kevin Spacey: a Lambda Male who had the
last laugh as "Verbal" in
The Usual Suspects


Portia Da Costa said...

Categorising heroes into different 'as' always seems a bit limiting to me. I like them when they cross the boundaries a bit, but I do have a certain fondness for the cuter nerds.

I think if I were to categorise Verbal, I'd class him as an infernally devious Delta. ;)

Janine Ashbless said...

Hey Anne - you just described nearly every one of my friends!

Madeline Moore said...

Um, I was really jealous of Bill Gates' wife when they got married.
But I think that was mostly about the money. I did have a fondness for the 'Lambda' types in my youth, but I was too wild for them. One worked with me in shipping and receiving at the University bookstore. He was a bridge Grand Master. He got drunk enough to try and make a pass at me (after a rousing game of bridge, and we were under 25 at the time,) but he passed out before he coud complete the pass. He spent the night alright, but sleeping it off on the couch. The next time I saw him he said his mom would pay good money to know where he was that night...

Lambda types were useful in University, if not to actually date, then to pick as lab partners.
I had two geeky Asian guys who barely spoke English in my world geography class. They loved nothing more than doing my work for me and getting me a good grade. And they asked for nothing more from me than my in-class company.

Great post Anne. Your posts are always well written and informative and - I always get a good laugh.
Thank you!

TeresaNoelleRoberts said...

How about Wash on Firefly (yes, it's back to the men of Firefly again!)? Wears ugly Hawaiian shirts, plays with dinosaurs, is a wee bit broken even by the high standards of crazy set by the Jossverse--and won the heart of the exceedingly hot leather-clad warrior woman.

I like sexy geeks. Although in the real world, as opposed to fiction, I think geeks are the real alphas. After all, are you more likely to have an emergency where you need a SEAL or a barbarian warrior--or one where you need the guy who can save you from an insidious software worm or your own iPod ineptitude?

t'Sade said...

I hated Walsh's death though. :( But, I love the geeks, yummy. :)

Olivia Knight said...

What, no Woody Allen?

I like to think I go for intelligence, sensitivity, and talent every time... but deep down, I'm really shallow. I want good looks and intelligence, sensitivity, talent... Not that the boys you've picked are bad-looking. "Shy" and quiet is best when it's actually overlying a reservoir of self-confidence - insecurity that manifests as boastfulness, eurgh!

Looks v intelligence: do we have to choose?

I feel like Pooh Bear offered honey or condensed milk with his bread, and saying "Both please!" - and then, not wanting to be greedy, adding "But don't worry about the bread."

So yeah - give me looks and intelligence, but don't worry about the bread! I'll make my own.

Janine Ashbless said...

Lambda males - does JD count?

He's cute. You wouldn't say No, would you? Lambda males can be so cute.

Trouble is, they're not the ones that turn me into a puddle of bug-eyed helpless lust.

Anne Tourney said...

Thanks for all your feedback, everyone -- although I'm not sure that Lambdas are the most lust-worthy of heroic archetypes, they do deserve their place in the pantheon. Maybe they trigger my instinct to stick up for the underdog.

I have to confess, I've gotten weak-kneed over my share of Alphas, too. And I'm somewhat partial to the Lambdas who deviate into Deltadom . . . .

Dayle A. Dermatis said...

I find this fascinating, in large part because I dislike most alphas. Thanks for bringing this up!

I'm not clear, though... What's the difference between a Beta (e.g., Vicki Lewis Thompson's heroes in the Nerd in Shining Armor series) and a Lambda?

Me, I'm all about the Gammas, those cheeky bad boys.

Dayle A. Dermatis said...

Portia, I totally agree that hard-and-fast labeling isn't useful or even believable--nobody is exactly one way. I think terms like Alpha/Beta/Gamma/Lambda or archtypes such as Warrior/Professor/Chief/Bad Boy are useful tools in creating characters that are consistent and true to themselves.

I took a workshop on the archetypes at RWA Nationals last year, and an interesting point was the characters who are a combination of two of the archetypes. That can be a lot of fun to play with!

Dayle A. Dermatis said...

Teresa said, "After all, are you more likely to have an emergency where you need a SEAL or a barbarian warrior--or one where you need the guy who can save you from an insidious software worm or your own iPod ineptitude?"

I'd rather save myself and then go jump the bones of my bad boy Gamma! LOL

Amanda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amanda said...

i lust over the entire Greek alphabet, me thinks. do sexy smouldering music and poet types count as Lambdas? i'm not sure...if they do then here are mine:
Connor Oberst from Bright Eyes
Jeff Buckley (no longer alive alas)
Canadian writers Stephen Heighton, Michael Winter, Matthew Firth, William Neil Scott, Francisco Ibanez Carrusco, Joey Comeau to name only a few. Ah yes, intelligence and intensity are two of my favourite I words. great post! [previous comment removed because i spelled two as too, gads]

Kate Pearce said...

So is Steve Jobs a Lambda? I hope so.
My problem with this type is that my eldest son is one and so are all his friends and I kind of have to live with there's no way I can feel passionate about his type, although I can see that his obsession with detail and intensity might make some lucky woman very happy.

angell said...

Lambda Males are amazing!! As soon as I saw the title of the post I started doing my Lewis laugh - ROTN is one of my favourite geek movies - right up there with Weird Science and Real Genius.

I am actually in the middle of a writing a post with a common theme - former geeks gone gorgeous.

(Psst let's all remember that McDreamy was a Lambda before he became an Alpha)

Anne Tourney said...

I'd agree with Angell that most, if not all, Lambda males have Alpha potential. Often, I think, their rejection of the leadership role is a deliberate one, and that's what makes them appealing to me. I think the "geeks gone gorgeous" theme sounds delightful.

Kate, I believe you also commented on my last Crush Wednesday (Existential Hotties) that my "crush" type reminded you too much of your son and his friends to be appealing. This makes me wonder if maybe I have a pattern of being attracted to underage males . . . which would worry me a lot.

Of course, I've found plenty of middle-aged males who act like 15-year-old rebels, so I haven't had to rob any cradles (yet).

Janine Ashbless said...

Found it!

For the ultimate, heartbreaking Lambda Male song, you have to listen to Jonathan Coulton's Code Monkey. (This particular version has a World of Warcraft video to match, but you can shut your eyes and just listen to the song if you prefer). Genius.

Kate Pearce said...

Anne, please-come and take him under your wing-he's almost 19 now! :)

Ally said...

MMMM Jake and Kevin. I'll take em both. Same time please!

Licks Lips.

Hope everyone is well. Pop in again soon.

Anonymous said...

Mmm, Joaquin Phoenix. Even though he was born with the name Bottom (which nevertheless is better than Phoenix -- so try-hard) I still adore him. Sexy as fuck.