Ron Desantis and the 'Sigma Male'
In this newsletter I investigate why in God's name Republican Presidential candidate Ron Desantis retweeted a video comparing himself to serial killer and 'sigma male' Patrick Bateman
The sigma male is perhaps the most ubiquitous image born of the online right wing ‘manosphere.’ And despite the fact that this online milieu appears to no longer have much control over how the meme is represented in popular culture, losing to a group of people who have distorted the phrase to parody the manosphere’s worst tendencies, this has paradoxically only led to it becoming an even more effective mechanism to recruit young men into their patriarchal right wing vision of masculinity. The original point of this meme is to invoke the phrase “he is just like me” in audiences, presenting them with various characters from popular culture meant to embody the sigma male archetype. Yet even memes parodying this format to the extreme of depicting chainsaw wielding serial killer Patrick Bateman as a sigma male have, to varying degrees of semi-irony and sincerity, been used by online right wing posters as a recruitment mechanism for their ideology. However much one points out the neurotic, narcissistic, and even sociopathic traits that these hyper-masculine subcultures condition, the only response they must amount in order to continue to amass adherents is some flippant, semi-ironic affirmation of these accusations akin in tone and seriousness to the ‘chad yes’ meme.
The phenomenon of those on the far right reveling in the neurotic, irrational, and contradictory nature of their politics is fairly old and well observed. Yet perhaps Marx, in his famous addendum to Hegel concerning the repetition of historical fact, failed to add that history need not only repeat itself farcically once. It seems that the contemporary cultural medium of social media, with its anonymity and profit based content distribution systems, has heightened this far right farce to a degree not even thought possible by snickering German dissidents in the 40s who would sarcastically refer to the many monotonous “blood and soil” (blut und boden) novels released by Nazi sympathizers as “blubo” literature. In the contemporary context, these sympathizers would themselves begin publishing books under the category of “blubo,” a revelation of the fact that while public mockery may successfully ‘unmask’ the ridiculous and irrational nature of certain political movements, no such unmasking may upset these movement’s claims to sheer, brute power over their enemies.
Nowhere does this phenomenon appear more plainly in the contemporary context than in the campaign of Republican presidential hopeful Ron Desantis, who, in July of 2023, released a propaganda video to the “Desantis War Room” Twitter (I’m sorry, X) account utilizing visual association to compare himself to Patrick Bateman and other fictional characters commonly associated with the ‘sigma male’ meme in popular culture such as Thomas Shelby from television series Peaky Blinders and Jordan Belfort from the film The Wolf of Wall Street. The video juxtaposes media headlines characterizing Desantis’ recent surge of anti-LGBT laws as “evil,” “draconian,” and “extreme” with clips of the Floridian governor laughing and making speeches as well as shots of previously mentioned ‘sigma males.’ Through psychological suggestion, the video attempts to initiate a transference of the introjection a viewer may exert towards these ‘sigma males’ onto Desantis.
The video’s explicit content, which is meant to glorify Desantis’ anti trans bills and even take sadistic joy in the anger they have inspired in left leaning media outlets, is inextricably tied to the meme format it references. Just as these ‘sigma males’ are condemned and reviled for the selfish pursuit of their narcissistic desires, as appears both within the content of their stories as well as how they are parodied in ironic ‘sigma male’ memes, so too is Desantis.
While comparisons between politicians and conventional movie stars are not particularly rare, Desantis’ team’s decision to compare him to a reviled character such as the psychotic, sociopathic narcissist Patrick Bateman, appears to have been them, in a sense, saying the ‘quiet part out loud’ in relation to their desire to condition a form of support based almost entirely upon sadistic cruelty, as the video was deleted off of his affiliated Twitter (I’m sorry, X) account “Desantis War Room” following media outrage. Other videos released by Desantis’ propaganda team are equally vulgar and bizarre and born out of the same far right hyper-masculine subculture that openly embraced figures like Bateman as a ‘sigma male.” Yet, of course, this subculture’s ability to propagandize by openly celebrating their narcissistic sadistic tendencies and cursing any social norms which stand in their way works better, in the current political climate at least, if it comes from an anonymous account. But while its fairly obvious that a mainstream politician invoking this meme format is a bad campaign decision, why has the sincere usage of this meme become prominent enough that any Desantis staffer would sincerely think the comparison between Desantis’ draconian transphobic laws and Patrick Bateman’s bloodlust would engender sympathy for him? While the obvious answer to this question is simply “incompetence,” I think that the social causes of this incompetence are structured enough to draw an analysis from.
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