As much as we want to be the cool characters we see in films and TV shows, it’s clear that certain characters were made to be villains or cautionary tales. The most insidious ones are the so-called “Sigma Male” types; they’re mostly anti-social or sociopathic (at times, even psychotic) men who get away with what they do through sheer cleverness and very rarely cross the antihero line. It’s a made-up personality— a coping mechanism for shy guys.
Most of the time, these characters were meant for mature minds, movies with R or NC-17 ratings, or shows with TV-MA media. But what happens if underage minds or immature perspectives gaze upon them? The “harmless” outcome is usually meme pages and YouTube shorts sarcastically implying or declaring that Ryan Gosling from Drive is “literally me.”
But there are always worse examples where their understanding of the character is superficial at best– widespread cases of astray individuals believing that these obvious villains were the best role models they could have. Thus, they unironically reshape their personality after that character.
At that point, it’s hard to distinguish who’s laughing at the memes and who’s religiously taking the joke seriously– they’re the Lost Boys who have gathered around their proverbial Peter Pan.
In such troubled and confusing times when it’s easy to form multiple personas thanks to social media, it might be best for everyone to remember to pick a role model who isn’t a “Sigma Male” villain. And these following “Sigma Male” characters should never seriously be “literally me” because even the filmmakers and showrunners never intended them to be you.
Daemon Targaryen (House of the Dragon)
You gotta give it to Matt Smith and his acting chops because it seems no matter what his character Daemon does on-screen, both men and women will still be predilected to call him “daddy” (or “uncle”) and be attracted to him.
Look, guys and gals, he offed his first wife; if you’re not blood-related to any degree, you’re in for a “rocky” relationship (heh). In hindsight, it’s a worrying case of why fans love narcissists in their media (and unsurprisingly, this preference for fiction could bleed into real life).
But let’s objectively break down some of Daemon’s crimes and transgressions. Grooming aside, he murdered his previous wife in cold blood with a rock, he also assaulted his current wife (in the show), insulted the memory of his dead infant nephew, and he’s generally just an impulsive warmonger.
Granted, his villain arc has yet to formally begin. But come later seasons (if the books are anything to go by), Daemon will fully embrace villainy with what he’s about to do with his children and his wife.
He’s still an awesome and visceral character. But those who idolize him need only liken themselves to another hateful and insecure fool in House of the Dragon who also worships Daemon, Aemond Targaryen. He dragged his kingdom to all-out war over his stupidity; he’s what happens if you try to ape Daemon without plot armor.
Tony Soprano (The Sopranos)
And oldie but goodie, Tony Soprano became one of the first cautionary tales on television. He’s one of the earliest poster boys for toxicity, often acting out on his insecurities, and the show never fails to emphasize that.
Despite being a crime boss at the top of his mafia family, Tony is still a middle-aged man-baby who would pick a fight if his masculinity is threatened by something as mundane as his weight gain.
Tony is also a racist, born and bred, and let’s not forget just how much he tore his family apart by merely enforcing his outdated ideals.
Obviously, idolizing him should be out of the question based on the mere fact that he’s a crime lord who has not only had people killed but also made them poor or miserable. And through all this, he lacks self-awareness, often wondering why everyone around him is either a failure or a headache when in reality, he’s their common denominator.
Feel free to mourn the death of James Gandolfini, but avoid idolizing the pure evil he portrayed over the course of six seasons.
Homelander (The Boys)
The “evil Superman” trope has been done to death, but the most relevant among them would be currently Homelander for the realism in his portrayal. He was a lab-grown and isolated individual and was dead-set on becoming a sociopath from childhood. And like Tony Soprano, he’s a sociopath who had power, but Homelander’s power was more physical.
The show makes it blatant that he’s the villain, but you’ll be surprised that there are people defending his behavior, chalking it up to his twisted upbringing.
And while most “literally me” memes about him are parodies, you’ll be surprised that there are right-wing supporters and fanatics who actually equated Homelander to their savior figure, often comparing him to Trump. So it’s clear who he’s popular with, not as a villain you love to hate, but someone to idolize, which is disturbing.
Walter White (Breaking Bad)
It’s amazing how many people can re-watch Breaking Bad several times and still miss the point that Walter White’s the villain. He’s literally a drug lord who betrayed multiple business partners and even killed them impulsively. He has no morals and would even harm children for convenience.
By the end of the show, it was clear that Walter White’s concern for his family was never really out of goodwill; he just had a massive ego. A life of repressed emotions had led to the very moment of his becoming a drug lord, and it’s not like others ruined his chances; his ego merely got in the way.
In fact, one of the reasons why he left his ex-girlfriend, Gretchen, and his crowning achievement behind him was how he couldn’t accept that Gretchen was wealthier than him.
You can’t deny that he’s a genius, but people praising Walter White’s actions and coupling that eyebrow-raising “Sigma Male” music during his ego-trip clips (“say my name” scene) are sorely misinterpreting his character. Even after he died in the end and the message was plain enough, fans still rooted for him.
However, you might just be excused for doing so; after all, the pilot seasons painted Walter White in a rather sympathetic light— one who immediately grew as a middle finger to a crippling healthcare system during the first season. It’s just that a lot of fans still missed the point even after Walt’s cancer went away.
You’ve likely heard of Thanos’ plan to wipe out half of the universe to sustain the other half, which is stupid and shortsighted, by the way, since he’d also be wiping out half of the food supply. And we know he also wiped out the animals, as was implied by the resurgence of the birds in Avengers: Endgame, after fixing the snap that killed so many characters we know and love.
But despite the Avengers making a strong point of why Thanos needs to be stopped, you might still come across some social media comments or even some odd acquaintance mentioning that “Thanos was right.” It’s as if it became a rallying cry for them and their edgy outlook on why the world is full of problems right now.
That’s like a risk-free way of saying you support mass murder and genocide if it made your life convenient.
And for the record, Thanos in the comic books had a different reason for his genocide; he merely wanted to impress the personification of death.
The Joker, like Batman, has come a long way from being the goofy Clown Prince of Crime. Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix, not only solidified his status as one of the best villains ever, but it also apparently gave a romanticized figure of anarchy against a system that has failed the outcasts. That partly explains why he’s so popular now with the lurkers of the internet– incels and such.
To them, the Joker has become a personification of what they wished they could do to society, even if he’s an evil psychopath who only cares about himself. He’s a character who self-destructs as he pleases and likes to take down as many with him, sounds familiar, right? You’ve probably even met some similar high school bullies; who wants to be the Harley Quinn to that kind of person?
Tyler Durden (Fight Club)
Fight Club (the movie, not the book) hits all the right spots for frustrated men and their repressed anger issues stemming from their helplessness as cogs of the machine that is capitalism. And Tyler Durden was the narrator’s subconscious who essentially took over and broke bad and mad in anarchy as a way of letting off steam. Their secret fight club is at the forefront of this stress release.
Tyler’s the alternate persona that guys wished they could unleash against their toxic boss or their oppressive father– a manifestation of the bruised ego.
It’s easy to misinterpret the character as some prophet of masculinity and non-conformity in a world ruled by consumerism, but in hindsight, Tyler Durden is just as bad as the Joker. He hates what society has become yet continues to live off of it like a destructive parasite. He’s just a fool who wanted to act like an animal within the confines and comforts of human society.
It’s also worth noting that in the book, it’s harder to sympathize and resonate with Tyler Durden since he wasn’t as lean as Brad Pitt, and he was also more unstable.
Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver)
An even more dangerous bad role model is a villain who thinks of himself as a hero, much like Homelander from The Boys. Travis Bickle is one such character– a depressed and lonely man who has his own twisted moral compass, trying to kill whomever he believes deserves the punishment. This initially happened to be a politician with whom he disagreed.
Despite being painted as a twisted character, many still swear by their own interpretation that Travis is supposed to be a hero based on the fact that he accidentally killed someone worse. But the truth is, he’s just a deluded vigilante; perhaps even those clamoring for “needing more people like Travis on the streets” are as likely to get impulsively murdered by his types if he ever catches a glimpse of their browser history.
Jordan Belfort (The Wolf of Wall Street)
Ever had that annoying business major friend who keeps sharing The Wolf of Wall Street quotes? Do they also have pictures of them sitting inside a Lambo with a logo of an MLM company? You can partly thank diCaprio for that; he depicted Jordan Belfort so well people were inclined to romanticize whatever crimes he committed in the name of profit.
In reality, what Jordan Belfort did in real life was even worse. The drug addiction, sexual assault, rape, fraud, destruction of property, driving under the influence, and many other crimes he committed were all mostly real, and he got away with it because he was filthy rich.
For many business-minded people who wanted to get rich quickly without regard to ethics or legality, Jordan Belfort became their patron saint. You know that the film’s message was misinterpreted enough that even some managers on some multinational corporate ladders would tell their employees to look for The Wolf of Wall Street as an inspiration to get rich (based on experience).
Patrick Bateman (American Psycho)
And last but not least, Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. The film’s opening sequence featuring Bateman’s wellness and morning routine is notoriously famous among social media influencers. Some of them try to ape it, but really, they likely only saw the film for a few dozen minutes or understood it on a superficial level.
Because American Psycho is a satirical commentary about the idiocy and delusions of a high-level Wall Street hustler, the film pokes fun at how in the 1990s, the Vice President title was being handed out like candies to presentable and overpaid men who, in turn, bloated up their self-worth and narcissistic tendencies despite all looking alike and having a useless job.
Even Patrick admits it himself during his shower thoughts. He’s an empty shell of a human being who lives in his own head and hates everyone, even himself; no amount of moisturizing creams and facial scrubs can cover his shallow existence. Nice hygiene, though; maybe guys should watch up to that and stop there.