Why the image from "American Psycho" is so popular on the Internet
The division into alphas and omegas is a thing of the past: now the "sigma" psychotype is increasingly common on social networks.
On the Internet, sigmas have been around for about two years now - they are the name of "tough guys" illustrated by the main characters from "Fight Club," "Sharp Cones" or "John Wick." Some admire sigmas, others try the concept on themselves, while others don't understand why men associate themselves with mentally unstable heroes. The term peaked in popularity in early 2023.
Online, sigmas have been transformed more than once - they are now lone wolves, then overachieving workaholics, then models of masculinity who are respectful of those around them.
The problem is that the community on the Internet has formed around the anti-scientific division of men into groups and the excessive romanticization of "problematic" characters from pop culture. We figured out who sigmas are and why Patrick Bateman's facial expression is associated with them.
Who are the sigmas?
Where they came from. The concept of "sigma male" is a slang term derived from an extended unscientific theory of social hierarchy, where the letters of the Greek alphabet are used to denote the male's position in society.
In animal dominance hierarchies, alpha males are often referred to as the leaders and protectors most attractive to females. Betas are second in the hierarchy, and omegas are last. This idea has been shifted to the position of males in society. The alphas are traditionally called attractive, confident and successful men. Betas, on the other hand, lack charisma and confidence, which is why they cannot boast of success in relationships with women.
It is important to remember that applying the concept of animal hierarchy to society is a completely unscientific theory. But applying it to humans is not new to the Internet. The division into alphas and betas was actively used on anonymous forums like 4chan and other spaces with a predominantly male audience.
In 2010, a popular political blogger from the U.S., Theodore Robert Beal, took up the concept. He decided that the division into alphas and betas was insufficient, so he proposed a more detailed classification: it included deltas, gammas, lambda, sigmas and omegas.
In Beale's concept, sigmas are similar to alphas, but deliberately go against the rest of society and social norms. Even in the blogger's social hierarchy they were on par with the alphas, but outside the pyramid. The term fit perfectly with people who considered themselves outcasts. They got the archetype of the "lone wolf" - as tough as the alpha, but also unpopular.
Since the early 2010s, the term "sigma" has remained niche, being only within predominantly male Internet communities. But in 2020, videos with titles like "10 Signs You're a Sigma Male" appeared on YouTube, articles were written on Lifestyle sites on "How to Become a Sigma," and even a selfhelp book, "Sigma Male: What Women Really Want," was published. People became seriously interested in the question of whether they could call themselves a sigma.
What sigmas are like. The network used as vague wording as possible so that most people could subsume themselves under the definition of sigma. For example, articles often cite attributes such as:
- Likes to be alone, but appreciates other people;
- is a silent leader;
- Knows how to adapt to different situations;
- treats everyone as an equal;
- does not need social approval;
- understands when to remain silent.
Along with the serious interpretation of the term "sigma," came the irony of it. "Signs of sigma" were too general and could point to any man. Men who were seriously trying on the definition of sigma seemed to the Internet disconnected from reality.
The authors of the memes began to take sigmas' traits to the point of absurdity and irony over their desire to appear "different. Instagram accounts appeared that parodied motivational bloggers who recommended "just working harder to get rich. Their authors gave absurd advice, claims of entrepreneurs like Ilon Musk, who say they work 90 hours a week.
Characters from American Psycho, Fight Club, The Wolf of Wall Street and John Wick were used for memes. They most resembled sigmas by description - popular, successful, independent and self-sufficient. Such memes came to be called the term "sigma-grindset," which means a set of attitudes or ways of thinking of sigmas. They mocked the desire of sigma-associated men for extreme workaholism and success at all costs.
What Science Says About Alpha and Beta
The scientific theory about alphas and betas among animals has been disproved. The idea of alpha wolves appeared in 1947. Scientist Rudolf Schenkel described the social structure of wolves based on the study of a dozen individuals living in a zoo. He noticed that at the head of the hierarchy is always a pair - the alpha male and the alpha female. The beta wolf acts as a substitute for the alpha, while the omega wolf is oppressed and bullied.
His ideas were developed in the 1970s by David Meech, who described the pack hierarchy in his book "The Wolf: Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species" and decided that wolves could fight for dominance. It became a bestseller and popularized the idea.
Meech later disproved his own theory. The scientist came to the conclusion that the so-called alpha male and alpha female were the parents of the pack, and that there really were no clashes for dominance in the wild. He observed wolves in zoos; they were not a real pack.
When researchers stopped using the term "alpha," it had already taken root in the public consciousness. Against this background came the term "sigma," which has never appeared in research and has no connection with the scientific method.
Alpha and beta among humans is an even bigger myth. The social structure of society is much more complex than the wolf hierarchy of the disproved theory. A person's status in social groups can be different: he can stand out among friends, but be quiet in the work collective, and this does not mean that he turns from an alpha into an omega.
Men strive for dominant traits, thinking that this attracts women. However, scientists have concluded that women do not choose partners who match the characteristics of alpha. They called confident, easygoing, sensitive, non-aggressive, undemanding and non-dominant men attractive, a description that doesn't fit alpha, beta or sigma.
People like to categorize themselves. The alpha-male theory is popular for the same reason why people read horoscopes or choose their Hogwarts faculty. They try to realize themselves and identify with understandable archetypes that remind them of their own character.
Sigma is a mysterious and contradictory image of a man outside the alpha-beta-omega hierarchy. That's why he looks so appealing-anyone can find sigma traits in himself and feel a little better about himself.
Where did the "sigma face" come from?
A huge number of jokes about sigmas have resulted in another popular meme: the "sigma face. It is a facial expression in which the eyebrows are furrowed and the lips are pouted in approval of what is going on. It is based on Patrick Bateman from "American Psycho," one of the main pop-cultural characters who are considered sigmas on social media.
A gif of Bateman's facial expression has been used as a reaction on social media before, but didn't get its name until 2022, when memes about sigma males mingled with "Wow, that's literally me" jokes.
The meme Literally Me is ironic about men who associate themselves with antisocial characters from movies or TV shows: characters from Fight Club, Taxi Driver, A Clockwork Orange, and any Ryan Gosling movies. In jokes such people watch a movie and exclaim, "Wow, that's literally me." Many of the characters in the meme match examples of sigma males from pop culture.
In 2022, sigma prototypes from pop culture began to be combined in fan videos on YouTube. Often these videos used character quotes and footage from movies or TV shows, and added tracks by The Perfect Girl by Mareux or Nothing Worth by Twisted and Oliver Tree to the background.
"YouTube shaped a certain "lone wolf" aesthetic that users associated themselves with, either seriously or ironically. It was Patrick Bateman from American Psycho who was most often featured in video clips, making him the most recognizable character-sigma.
The most famous sigmas in pop culture
On the Internet, sigmas are considered to be quite different characters from movies and TV series. But they all share common traits: confidence, independence and determination. Often the positive traits are accompanied by a propensity for violence and psychopathic tendencies, but it is the ambiguity that is so attractive to these characters. Here's a list of the main characters who are considered sigmas.
🔪 Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. Main Sigma. Received this title because of his memorable image: Bateman is popular with his colleagues, successful with women, independent, freewheeling at parties, grooming, disciplined, clean, exercising, has good habits and taste in clothes.
Bateman always does what he wants, trusts his intuition, does not wait for the right time - this is what has attracted so much attention to him. For all his positive traits, this is the most contradictory character among sigmas: he brutally kills those for whom he feels hatred or jealousy.
🧪 Walter White from Breaking Bad. Second most popular sigma-edite hero. Became a subculture hero because of his determination and willingness to do anything for a cause that gradually changes from a desire to provide for his family to a lust for power.
Walter's cruelty and recklessness are often portrayed in a positive way: for example, his phrase "I am not in danger, I am the danger" is popular in commercials.
❄️ Tony Montana from Scarface. He goes from being just a guy to a rich drug lord who does whatever he wants. To achieve fame and success, Tony sacrifices a lot and loses loved ones, but he does not stop, looks danger in the eye and is not afraid of it, which is why he was recorded in sigmas.
👊 Tyler Durden from Fight Club. Image of perfect masculinity: all men want to be like him. Convincing people to give up social norms and material things - such nihilistic views are also consistent with sigma subculture.
🦇 Bruce Wayne from Batman. Self-centered entrepreneur who can do whatever he wants. Surrounded by luxury, pretty girls and nice cars. In doing so, Wayne's image is used as a facade to hide the personality of Batman, who represents justice, stability, sacrifice and the ability to do good deeds - the traits that sigmas strive for.
🚕 Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. The most misunderstood sigma: independent but needy in relationships, passionate about appearance, but not successful with women. He has empathy, but as soon as he gets rejected by a girl, he loses touch with reality and the ability to understand what's right and wrong. Sigma is nicknamed for his persistence and determination.
🐶 John Wick. A brutal and determined mercenary who fears nothing. Dedicated to his cause, puts his family first, can cut off his own finger without hesitation - the truest sigma of all sigmas.
🚗 Ryan Gosling's character from "Drive." Humble, quiet and empathic introvert, but has charisma and self-confidence. Commits crimes but doesn't want to continue and tries to be the "good" guy. What makes him sigma is his determination to change his life for the better for the sake of his loved ones.
🚬 Tom Shelby from "Sharp Trumps." The leader of a dangerous gang who controls his emotions no matter the situation and stays cool in times of danger. Honest, does everything for his family, makes no rash decisions, and stays silent until he needs to intervene. He has traits valuable in sigma culture, such as observation, calmness and concentration.