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Al Gore with a beard circa 2001
figure 1  

 

alpha male. One who provides virile leadership.

Much of the research on pack behavior—and alpha males—has been done on wolves, who are dogs' immediate ancestors. Therefore, there is a certain irony that it was a woman named Naomi Wolf who told the Democratic Party's 2000 presidential nominee that “he is a beta male, a subordinate figure, and must learn to become an alpha male, or leader of the pack, before the public can accept him as President.”reference 1 Many thought that Ms. Wolf was not offering helpful advice; certainly the rumors that the Veep was giving her thousands of dollars a month for her opinions did not seem to improve the public's perception of Mr. Gore's leadership capacity. Perhaps Ms. Wolf's thinking was overly influenced by her own surname. In any case, the reports, originating in Time Magazine, were the source of much humor and seemed only to emphasize Mr. Gore's lack of stature in relation to the truly dominant figure of the time, then-President Bill Clinton.

1. Seelye, Kathrine Q. 1999. Adviser Pushes Gore to Be Leader of the Pack. New York Times, Nov 1, A8.

 

 

large black wolf facing a crouching gray wolf in the forest
figure 2  
I had thought that the technical meaning of this term was limited in its use to canine species. In doing the research for this text, however, I discovered that it is also used for a wide range of mammals, including primates (the category that we humans fall into). Nonetheless, the image this term most likely conjures up in one's mind is that of a male dog or wolf leading a pack of like kind and maintaining order with growls, nips, and general all-around domineering behavior. This is indeed a reasonably good description.reference 2 In the canine world, it seems, there is always one individual in charge.
2. Pack Behavior: Why do dogs act the way they do? 1997. Newton's Apple. Accessed Sept 7 2001 from http:// www.pbs.org/ktca/ newtons/15/pack.html.
woman looking down on crouching dog
figure 3  
Robin Kovary of the American Dog Trainers Network advises, “Hopefully, your dog sees you as his or her pack leader (‘Alpha’).”reference 3 While some dogs might like to be in charge, what is even more important to them is that someone be in charge. How close an analogy is this to human behavior? In Anglo societies, humans tend to think of themselves as autonomous individuals. Much lip service is paid to the nobility of nonconformity and individual conscience. Yet, in considering the rallying ‘round President George Bush after the attacks of September 11, 2001, I am not quick to jump to conclusions. Maybe we humans do both need and want someone to be in charge and make sure that we stay in line.

3. Kovary, Robin. 1999. Taming the Dominant Dog. American Dog Trainers Network. Accessed Sept 7 2001 from http:// www.inch. com/~dogs/ taming.html.

 

line

About the illustrations: The photograph in Figure 1, a picture of the former Vice President, was taken in France and is among the few in which his facial hair was publicly evident. Since it has always been my belief that facial hair on White men is likely an attempt to signify virility and masculinity, it seemed an apt illustration for this discussion of Mr. Gore's alpha male qualities. The original photograph was taken by Manuel Bruque for the Associated Press and published on July 13, 2001.reference 4

Figure 2 is a painting by accomplished wildlife artist Todd Fredericksen entitled “New Alpha Male.” It commemorates the moment at which the intrepid male, Wolf 21, joins the Druid Peak pack as its new leader.reference 5

4. Bruque, Manuel. 2001. Gore in Europe. (photograph) Associated Press. Accessed Sept 7 2001 from http:// www.msnbc.com/ news/ 609407.asp

5. Frederickson, Todd. 1999. New Alpha Male. (painting) Yellowstone Wolf Tracker. Accessed Feb 15, 2008 from http:// www.wolftracker.com/ Landis/ new_male.htm

In Figure 3, we see the typical postures of a dog and her trainer. Compare this with the image in Figure 2 and note the similarities. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.  
cf: top dog; lead dog; leader of the pack; underdog
see also: pack mentality; his master's voice
Last updated: June 21, 2008
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