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Pete Davidson represents the evolution of masculinity, attraction and mental health

Pete Davidson has been everywhere in our media landscape and public discourse over the past few years. 

Davidson rose to mainstream popularity during his time on Saturday Night Live (SNL), where he has been a cast member since 2014. Recently, he’s been cast in more and more Hollywood films, including the Judd Apatow film loosely based on Davidson’s own life called “The King Of Staten Island.” 

Davidson has also been in the spotlight for his string of romantic relationships with celebrities including Ariana Grande, Kaia Gerber, Kate Beckinsale and most recently, Kim Kardashian.

These relationships have brought up a wide range of polarizing discourse. Many young women swoon over the goofy, self-deprecating, 28-year-old comedian, but others struggle to understand the appeal.

Conversation about him increased exponentially in 2018 during his brief engagement to Ariana Grande. He’s recently hit another peak, as his romance with Kim Kardashian appears to be heating up amid her divorce from Kanye West.

So, what is it about Pete Davidson that’s so attractive, and what makes him different from other Hollywood ‘it’ guys? 

America loves an underdog. 

Most of us root for the underdog in every movie, television show or book, and if you don’t … you might be the villain. In an age where celebrities are treated like characters for us to follow through their plotline, Davidson is the underdog. 

“One could argue that the underdog trope is consistent over time,” Ronald Becker, professor of media and culture said. “But at different moments in history, who is the underdog and what the underdog is overcoming, changes and reflects a lot about what’s going on in a specific moment in time.” 

Davidson’s popularity could be attributed to the fact that he represents certain cultural values that people project onto him.  From the start of his career, his brand has been that of a goofy, somewhat troubled pothead and mama’s boy from Staten Island. That image has stayed consistent and comes off very sincere.

That sincerity also extends to the way he speaks about his struggles with his mental health.

For years, he’s been open about his diagnosis with borderline personality disorder, his struggles with self-esteem and his coping with self-harm and, at times, problematic drug use. Those issues aren’t only relatable, but rare to hear discussed so vulnerably by an A-list celebrity.  

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“His honesty … it makes him not just ‘nice’ but vulnerable … and sincere,” Becker said, “even as he moves in a sort of insincere world.” 

Despite Davidson’s openness about his mental health struggles, he manages to appear confident without being arrogant or pretending to be perfect. 

In his Netflix special, “Alive From New York”, he describes himself and other guys from Staten Island as being like “If you had a Marlboro Red and you threw it in a bathtub and it came to life.”  

“He’s the hybrid mixture of celebrity culture and average Joe,” Becker explained.

In a highly photoshopped world where it seems like everything is at least a little bit contrived, it makes sense that people are attracted to Davidson’s style of comedy. 

It could also be a cultural reaction to the “Self-Proclaimed Nice Guy” many women run into. This is the type of guy who feels entitled to women and complains when they don’t want to sleep with him because he’s “such a nice guy.” 

There’s a stereotype that women only want to date “bad boys” or “losers,” but maybe it’s actually that women just want a guy who’s real. 

We’ve reached a point where people  are taking more ownership over what they want from their partner. The arrogant, hyper-masculine “nice guy” who thinks he’s the whole package just isn’t that appealing anymore.

Davidson is the antithesis of that guy. 

This is especially alluring in an age where our notions of masculinity are changing. Gen Z has rejected many of the expectations of traditional gender roles and has become acutely aware of the damaging effects of toxic masculinity. 

Davidson, and many other current male celebrities, have come to represent those values. Timothee Chalamet, Harry Styles, Frank Ocean, Tom Holland and Shawn Mendes have all rejected conventional values in their own ways, and people have taken notice.

While they reject conventional expectations, these men are still palatable and marketable to the general public. They reject the standards without being too fringe. 

The contrast is especially stark against other celebrity “it” guys like Chris Hemsworth, Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake and James Franco.

Franco is especially interesting in comparison to Davidson. 

Both are stoner comedy guys, and you could probably argue that Franco is more conventionally attractive, but he comes off as an increasingly pretentious, egotistical womanizer as his career progresses.  

Davidson comes off as far more relatable and humble in comparison. He doesn’t claim to be the whole package, and he doesn’t appear entitled. He’s surprised by his success, and he often jokes that any day he’ll be fired from SNL for not being good enough. He got hundreds of goofy tattoos in his early twenties because, as he says, he never imagined getting major roles in Hollywood. 

And let’s not forget, he’s talented at what he does. A great sense of humor is one of the driving forces of attraction, and Davidson is a great comedian. 

He’s become well known for his dry, self-deprecating and sometimes edgy sense of humor. His brand of comedy makes people laugh in a way that doesn’t feel contrived. Davidson is the stoner buddy cracking jokes with his friends in a way that feels strangely intimate.

Based on Davidson’s public persona, he seems like the type of guy that women can be themselves around, not a man you have to be “on” for. That could be refreshing for celebrity women who constantly have to perform. 

“So much of masculinity is about men performing and living up to standards that other men give them,” Becker said, “… but then when they see straight women finding [Davidson] attractive, that could be confusing for them.”

In social media discourse, it seems a lot of straight men have trouble understanding why so many women see Davidson as the new archetype of their ideal man. 

In a patriarchal society, it’s been assumed for a long time that what most women find attractive is the traditionally masculine idea of a “manly man.” 

But women are asserting more and more that this isn’t always what they want, and the men like Davidson who get that are coming out on top in terms of popularity and attraction.

 youngkr5@miamioh.edu 

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