The Butler Legacy
Our attraction is a reflection of us. We’re often drawn to people or images that spark recognition of our own selves outside of us. Those who captivate us often possess qualities we recognize either as dormant or active in our own personality. In the same vein the people who surround us are mirrors of what we also project out from inside. Some underestimate the fandom of celebrities but from an anthropological or sociological perspective much can be learned from examining the demographics of a fandom.
Celebrities are icons. Their body of work builds upon what their personas symbolize. When you examine the characteristic of an actor’s fan demographic some observations are telling. They reveal as much about the performer as they do about the supporters. Consider the type of people who are drawn to high art. They are often not the same element attracted to bull riding bars in the dives of Texas. Consider the crowd found in the halls of the Sorbonne in Paris. Now compare them against the average class population in a local C-rated city college. Now look at Madonna. Many of the wannabes who were fan girls in the 1980s ended up being MBA corporate executive success stories out of her inspiration as a strong mentally tough female. Such effective outcomes from those who find a positive and productive expression of their celebrity admiration makes me wonder, if like attracts like, what does that say about the star?
For example, since I was nine years old there has been only one celebrity who has been a kind of muse to me. When I discovered a song that terrified my parents little did I know how the controversial singer of “Like A Virgin” would alter my life. My parents thought Madonna was a bad influence. If anything she has been everything but that to me. Madonna represented a feminine archetype of strength, intelligence, courage, and an apologetic desire to be her own person. Whether my perception of her has ever been correct, it is the constant transformation of the icon that remains to this day a source of uplifting energy for me.
Other Madonna fans may not relate to her in the same way as I even if they share the same reasons that I do for admiring her. The essence is still the same. Deep down inside, there were aspects of her personality that she exhibited and expressed that set my heart on fire. I wanted to cultivate those same qualities in myself. So when I discovered her as a young preteen suddenly something exciting seemed possible. I left home at 16 and moved to the big city far away. Then I ran away to England and made my way back to North America before eventually settling in California. Before I discovered my icon those dreams existed in my mind but seeing somebody personify them and live out those ideas propelled me to follow my instinct to do it too.
So far in evaluating Madonna’s legacy it appears to be a far-reaching influence of ambition in the hearts of her fans. There are many other stars who call her an inspiration, such as Lady Gaga and Geri Halliwell of the Spice Girls. Madonna is not the only one with a positive legacy. Nor is she the only one who has fans that have followed her for years and will continue to do so. When I wrote the article about men versus boys in Hollywood it dawned on me that these manly male stars also had a similar effect. In particular, Gerard Butler also has the kind of fandom that is a legacy to be proud of.
Gerard Butler emerged as one of the most successful leading man in Hollywood after his breakthrough role in 300. Since his rise to prominence, Butler fans have developed into an organized collective that display a consistent loyalty to the actor. One particular group of fans, Gerard Butler GALS (who formed a 501 (c) 3 non-profit corporation, GALS Charitable Foundation) raises money in part for a wide-reaching domestic abuse shelter, as well as an organization that aids starving, abused and orphaned children in East Africa. Every fandom is different but some similarities remain. Most fans are enthusiastic about the performer they support. However, how that support expresses itself offers several lines of demarcation that give a glimpse of the person who inspires their creation and the individuals involved in the fan collective themselves.
Butler’s King Leonidas in 300 is possibly a very strong factor in why his fan demographic is so loyal. His character was the alpha male leader and this perception took hold so firmly in the psyche of the public that it fueled a kind of mirroring effect. People like to follow a leader. Leaders seek one another’s company. One either leads or follows, there are no other options.
I remember seeing an interview with the actor where the reporter asked him about his loyal fans. This was done before he made 300 and it certainly has continued to be something that distinguishes him from others. In the fall of 2011, Butler fans lobbied for greater distribution of his film Machine Gun Preacher. Based on a true story, the film brought to life the tale of a born-again Christian who was on a mission to save child soldiers in Sudan. Had it not been for the organized efforts of Butler’s fans the movie may not have had the reach that it eventually did. This is an example of fan power. Not every actor has this but every celebrity wants it.
So it begs the question: how did Butler cultivate such loyal fans? The answer is multifaceted. The Gerard Butler fandom includes philanthropic pursuits driven primarily by the fans and not the actor. Also very interesting is that the fans have stated an appreciation for Butler as a generous man and they too are generous. Perhaps this is a manifestation of the concept “like attracts like” or “the people we draw towards us are our mirrors”.
The notion of a fandom is not exclusive to pubescent or adolescent teenagers who swoon over the latest song from Justin Bieber or whatever teenybopper star is dominating the airwaves. The very idea of a fandom is much like a study in a demographic expression. By that I mean, in the realm of celebrity fan clubs it is too easy to dismiss such phenomenon as only existing in young people. What is remarkable is that for many public figures they have fandom whose loyalty endures many years. A fandom often begins to exhibit of a life of its own. There is, however, a possible correlation between the group personality and dynamic of a fan population and the symbolic perception of the celebrity their existence is based on.
Butler does seem to represents a kind of return of the masculine. After Steve McQueen died in 1980 there was a growing distance from the strong male archetype in Hollywood. For the last 30 years the images of the man that Hollywood has pushed upon the general public have been more of the pretty boy variety. These are often actors with delicate features, baby faces, and are far less predatory looking. If I were to distinguish the era of Steve McQueen and Marlon Brando, I would call it the “Alpha Era”. For three decades the alpha has been gone and replaced with boyish metrosexuals with much lower levels of testosterone. Nothing wrong with a gentler personality however I think that the “pretty boy” archetype subliminally suggested that gentle and masculine could not coexist. When Gerard Butler appeared on the scene in movies such as One More Kiss or Dear Frankie, it was proof that a strong man could have a warm heart without reducing his masculinity.
There is little denying that human beings are still a function of evolutionary biology. Despite our advanced cognitive abilities in a very modern world, the aspects of attraction remain close to the primitive dynamics of our ancestors. In Darwinist fashion, a man is defined by particular physical characteristics of height, weight, voice, and other attributes that denote strength and protection. The male brain is different from a female one. Women cannot expect a man to be anything but his gender. In regards to Butler, he represents to the public what our biology responds to as alpha male. Alpha males are predatory but they also protect. If one role brought together strength, sensitivity, and fatherhood and all that it meant it was the stranger in Dear Frankie. Other roles of Butler to date have played upon his masculinity and in any movie he has done since there is not much he must do to prove he is manly.
Perhaps Butler’s distinctive appeal reflects the different between European and American men. American men are groomed to be not as real. The only masculine images are the American cowboy macho man. Butler has a natural masculinity that is displayed in the L’Oreal ads that are not shown in North America. These ads are geared towards European men and it’s this concept of being comfortable in their own skin and accepting their male sexuality that is just different from American men. It’s important to distinguish masculinity from macho. In that sense Butler also appeals to men.
In Butler’s early career he appeared in a movie called Dear Frankie.
Dear Frankie is an independent film about a single mother in Scotland who does everything to protect her son from learning about his abusive father. The story touched the hearts of fans and they lobbied to also have Dear Frankie brought to their cities in the United States. Through their efforts Butler’s fans found themselves amongst a group who have wider appreciation for the film business, script writing, or other dimensions of the creative side of movies. These are thinking man’s actors.
Butler definitely wakes up women because it’s a masculine energy that we have not seen for a long time. Then there are his roles. Butler has had such a variety of work that it draws in a thinking public
GALS Charitable Foundationhas been active in philanthropic efforts and are long-time fans of Butler. Each year GALS and GALS Charitable Foundation holds an annual fundraising event in Las Vegas to benefit The Shade Tree Foundation and Machine Gun Preacher’s Angels of East Africa. Their President, Dayna Linton, offered her thoughts on the reasons behind the loyalty and productive activities of Butler fans.
“In many ways Gerry has always been appreciative of his supporters and along with his charm it is one reason his fans are loyal,” said Linton. “The reason that GBGALS has thrived is that the creative women and men on the site have big hearts; not only for each other but for those in need as well. We are a supportive community developed with a focus on raising money to help abused women and for the children in Sudan who face starvation and unthinkable cruelty.”
“Many fans have sensitive hearts and in some ways connect with some of his more emotional roles like Dear Frankie, The Phantom of the Opera, and Machine Gun Preacher,” said Linton. “We are proud of the community we have provided for Gerry’s fans. I think that sense of community lends itself to doing good for others as well. We’d like to believe that our charitable efforts reflect well on Gerry and mirror his own very giving heart.”
When asked whether Butler’s projects impact his fan demographics, Linton explained that the actor’s diversity is a key factor in the personality of the fandom.
“There are some fans that come and go, as with his role in 300 and his popularity with the younger demographic,” said Linton. “But he doesn’t necessarily pander to his main demographic of women seeking to pigeonhole him in the role of romantic hero. He often chooses very diverse and sometimes unsettling roles, but the fans seem to stay loyal.”
Linton has noticed a wide age range in the fans that appreciate Butler.
“Whether young or ‘mature,’ Gerry’s honesty about his own personal challenges and life experiences help endear him to his fans.”
The advent of feminism almost castrated the male energy and its expression in society and pop culture. All of a sudden seduction was replaced by sexual harassment and men got confused. Women do deserve to be treated fairly. It is not right for harassment to exist in the workplace or elsewhere. But in the overzealous passion of the feminist agenda, human mating rituals got warped. Today, most of the problems in dating and romance stems from that confusion. Hollywood is not totally to blame but they depict many images that are broadcast to the multitudes. With a long absence of masculinity in mass media there developed a famine of authentic male images and behavior for generations of women. When Butler appeared on the scene it was as if females who grew up deprived of that kind of energy had an awakening. Suddenly they saw a real man depicted on screen. Butler represented the man who was a lover and fighter who pursued a woman with confidence as he made his intentions clear.
We seek our own kind whether it is similar culture, religion, ideology, or socioeconomic group. Stars are public image archetypes and as Dr. Carl Jung said, these archetypes reflect back to us what we want to be or feel we are. Butler is an archetype of masculinity and male sensitivity that is a very powerful elixir to both genders. Most men do not become men even if they come of age. We cannot blame men for staying eternal adolescents well into their 40s. The strange sexual politics of our modern era has stripped away the masculine. Teenage boys are not exposed to the images of a Gerard Butler often enough to know the differences between a man versus a boy. Most of us look to pop culture for an answer and it gives us mostly a male celebrity with eternal boyish charm in a 30-something body. It’s not uncommon for me to hear men aged 25 to 40 say that they prefer old James Bond films when it was Sir Sean Connery as 007. Others look to Brando or Newman for that same heroic image. These were the men they wanted to become. Now Butler joins the likes of McQueen and the rest as symbols of manhood. In that spirit, his fandom endures as part of a return of a long absent male energy.
Most celebrities have fans that come and go with the fashion. However, for those actors who have fans that express a level of organization, productivity, and loyalty over time, it is a testament to their quality of work and personality. Who a celebrity attracts possibly does say something about them. As I said, like attracts like. Insofar as we measure the results of that hypothesis in the Butler legacy, it appears he is one-of-a-kind.