In search of mediocre white men
January 22, 2018 9:29 PM   Subscribe

"God, give me the confidence of a mediocre white dude", wrote Sarah Hagi. I have often taken comfort in this statement and am seeking examples of mediocre (not terrible, just mediocre) yet confident white men to remind me that I too deserve to feel confident occasionally. Very specific criteria within.

Lately I've been noticing a couple of conflicting feelings: a sense of energy and yearning to make a positive impact on my small corner of the world, coupled with something akin to imposter syndrome - a nagging sense of "but who on earth am I to [write that opinion piece, lead that advocacy campaign, speak up on issue Y, sell myself as an expert on Z] when there are so many more qualified people".

There are several areas where my skill, knowledge, and community connections could be potentially directed toward big, positive outcomes, but as a non-citizen queer woman who has faced illness and systemic barriers to graduating university, I often find my enthusiasm tempered by a fear that some imagined critic will expose me as somehow not being up to the task.

In the face of these conflicting feelings, the concept of the confident yet mediocre white man has often brought me comfort - somehow the notion that even that fucking guy feels entitled to be heard and respected - despite his mediocrity - makes me feel that it's not so unreasonable for me to aspire to the same. So, I am in search of mediocre white men to grace a small corner of my home noticeboard, in the hope of putting the fire back in my belly. Criteria below:

- Mediocre, NOT terrible. No-one who is actively causing large-scale oppressive harm to others, except by taking up space that might be better occupied by a more diverse range of people. I want to be motivated, not miserable; I do not want Cheeto on my wall.

- Less than obviously qualified for his role in a conventional sense - maybe he didn't go to university, or didn't graduate, or has declared himself an 'expert' in a subject area with limited relevant experience to back that up.

- Probably has some gaps in his thinking in relation to intersectionality. Has trouble thinking beyond his own position of privilege. If a queer person/woman/person of colour held his role, they'd do it differently and almost certainly better.

- Despite his apparent mediocrity, he feels confident claiming public space and attention, and the public generally doesn't challenge his entitlement to his role. Maybe he writes think pieces, or leads advocacy campaigns, or is a go-to media source, or generally takes up space without questioning his right to be heard.

posted by embrangled to Human Relations (53 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Not white, but definitely a mediocre guy claiming space he doesn't deserve - Vivek Wadwa.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:36 PM on January 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

This is Matt Damon. A perfectly adequate, perfectly everyman, blandly good looking, middle of the road, leading man who has no particularly interesting or memorable traits who for some reason has decided to grace us all with his apparently never ending insights on the MeToo movement.

I mean, I still like Matt Damon just fine and I'll watch his movies. By all accounts he's a good guy who has maintained a long scandal free marriage to a non-celebrity woman he seems to be genuinely in love with. Even my ire only rises to the level of mild eye-rolling. That's what makes him your poster boy.
posted by fshgrl at 9:39 PM on January 22, 2018 [42 favorites]

Absolutely Matt Damon! Jerry from Rick and Morty is my all time favorite cartoon example.
posted by yueliang at 9:42 PM on January 22, 2018

I frequently think about this article that was linked on Metafilter a few years ago about average male indie directors being handed blockbuster films to direct with little experience behind them. To me that is the perfect example of confident mediocre white dudes succeeding.
posted by liquorice at 9:58 PM on January 22, 2018 [8 favorites]

Former Australian Attorney General George Brandis comes to mind, for legislating on telecommunication metadata retention and warrantless access to it by the government while having no idea what metadata is.

Bonus remix of his mediocrity.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:20 PM on January 22, 2018

Chris Cillizza
posted by mhum at 10:51 PM on January 22, 2018 [10 favorites]

Poke around Product Hunt and look for the random startup bros with more swagger than sense.

(Hello, I am almost you, I would like to offer a story of dealing with a mediocre but overly confident white man - it's not really a picture to go on your wall but it may be weirdly inspiring)
posted by divabat at 12:02 AM on January 23, 2018 [6 favorites]

Oh, the Juicero asshole, Doug Evans, and his buddy Christopher Sanbourn aka ‘Mukhande Singh’ who are currently claiming to be nutrition experts and advocating that people drink untreated ‘raw’ water because what is cholera even.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 12:20 AM on January 23, 2018 [8 favorites]

If we're gonna talk about Juicero you've got to add the dude-bros doing bottled air. And the guys who did the Bodega vending machines.

I second Product Hunt. Completely littered with these guys.
posted by like_neon at 1:30 AM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

And yeah I don't think these people are TERRIBLE like cheeto level. But massively naive and privileged enough to let their confidence SOAR THEM into PR infamy.
posted by like_neon at 1:32 AM on January 23, 2018

I often think “grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man” when I do free weights at the gym, because it’s highly visible exercise that takes up a lot of space and there are plenty of white dudes happily taking up that space to do one set of phoned-in bicep curls or something. So in the unlikely event you don’t find enough specific mediocre white men to inspire you, you can fill the rest with bad weightlifting photos.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:39 AM on January 23, 2018 [11 favorites]

David Brooks and Matthew Yglesias.
posted by clawsoon at 4:30 AM on January 23, 2018 [7 favorites]

Whoa, what's wrong with Chris Cillizza? Or Matt Yglesias, for that matter?

Back to the question, most of Congress is like this, and lots of lower-level elected officials. The ideological, ambitious ones get all the media attention, but there are 435 people in the House. You've probably only ever heard of maybe 50, and the other 385 are happy to keep it that way. It was even worse before the Internet. In party politics, the best way to build a career is to identify a leader and then follow him unconditionally. In Congress, this is either the Speaker of the Minority Leader, depending on party, and however s/he voted, you vote exactly the same.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:39 AM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Or Matt Yglesias, for that matter?

As a mediocre white man myself who likes to bloviate about topics which I have superficial-to-middling knowledge about, I know 'em when I see 'em. :-)

(I like to think that my breadth of superficial knowledge makes up for my lack of depth. No, really, I do - and I could tell you at length why that makes sense. :-) )
posted by clawsoon at 4:54 AM on January 23, 2018 [9 favorites]

Matt Yglesias has never had an original or interesting thought in his entire life. He's not as tediously contrarian as Ezra Klein but that doesn't make him better, just less tedious by a tiny margin.
posted by winna at 5:29 AM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you're familiar with Canadian politics, Peter MacKay comes to mind. Son of a Conservative cabinet minister, so it was quite easy for him to rise to power through name recognition. As leader, allowed the Progressive Conservatives to be totally overtaken by the far-right Canadian Alliance in a merged Conservative party. Not particularly attractive, but always considered the "sexy MP" and an eligible bachelor. Whined like a little baby when his then-girlfriend Belinda Stronach crossed the floor to join the Liberals.
posted by barnoley at 5:29 AM on January 23, 2018 [9 favorites]

- Less than obviously qualified for his role in a conventional sense...

- No-one who is actively causing large-scale oppressive harm to others, except by taking up space that might be better occupied by a more diverse range of people. I want to be motivated, not miserable...

I glossed over the part about wanting to be motivated, not miserable. Here's a better suggestion that I hope fits what you're looking for:

Justin Trudeau. Not a bad person; actively trying to do good; not obviously qualified for his job; dropped out of a couple of postgrad programs; no problem taking up space and airtime; is sometimes aware of his privilege and sometimes blind to it; tries to understand the challenges of women and First Nations and LGBTQ+ plus people but would obviously have better understanding if he was a member of one of those groups.
posted by clawsoon at 6:03 AM on January 23, 2018 [14 favorites]

The guys who direct Game of Thrones had almost no qualifications before being given a bazillion dollar budget. And they did what some consider a pretty mediocre job with it but continue to be successful due to the popularity of the source material.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:31 AM on January 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is a little subjective of course, some may totally disagree with their talent level, but:
Matt Damon, James Franco, Tim Allen, David Spade, Dane Cook, Brad Pitt, Dennis Miller, Mark Wahlberg, Leonard DiCaprio, Bruce Willis, Matthew McConaughey, Adam Sandler, Ryan Seacrest, Kevin Costner.
posted by starman at 6:31 AM on January 23, 2018 [8 favorites]

The "self help guru" space is FULL of the kind of person you're looking for. Venture capitalists, tech bros/geeks, self described "rationalists", and anybody whose instagram says "wanderlust" in it --- these are also good bets.
posted by MiraK at 7:00 AM on January 23, 2018 [11 favorites]


OK, fine, I took the easy shot (and by all accounts they're personally very nice people, and for all I know are super social justice activists in their private lives), but banking off some of the above answers, I wanna say the entertainment biz is full of these guys - musicians, writers, actors, comedians, etc etc. Obviously this depends somewhat on personal taste and whether you're more interested in guys who sort of actively wallow in privilege (Dane Cook tells a lot of misogynistic jokes) vs. guys who just ignore any question of privilege or intersectionality 99.99% of the time (Nickelback's Twitter for the last 3 months has one vague Tweet about mean & bigoted people on the internet, the rest is promo for shows and thank you's to fans.) But, like, if you put the names of the "top 25" white males in any entertainment/artistic pursuit up on the wall and threw darts at 'em I bet it would take 2 or 3 tries at most before you landed on somebody that made you go, "Why this guy? Why is this guy selling out arenas and getting Netflix specials even compared to other white guys doing pretty much the same thing, much less any women/POC/queer folks?"
posted by soundguy99 at 7:09 AM on January 23, 2018

I feel this way about James Altucher. Serial entrepreneur, millionaire, big fan of writing lengthy think pieces on the value of failure and how nothing is standing in your way but you and kind of just never dwelling too long on the fact that he's a highly educated white man with a background in tech and he was never not going to be just fine. I don't think he's a bad person, I just find him kind of insufferable and, yes, kinda mediocre in a lot of ways.

Ditto the two dudes that make up the Minimalists. They're not bad people, it's just that they're making hand over fist dollars because they tapped into the zeitgeist of a sort of modern pseudo-Buddhist abhorrence for stuff after getting burnt out with their six-figure jobs. What they're doing is fine, but like you said, if it weren't two white dudes running this show, it'd present a lot differently and, perhaps, better.

For actors, I'd say maybe Armie Hammer? There was a REALLY good longform Buzzfeed piece on him where the gist is basically "it's not that he's not a perfectly nice dude who seems talented enough, but we've spent a LOT of time and energy making opportunities for this guy that could have been used to widen the playing field for other non-generically good looking white guys and it's worth examining why we're still doing this".
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:14 AM on January 23, 2018 [8 favorites]

Giles Coren. Alain de Botton. Thomas Friedman. Sam Altman. James Altucher. Bob Geldof. Jimmy Kimmel. Carson Daly. Chuck Klosterman. Richard Osman. Simon Cowell. Paul Hollywood. John Humphrys. Andy Borowitz.
posted by rollick at 7:14 AM on January 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

My thought was to scan news stories for non-celeb MWM's in the spotlight for non-horrible things. It's really hard to gauge their qualifications so they might not completely meet your criteria. So far here's what I got.

Ben, - sworn in to the Wichita School Board earlier this year, was confident about his decision to use a non-religious text and believed it was important enough to merit headlines.

Mike in Waco TX was confident about sharing his opinion and experiences with his local community.

Todd confidently accepted a position at the Osborn Aquarium in Oregon and presumably agreed to be interviewed by the local paper, certain that his role and ideas matter enough to merit attention from others.

This guy is unqualified by practically every measure for his job (he does have the uniform), but he still does it.
posted by bunderful at 7:27 AM on January 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

anybody whose instagram says "wanderlust" in it

posted by orrnyereg at 7:38 AM on January 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

Tom Friedman is mediocrity personified.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:42 AM on January 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

For me it's Will Ferrell and also, perhaps more contentiously, Andy Samberg. I think they're both FINE but I have no idea why they've got the success they have and I don't think there's anything special about them.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 7:43 AM on January 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think a failing with this is we're all inclined to pick famous people who of course would be the only people we'd all know in common.

And while white men in famous positions like congress, acting, sports coaching, get more pay and recognition than their non-white non-male counterparts. They often aren't mediocre in the traditional sense, they are often exceptional on a single axis and then assumed exceptional in other areas. Brad Pitt for instance was listed above but he was an exceptionally attractive man, and a pretty good actor, where his privilege comes in is assuming he's good at or his views are important on all manner of other areas. But initially at least, he probably was the most qualified at being handsome. Actors are generally exceptionally attractive, politicians exceptionally ambitious etc.

Where I thing the MWM really are impacting the world is not famous people but everyday managers all over the world. Every Subway, every grocery store, every random office. Dollars to Donuts the lower management is not very qualified white boys and the upper management is those same guys 15 years later.

Those 25-30 year old guys handed management jobs... those are some irrationally confident very average folks.
posted by French Fry at 8:00 AM on January 23, 2018 [19 favorites]

My personal mental example of this is Eddie Redmayne because I feel like his three big roles are all roles that should have gone to another actor. I remember hearing rumors that an Anglo-Indian actor was going to be cast in Fantastic Beasts which I thought would have been a great choice for that franchise but Eddie Redmayne was cast. Theory of Everything (which seems like a standard by the numbers biopic) would have been at least more interesting if an actor with a disability had been cast in the lead. And the problem with The Danish Girl has already been discussed at length. He seems like a super nice guy in interviews and I don’t doubt that he has worked hard but he’s a disappointing obvious choice for those three roles.

He was perfectly cast in Jupiter Ascending, though. No complaints there.
posted by Ideal Impulse at 8:47 AM on January 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

Zack Snyder, a mediocre-at-best director who keeps getting handed massive franchise projects for some reason.
posted by fifthpocket at 8:57 AM on January 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

I think that you are more likely to find compelling examples of this in your own everyday life and not so much Hollywood (though I love the Zack Snyder example!). You could argue all day about the acting talents of Brad Pitt, Armie Hammer, Matthew McConaughey (I personally think they have all done really good work in the past), but I can't quite see how you can put the "mediocre" label on people blessed with such objectively good movie star-quality looks. You sort of inherently aren't "mediocre" when you posses such perfect conventional handsomeness.

Hollywood is still a meritocracy in many ways. Jake Hoffman is the son of the most lauded and famous actors in film history, and he is still struggling to gain a foothold in Hollywood as an actor in his own right. In other industries, his famous dad would probably be a far bigger advantage.

You are more likely to see this just generally in your work life. We have all worked with men like this, who don't really contribute much or try very hard (and maybe try to offload tasks that they would rather not do onto your plate), but because they are white, pleasant, and average, they mostly escape scrutiny.
posted by cakelite at 9:31 AM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Kevin James. Joe Rogan.
posted by gentian at 9:52 AM on January 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

I don't know if this will make you feel any better, but it shouldn't be too hard to find people who fit this description that are not white men, too. Theresa May comes to mind. What special talent does she have? Or - I know this is a somewhat controversial view - Taylor Swift, who strikes me as a perfectly adequate pop star but I have a hard time understanding why people take her so seriously. Of course those are both heterosexual white women, so make of that what you will.

For white dudes specifically, it seems like the tech world is rife with guys like this. James Altucher was a good example. Another one - I think he used to work in tech - is the Mr. Money Mustache guy, he has some nice ideas but I always got that overconfident vibe from him. I feel like there's a certain sort of tech-flavored self-help industry that is particularly prone to this sort of thing, well-off, educated white guys who mostly mean well but don't seem to grok that most people (including most white guys, FWIW) aren't them and never will be and eagerly promote ideas that are generally unoriginal and derivative. I'm not entirely sure how to characterize this - Altucher is a good example of it, also stuff like the four-hour work week, etc.
posted by breakin' the law at 10:04 AM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Pretty much any host on the Discovery or Travel Channel.... my wife and I have started calling most of their travely/adventure/mystery shows "white guys looking at stuff." The travel shows, especially, are always a mediocre white man bloviating about the Exotic Ruins or Mystery before him, usually as a POC in the shot behind him has some level of "LOL white people" going on.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:51 AM on January 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

You are more likely to see this just generally in your work life.

Yeah, I can think of several examples from my life but of course I can't really call them out here. I don't think OP was necessarily asking for celebs or high-profile politicians, the thread just kind of grew that direction. Probably because they're shared figures and much more is known about them.

Fictional characters could be an interesting area to plumb for further examples. Principal Flutie from Buffy, Neelix of Star Trek, Rev Collins - Pride and Prejudice...
posted by bunderful at 10:52 AM on January 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

The "local editorial/color guy" in your local newspaper is my suggestion. Their advice is always totally inane, but you only see them once a week or whatever (the incredibly low output they are required to put out is) so you don't get too pissed. Seriously, I've never seen one of that had more prominence for less work. But there they are, week after week.
posted by The_Vegetables at 10:54 AM on January 23, 2018 [5 favorites]

Oh the Self Help Guru genre is a good suggestion. Tim Ferris is an excellent example.
posted by divabat at 11:53 AM on January 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

Could also be worthwhile to look at your local arts scene. The biggest showboat in ours, in Western NC, is an okay white male painter, "self-taught," who feels confident enough to paint a corny van parked outside his studio and promote his work all over the damn place. And! Icing on the cake: he also continues to brazenly ignore a large number of sexual harassment and assault accusations. And he still sells paintings. Big, expensive ones.

It's perversely useful to remind myself occasionally that this guy doesn't feel shame about promoting his work, so I certainly should not.
posted by witchen at 12:18 PM on January 23, 2018 [4 favorites]

Every white male talk radio morning show DJ.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:43 PM on January 23, 2018 [3 favorites]

Just browse the hired/promoted/recognized section of your chamber of commerce publication. It’ll have photos and everything.
posted by michaelh at 1:19 PM on January 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

William Shatner. Billy Joel. Guy Fieri. Bill Maher.
posted by condour75 at 1:36 PM on January 23, 2018

Dan Brown.

In the photography field, Ken Rockwell.

Caleb Bond is Australia's youngest fogey and has a regular newspaper column for no discernible reason.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 4:59 PM on January 23, 2018


A lot of YouTube bros would fit this.

Also look at the winners of talent shows like Idol or Got Talent.
posted by divabat at 5:35 PM on January 23, 2018

The celebrity-adjacent crowd is often rife with this type of fellow. Roger Clinton, or Billy Carter and his Billy Beer.

I learned about 24-year-old Taylor Weyeneth, the campaign worker who fudged his almost non-existent résumé and became the current deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, from MetaFilter.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:01 PM on January 23, 2018

Fictional, but if you watched the West Wing, Doug Westin, the son in law of the president is exactly like this. He runs for office, even though his wife (daughter of the president) would be much better at it.

Actually, rereading your question, he might be terrible. The main cast is possibly unfairly dismissive of him. There's little proof of his competence though.
posted by kjs4 at 8:40 PM on January 23, 2018

A very timely example, Phil Neville, who was announced today as the new coach of England's women's football team. His appointment is rather controversial, as per The Guardian, aside from "highly dubious tweets Neville appears to have sent a few years ago (...) with one making light of domestic violence", there's also this:
While he holds the pro-licence qualification and has previously served as a coach under both David Moyes at Manchester United and his brother, Gary, at Valencia, as well as with the men’s England Under-21 team, he has never been a manager in his own right. Moreover he has no experience in the women’s game and did not apply for the job when it was advertised

posted by moody cow at 1:24 AM on January 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

Had a chuckle at reading Ken Rockwell as an example. I've long enjoyed his stuff just for that – wholly-accepted mediocrity and going all-out with it. Thanks to him I have chosen many a fine mediocre DSLR.

Fictional characters could be an interesting area to plumb for further examples.

Riker from Star Trek: TNG.

Daily work life is a great venue for this too. Pick a manager you're able to observe closely, because it can indeed be enlightening. My anxiety got better by leaps and bounds when I started really observing the "holy fuck i am so awesome" white dude project managers in all their fascinating mediocrity. I (a white woman) started to be like, "so in fact, it is my sacred duty to trust myself more in order to help bring balance to the universe." (that's meant partly as a joke; I find that joking about having a superiority/savior complex helps me realize the dangers of it and avoid them. YMMV.)
posted by fraula at 6:03 AM on January 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

Look no further than silicon valley. Peter Thiel. Travis K. Mark Zuckerberg. Today's "tech" startups are mostly mediocrity and overconfidence, and of course, mostly male.
posted by Dashy at 6:19 AM on January 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

All the guys writing best-selling, self-important but terrible terrible garbage novels. I envision Dan Brown at the front of the parade of these guys, holding a giant banner. F'in Dan Brown.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:17 AM on January 24, 2018

Jason Garrett, the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Read his wikipedia bio. It's a tale of nepotism and doing the least with the most. Hearing him speak as a coach is the best, because it's nothing but a string of aphorisms and business-speak applied to sports. I'm pretty sure he's the guy that invented (or popularized) "Trust the process", as though failing for many years in a row somehow creates success.
posted by The_Vegetables at 9:53 AM on January 24, 2018

If you've ever seen the movie Election, you'll recognise this in Chris Klein's character, Paul Metzler. Also a little bit in Ferris Bueller too.
posted by rollick at 11:20 AM on January 24, 2018

I find it interesting that many of these examples are successful celebrities. Although I fully agree that some examples (Mark Zuckerberg, say) are way more confident than they deserve to be and take up more space in the world than is necessary, they have at least done and achieved something. Ditto Billy Joel, Simon Cowell etc.

From the original question, my answer would be “just about everyone”. I didn’t find quite the same in the UK, where modesty and self-deprecation are more common, but in the US and NZ I have regularly been blown away by this condition.

As one example, I was chatting to a vague acquaintance in the pub, and he mentioned that he was starting a new company designing and supplying steel framing for houses. How interesting, I say, and ask what experiences led him to this decision and what interesting features his particular steel framing had that would help them to sell well over the competition in both steel and wood framing.

“No idea”, he says. In fact, he had no experience nor ideas that would lead anyone sensible to start a company. He’d heard of steel being used to build houses, and decided to start a company doing that based on the fact alone, with zero knowledge of the subject. God help anyone who ordered a house from him.

I am constantly amazed that people attempt to do things from a position of complete mediocrity (if not incompetence). However, since almost everyone does this it stands to reason that some of them, through dumb luck, will become rich and/or famous doing it.

I’m a white man, and of course in most areas I’m pretty mediocre at things, but I wouldn’t ever have the cheek to expect to be “heard and respected” except perhaps in those limited fields where I have ability, knowledge, and experience that makes me objectively better than mediocre.

So your feelings are not specific to your being “non-citizen queer woman with illness” if that makes any difference.

In some ways I agree that it’s quite comforting. A subject or task that might be daunting can be made telling yourself that “if those idiots can do it successfully, it can’t be difficult”. Exasperation at the hopeless service you get in a computer or other store can be mollified by reminding yourself that if someone had significant computer knowledge and ability they wouldn’t likely be working in a computer store.

So I tell my kids to go out into the world, find something they’re good at and like, practise and read and learn about it, and do more of that thing they’re great at.
posted by tillsbury at 12:58 PM on January 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Steve Ballmer.
posted by seiryuu at 2:42 PM on January 24, 2018

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