Who Is a ‘Rodent Man’?

“Rodent Men”: What are they? Tiny men? Men who eat garbage? Some kind of furry science experiment gone wrong?

According to the tabloids, they’re actually the most physically desirable thing a man can be at this particularly disorienting moment in American history. Exemplified by the faces of actors like “The Bear”’s Jeremy Allen White and “Challengers” leads Mike Faist and Josh O’Connor; as well as the 1975 band member Matty Healy and Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, hot “Rodent Men” are a loose category that seems mostly to refer to men who look a bit like mice or rats. Several Styles staffers convened to discuss the origins of the “Rodent Man,” the boundaries of the type and why people are attracted to ratlike men.

Joseph Bernstein First, can we define a “Rodent Man”? I’m having a little trouble understanding who qualifies.

Gina Cherelus An unconventional mousy man with a toothy smile, and instead of a chiseled face like Brad Pitt or Chris Hemsworth, it’s more pointy. It’s important for their faces to be angular, that’s the dead giveaway. That and big ears. They come off as edgy and elusive.

JB That’s interesting. But rodents are a much broader group than just mice, right? Wikipedia tells me rodents include everything from beavers to capybara.

Minju Pak I don’t agree with some of the people being discussed online as Rodent Men, it’s sort of fanning out too wide. Johnny Depp, Kieran Culkin? Those are a stretch.

GC Jesse Plemons might be a beaver type. But I agree Minju, everyone is reaching now (maybe me included).

MP Can any man be a Rodent Man?

Alex Vadukul The term itself was generated around conversation about “Challengers” co-stars, Josh O’Connor and Mike Faist, who the internet decided look like (hot?) humanoid Stuart Littles. But then a piece in Dazed by Serena Smith dialed into what it might really mean. She writes that “Rodent handsome men are usually more svelte than muscular, with more pinched, angular features.” And importantly she notes: “They’re often not conventionally handsome.” That last line, to me, is what has prompted more discussion.

GC It’s the fact that you had two unconventionally handsome men dripping with sex appeal. But the tides started to change when Adam Driver hit the scene over a decade ago.

JB If I may, as a self-proclaimed Rodent Man, I think the important foundational figure here is Dustin Hoffman, who became famous for, among other things, playing a morally dubious character literally named “Ratso” Rizzo in “Midnight Cowboy.”

MP Nick Kroll is a Rodent Man.

GC Absolutely.

MP This is a great game.

AV Unsung Rodent Men who have been left out of the viral internet discourse, perhaps, include Willem Dafoe and Crispin Glover.

JB John Cazale?

JB And Paul Giamatti?

GC People are saying Timothée Chalamet is a Rodent Man.

JB I have to say, I don’t really see it with Chalamet. To me, he looks feline — and cats are the enemies of rodents! May I ask, what does it mean that the people who desire men are desiring men who look like rodents at this particular moment.

GC Yes, let’s talk about why some people find this attractive. I think there’s something about them not being stereotypically masculine that might make women feel safe.

Stella Bugbee Piping in here with an pretentious highfalutin theory: Lusting after so-called Rodent Men (a.k.a., not perfect beefcakes) is about a rejection of A.I.

GC Yes, and years of Facetuning and Snapchat filters.

SB Yes! If we are offered fake perfection we will yearn for human imperfections. We want to know that the people we find hot have blood in their veins and were the product of two humans combining their genes. We want to see the vulnerability of an asymmetrical face.

JB Is this related to “ugly hot”?

SB Related but not the same — in the sense that in both cases it’s an acknowledgment of a powerful sex appeal. But I think finding someone ugly-hot is about having a counterintuitive take, like you are cool for finding an “ugly” person hot when others don’t.

MP These Rodent Men are hot.

GC Most of the famous Rodent Men we are highlighting also have all of their real teeth.

SB Exactly! We want people to look real and we’ve lost touch with that, with all of the things people do to change their appearance.

JB A lot of the men being claimed as rodents are Italian, Jewish and Irish. Sort of latecomers to whiteness.

MP Yes. What about racially diverse Rodent Men? I think Simu Lee is rodentlike.

GC Rami Malek is definitely a Rodent Man. Jerrod Carmichael maybe? I do wonder, if asked during an interview, how would these men respond to this title being thrown around?

AV Is there also a throwback, or punk and retro component to this somehow? From Josh O’Connor to Matty Healy to Adam Driver, they all have a kind of raw masculinity that was celebrated back in the dawn of gritty rock stars and guitar gods. Was Mick Jagger a Rodent Man?

Stella Bugbee No! But Keith Richards is.

GC So is being called a rat face a compliment now? I don’t know if this trend has that kind of power. I’m imagining myself telling a man at a bar that I think he’s so handsome and “ratlike.” I don’t know if it’ll go over well.

MP It’s a moment and it will pass quickly.

JB Some of us who have been described — disparagingly — as ratlike, are finding this all a little hard to take.

MP In what way, Joe?

JB I told my wife that she’s lucky because she’s married to a Rodent Man and she got upset.

GC There’s no other way to react to that Joe. It’s similar to how a year ago we were praising men for being “medium ugly.”

AV I’m curious how viral terms that reclaim traits that might traditionally be considered less desirable — from “Dad Bod” to “Short King” — affect folks who aren’t Hollywood famous and celebrated?

JB Yeah — I will say Alex, once in a while a “Not Brad Pitt” guy comes along and gets popular which helps the rest of us out by expanding the standards of attractiveness for men. I dined out on Seth Cohen for much of my early 20s.

AV A “Not Brad Pitt” guy. Joe, I think a new term has been coined.

JB He makes everyone look like a rodent.

Gina Cherelus, Joseph Bernstein, Alex Vadukul, Minju Pak and Stella Bugbee contributed reporting.

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