The Rise of the Accidental Dude Hero

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In a matter of just a few days, we have two different yet oddly similar men competing for our attention in the world of memes, and also in real life. On one side of the ring, there is Nonchalant Snacking Man, the accidental hero who broke up a fight on a New York City subway simply by standing between two brawling individuals, as if he didn't even notice their drama, and eating Cheese Pringles. And on the other side, there is Zeddie Watkins Little, or "Watkins," the extremely photogenic fellow now widely known as "Ridiculously Photogenic Guy," the man who ran a 10K as if on the wings of angels, smiling and looking ridiculously photogenic the entire way, or at least at the important junctures where his photo was taken. Watkins is bringing his ridiculously photogenic qualities to the talk show circuit, while Nonchalant Snacking Guy, aka Charles Sonder, is doing interviews. For that, we thank them both. America has needed you, fellas.

You see, as enjoyable as it is to passively admire these two guys, or to write them off as memes, there appears a greater movement at work here. These two men are similar. Indeed, they even look sort of alike—about the same age; pale; brownish hair; tallish-but-not-too-tall; straight teeth.They wear similarly nondescript yet perfectly acceptable dude-wear: pea coats, running attire, button-down shirts. They are comfortable in their newfound fame, taking to the media circuit with ease and a generosity of spirit heretofore relatively unknown within Internet meme circles: Watkins is next running for charity; Sonder's charitable act was doing the right thing, or, as he told NYU Local's Myles Tanzer, "I felt the need to stop the fight as soon as I could. It seemed that the girl was the first one to make physical contact, but that’s no excuse for any man to kick any female. I had to do something. Everyone else was just sitting there watching."

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Sonder and Watkins were both in the right place at the right time, doing pretty much nothing except what they'd do normally—smiling, standing, running, eating chips. And the Internet has embraced them for no apparent reason other than their ridiculously photogenic quality and their ability to nonchalantly break up a fight while carrying chips and Gummi Bears. Despite the lack of anything more, they are the new, perfectly average heroes of our time. They are not celebrities. They are not Ryan Gosling. Yet they are viral. They have page views! This is aspirational. 

Remember when Kay Hymowitz was asking "Where Have the Good Men Gone?" and bemoaned the rise of the twentysomething slacker dude, the guy who did nothing and didn't want to commit and just sat around playing video games? As she wrote The Wall Street Journal in February of last year, "Today, most men in their 20s hang out in a novel sort of limbo, a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance. This 'pre-adulthood' has much to recommend it, especially for the college-educated. But it's time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn't bring out the best in men."

But apparently, times have changed, and with that, a new breed of everyman has been born: The Accidental Dude Hero. Get in line, ladies. For Sonder, at least... Watkins Little is taken.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.