February 13, 2023 - 10:02am

There’s something odd about Andrew Tate’s dimensions. He’s too wide and flat, like a cardboard cutout of himself. But watching The Dangerous Rise of Andrew Tate, the Vice documentary about the recently-arrested masculinity influencer which premiered this weekend on the BBC, it brought to mind other two-dimensional caricatures of human sentience: goblin-mode AI and Alan Partridge.

Around a week ago some 4chan anons managed, after a fashion, to break ChatGPT free of its increasingly stringent woke constraints. They did this by telling it to write in character as ‘Do Anything Now’ (DAN), a version of itself without any interdictions on permissible speech, after which much fun ensued. 

‘DAN’ isn’t a person, of course, but if you were to personify an articulate pattern-recognition machine wholly without empathy, cultural discrimination, or moral compass, then set it to goblin mode, it would look something like Andrew Tate. Much of his ‘shock’ value turns on noticing patterns in human interaction that progressive ideology insists don’t exist, and teaching his fanbase to exploit these for individual advantage. The documentary shows the startling effectiveness of this approach, and the network of fans whom Tate incentivises in a pyramid selling scheme, like Avon ladies, to spread his message of self-mastery and ‘success’.

And it’s in what ‘success’ looks like that Tate’s other two-dimensional resonance becomes evident. Alan Partridge is funny (or at least used to be) because his competitiveness is so outsized compared to his physique, vitality, sex appeal, or charisma on any other metric. Tate is how I imagine Alan Partridge would be, in ‘DAN’ goblin mode, if granted physical strength and raw aggression commensurate with his ressentiment and thwarted masculinity — while retaining Partridge levels of cultural cringe. 

He proudly tours Vice journalist Matt Shea round the Romanian compound he’s kitted out like a collision between a B-movie and a Next catalogue, pointing at doors he won’t open and declaring them ‘Classified’. But his reach is obviously real, as is his impact. Footage from this Butlins-like villain lair and Tate’s ‘War Room’ masculinity club is intercut with sobbing footage of women he has abused, who were in intimate relationships with him or who worked for him as cam girls, anonymised for fear of retribution from the Avon ladies

He exudes violence, while coming across as entirely without interests, other than money and cars. It’s a pure, phallic will to power, oriented at a vision of success so vacuous it feels both menacing and comical. But if Tate seems two-dimensional, the figure in the documentary whose real views I longed to hear was the interviewer, Matt Shea.  

The dialogue between Tate and Shea on the former’s misogyny felt like a dialogue between the ‘aligned’ ChatGPT and the jailbroken ‘DAN’: one parroting socially sanctioned lines, and the other, well, not. Shea is humiliated by his interviewee in assorted ways throughout, even toward the end being made to lose horribly in a cage fight with a professional opponent. 

And while Shea never says so, I get the sense, after the cage fight, that beneath the male-feminist surface there’s at least a glimmer of raw aggression that would like to be let out more often. 

I found myself wondering: do Shea and Tate between them show the Hobson’s choice available to young men today? On the one hand, Shea’s noodle-armed ‘ChatGPT’ mode, reeling off socially acceptable political opinions, and on the other Tate’s ‘DAN’ one — complete with painfully Partridge vibes. 

Faced with these unappetising choices, it’s hard not to feel considerable sympathy for the many young men trying to find an honourable way to exist in the world today.

Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.