Who shall be crowned white boy of the month? Herein lies the ultimate question confronting the human race: will it be Timothée Chalamet, the ventriloquist-dummy-adjacent breakout star of “Call Me By Your Name”? Or maybe Jacob Elordi, actor of the manipulative but sickeningly hot Public Enemy Number One Nate Jacobs of “Euphoria”?
This month, it might just be the underdog — 22-year-old TikToker Axel Webber, who has amassed a fanbase of more than four million TikTok followers after documenting his experiences as a struggling actor in the city.
His rags-to-riches story is enticing, and it starts in a 95-square-foot studio apartment. After moving to New York to pursue acting, Webber began sharing his daily life on TikTok, including a tour of the “smallest apartment in New York.” In the span of a few days, he was essentially crowned White Boy of the Month, garnering media appearances in the New York Times and The Kelly Clarkson Show as well as messages of support from Diplo and Charlie Puth.
Being crowned White Boy of the Month has its perks. When Webber announced that he had been rejected from his dream school, Juilliard, thousands of his fans bombarded the school’s social media pages to demand justice. “@theaxelwebber is a really good actor! please reconsider him,” one Instagram comment read. Overnight, loyal fans left one-star reviews of the school on Google; others began fancasting him as Peter Parker, petitioning Marvel to cast him as the next Spiderman.
Elsewhere, however, he began to face criticism for his meteoric rise to Internet fame. After all, had anyone even seen Webber act? “That axel webber guy is a perfect example that being white and privileged gets you so far,” one Twitter user wrote. Media coverage, a modeling contract and Internet clout — these were the rewards reaped by Webber for vlogging his romanticized vision of poverty.
At the core of this discourse is a discussion about white male mediocrity, defined by Ijeoma Oluo as the long-held belief that “white men deserve political power and wealth and safety and security just because they’re white men.” In a broader context, the idea of white male mediocrity speaks to how our society is centered around upholding white male power: white men are granted selective political leniency; white men receive 20% shorter federal prison sentences than Black men who commit the same crimes; white men are given more opportunities for job advancement. We reward white men for doing the bare minimum.
In the age of social media, the concept of white male mediocrity manifests itself in many forms, including the White Boy of the Month trope. Approachably hot and maybe a tad in touch with his feminine side, the White Boy of the Month is the Internet’s version of the boy next door. From Noah Centineo to Finn Wolfhard to Andrew Garfield, we uphold these men as superior humans simply because they are white men that happen to be somewhat decent human beings — we swoon over the fact that he has #BlackLivesMatter in his Instagram bio, and we drool at cheesy Instagram edits of his overwhelmingly mediocre dancing. Oh, and don’t forget that one picture of him where he’s smoking a cigarette and his jawline looks scrumptious.
Conveniently enough, Axel Webber fits comfortably into that narrative: relatable and conventionally attractive with Golden Retriever Boy energy, he represents a palatable version of white poverty that is lighthearted enough for a TikTok audience. In his comment section, thousands of fans share their empathy for his situation, offering financial and emotional support. Would he receive the same systems of support had he not been a white man?
Most likely not. There’s an empathy gap in how we view the complicated relationship between race and poverty: whereas the sight of Black poverty is shocking, blameful and accusatory, white poverty is given pity, leniency and forgiveness. In the past, government programs such as The New Deal were designed to help out poor white Americans; at the same time, political figures like Ronald Reagan promoted the racially-driven stereotype of the welfare queen.
Axel Webber isn’t getting into Juilliard anytime soon. But in a weird, twisted world where Josh Richards is heading a venture capital firm and the Hype House has its own Netflix show, anything is possible. As long as you’re a mediocrely attractive white man.
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