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movie stil of Marlon Brando
figure 1  


leader of the pack. The top dog, the alpha male. Often said of male teenagers who lead informal groups or unsanctioned gangs. Teens are members of an age group of humans in which pack-like behavior—and a pack mentality—seem most typical.

The desire to conform and fit in is very powerful during adolescence, so this developmental phase may create susceptibility to a dominant leader who can articulate appropriate behavior and determine who is to be included and who is excluded. However, this metaphor is hardly limited to human adolescents. It need not even refer explicitly to the one in charge if the “pack” refers simply to a closely packed group in competition: “...Fifth Third Bank of Cincinnati was once the leader of the pack. Its earnings far outpaced the industry and its strong stock price allowed it to snap up weaker peers,” offers Eric Dash, a financial analyst for the New York Times.reference 1 The role of the alpha is to keep the pack's hierarchy intact; he might snap at but would not snap up.

The phrase is memorably enshrined in the Shangri Las' 1964 hit song of the same name. The sounds of motorcycle engines at the end of the song signal both the gang affiliation and the apparent demise of the leader. The final refrain is “The leader of the pack—now he's gone.”reference 2

1. Dash, Eric. 2005. A Regional Bank Ripe for the Picking. New York Times, Oct 28. Accessed Apr 18 2008 from http:// 2005/ 10/ 28/ business/ 28bank.html

2. Shangri-Las. 1964. Leader of the Pack, written by G. Morton, J. Barry and E. Greenwich. Red Bird Records.

About the illustration: The signature image of Marlon Brando as the leader of a motorcycle gang in The Wild One.reference 3Made in 1953, the film is considered the template for 50's rebellion. It was directed by Laslo Benedek and based on a Harper's Magazine short story by Frank Rooney entitled “The Cyclists' Raid.” There is little question that Brando exudes the kind of machismo dominance that is associated with the alpha in a pack.

This image is excerpted from a poster, and the copyright for it is most likely owned by either the publisher or the creator of the work depicted. I believe that the use of scaled-down, low-resolution images of posters to provide critical commentary on the film in question or of the poster itself qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law. Any other uses of this image may be copyright infringement.

3. Benedek, László. J. Paxton and F. Rooney, writers. 1953. The Wild One. Stanley Kramer Co. Released by Columbia Pictures Corp., C. Pictures. 79 min.


see also: alpha male; lead dog; pack mentality; top dog
cf: underdog
Last updated: July 5, 2008
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