*Editor’s note: This opinion piece was originally published on September 19, 2022, but following a mis-correction in the editing process, through no fault of reporter Olivia Krupp, the article underwent a second round of editing before being republished.
Lukas Pakter, a senior at the University of Arizona, former president of the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, and middle-class TikTok star, always knew he’d have a platform one day. As he sat down in Starbucks, he told me everything there is to know about criticism and controversy. Basically, he told me everything there was to know about him.
“One of my friends said, ‘This is embarrassing dude, what are you doing? That’s stupid,’ and I said, ‘Look, I’ll be at 80,000 when school starts,'” Pakter said. “I hit 87,000 when day school started.”
Pakter has no problem with self-confidence. His content, which he distributes daily to more than 100,000 followers, ranges from fitness to motivational speeches. One day he’s handing out bite-sized lessons he learned in college, and another day he’s bowing in front of a mirror and supporting the sins of being fat.
“Some people get upset when I say I don’t really have that much respect for people who are morbidly obese,” Pakter said in a recent video, “and I don’t.”
At first glance, his platform is predictable and contains every stereotype you’ve ever heard about someone like Pakter (or Chad or Kyle). Still, Pakter described himself to me as controversial and cocky, which begs the question, what could be so controversial and unique about a sorority boy being cocky?
In a way, that depends on who you ask. For an explanation, see the comments section on his TikTok page, which often feels more like a shrine to his loyal followers. Many of his comment sections are overflowing with praise that reminds me of dizzying fangirls, but most of those comments aren’t from girls – in fact, almost none are.
His comments section is mostly flooded with young men showing their undying devotion and support for Pakter in the form of comments like “Common Lukas W” and calling him a winner. Other common comments include, “This guy pulls hot chicks left and right,” “Bro, I wanna be just like you,” and “That boy is the man.”
This kind of hero worship began when Pakter posted a viral video of how he spent half his net worth on a gym membership as a broke sophomore. He described that as the video that got him going.
“I thought maybe I should just post life advice. People really liked that,” Pakter told me.
There’s a similar theme of worship in Pakter’s Q&A videos, which consist of anonymous direct messages he receives through the app asking for myriad advice, from questions about breakups, to how to deal with social anxiety, or even what to do. if you have substance abuse problems.
These investigations hardly lack depth or vulnerability. Since the identities of Pakter’s commentators are kept anonymous, no issue seems to be off the table.
These messages and comments can easily be dismissed as silly — even pathetic. It seems hard to understand why these young people look up to someone they don’t even know for advice on such personal issues. Why not just save these questions for your friends, or better yet, your therapists? Why do they see Pakter as this qualified god of knowledge who knows everything?
“It’s very difficult for a lot of people to come out and ask for advice,” Pakter said during his interview. “I think we grew up in a time where there really aren’t many good role models for men.”
In many ways, Pakter is right. It’s hard for guys to come out and ask for advice, and even harder to find positive role models. In comments on his videos, some of Pakter’s followers have often compared him to Andrew Tate, a famous right-wing podcaster who infamously said, “women are men’s property”. Much like Pakter, many of Tate’s comments are filled with similar devotion and affection, many of which come from men — young men. They’re also the ones behind the many TikToks like counts that Pakter has posted, which describe women using the terms “pristine,” “pristine,” and “fresh.” The good role models Pakter mentions seem to be few and far between. It’s unclear whether or not he believes he is one of them.
While Pakter doesn’t compare himself to Tate, in some of his videos he has addressed the comparisons some other people have made between him and Tate. He calmly predicts what he’s about to say will upset a lot of people, but he doesn’t care — it’s his side.
“[Tate] made a lot of money for a lot of people. …Even though it’s demeaning to these women, he makes these girls hundreds of thousands of dollars from his OnlyFans business,” Pakter said in one of his August TikToks. “But he says a lot of stuff that motivates people. Check out his comments and see what people think of him. It’s a lot of appreciation and ‘thank you’ and ‘you changed my perspective’.”
Tate has an OnlyFans business that he runs from Romania. It might be worth noting that the Romanian police raided his home as part of an investigation into human trafficking. It is conceivable that something like this is perceived as misogynistic.
“I have nothing against Tate. Yeah he’s a misogynist and he’s sexist and stuff and that’s really unfortunate,” Pakter said in another of his July Tiktoks, “but I respect that he’s really honest in what he’s saying.”
Some comments on the video in which Pakter talks about Tate speak for both Pakter and Tate, such as “Andrew Tate is my role model”, “Tate is an asset to society” or “Lukas is the blueprint”. It is important to understand what it means for young men to consider these types of statements and numbers as a “blueprint”. It’s also important to understand why so many of these young men confess their problems online to less than ideal role models.
“A lot of people don’t admit their problems because they don’t want to be seen as weaker, and I think when I do that it shows everyone is normal,” Pakter said.
This is true. While many of these messages may seem pathetic or silly, the implications behind them are sadder than anything else. It is undeniable that many young men find it difficult to talk about their problems or seek advice. A survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation found that men are statistically less likely to seek professional help or disclose a mental health issue to friends and family.
From this it can be concluded that many discussions on Pakter’s platform are not conducted in male circles of friends or with a positive mentor, hence the idolization of people like Pakter. While it’s difficult to resist an offer to speak out about various issues young men face, as Pakter does, it’s worth noting that some of his points and the support that follows can be problematic.
“I think as a man, one of your main responsibilities is to be a protector. There’s a reason the men are the last to disembark when the ship sinks. I personally think it would be very dissimilar for a man to say, “Let me get the lifeboat first.” I think the boys should be proud of that,” said Pakter.
During his interview, Pakter described his younger self as a loser and troubled. He said he has no friends and no depression and no one likes him. One can only guess how many of his young viewers share this reality. Of course they don’t want to be a loser. They don’t want to get on the lifeboat first, they want to be “a man”. They see Pakter not just as a guy, but more as a reflection of who they could be. The societal implications behind this are endless: what does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be an alpha male? The underdog becomes the hero and the loser becomes the man.
Pakter seems to have mastered this metamorphosis.
“If you think of any animal kingdom, in this group dynamic there are alpha males or alpha females. When I meet someone I could probably tell what their personality is in 90 seconds. It has nothing to do with looks or height. It’s just the energy you put out and how you hold yourself,” Pakter said.
Everyone could admire Pakter for letting young men know they should be proud of their manhood, just as they could admire him for his open vulnerability on the internet. Both are commendable and a platform like his can be progressive. Unfortunately, the notion of being “the man” or the “alpha” is often not the grand finale in the transformation of a “loser.” The obsession with being the hypermasculine gym brother, the guy who “gets hot chicks left and right,” is nothing but a futile hunt and an empty promise for many of these young men.
If only their role models would tell them that.
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Olivia is a freshman who has yet to declare her major. In her free time, she enjoys reading, reading foreign films and writing poetry.