McConaughey’s film career and shirtless jogging has made him pretty famous by now. The thing about McConaughey, and part of why girls adore him, is he doesn't seem contrived. Sure he's the Sexiest Man Alive and sure he looks resplendent on a jet ski but guys such as McConaughey exist in real life. We knew them in high school. We occasionally meet them at bars. We like these guys. They’re cool. They’re laid back. They’re handsome, confident and just blandly charming enough to miss being a dick.
The people McConaughey is paid to pretend to be, on the other hand, are often totally contrived. In his largest grossing films McConaughey portrays, respectively, a civil rights lawyer (A Time to Kill), a renowned philosopher (Contact), and a business executive (How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days). We accept such conceits for the purposes of enjoying a make-believe story but we know that these characters - the Pretend McConaugheys - could never actually happen. In real life McConaugheys are carpenters, real estate agents and motor cross racers. They are not accepted into the University of Virginia law school and do not publish in academic journals. They do exactly what Matthew does in the tabloids: they smoke up, pound on bongoes/underage girls, and take road trips in camper vans.
The fiction, however, has got girls thinking. They descry life in the artifice. They don't think McConaughey the civil rights lawyer is true exactly, at least as the society works right now, but they think he SHOULD be true. That's the expectation.
This radically alters the long established hunk paradigm. Before McConaughey hunks came in specific types, like ice cream flavors. There were soulful, chatty hunks like John Cusack, bohemian hunks like Johnny Depp, beautiful hunks like Brad Pitt. Further, each hunk type’s strength intimated some weakness - Cusack was chatty because he stunk at football, Depp was bohemian because he was skinny and short, Pitt was pretty but not a rocket-scientist. Everything these guys did, independent of the hunk type they were or aspired to be, was understood to be either a ploy or frustrated response to the failure of his ploys to get girls to like them. No guy, Jesus aside, strove for intellectual greatness or pondered upon the frailties of the human condition simply because that was the noble, most interesting thing to do.
Pretend McConaughey, however, evokes the concept of a hunk that transcends type, a grand unification of hunkiness, a hunk hunk, who is a book-wormishly brilliant altruist AND a carefree, selfish sexy man beast. This is devastating to the popular appeal of all traditional guy types, but especially the nerd types living in San Francisco, where soaring real estate costs and the progressive culture has, for a long time, encouraged people to be one-sidedly overachieving, intellectual and not Southern. Social and physical awkwardness is not exactly championed here but it isn’t a sentence for social isolation either. San Francisco has historically been the one place where a nerd could get a girl precisely because he was a nerd.
Of course Pretend McConaughey and the ontology he stands for is still just that, pretend. He’s a myth, a chimera, a clever move by Hollywood to commodify female desires, a spook story that dads tell their sons at night. No one really believes in him.
Except that we do. We know when a girl scrutinizes us she no longer thinks, "All right, so he reads The Economist, has high earning potential, recycles, OK, I get it, this might work." No, she thinks, "He has puny arms."
So we lay alone at night, the rumble of bongoes in the distance and the tang of whiskey-fed BO in the fog air, and we worry that someone is whisking all the girls away. Maybe we’re just being neurotic, we think. Maybe our big nerd brains have turned against us. But maybe not. Maybe it's exactly what we fear: Dr. McConaughey, with his PHD from Yale and honeydew drawl, is Pied Pipering his way through town, and girl after girl is making a happy mental hop into his capacious camper van.