Understanding the LA Beast
Conspicuous consumption personified
Posted Jun 16, 2015
The LA Beast (or Kevin Strahle, who lives in Santa Monica) is something of a hero of mine. The Beast, a high-profile “YouTuber,” is one of the world’s greatest competitive eaters and the food challenges that he performs on his YouTube channel are nothing short of extraordinary. A brief list of his accomplishments1 includes the following:
- A 20-year-old bottle of Crystal Pepsi
- Two cacti
- Twenty-six ghost peppers
- A gallon of honey while covered with bees
- An oversized Pilsner glass filled with a mixture of milk and Red Bull
- Two liters of Sprite and a cluster of bananas
- Inserting his hand into a jar full of hot ice
- A gallon of Tabasco sauce
- The entire menu of burgers from the Burger King menu
- A 5-pound bag of Haribo sugarless gummy bears
- Two jars of Vegemite
- Three cans of dog food
- Approximately 3 pounds of Sriracha
And my personal favorite:
- An entire watermelon, including the rind (without utensils of any kind)
Seriously—this guy is amazing and his videos are deeply entertaining. He is a beast!
Yesterday, the LA Beast happened to be in New York, while on a mission to have Pepsi bring back their clear, Crystal Pepsi line. He announced that he’d be meeting fans in a park in White Plains—so of course, I got in my car and headed straight down! It turns out that he’s even cooler in person! He was just hanging out, taking pictures, signing autographs, and joking around with about 30 fans from all walks of life—folks who, like me, are simply fascinated by the LA Beast.
We Are Fascinated by Human Extremes
We are fascinated by human extremes—whether they are physical (e.g., the tallest person in the world) or behavioral (e.g., the most outlandish radio personality you can think of). Human psychology also includes specialized processes related to conspicuous consumption (Veblen, 1899). Often, humans use more than they need. This is why not everyone drives a used Nissan Versa and why some people live in houses that are over 4,000 square feet for a family of four. People regularly spend thousands of dollars on diamond rings and while you can always buy a pair of shoes for $30 at Walmart, you can also easily spend hundreds of dollars on your shoe-shopping adventures.
One pair of shoes helps you survive. Owning 100 pairs is, from a survival-based perspective, insane! What is up with this?! Why do humans engage in so many behaviors that are clearly unnecessary for survival?
In his classic treatise on the evolved nature of human psychology, Geoffrey Miller (2000) argued that conspicuous behaviors are used as social signals—largely, but not exclusively, in mating contexts. If a young guy owns a Porsche, this is a signal—this guy must come from money and must have lots of resources. It’s not better at getting from Point A to Point B than is my Nissan Versa, but it carries with it much better signaling capacity. It probably costs ten times as much as the Versa—and thus signals enormous capacity for resources. This is attractive in a partner.
Research has also documented that straight-out behavioral displays deemed as extraordinary have similar signaling capacity (see Geher & Kaufman, 2013 and Geher, 2014). In a great New York Times article from a few years ago, John Tierney dissected the behavior of the guys from the show Jackass. This show, and the subsequent movies based on it, included a group of guys who did a whole bunch of outlandish, idiotic, and often-dangerous antics—most of which are downright disgusting! In trying to explain the appeal of the Jackass phenomenon, Tierney drew upon evolutionary psychological research, citing the fact that, particularly among young adult males, being the best at anything has status and potentially mating-related benefits. Toward this end, Tierney writes of one of the famous Jackass guys, Steve-O, who had women fawning all over him at the bar just minutes after he’d had his face covered in elephant dung. Men who can be the best at something—even if it’s being an idiot—may well be somehow attractive.
I’m not sure about the LA Beast’s love life, but I know that he has over 1,000,000 subscribers on YouTube and that his antics are nothing short of fascinating to any audience member. I would boldly state that the LA Beast exemplifies conspicuous consumption in a literal and peerless manner. This guy is conspicuous consumption personified!
Humor, Kindness, and Respect Add to the Beast’s Popularity
There are many attributes we care about in others—not just whether someone is great at doing something that is ridiculous and extreme! As a highly social species, we value others in our social worlds who demonstrate such attributes as humor, kindness, and respect for others (see Geher & Kaufman, 2013). And if you know the LA Beast at all, either from his videos or in-person, you know that this guy shows all these attributes in spades. His humor is beyond question—you cannot help but laugh when this guy pops up on the screen. And you know, he’s always self-deprecating and always gives highly respectful shout-outs to others in his field and to those who have helped him with his craft. He’s clearly a super-nice guy. And there is no question that these attributes add to the Beast’s popularity.
Learning From Extremes of Human Behavior
Without a doubt, the LA Beast is an extreme human. He’s off the charts. He takes something that we all do all the time, eating food, and ramps it up into an all-out extreme form of entertainment.
We can learn a lot from those who demonstrate extreme behaviors. As a behavioral scientist, if you want to know the function of something, you often study extreme variants of it. If you want to understand intelligence, it’s often helpful to study those who score as extremely high or extremely low on intelligence measures. If you want to understand emotional stability, it’s helpful to study those who are extremely stable and those on the other end, who are completely unstable. Human behavioral extremes are useful in helping us understand basic things about who we all are.
If you are interested in the psychology of conpicuous consumption, and you don’t mind being entertained, and you have access to YouTube, you just might have to check out the LA Beast!
And as the LA Beast would say, “Have a good day!”
Reference and Other Resources
Miller, G. F. (2000a). The mating mind: How sexual choice shaped the evolution of human nature. New York, NY: Doubleday.
Tierney, J. (2006, Oct. 7). Jackasses and Fashionistas. New York Times.
Veblen, Thorstein. (1899) Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study in the Evolution of Institutions. New York: Macmillan.