Monday, May 30, 2011

"Danger, Will Robinson!" pt 3 (The bad boy)

Story Gimmicks I Hate
Pt. 3: The Bad Boy

Everyone loves a bad boy. From James Dean to Christian Slater (for all of you 80s people) to Wolverine. From Mercutio to Rhett Butler to Robin Hood. Cowboys. Well, I could go on, but I'm trying to stick to people and characters that are fairly recognizable. Everyone loves a bad boy. Even me. Seriously. Pick one: Superman or Batman? If sales can serve as the record for which we prefer, Batman has been winning that battle for decades. Han Solo. Need I say more?

I'm not going to try to get into why we love bad boys so much. There are too many theories to cover here. But the rampantness with which they run through our current fiction is testament to how popular they are. And that's kind of the problem. They're so popular, they've become cliche. They don't even make good anti-heroes anymore.

Part of the problem is the disconnect between reality and fiction. And we want to believe the fiction. Even in life. Okay, so, I lied. Here's my take on why we love bad boys: We want to believe there's a reason behind it. Something misunderstood or broken that if we could just get in there, we could make it all better (girls, you know that's true). Because we want to believe this, this is the way we write them. We give them some redeemable quality or incredible burden. Something that excuses the "bad boy" part and makes it okay. You know, Batman's parents were killed right in front of him. That kind of thing. And, oh, vampires. They're just so easy to do, because, well, you know they're people, too. It's not their fault they need to drink blood.

On a small scale, I can deal with this. I mean, Batman is a great character. I'm not dissing the Bat. I am dissing all the hoards who have come since then that have turned him into a cliche. But I get it. I do. It's interesting. I mean, seriously, how many times has Superman's origin been duplicated? Not the being the last survivor from a dead planet, but the being raised in idyllic circumstances by completely loving parents (adopted or not). For some reason, we want our heroes tortured. We need to give them reason to do what they do. Because, you know, simply doing what's right for the sake of doing what's right isn't enough.

The problem is that, if you look around at real people, bad boys are simply just that. Bad boys. Out for themselves. There is no underlying cause to the bad boyness other then selfishness and greed. We'd like to think there is, but, no. They really are just the jerks they look like. Seriously, just how many tortured vampires can there really be out there?

Speaking of vampires (again) and how bad boys are just really bad boys, Joss Whedon possibly handled this better than I've ever seen it done. You have Buffy and you have Angel, not the original tortured vampire but (arguably) the one that really got this new vampire craze going again. Angel's a bad boy. Cool. You can see he's tortured just by looking at him. On his own. Buffy's all into him. The classic bad boy with a heart of gold. Here's where the (very clever) metaphor comes in. Buffy succumbs to his charms and gives herself up to him, and, guess what, he really is just a jerk. Using her. Tossing her aside because he got what he wanted. And that is what bad boys are really like. See, Joss Whedon just proved it, so it must be true. And he didn't even use "like" or "as."

The problem here is that in the vast (VAST) majority of fiction, Buffy wakes up the next morning to find Angel snuggling with her (instead of being off on a murderous, vampiric rampage). Because that's what we want it to be like.

I understand the fantasy nature of the writing. The escapism. If we want real life, all we have to do is get out of bed in the morning. Who wants that, right? I mean, it's so much better when we can get up after noon, right? I guess what it boils down to is this: we all want our characters to stand out. To be identifiable. But when all of the characters look the same, act the same, they are all the same. Cut from the same mold.

Now, I'm saying this as someone who has not read Twilight (and I have no plans whatsoever to do so), but I know there are two camps. Two teams. But take a look at those two characters. What's the difference between them? Yeah, yeah, I know one's a vampire, and one's a werewolf, but that's like saying one wears a leather jacket and one wears a blue jean jacket. All I'm saying is that from the outside looking in, that seems to be the only significant difference between the two brooding male love interests.

Okay back to that whole "same mold" thing, bad boys are gingerbread men. We may decorate them differently, use different colors, different designs (even though the icing all tastes the same, too), when you get down to it, they're all still just gingerbread men. Cut from the same mold. Alike. When you're tired of eating gingerbread men (and I am), it doesn't matter how you dress them up, they all still taste the same.

Addendum:
Hope over to The Flying Cheetah, today, and take a look around. You might notice that I've done a guest movie review over there. You might also notice that it's a pretty cool blog. I follow it. And, you know, I have great taste and all of that, so, if I follow it, so should you!

4 comments:

Gina said...

I have never understood the attraction the bad boy. I find studious and slightly awkward so much more attractive. Why would I be drawn to a guy who's probably thinking about cheating on me or killing my mother before he even knows my name? I'm in the minority, I know.

Michael Offutt said...

One of my favorite bad boys was Vin Diesel in Pitch Black.

I have a thought here on bad boys in general...maybe what makes them bad is going against the establishment. It's something that we all want to do and long to do but rarely have the guts to do it.

Misty Provencher said...

Wait, Andrew! You're missing the key element of the bad boy. We love them because although they are wild and dangerous...in our arms they are suddenly tame. We enchant them so deeply that they are willing to kill for our honor. It is the Bad Boy's worship of his woman that makes him so appealing. Women don't want men that just rip up bars and beat the snot out of each other- UNLESS they're doing it for us.

Andrew Leon said...

Gina: Yeah, I've never been drawn to that, either. I've been stalked by at least one girl, and it just sorta scares me.

Michael: Yeah, I get that part of it. Batman. Wolverine. The problem is those guys don't actually exist, and, usually, what we get from fiction are people dressing up their characters to look like Batman or Wolverine but, really, just making them a normal guy that looks like a bad boy.

Misty: Well, actually, that's what I meant when I was talking about fixing them. I just didn't want to get too far off into that, because it has more to do with the reality of things rather than the fictional protrayal. In fiction, what you're saying works. It just never turns out to be that way in life.