No, not the band.
There’s been a lot of talk around the blogosphere recently about the general love of bad boys. I’ve seen a few folks saying that nice guys can work too (and a few more actually claiming “bad boy” status on characters I would certainly categorize as “nice guys”) but it’s pretty much nothing compared to the wave of bad boys taking over books.
My writer friends have been noting the phenomenon as well. One writer was bemoaning the current trend of “the badder the better” and saying it used to be the bad boy hero was some dude who’d just killed a man. Then it became an assassin with a heart of gold. Then just an assassin. Then just a murderer. Another writer wondered if this onslaught was a factor of readers wanting to live vicariously through the exploits of a fictional heroine who walks on the wild side with a lover who is mad, bad, and dangerous to know. But, hasn’t that always been the case with bad boys in fiction? This isn’t a NEW trend. So why now are books filled with ever more reprehensible men?
Bad boys never did it for me. I never had a thing for Heathcliff (abusive, horrible puppy-killer!) or Mr. Rochester. I liked Gilbert Blythe and the fine, upstanding, stick-in-the-mud (if jerky) Mr. Darcy. (Actually, I *really* liked Captain Wentworth, who I suppose had the technical bad boy edge of being a privateer.) I thought Angel was a sociopath, and though I liked Spike as a character, I was never attracted to him and found his relationship with Buffy to be utterly laughable (as opposed to his relationship with Drusilla, which I actually found quite effective and moving). Me, I liked Riley — til they ruined him, that is.
(It is important to note that I do not think that angst=bad boy. Edmund Pevensie, upon whom I have a crush I’ve actually been paid to write about in detail, is angsty — but not a bad boy. He had one little lapse in judgment, and proceeds to spend the rest of the books atoning for it. A lot of bad boys are, however, angsty, which is usually our entry into sympathizing with them.)
So the only bad boy I ever fell for was Logan Echolls of Veronica Mars. And I fell hard. Perhaps it helped that Logan was still a child, and it was possible for him to rise above his abusive father and horrific home life that was making him into a psychotic jackass (See above re: angst and sympathy). I watched the end of the first season of VM with my heart in my throat worried/terrified that Logan had murdered his ex-girlfriend Lilly in a fit of jealous rage. And through it all, I loved him. My one bad-boy crush.
Perhaps my love for Logan helped when I found myself crafting my own bad-boy love interest — or what one reviewer (positively, if you can believe it) called “the asshole love interest.” It certainly hadn’t been my intention to write that guy, and it was really challenging too, to make it believable — to me — that a reasonable woman would take that kind of risk with her heart or with her safety. It took the better part of a book to set up a situation where I could even get her to a point where she’d initiate it, and another book entirely to get the relationship off the ground. It had to be believable for me.
And it worked, if the reader responses are anything to go by. People love Poe. I sometimes wonder how much they love him, and how much they love the trope of the bad boy. I worked hard on him, but most folks were on board right from the start. There’s something about bad boys that gives them that capital. Ironically, though bad boys have a population of readers ready to love them from the word go, good boys have to work five times as hard.
Here are the struggles they face:
- If they are sweet and considerate, they are perceived as weak.
- If they are steadfast, loyal, and sure of their feelings for the girl, they are perceived as desperate, lying, or too good to be true.
- If they are fine upstanding citizens, they are perceived as bland and goody-two-shoes.
Even Persnickety Snark, in her attempt at a “defense” of good boys calls them out on these things: “Too often nice comes across as boring.”
And to those naysayers, I present Mr. Lloyd Dobler:
Let’s face it, we all want John Cusack standing outside our house with a boombox.
And the whole point of Say Anything, really, is that Lloyd embodies everything that a bad boy is not. He’s sweet, and considerate, and unassuming, and steadfast, and stand-up, and absolutely, unequivocally in love with a girl that everyone thinks outclasses him.
MIKE: I wanted to ask you: how’d you get Diane Court to go out with you?
LLOYD: I called her up.
MIKE: Yeah, but how come it worked? I mean, like, what are you?
LLOYD: I’m Lloyd Dobler.
MIKE: This is great. This gives me hope. Thanks.
Lloyd isn’t boring or weak (he can manhandle drunks at a party pretty handily), but he’s also pretty accepting of the fact that his general lack of ambition and his vague idea of being a “professional kickboxer” doesn’t hold a candle to Diane’s future and destiny. So why do we like him so much?
A friend of mine told me it’s because Say Anything is, ultimately, Lloyd’s story. It’s not the story of a high-powered ambitious girl who accepts the gentle love and devotion of a nice guy like Lloyd Dobler. It’s about Lloyd, everyone’s favorite everyman, who through true love and devotion wins his prize of the beautiful girl. We’re with Lloyd. We really want him to get his heart’s desire, and when he does, we cheer.
But what if this was Diane’s story? Would we then perceive Say Anything as being about a very successful girl who takes pity on the class slacker, has a little summer romance, and when her life goes all topsy-turvy, settles, knowing this guy is willing to be her house-husband and general shoulder to lean on in England? Comforting, sure, but not exactly the stuff of high passion.
Heck, even Lloyd’s cadre of girlfriends (a delicate balancing act, from a writer’s perspective, to present Lloyd as being platonically beloved by women without coding him as someone who is not boyfriend material) have to have a discussion about his catch-factor:
REBECCA: Hey, I know this is a strange thing to say, but maybe Diane Court really likes Lloyd.
COREY: If you were Diane Court, would you honestly fall for Lloyd? (long pause) Yeah.
And maybe it also helps that Lloyd is so in love with Diane — standing-outside-the-window-with-a-boombox kind of love. But of course, that kind of thing can backfire on a nice guy. In high school, my friends and I used to say that a romantic gesture had nothing to do with the gesture — it was the guy doing it. If you liked the guy sending you secret notes and flowers, it was romantic. If you didn’t, it was lame and stalkery. If it wasn’t cutie-pie John Cusack — Lloyd Dobler who we were all rooting for — standing out there with the boom box, we’d probably recommend that Diane call the cops.
I ran into that problem myself with Brandon. The sweeter and more romantic Brandon was to Amy (and, most importantly, the less that Amy responded to it) the more his actions were viewed by the readership as lame and desperate. So maybe it’s that Amy actually likes the equally lame (from an objective standpoint) stuff that Poe pulls. I mean, a half-eaten pack of LifeSavers as a present? Not exactly diamonds and chocolates.
As the reactions to the boys in the SSG series came in, I was fascinated by what readers chose to believe of Amy’s narration and what they discarded. All first person narrators are to some extent, unreliable, in that the reader only sees what they see. Even if they are telling the absolute truth to the reader, they are not omniscient, and they bring their own biases into the situation. Take, for example, Amy’s initial reaction in SSG to Clarissa’s overtures in the library. Because Amy hates Clarissa, she thinks Clarissa is trying to be bitchy to her and to question Amy’s right to be tapped by Rose & Grave. Later, of course, we discover that Clarissa was honestly curious. Readers assume Amy’s version of events, and are corrected only when Amy is.
(Of course, some of them are never corrected. I am always surprised by the number of letters I get from people who hate Clarissa, even though Amy grows to love her.)
So perhaps readers’ disdain for Brandon’s romantic efforts is a result of Amy’s disdain. And yet, Amy is plenty disdainful of Poe through both SSG and UTR, and I got lots of letters at the end of UTR that were pro-Poe. (Which, honestly, was a relief, given what I was about to do with the storyline.) It’s hard for me to say, since I’m the writer. Were there subtle manipulations coding the reader to root for Poe over Brandon? Sure, why not? Are my skills as a writer, then, not up to snuff if I haven’t succeeded in making you root for the romantic coupling of my choice?
Now there’s a question to get neurotic over.
It’s interesting that there seems to be a definite line between “steadfast” and “obsessive”. The former is the realm of the good boy, and it’s apparently boring and desperate. The latter is the realm of the bad boy (he climbs in your bedroom window, he stalks you, he’s always there, watching you). It’s apparently sexy. Spike is an excellent example of this. He chased after Buffy no matter how much she told him to stop, no matter how much his obsession with her became increasingly desperate and pathetic (first making his real girlfriend, Harmony, dress up like Buffy for sex games, then later, making his own Buffy sexbot), and viewers still found him incredibly attractive and cheered him on. Now, tell me truthfully. If you found out that some dude had a crush on you and when you rejected him, he dressed up a sex doll to look just like you — ummm. Hot? I don’t think so.
(I found the most lovelorn pic of Spike I could for this part, and, sidebar, do you know if you just google the word “Spike” this is most of what comes up? No actual, you know, spikes.)
There are some old screenwriting tricks writers sometimes use to create sympathy for an otherwise unlikeable character. If he’s mean, show that other people — people we’re inclined to like — like him. Have him be sweet to children or small animals.This is called “save the cat.”
When we see Logan going to get the belt his father will beat him with, we understand there’s a reason behind his jackass nature. When Spike risks death to protect Dawn, we see that he really does care about both Summers girls. Personal sacrifice, vulnerability, unshakeable interest in the heroine (who can’t help but be at least flattered, though returning the interest is the brass ring)… these are all games that you get to play with the bad boy. But the good guy? He’s not otherwise unlikeable. The readers already know his vulnerabilities. They like him.
They just don’t lurrvvve him.
Except when they do? Why do we swoon over Lloyd Dobler when he’s nothing like Logan Echols?Or are they different populations entirely that do the swooning? Are some of always going to be Team Bad Boy and some of us always going to be Team Nice Guy? And what does that make of me, Team Nice Guy, except for that one little dalliance with Logan?
Stay tuned to find out!