Diana Peterfreund wrote an awesome blog post today about Bad Boys vs. Nice Guys (part I of more to come) in fiction. In addition to being an interesting examination of the appeal of the Bad Boy, it’s also a defense of the Nice Guy.
Peterfreund brings up some really great points, including how the Nice Guy seems to be much more palatable as the protagonist rather than as the romantic lead. When seen as the Everyman, the Nice Guy suddenly becomes our proxy: the underdog, the ordinary fellow reaching for his dreams. She cites Lloyd Dobbler from Say Anything as a film example. Take your pick of John Green’s protagonists for a literary example.
However, when viewed through a romantic lens, the Nice Guy seems to fall short compared to the Bad Boy. Why? Is it because he’s considered “weak”? (Whatever that means.) Harmless? Boring?
The truth is, the Nice Guy is none of those things—when written well. When written well, the Nice Guy is every bit as selfish and awkward and painfully true as a person as well as a trope. It’s just that when pitted against the Bad Boy in a love triangle, he is bound to lose. (This may be part of the reason I hate love triangles—the one I want to win never does!)
Why is that? Everyone finds danger exciting, of course, but I think what makes the Bad Boy so appealing is that he could hurt you—he just won’t because he lurrrrves you. He may have had a dissolute/criminal/murderous past, but it doesn’t matter now: he’s changed because of his love for you—for you. This is what makes the Bad Boy so exciting; you are the special and unique snowflake for whom he makes an exception to every rule. This is the archetypal reason so many people find this character trope appealing.
On the other hand, you have the Nice Guy. He’s not in the least bit dangerous. He brings you soup when you’re sick, he tells your favourite jokes, he lends you his shoulder to cry on. He might a little stubborn, a little selfish, and a little oblivious to, well, everything, but he’s steadfast and true and you can trust him. But…but…why does he love you? What’s so special about you? What is he giving up to be with you?
You can guess where I fall on the Spectrum of Bad. I prefer the Nice Guy, but this isn’t always true. This bothers me a little, especially when I consider the Problem of the Rogue.
So I’m a total sucker for rogues. Total, complete, absolute sucker. You name him, I’ve probably crushed on him at some point. George Cooper from Tamora Pierce’s SONG OF THE LIONESS quartet? Peter Warne (as played by Clark Gable) in It Happened One Night? Han Solo from the Star Wars movies? Gambit from The X-Men? But why? I mean, isn’t the Rogue just an aspect of the Bad Boy?
For a while I struggled with this because if we’re going with a dissolute/criminal/murderous past (or present), he’s definitely firmly on the Bad end of the Spectrum. The rogue is also unabashedly an asshole. (And I love it.) And yet. I don’t think I’ve come across stories where the rogue gives up his rogue-ish ways for love. His dame is may be a headstrong, independent woman, but she ain’t no unique and special snowflake; she’s just a dame and he loves her, even if it makes him a bit screwy.
But when it comes down to it, you can trust the rogue. Well, with the things that matter, if not your wallet. The same way you can trust a Nice Guy. And trust is really important to me, as both a reader and as someone in a relationship. As far as him being an asshole, I enjoy honest dickery as much as I love unabashed bitches. Honesty, even if it’s blunt, is preferable to beautiful lies. So if that means letting the douchewad out because that’s who you really are, by all means, let him out.
The rogue also has a crucial element missing in other Bad Boys: a sense of humour. I don’t mean a rapier wit that hides a broken soul (like Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer)—I mean a sense of humour. The rogue doesn’t take anything too seriously, least of all himself. To classify a rogue as a Bad Boy is a mistake; he’s a class unto his own and closer to the Nice Guy on the Spectrum of Bad (in my opinion).
While the Bad Boy is popular, most people steer clear of the extreme end of the spectrum. The whole point of the Bad Boy, after all, is that he is redeemable. His lurrrrrve for you is where he finds salvation and redemption. The Bad Boy might be dangerous, but he’s not scary. He is after all, still ruled by his heart, even if that heart was utterly broken in the past. The Bad Boy is like a roller coaster: exciting, thrilling, but ultimately, still safe.
I play on the Nice end of the Spectrum of Bad, but I really, really can’t explain my gleeful delight in characters on the Evil end.
…I got nothing.