I want to see these bad, bad, bad, bad men come to grips with their humanity. ----James Ellroy
He stepped in the joint, and like sharks gliding silent in the deep, we smelled fresh new talent. Every female gaze, including mine, immediately zoomed in on him. The guys knew immediately—just male instinct, I suppose—he was going to be a threat, he was going to be trouble with a capital “T”. They knew he was competition because his kind always was.
Louie. His name was Louie. He wasn’t very tall. Oh, hell, he was short. Not even particularly handsome. Waves of red hair, freckles. Not the average Joe we dames usually went for. But something about the way Louie wore his jeans and white T-shirt, something in his cocky grin, the savvy glint in his green eyes shouted bad boy. Very good bad boy.
For me, it was love at first sight. Red-headed Louie—I don’t even remember his last name—stole our hearts.
Louie, the predecessor to the Fonz, the copper haired Brando of Red Bluff Elementary. The new reigning king of Mrs. Smallwood’s second grade class.
One Friday night at Jackson’s Skating Rink, bad boy Louie asked me to skate with him and—there, with the rink dim except for the romantic multi-colored lights dancing over the walls and floor—I lost my heart to him. And thus, in second grade, wearing my blue rhinestone trimmed glasses and pigtails, I began my love affair with bad boys.
My preference in fiction—films, books, to read AND to write—are dangerous men. In my opinion, Scarlett O’Hara could have saved herself so much grief and time had she only shared my taste in the wicked pleasures of rakes like Rhett Butler instead of boring ol’ Ashley Wilkes.
Hey, let me at the script for Peter Pan, and I’ll free Captain Hook and toss little Pan to the giant crocodile. I shiver and fantasize about Lucius Malfoy in the Harry what’s-his-name film. You can have your Mel Gibson in The Patriot. Give me Col. William Tavington. And—am I ever ashamed to admit this—as much as I liked good-looking Hawkeye in The Last ofthe Mohicans, I’d never have thrown myself from a cliff if the evil Magua took me captive.
In the fiction world, are these bad asses REALLY…well…bad? Or are they just flawed? Are they tormented souls who, as James Ellroy suggests, we want to force to come to grips with their humanity through our writing?
Are we literary co-dependents where our lotharios, mob guys, street-wise punks, highwaymen and pirates are concerned, with an unconscious need to reform them?
In true, everyday life, are these Robert Mitchum/James Dean types really what our hearts desire? Would that kind of guy REALLY make us happy, or have we romanticized them?
If we DO lust after these menaces-in-men’s-bodies, even in our non-fictional world, what is their allure? Our own unrequited dream of living on the edge, flirting with danger, being the sensuous yet pure beacon on his dark, tortured sea?
Remember the song from the sixties, Leader of the Pack? Part of the lyrics, I think, symbolized a common conception of these misunderstood rascals: They told me he was bad, butI knew he was sad. Get the picture? the crooner asked her friends. Yes, we see, they replied. And, because he WAS sad, that’s why, she says, she fell for the leader of the pack.
Powerful stuff these scoundrels have, the angst angle. Is there room in our hearts for the guys from the RIGHT side of town, the guys who AREN’T sad and tormented?
As little Louie was an automatic threat to the second grade male population—by simply by BEING Louie—are naughty boys a threat to the real-life guys in white hats?
In one of my favorite films, Crossing Delancey, the heroine apologetically announces to the hero, “You’re such a nice guy.” His response? So pitiful, yet so true-to life—he shudders and says, “Oh, what a thing to say!” Bless his heart. She did NOT mean it as a compliment, and he knew it. In the film, she preferred the womanizing anti-hero, an arrogant ass of an author with an ego the size of New York City. Of course, in the end, our good guy won out, but it was a continuous, painful, uphill battle for him.
Crossing Delancey may have been a fictional story, but it personified a true state of many female psyches. Even mine. I related to the heroine. I, too, dig that wicked allure, that I’mgoing to break your heart and you’re going to beg me formore attraction which is old as time, still alive and well.
Do bad boys really reform for us? Or do we write them because it’s our only way to mold them into the sexy-attentive-obsessively passionate-romantic-good and bad at the same time-always handsome lovers we want them to be?
Russell Crowe said, and I thought this was very interesting:
I like villains because there's something so attractive about a committed person - they have a plan, an ideology, no matter how twisted. They're motivated.
Is that what it boils down to? Are we attracted to something as simple as their…commitment? The powerful drive in these bad boys, whether it’s evil, just a little mean or just plain tortured?
If you love bad boys, if you write bad boys, I’d love to know why.