Thanks to Twitter, I came across a blog post by one Racecar Brown referencing one of my earlier rants diatribes explorations of the topic of bad boys and nice guys in fiction. And, naturally, I was reminded that I never did finish that series. I suppose that’s a good thing, as now, in the midst of an entirely new book, with a very different sort of romantic pairing than I’ve ever written before, my thoughts have changed again.
Racecar Brown talks mainly about the intense fan reaction to two odious but popular characters: Chuck Bass of the Gossip Girl television show, and Draco Malfoy of Harry Potter. I am most of the way through the second season of Gossip Girl now, and I think Chuck falls on the “love to hate him” side of the spectrum. He’s awful, and he whores around, and etc., but leaving aside the pilot episode in which he tries to rape both Jenny and Serena, his “awfulness” is mostly posited as a sort of rich guy boredom. This is the dude that flies in high priced call girls from Asia — usually two at a time. He opens strip clubs, he takes dirty pictures of Skull & Bones members who try to get him to hurt his friend, and, in a total 180 from his behavior in the pilot, he drops off an underage girl who is throwing herself at him in his limo.
Sailor Boy says that you should usually take everything you see in the pilot of a television show with a grain of salt. The characters aren’t really set yet. How often have you gone back to see the pilot of a show you loved and been like — wait, who IS that person? So I’m willing to give the Gossip Girl people a pass with the whole Chuck Bass: Rapist thing — at least, as far as I’ve seen the show (I just watched the Snowflake Ball episode where Jenny puts Vanessa in the see-through dress.) So I agree with Racecar on that one. The pilot is the problem. He gets it together later on — which is not unlike what the Veronica Mars people do with Logan, though aside from the bum fights and the whole [spoiler spoiler spoiler] at Carrie Bishop’s party, most of what he does isn’t too heinous (and is in fact very similar to Veronica’s shenanigans, and even those two things are certainly no worse than what Weevil pulls. Remember, he and Veronica were actually friends before Lilly died.
(I actually started watching Gossip Girl because I got so many letters from readers saying that Chuck Bass reminds them of Poe and now, having seen it, I can honestly say — Whaaaaaaa? They are both manipulative and given to cruelty, but loyal to the people they love, I’ll grant you that. But Chuck’s every action and entire lifestyle comes from a place of enormous privilege — no one has ever said no to him, and he is depraved because he’s so rich that he’s bored. He is a modern day Valmont. Poe is…. none of those things. His cruelty and manipulation actually come from the fact that he was not born into privilege and he feels he constantly has to fight for it, prove it, and hold on to it by any means necessary. And he isn’t bored because he does have to work so hard ot get what he has — as well as to protect himself from any idea that he might not deserve it. So… I don’t really see it. George and Chuck have more in common, except George is too happy go lucky. A bit more like Nate, perhaps.)
The other example of excessive fan-love Racecar points to is Draco Malfoy. Now, though a fan of Harry Potter, I’ve never participated in the vast, vast world of Harry Potter fandom. I’ve never read the fanfic that some of my writer friends are actually famous for. I don’t know what people like in Harry Potter fandom. I’ve read the books, I’ve watched the movies, I have a Griffindor t-shirt and a sorting hat keychain. That’s it. The nearest brush I ever came to was when a writer friend of mine were at Dragon*Con last year and she went to a panel with Tom Felton on it. Felton, who plays Draco Malfoy in the movies, is I’m sure a very nice young man, and he’s certainly an excellent actor. He was apparently discussing on the panel how a lot of times, the actors visit children’s hospitals and the like on goodwill tours, and he feels bad because the children always want to see the folks who play the “good guys” but never him.
However, this is not the case with the fandom. They love Draco Malfoy. Sometimes they may love him a little too much, as my friend who attended the panel told me that someone came up to him and asked him to autograph a photo she had, which was an erotic photo with his and Daniel Radcliffe’s heads photoshopped onto the bodies of naked men. Understandably, this 22 year old young man refused to do so, which apparently made the fan very upset. But I don’t blame Tom Felton at all. That was not a picture of him and why should he “legitimize” a fake naked photo of himself by signing it? Draco Malfoy may be a fictional being that you can do whatever you want with, but Tom Felton is a real person.
Apparently, even JK Rowling is of the opinion that people’s obsession with Draco is a product of their confusing Felton, who imbues his character with pathos (and good looks) with the very bad person that Rowling created in the book.
“People have been waxing lyrical [in letters] about Draco Malfoy, and I think that’s the only time when [pulling for a certain relationship] stopped amusing me and started almost worrying me. I’m trying to clearly distinguish between Tom Felton, who is a good-looking young boy, and Draco, who, whatever he looks like, is not a nice man. It’s a romantic, but unhealthy, and unfortunately all too common delusion of girls that they are going to change someone.”
(And yet, Malfoy gets off scot-free in the books. I never understood that.)
As I said in my previous post, I was never into the fantasy of the bad boy. I don’t buy that we can really change someone. There’s a part in Pride & Prejudice where Elizabeth explains to Mr. Wickham that Mr. Darcy improves upon acquaintance, but not in “essentials.” She is saying to him that she now understands that Darcy is prickly, closed-off, etc. but essentially, he’s a stand-up guy. (Also that she knows Wickham is lying about Darcy, but that’s a whole other thing.) But that is pretty much where I draw the line, too. I’m okay with bad boys who are essentially okay.
Darcy is not changed by Elizabeth, except in the minor way that he realizes he needs to stop being such a snob. His changing is not from cruelty to kindness, but from impoliteness toward people of a lesser social station to politeness. Still, this is not a major change in who he is. Yes, now he can be friends with Mr. Gardiner. But one imagines that, had he met Mr. Gardiner before, he would not have been cruel to him, but perfectly cordial and distant.
I think we can all agree that getting a snob to lighten up is on a whole different scale than getting an accessory to murder/attempted murderer (which Draco Malfoy is) to “change.”
Jane Austen loved writing about the bad boy/nice guy dichtomy. There’s one in almost all of her books. Yes, even Persuasion. But enough about that for now.