Smoke & Sleeves: Fiction’s Obsession With A Bad Boy
I think a lot of readers will say they dislike a bad boy. I think a lot of readers lie when they say this.
The amount of fiction that includes a ‘bad boy’ is staggering, and these stories aren’t ignored. Oh no. They’ve got millions of views on Wattpad, they’ve made authors rich beyond their wildest dreams. Bad boys are one of the very things that people seemingly seek out when reading a piece of fiction.
You say you don’t like a bad boy, but that’s the point, isn’t it? You dislike him, you’ll fold your arms and roll your eyes. But secretly, you kinda like him.
I am no stranger to this. I have read books including bad boys and loved them. Hey, I’ve even written bad boys into my own stories. I’m not a person who will stand on the side of the street holding a placard saying ‘STOP WRITING ABOUT BAD BOYS’, because how hypocritical would that be?
I recently came across Regina’s brilliant post on why we love a bad boy; it’s honest and chock full of gifs of some of the most famous bad boys on screen. And Regina’s right, there is something about a bad boy that makes us become puddles of drool. But, while I like to read/write about bad boys, there is something very tricky and dangerous when a ‘bad boy’ comes into play in a story, and that is portrayal.
A bad boy, firstly, needs to be defined. When you type ‘bad boy definition’ into Google, this is what comes up:
We’re looking at definition 1 here (although 2 made me laugh).
A bad boy is something new, something different to what we usually expect when it comes to a boyfriend. While even the idea of having this guy become our boyfriend sounds ridiculous, the thought of him mouthing off to people, getting into fights, and having tattoos but still falling in love and caring for us? Now, that’s exciting, isn’t it?
It’s a universal truth that everyone wants to be loved and cherished in one way or another (including non-sexually and platonically).
Ultimately, a bad boy is sexy. When you type ‘bad boy’ into Google Images, this is what comes up.
Bad boy seems to equal leather, smoking, and tattoos. Also, Francisco Lachowski, apparently.
So, the ‘look’ a bad boy has mirrors the definition of non-conforming. He sneers, blows smoke into your eyes, and wears his heart on the ink on his skin. Bad, in this sense = good, fun, and like I said before, exciting.
But remember when I mentioned portrayal? It’s one thing to write a bad boy, but to get it right? That’s a whole other story. Views or sales or popularity does not mean a good portrayal of a bad boy, but, in most cases, can actually be an abusive, manipulative douche.
Fiction is rife with a kind of bad boy who’s jealousy stops the protagonist from hanging out with her friends, enjoys manipulating her into believing she is worthless, and only isn’t when she’s with him, pressures her into things she doesn’t want to do, controls what she does and says, and makes her believe that she needs to stay, because she can fix his awful ways.
And that’s when a bad boy becomes dangerous (and not in the sexy way we all seem to love).
A lot of the reasons made in Regina’s post as to why we love a bad boy are actually assumptions we make about a bad boy; he’s kind on the inside, he wants us to save him, he can’t help acting the way he is. Unless you are a telepath, you will never know what goes on inside the head of another person. As much as you think you know someone, even your bad boy boyfriend, you can never predict a certainty. Sometimes, there are no good intentions, no gentle flower inside the hard exterior. And in those times, you are not in a good relationship.
Bad boys like these will ultimately lead into abuse. It’s why some women across the world are stuck in relationships where they’re physically, mentally, and sexually hurt. Not because they read it in a book and thought that was a good relationship, but that they’ve been brought up thinking that boys that pull your hair in school are doing it because they like you. Because boys are taught that it’s OK to hurt someone because it’s cute and they fancy them.
Poor portrayals of bad boys are not so easy to spot sometimes, and you can be carried away with the majority’s love of him. I often get an icky feeling when reading a poor portrayal, and that’s usually how I know, however, I’m not always that lucky. Edward Cullen, for example, is considered a classic bad boy, yet he takes part in unbelievably abusive and manipulative acts (monitoring who Bella hangs out with, breaking her car so she can’t leave, ordering her food for her) which are akin to the criteria of being in an abusive relationship. Kids at school would say “I wish I had a boyfriend like Edward.” and I agreed, and thinking back at it now, I didn’t realise how dangerous that is.
There is also the sense that the bad boy needs to be saved/rescued. This one actually annoys me to no end, because if the bad boy is different in the end, how come you fell in love with the way he was in the first place? What made you look at a grown man and say “this is a project.” Yes, many a bad boy is troubled, and it’s great that you want to give love and care and respect, because every human wants this. But you are also human, and you deserve this as much as he does. I’m sorry, but if you do not receive love, care and respect and you have to work to receive it yet you’re overflowing with it for him, then that relationship is toxic and one-sided.
Portrayals of this relationship is rife, and only becomes a good portrayal if it is shown as bad, it’s shown as toxic, and that the bad boy is in the wrong. A great example of a good portrayal of a bad boy is Danny Zuko from Grease. Danny is a bad boy; he smokes, is part of a gang that skips school and causes trouble and drag races. However, right from the beginning, the story shows he can have a good, respectful relationship with a person. This includes Sandy, but also Kenickie. Yes, he is troubled, and has problems showing his love to Sandy when with his friends, but Sandy doesn’t try to change him. Although they both ultimately try to change themselves, it’s obvious it’s just a shallow image of each other, and that it doesn’t matter. They still love each other and fly away in a magic car.
If you write or read bad boys, keep doing it. I don’t want this post to stop you from loving them. But I want you to understand that the romanticisation of abusers is not good writing; it’s dangerous and irresponsible. I want bad boys whose actions are called out on, who are made to learn that they can’t treat people that way. Or even bad boys who are bad in a certain sense, but can still have relationships that aren’t so toxic.
But let’s not leave on links to serial killers. Some great portrayals of bad boys in fiction and on screen are; Oscar from I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson, Jace from The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare, Patrick Verona from 10 Things I Hate About You, Spike from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and The Darkling from The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo (while this last one isn’t a good bad boy, he is portrayed as a villain, which is what these kind of bad boys should be).
What’s your opinion on bad boys? Do you agree? Disagree? Thanks for reading if you got this far, I know I like to ramble.