Fantasy writer Foz Meadows has an excellent post (discovered by my friend Kate Traylor) from late last year on Bad Boy protagonists in Y/A (though I think it applies generally) and the difference between Bad Boy Romantic Figure and Bad Boy Creeps (short form: Guys who treat the heroine like shit or are creepily controlling are just bad, regardless of how much they love her or how tormented their pasts are). It’s a good post.
In addition to the points she makes about presenting abusers as Bad Boys, I think the same also applies to selfish jerks: Movies often present them as convention-defying rebels when in reality, they’re just dicks.
Case in point, Sean Connery’s A Fine Madness. He’s not presented as a romantic hero, but he has many of the same qualities, supposedly—a Bad Boy of Artistic Genius, arebellious, free spirit, smashing convention and defying all the Thou Shalt Nots that make up modern living. Except, as I’ve mentioned before, the only rules he wants to smash are the ones that inconvenience him: Rules about cheating on his spouse, supporting himself, being civil to any other human being, showing consideration to anyone … So epic fail, IMHO.
Or another one, which I watched today, having been assured that it was really funny and charming despite the sexism: The Ugly Truth (2009). Sexism it’s got, but fun and charm? Nada.
Katherine Heigl plays a successful morning-show producer whose problem is supposedly that she’s a control freak; in reality, it’s that she’s as clueless about normal human dating behavior as a Vulcan. She’s like Temperance Brennan on Bones, but in Bones, everyone knows Brennan’s a little weird; here, it’s taken as something reasonably believable from an adult human being. Not to mention that it’s Katherine Heigl—are we really supposed to believe there are no men in her city who wouldn’t put up with eccentric behavior for the chance to jump her.
Enter Gerard Butler who’s picked up as a dating guru for Heigl’s show to save his flagging ratings. His message is simple: Guys are all sleazeball hounds who want nothing but hot sex with hot women, so single women must use sex to lure him into commitment (by which logic Heigl should certainly be beating them off with a stick, given her loveliness). When Heigl meets a hot doctor, she agrees to let Butler guide her in how to pick up boys, despite finding him Obnoxious and Irritating. Of course, she could get exactly the same advice from millions of advice books without dealing with him, but that would deny her the chance to be thrown together with him constantly and let that romantic chemistry build.
Except there isn’t any. Okay, some—both the leads are good enough actors—but not enough to overcome to convince me she’d fall for someone so incredibly obnoxious and belittling to both genders. It’s stated at some point Butler has a sai romantic past, but like Meadows says in her post, that’s not an excuse.
Part of the problem with movies like this is that, as the Hathor Legacy has observed, there’s a common assumption that women are drawn to misogynistic, manipulative creeps, and some creators believe it. So if Butler’s a jerk, hey, women dig that, so no problem!
And, as Meadows also notes, sexual chemistry is assumed to be a cure-all (admittedly a common assumption in writing romance). In the late Olivia Goldsmith’s Bad Boys (which I’ve mentioned in the past) the protagonist’s boyfriend is meant to be (I think) so roguishly charming and sexy he can get away with treating her like shit. Trouble is, Goldsmith only conveys the shitty selfish side so it fails even more utterly.
I think this is putting me in mind for a post on femme fatales and bad girls, but it’ll have to wait until another time.