LIFE

The reign of the ir­re­sistible bad boy is over.

ELLE (Canada) - - Contents - By MEREDYTH COLE

The days of the leather-jacket-clad bad boy are long gone. By Meredyth Cole

THE FIRST BAD boy in my life was my el­e­men­tary-school crush. We may have been just 11 years old, but he had all the traits of a clas­sic rebel, spend­ing days in de­ten­tion and, on one oc­ca­sion, com­mit­ting him­self so man­i­cally to a game of Red Rover that he dis­lo­cated his shoul­der. I fell hard for his thrilling blend of earnest­ness and im­per­ti­nence—he’d ask me to a movie one minute and ig­nore me at re­cess the next. He car­ried cig­a­rettes stolen from the glove com­part­ment of his par­ents’ car and, a few years later, sold me the first joint I ever smoked.

Even as I stum­bled into adult­hood, bad boys re­tained their ca­chet. There was the high-school fling who got him­self ex­pelled and then a long in­fat­u­a­tion with a class­mate whom I can only de­scribe as a teenage Jor­dan Belfort mi­nus the gloss of Leonardo Di­Caprio’s Wolf of Wall Street in­car­na­tion. At univer­sity, I went after guys who were lazy to the point of rude­ness, some with lowkey rap sheets, but they al­ways had good-enough looks and/or taste in films to add an air of ro­mance to ev­ery­thing they did. Chas­ing bad boys was al­ways a choice, but it also felt like a rite of pas­sage—as if I (and many of the women I know) had been con­di­tioned to crave a cer­tain type of guy.

But have bad boys fi­nally lost their ap­peal, I won­der? With #Me­Too dom­i­nat­ing the cul­tural con­ver­sa­tion and long-over­due re­assess­ments of ques­tion­able male be­hav­iour tak­ing place, this archetype is start­ing to look less charm­ing and rogu­ish and more en­ti­tled and nar­cis­sis­tic—even of­fen­sive. The “me against the world” at­ti­tude of his­tory’s most fa­mous bad boys is, in ret­ro­spect, priv­i­leged and self-in­dul­gent, not sexy.

Take our most iconic liv­ing bad boy, Johnny Depp. To­day,

he’s a tragic per­sona: He’s broke ( he’s su­ing his former busi­ness man­agers for mis­man­ag­ing his money, although they point to his $2-mil­lion-a-month spend­ing habit as the rea­son he’s bank­rupt), and his short-lived mar­riage to Am­ber Heard ended with as­sault al­le­ga­tions and a re­strain­ing or­der. Some 30 years ago, how­ever, as a freshly tat­tooed 27- year- old, he was brood­ing and ro­man­tic, his bad­ness con­fined to ec­cen­tric roles, a few tus­sles with the pa­parazzi and a pen­chant for getting trashed and do­ing the same to his ho­tel room. (It didn’t hurt, ei­ther, that he looked more or less like an an­gel.)

Such be­hav­iour feels passé now. And in a world of Twit­ter rants and trade wars, per­haps we are all too stressed out to deal with a guy who makes trou­ble for trou­ble’s sake. Or maybe we’ve just out­grown him. L.A.-based sex­ol­o­gist Shan Boodram thinks that bad boys em­body long-out­dated no­tions of what a suc­cess­ful mate should look like: ag­gres­sive and ter­ri­to­rial—in short, an al­pha male who could en­sure the sur­vival of our species. The key word here is “out­dated.” “As so­ci­ety has evolved, we no long­er re­quire these [dom­i­nant pro­tec­tor types]; in fact, those skill sets can be a hin­drance,” ex­plains Boodram. Sports teams and The Bach­e­lor au­di­tions aside, “there is less and less space for the ag­gres­sive guy, not only in the ro­man­tic world but also in the work­ing world,” she says. (It’s true that ag­gres­sion can still get you into the C-suite, but stay­ing there of­ten re­quires con­form­ing to cor­po­rate norms that seem to be for­eign to our favourite bad boys.)

Still, old icons die hard: Even if there is less room for machismo in mod­ern life, our imag­i­na­tions are of­ten far more hos­pitable. “It’s a fan­tasy of a life of risk and un­pre­dictabil­ity,” says Rachel Giese, a Toronto jour­nal­ist and the au­thor of Boys: What It Means to Be­come a Man, of the nar­ra­tive that bad boys of­fer us. Getting in­volved with one is of­ten a way to live out a melo­dra­matic dream that we know can’t ex­ist as a long-term re­al­ity. “In pop cul­ture, the dan­ger­ous­ness... [is] por­trayed as hot and sexy, pre­cisely be­cause the bad guy is not some­one you will set­tle down with,” she says. “He is wild and won’t be do­mes­ti­cated.”

This could ex­plain why bad boys seem to ap­peal to us most in the early half of adult­hood, a time when do­mes­tic­ity is typ­i­cally the fur­thest from our minds and pop cul­ture is at its most per­sua­sive. Jes­sica Tracy, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia and the au­thor of Pride: The Se­cret of Suc­cess, led a study in 2011 that found that twen­tysome­thing women deemed men dis­play­ing shame ex­tremely at­trac­tive, more so than men who showed hap­pi­ness or even neu­tral­ity. Shame is the call­ing card of the bad boy, as any­one who has dealt with a melt­down fol­lowed by a mea culpa knows. “It’s a way of say­ing ‘I messed up’—the guy who knows he did some­thing bad but is will­ing to say ‘I can do bet­ter; give me an­other chance,’” says Tracy. It’s true that when a bad boy flashes his Achilles heel or his feel­ings, it pro­vokes a nur­tur­ing in­stinct that’s a big part of the drama of lov­ing a bad boy—they are called “boys,” not “men,” after all. There is some­thing in­tox­i­cat­ing, and dan­ger­ous, about hav­ing the power to for­give.

But that cy­cle—screw­ing up, apol­o­giz­ing, ask­ing for for­give­ness— can get old fast. What’s charm­ing in a young per­son can just seem mal­ad­justed later in life. Depp’s story mim­ics the tra­jec­tory of so many bad boys: The bloom even­tu­ally fades, and, of­ten, a deeply com­pli­cated and dif­fi­cult per­son is all that’s left—one who ei­ther re­fuses to or isn’t ca­pa­ble of change. Most of­ten, it is the lovers of bad boys who do the chang­ing. At 26, I won’t pre­tend that nice guys sud­denly ap­peal to me, but ev­ery pass­ing year lessens my pa­tience for trou­ble­some men.

The zeit­geist seems to be chang­ing along with me. Cul­tural fac­tors are much to blame for our col­lec­tive at­trac­tion to bad boys, so a shift­ing cul­tural cli­mate may be­gin to af­fect which men we raise to heart­throb sta­tus. That said, I’m not will­ing to rel­e­gate bad boys en­tirely to his­tory. I’m in­ter­ested in an up­dated ver­sion of a bad boy, some­one who has moved be­yond self-in­dul­gent, de­struc­tive be­hav­iour and uses his de­fi­ant at­ti­tude to do some­thing im­por­tant. Luck­ily, there are re­fined bad boys out there who use their pos­ition for good—like Dwayne “The Rock” John­son, who launched his foun­da­tion in sup­port of ter­mi­nally ill chil­dren in 2006; Colin Far­rell, who’s known for his work with ev­ery­thing from HIV/AIDs aware­ness to the Spe­cial Olympics; and Sean Penn, who founded J/P Haiti Re­lief Or­ga­ni­za­tion in 2010.

Bad boys have al­ways op­posed au­thor­ity, and that sub­ver­sive spirit can still be at­trac­tive, es­pe­cially when it’s put to use fight­ing the most toxic el­e­ments of our cul­ture. The truth is, it’s more chal­leng­ing to be a rebel with a cause than one with­out. Boys who are trou­ble—or whom trou­ble seems to fol­low like a cloud of dust—are plen­ti­ful, but a wor­thy bad boy, an icon­o­clast with great ideas and a rad­i­cal take on life, is hard to find. But that doesn’t mean I’ll stop look­ing. ®

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