In Praise of the Bad Boy

He’s not Mr. Wrong. He’s not a garden-variety jackass. And while he may genuinely be a good man, he is nobody’s Mr. Nice Guy.

He’s a bad boy. Lots of women love him, and lots of men want to be him. But I don’t think we really understand the bad boy. If we did, I think we’d stop thinking of him as some stranger who sweeps into our lives from somewhere else, and we’d start seeing him everywhere. Even in the boy next door.

So who is the bad boy? That’s a difficult question. To get a better look at it, I think we should look at some exaggerated examples from higher literature.

The bad boy is determined.

If the bad boy appears to flout society’s rules, it’s because he has something that matters to him more than society. Let’s look at an example from sci-fi history: Khan.

What do you mean, who? Well, would you recognize him if I said, “KHAAAAAAAAAAAAN!”

This is the short version of the story. Captain James T. Kirk picked up Khan and some genetically engineered folks who took over the Enterprise. When Captain Kirk took back his ship, he punished Khan by “placing” him and his people on Ceti Alpha V. He basically said he thought Khan was really cool and that they’d had an interesting time together and that there was no one in the world like Khan.

Then Captain Kirk disappeared and never called. I know. That doesn’t sound like him at all, does it?

After Ceti Alpha V was devastated, there was nothing else for Khan to do there but sit around and think about how much – how very, very much – he hated Jim Kirk. You just know he recited that “’round Perdition’s flames” speech over and over again under his breath. All his genetically engineered buddies had probably memorized the Tale of How Jim Kirk Stuck Me Here and Then Blew Me Off. So when that glorious day finally came, and Khan could get off Ceti Alpha V, Khan’s agenda only had one thing on it.

Khan could have rolled right up on Jim Kirk and taken him out. It could not have been hard to find Jim Kirk with a ship full of people under mind control. In fact, he hung nose to nose with Jim Kirk and could have taken him out with an hour or so left in the film. But his vision is to make Kirk suffer. As the film develops, you watch him pass on easy solutions in favor of methods that bring him closer to his goal. Khan’s willing to destroy people’s minds and bury folks alive and rip off shiny new technology and blow up property and alienate those closest to him — and kill a few people — on his way to making Kirk suffer. The action builds and builds and builds, until Khan finally gets exactly what he wants.

A bad boy picks a goal and sticks to it, come hell, high water, or Ceti Alpha eel. Nothing else matters. People can’t take their eyes off that electricity.

The bad boy thinks big.

The idea of realistic goals has no meaning for the bad boy. He’s more about going big or going home. Or going big and then going home with you. He doesn’t have to worry about failure because he isn’t going to fail. Failure is for other people.

For my money, no one thinks bigger than Lex Luthor. They just don’t build them like that any more.

In the original Superman movie (I’m a purist, and I think this is the only Superman movie), Lex Luthor breaks the supervillain mold. His mission is to make big money in real estate, but he’s not just going to flip houses or start showing properties or anything like that.

First, he’s going to buy up lots of California desert. Then he’s going to knock the California coast into the sea, which would make his property the new California coast.

He recognizes that he needs a big tool for a big job, so he rips off a nuclear missile.

He recognizes that Superman can stop one nuclear missile, so he rips off a second.

He knows that Superman might still find a way to stop him, so he rips off some kryptonite.

From there, it’s just a simple matter of putting the kryptonite around Superman’s neck, launching the missiles in opposite directions, and watching the fun. It’s crazy to think that one person could cause havoc on that scale all by himself, isn’t it? But Lex Luthor’s giant plan almost worked. If he hadn’t fallen into the trap of associating with the wrong people, Lex would be a very wealthy man now, once he ducked responsibility for killing Superman.

But it never occurs to Lex to go for a smaller – or legal – idea. He considers himself the greatest criminal mind of all time; why should he go for smaller? Even with Superman against him, even after repeated setbacks, Lex sets great big goals for great big rewards. Why should any of the rest of us dream small?

A bad boy doesn’t think less is more. If less is actually more, wouldn’t all of it be even more than less is?

It’s never a bad time for the bad boy.

No matter how things might seem to be falling down around the bad boy, unless his life is in immediate danger, he will find time to have sex with his woman. At the very least, he’s thinking about having sex with his woman. To illustrate this, I turn to one of my new favorites in the bad boy family: Ben Zajac from Boss. (You can even watch the first episode online for free.)

Let’s illustrate it for real. Go look at him. That’s nice, right?

Ben is trouble. He’s not as ruthless as Tom Kane is. In fact, Tom Kane put our golden boy on his knees (not to do anything, just to make a point), which I didn’t think I’d enjoy until I saw it. But Ben is still trouble.

As much as he has on his plate, though, Ben is never too busy to have sex. I think it’s safe to say that Ben is at least theoretically interested in having sex with you. Yes, you, reading this in the real world.

Oh, you don’t think so? To determine for certain whether Ben Zajac wants to have sex with you, take this quick, two question test.

  1. Are you female?
  2. Can Ben see you?

(Don’t be so quick to say ‘no’ to #2. Sometimes Ben can see women who are immediately behind him, so there’s a chance he can see you, all the way out here.)

If the answer to both questions is ‘yes,’ then Ben wants to have sex with you. That’s why he’s crowding you a little in the elevator. That’s why he’s looking at you like that. He wants to have sex with you. Like right here in the hallway. With people around.

Last week, on the second season opener, Ben is all stretched out in bed, rocking a pair of boxer briefs (whoo hoo!) and listening to his wife describe how worried she is about the way Tom Kane is starting to push him toward the margins of power. When Ben sees that his casual efforts to reassure her are not working, he gives her a little smile that says, “Oh, I see. Does Daddy need to turn that frown upside down?”

Now this is not the same as that patronizing attempt at comfort we’ve all seen before – that “let me distract you from something you should be worried about because I don’t know what to do about it.”

This is the gesture of a man who is so confident about what’s going to happen that he can stop for the pause that refreshes.

A bad boy tells his woman, “Hey, I got this.” He looks her in the eye and really, really means it. And then he turns that lady’s frown upside down.

So … is the boy next door more of a bad boy than you thought? Do you think he knows he’s a bad boy? And what do you plan to do about it?

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