Friday, August 26, 2016

Good Boys Get No Respect

I'm on record as not being such a big fan of the "bad boy" type and loving the "good boy." That sometimes makes it difficult to find things I like because the good boy gets no respect. He's judged more harshly for any misdeeds, no matter how minor. Sometimes, just the desire to be good is considered a flaw because it's depicted as a sense of superiority or judgment against others who aren't considered to be as good. Frequently, the "good" character is marginalized because the writers fall into the "good is boring" trap and don't know how to write good people who are interesting. Quite often, the good guy will be the one killed off earlier in the story if the writers want to look like they're raising the stakes, want to milk the sympathy, and/or are tired of trying to write that character.

In war stories, it seems like the good guy or boy-next-door type always died first. That's one reason I love Band of Brothers -- it was based on a true story, and the main character was a real person who was a brilliant example of the good guy (see, living proof that the good guy isn't boring. If you think Dick Winters was boring, we need to talk).

And it's happened again. I have a kind of love/frustration relationship with the SyFy series Dark Matter. The premise is rather brilliant -- a group of people on a spaceship wake up from cryosleep with no memories of their identities and have to decide who they want to be, which gets complicated when they learn that they're actually a bunch of criminal mercenaries who've been hired to do some unseemly jobs. The actual execution is somewhat less brilliant. I think during every episode of the first season I found myself thinking that I was going to give up on the show, until they had a really intense twist or cliffhanger at the end of the episode that brought me back for the next one. I've jokingly called it Not!Firefly because the main cast can be mapped very easily to Firefly cast members. There's a Not!Jayne, Not!Simon, Not!Book, etc.

I was intrigued by the Not!Simon character, who all along seemed to be the "one of these things doesn't belong" character. Even when we learned his identity as a killer with an extensive record, it just didn't seem to fit. SPOILERS AHEAD Then we learned out why: he wasn't really that guy, after all. We met that guy, who was mad that his identity had been stolen. Eventually, we learned that Not!Simon was actually a billionaire head of a corporation whose wife had been murdered, and he had believed that the killer was a member of this crew. He had surgery to make himself look like this other guy and stole his identity to get himself hired on the crew. Now, though, he has no memories of any of this. It's just facts. He doesn't remember his wife, and the guy he supposedly believed murdered her has no memory of doing that, if he even did it. He has the chance to kill him and decides against it. Then he starts to learn that there's maybe something shady going on, that the evidence was fake, and maybe it was his own corporation that had been doing things. So, of course, that's when the show decided to kill him, I guess because they weren't sure how to keep him on the ship, because nice guys are boring, or whatever. The killer whose identity he stole has made a few more appearances, so the actor has been around.

A lot of fans have been okay with this because, as usual, the good guy gets no respect and they find the very cliched "bad boy with a heart of gold and a sad backstory" more interesting. I find that I'm not only missing the one character whose current and past story had some serious meat to it, but I'm also missing what the contrast brought out in the other characters. There is one other "nice" character, but she's a teenager, and there's one who also turned out to be a good guy because he was an undercover cop, but he's still a hardened badass. We don't really have the earnest good guy who wants to do the right thing and who is something of a peer to the "bad" characters. That's where the good guys can be valuable. The bad boy is less interesting without someone to bounce off and contrast against. There's less true conflict among the cast, fewer philosophical differences. Maybe the good guy was boring, but without him, all the other characters are less interesting, at least to me.

Since the fact that you can make identical clones has been a plot point, I'm wondering if there's some kind of twist and we'll find out that this character wasn't really the one who died, since it seems weird to set him up with an actual story with a real mystery to it and then kill him in the same episode, but we're running out of season. It is possible that the writers really were that unimaginative and gave up on trying to write this character.

I probably need to learn to write more "bad boys" to give my good guys something to bounce against. This seems to be one of my brand elements, that I write good characters, and that's a big part of my appeal to my readers. The problem is that we seem to be in the minority. Maybe that's why I haven't hit it big yet and maybe never will have mainstream success.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I second this! I also don't really like a 'bad boy'. I guess I can't really identify with liking a bad boy or identify with (reformed) mean girls. I also prefer a beta male, but those are difficult to find, too.