Bad Boys

Charlie Sheen in March 2009

Bad Boy Charlie Sheen in March, 2009 (Image via Wikipedia)

If I see one more piece about Charlie Sheen, I think I’ll scream. What is this ongoing American fascination with Bad Boys? Women love and desire these juvenile, self-absorbed jerks. Men envy them. It’s crazy.

During the 2000 election, Maureen Dowd wrote a memorable column on this topic in which she likened America to a girl being courted by two boys. Al Gore was the earnest polite kid who, on the first date, walks up to the front door, meets your dad and brings flowers for your mom. Dubya was the charming wastrel who lounges outside in his red convertible and honks the horn to summon you, then peels out and leaves a strip of rubber in the driveway while spraying gravel all over your little brother’s bicycle.

Of course America was, as always, smitten with the Bad Boy…and we all know how that worked out.


About filistro

Filistro is a Canadian writer and prairie dog who maintains burrows on both sides of the 49th parallel. Like all prairie dogs, she is keenly interested in politics and language. (Prairie dogs have been known to build organized towns the size of Maryland, and are the only furry mammal with a documented language.)
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33 Responses to Bad Boys

  1. WA7th says:

    Mmmmmm, Schadenfreude! It’s not just for breakfast anymore!
    Would you like some bad cookies with your bad juju, America?

  2. Monotreme says:

    The very best Charlie Sheen movie is The Arrival.

    Global warming, lizards and Charlie Sheen as an unhinged radio astronomer hanging by his fingernails from the edge of a huge parabolic dish. Lindsey Crouse, Ron Silver as the Boss from Hell (literally) and Richard Schiff before he took The West Wing gig with President Bartlet. What could be better?

  3. filistro says:

    @WA7th… Mmmmmm, Schadenfreude! It’s not just for breakfast anymore!

    LOL!!

    The problem is, we just NEVER LEARN. The country can suffer through the hideous trauma (and costly fallout) of having a careless dolt at the helm… and in no time at all they’re gazing all breathless and starry-eyed at some new Bad Boy.

    I truly don’t understand the attraction. Why do we turn away from the sober, smart, serious people to embrace the showy, feckless smart alecks… even though we know better? It must be something biologically programmed. Maybe on some cellular level we perceive Bad Boys as providing better genetic material.

    It’s the same with Bad Girls. How much media time is wasted on twits like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan? Why does Amy Winehouse get more attention than Sarah McLachlan?

    I think Sarah Palin also is a product of the Bad Girl fascination. If she controlled herself and refrained from making outrageous, specious attacks on others, she would have no appeal at all. It’s not her positive qualities that attract such a rabid following… it’s the negative ones.

    I really am quite exercised by this. I think as a society (and a species) we are at the mercy of our tastes… and they are doing us no good at all.

  4. Monotreme says:

    The Latin prurire is “to itch”.

    You scratch an itch until it bleeds and becomes infected. It feels good, but it’s not good for you.

    That’s why they call these “prurient” interests.

  5. Monotreme says:

    Speaking of bad boys…

    From Twitter:
    South African Gaviscon ad. What can go wrong when someone who has English as a 2nd language writes the punch line. http://twitpic.com/46dpuj

  6. filistro says:

    @Treme… I didn’t know that “prurient” was derived from “itch.” That;s the sort of etymological nugget I just love… 😉

    What I want to know, though is why the “itch” in the first place. I wonder why we are so incessantly fascinated by People Behaving Badly. Is it wish fulfullment? Do we all have sceret desires to do terrible things, and thus get vicarious pleasure from watching others who will do it for us so we don’t have to?

    It’s just like our society’s “crime as entertainment” phobia. When you switch idly aorund on the remote, looking for something to watch at 9 o’clock, you hit one cop shwo/serial killer/ child murderer /vicious sadist after another.

    Now, that’s entertainment!

    And (yanking this firmly back to politics)… the whole political process is corrupted by our societal penchant for rewarding Bad Behavior. We do tend to frown on our politicians committing murder… but the only way a low-key guy like Mike Huckabee can garner any attention is by going out and acting like a total jerk. He can blather about Obama and the Mau-Mau and get yards of press. Spend his days serving meals in a soup kitchen and… nada.

  7. Monotreme says:

    Happy to help you out here, fili.

    Unfortunately, I think this just kicks the can down the road, psychologically speaking.

    http://www.blackwell-compass.com/subject/socialpsychology/article_view?article_id=spco_articles_bpl181

    Time for me to go write the chapter on “Envy” for my inchoate book project.

  8. filistro says:

    Thanks Treme… I can’t really understand the appeal of Bad Boys, but I can certainly grasp the pleasure that lies in schadenfraude. Why, I’ve even been known to enjoy a spot of it myself from time to time… 😉

    Musing further on the Bad Boy appeal, it suddenly occurs to me that the Freepers and the crazy birthers are probably doing Barack Obama a big favor by playing up his blackness, his obscure roots and mysterious past, his general menacing Otherness.

    Because if they didn’t, the guy would be as boring as Mitch Daniels and Tim Pawlenty. Just a dull, faithful, hard-working family man who never does anything bad. All the crap they constantly surround him with gives this essentially bland person a bit of an edge… just enough to make him appealing to a public that craves (and rewards) a bit of naughtiness in its public figures.

    So… ThANKS, birthers!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

  9. Monotreme says:

    Well, in the article, there is this third category, where we feel schadenfreude because something bad happens to someone we envy.

    For me, I can’t get past the psychological problems that Sheen has had. He has abused women in several of his relationships, which is something I can’t forgive. Since I don’t particularly envy him, I probably don’t have the fascination that others seem to have.

    As the article implies, I do have a strong feeling of schadenfreude for people I envy, especially when I cannot possibly attain the things that they have, and that I want to have.

  10. filistro says:

    I think the most delicious schadenfraude for me is when I’ve argued long and patiently about some political issue with narrow-minded jerks who loudly claim they are RIGHT and everybody who opposes their view is both WRONG AND STUPID, and future events will PROVE the absolute rightness of their views… and then in the unfolding march of history they are shot down in flames and shown to have been totally ridiculous.

    Trouble is… by then those blowhards have usually vanished, never to be heard from again.

    It would be kind of pleasant (in the nicest possible way ;-)) to rub their noses in a little bit, but one never seems to get that chance.

  11. Monotreme says:

    That would be schadenfreude category 2, punishment for the “out group”.

    I have had the same experience. Unfortunately, it’s tempered by the tendency of some toward cognitive dissonance, like claiming that destabilizing unions and firing public sector workers is increasing employment.

  12. dcpetterson says:

    @filistro
    Trouble is… by then those blowhards have usually vanished, never to be heard from again.

    I recall having an argument with a then-friend during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. I disapproved, for a variety of reasons (cost, senseless deaths, loss of American prestige, setting a bad example, there was no actual threat to American interests, etc., etc.). He approved of the invasion, dismissed my concerns as irrelevant, and insisted we would find WMD’s and break the back of al-Qaeda.

    For unrelated reasons, the friendship evaporated in the next year or so, and I’ve not seen him since. Never had the opportunity to ask if he still felt as he had then, or if events since have changed his perception.

    To bring it back to the topic, he was a bit of a bad boy himself, and looked for others of like mind to associate with. I think this also informed his politics. And it was definitely part of why our friendship went south. I’m more the Al Gore type than Cowboy George.

  13. mclever says:

    @filistro

    I thought the evolutionary pattern was that women preferred to marry and settle with the stable, boring guy but have the occasional fling with the square-jawed, bad-boy drifter.

  14. Monotreme says:

    Mclever:

    Hold that thought until Tuesday’s article. I think you’ll like it.

  15. filistro says:

    @mc.. I thought the evolutionary pattern was that women preferred to marry and settle with the stable, boring guy but have the occasional fling with the square-jawed, bad-boy drifter.

    Odd that you should mention that.

    For anybody in the mood for a spot of Saturday morning ornithology (well really, who isn’t? ;-))… I think I may have mentioned this before, but we spend quite a few hours in the summertime driving out to the hills to monitor and report on a string of 20-odd mountain bluebird nest boxes for a local naturalist group trying to reestablish the species here.

    They are beautiful little birds (especially the males) and notable for their domestic energy. The male works like crazy to build a nest, attract a female, brood the eggs, feed her while she broods, and then makes endless forays to feed the young until they fledge. Often they will brood two clutches in a season, so when one group fledges he has to do the same thing all over again. Bluebird males have sometimes been known to literally die of exhaustion.

    Recently I read a study about mountain bluebirds and learned to my horror that DNA testing definitively shows… in any string of bluebird nest boxes , almost all the nestlings will have the same father.

    So while the poor little husbands are out there working their tailfeathers off to help and provide, the females are all dallying with some bad-boy, square-jawed bluebird drifter.

    It’s so dispiriting. You just can’t trust ANYBODY these days!!! 🙂

    Nevertheless, I remain grateful to the birthers and wingnuts who have so effectively made Barack Obama into a Bad Boy. It’s not easy to take a dull, sensible, cautious, dedicated, faithful guy and turn him into a fascinating International Man of Mystery…. but by golly… somehow they’ve done it.

  16. rgbact says:

    Wait. Bush was a “bad boy”? I don’t remember him shagging interns or debating the meaning of the word “is”. He’d qualify as the “good guy” most times. Al Gore just went beyond “good” and into “geek”. Americans don’t want a geek president. Anyway, Silvio Burlosconi….now there’s a bad boy.

  17. filistro says:

    @rgb… I don’t remember him shagging interns or debating the meaning of the word “is”.

    I know this will be a difficult concept for you, considering the portion of the political landscape you inhabit, but… (brace yourself)… there are actually other kinds of misbehavior than sexual ones. And some of them are even more lethal to a successful presidency.

    As Monotreme could tell you ;-)… there are seven deadly sins. They are Pride, Sloth, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony, and Greed. In my opinion, Dubya suffered from four of them, and the country paid dearly because of it. Poor Bill Clinton just about had the full deck (except nobody could call him lazy.) Obama, as far as I can see, has none of them… except for the level of pride necessary for any human being to think they can be leader of the free world.

  18. Monotreme says:

    You plugged my book that hasn’t been written yet! Now I have to go write it.

  19. shortchain says:

    filistro,

    “Pride, Sloth, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony, and Greed”

    I’m pretty confident that W suffered from Pride, Sloth, and Wrath, but I don’t see the fourth. Not that there’s anything wrong with 3 out of 7 in this case, it’s a record for US Presidents, most of whom have gone for the more popular sins of Lust, Pride, and Gluttony — and no other President has managed a trifecta of those.

    The pathetic part of W’s case is that none of those sins are as much fun as the popular ones.

  20. filistro says:

    @Treme… Now I have to go write it.

    Good… because I’m dying to read it. 🙂

    Thinking of Bad Boys and the presidency… interesting to realize the only presidents in the past half- century to serve two full terms have all been Bad Boys.

    Well, Reagan maybe wasn’t officially a bad boy but he played one in the movies… and he WAS divorced… both of which gave him that apparently necessary Bad Boy charm.

    Nixon, of course, was the baddest of all… but somehow it just didn’t translate to charm. I think the essence of Bad Boys is that they don’t have to TRY. Nixon always tried too hard.

  21. filistro says:

    @shortchain… I’m pretty confident that W suffered from Pride, Sloth, and Wrath, but I don’t see the fourth.

    I think it’s fairly obvious that Dubya has also suffered from lifelong, crippling envy of brother Jeb, the Good Son who did the right things, succeeded at everything, and whom Poppy always loved best.

    Poor W… that bitter sibling envy has led him to many disastrous decisions in his life.

  22. GROG says:

    there are actually other kinds of misbehavior than sexual ones

    True. Commiting adultery transcends sexual misbehavior. It’s more of a sleazy, lying, cheating, betraying kind of misbehavior. (Against not only your wife, but also your daughter.)

    Oh, and lying under oath doesn’t have anything to do with sex.

  23. Mainer says:

    Nah, I don’t buy the memo that we gravitate toward the bad boy for president. I do think we may well be fixated on the bright and shinny or at times the warm and comfortable or probably worst of all (hey he is just like me) well knowing I would suck as president that has never worked with me but I suspect it was and will for many. Of particular concern though is the seeming desire to find a leader that is no brighter than they are. I’m just not ready for presidential bill signings sponsored by Crayola.

    With Sheen and others like him I would put it more in the camp with our fascination with slowing down to see car wrecks, running and rerunning films of building implosions (now there is an old theme, remember back on the Doby Gillis show how Maynard G. Crebs would always want Doby to go with him to watch them knock down the old Endicot building?) or going to Youtube to see some dingaling take one in the nads while trying to disprove gravity.

    Now some have more of a predisposition to this than others. My theory is that the less of a life that an individual has the more they are likely to get caught up in the failings of others. I know our local coffee brandy queens are constantly all a twitter about the most recent cockup on Idol, or the latest headline on the grocery store tabloid but it is some thing they can talk about in their own ill informed circle and feel knowlegable of. Life has passed much of our population by. They are no longer involved with it, they survive, what was the comment about most people living lives of quiet desperation? To some seeing others much better off than they are or ever will be in dire staits of any sort isn’t just entertainment it is at some level vindication that those so favored are perhaps no better than they are.

  24. filistro says:

    Here’s one for you, Mainer.

    It’s the George Will column I talked about yesterday… (in which, incidentally, Will calls Mike Huckabee a “vibrator.” I’m trying to resist the obvious joke, but it’s not easy… :-))

    The last two paragraphs are an awesome indictment… by a conservative… of the Republican nominating process, the Tea Party crazies and the state of their current crop of nominees:

    “Let us not mince words. There are at most five plausible Republican presidents on the horizon – Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former Utah governor and departing ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, former Massachusetts governor Romney and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

    “So the Republican winnowing process is far advanced. But the nominee may emerge much diminished by involvement in a process cluttered with careless, delusional, egomaniacal, spotlight-chasing candidates to whom the sensible American majority would never entrust a lemonade stand, much less nuclear weapons.”

  25. Mule Rider says:

    “….narrow-minded jerks who loudly claim they are RIGHT and everybody who opposes their view is both WRONG AND STUPID, and future events will PROVE the absolute rightness of their views… and then in the unfolding march of history they are shot down in flames and shown to have been totally ridiculous.

    Trouble is… by then those blowhards have usually vanished, never to be heard from again.”

    Yeah, I found myself in that position about 12-18 months ago, and no doubt the liberals I was arguing with thought I to be the “narrow-minded jerk” who didn’t know what he was talking about.

    Reading between the lines, I could see we had inflation coming, possibly serious inflation in our not-so-distant future, especially in key areas that hit everybody in food and energy. However, liberals almost universally dismissed me as an idiot who didn’t know what he was talking about. Channeled through the likes of Paul Krugman, their response was, “NO! There will be NO inflation! In fact, we should be worried about DEFLATION!”

    Well, the “unfolding march of history” has shot all of these people (almost 100% liberals) down in flames and is proving them all unequivocally wrong and, better yet, “totally ridiculous.”

    And I agree, most of the blowhards I argued with have disappeared like cowards, never to be heard from again.

    I would take more gratification in my veritable bitch-slapping of liberal economic thought if it weren’t for the fact that my “rightness” has very serious and dire consequences for us all.

  26. filistro says:

    @Muley… I would take more gratification in my veritable bitch-slapping of liberal economic thought if it weren’t for the fact that my “rightness” has very serious and dire consequences for us all.

    That’s true, Muley… there are times when being “right” isn’t all that satisfying. Like the old joke about the hypochondriac whose epitaph on his tombstone reads… “See? I TOLD you I was sick!”

  27. Mainer says:

    Mule man I have an old favorite clock that is unfortunately no longer functioning but even it manages to be right twice a day. It still isn’t very useful other than as a decoration.

    Just as a question Mule. You are involved in commodities trading? Just want to follow up on some thing if that is in case correct.

    Right now me and my trusty shovel are going to go out in the dark to move snow that is holding back the damned rain from draining out of my yard. Damn I love home ownership.

  28. JC2 says:

    @Mainer

    Does your moniker have anything to do with that land expanse which was once part of my (much) smaller New England home state?

    You wrote: “They are no longer involved with it, they survive, what was the comment about most people living lives of quiet desperation?”

    Henry David Thoreau wrote: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

    Is that the phrase you were seeking? I frequently find comfort in Thoreau’s thoughts and beliefs. One of my favorite Walden quotes seems rather prophetic in light of today’s political climate:

    We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. (Walden, 52)

    I personally feel Thoreau’s observations and philosophy are still relevant. He was one “Rad Dude” for his time.

    PS. You may find this article about a modern “Thoreau’s Cellphone Experiment” to be relevant and enjoyable whether you are a Thoreau fan or not:

    “Thoreau’s Cellphone Experiment”

  29. JC2 says:

    @Mule Rider

    I would take more gratification in my veritable bitch-slapping of liberal economic thought if it weren’t for the fact that my “rightness” has very serious and dire consequences for us all.

    Sorry but I cannot be as charitable as our mutual friend Filistro. You can be right all you want, but, movie titles be damned, I personally take umbrage at your use of the term “Bitch Slap” just as I would object to any use of the term “Pimp Slap”.

    Both uses show tendency towards misogyny and neither are acceptable to me.

    Your whole argument just went down the drain at the point of seeing these words strung together in this way.

  30. Mainer says:

    JC2, yup I’m from that big chunk of land you speak of. My family helped settle your fair state before coming to the senses and leaving for what is now Yarmouth in Maine. We have old letters nd such that paint a picture of Mass just being way too crowded so they hopped in the boat and sailed Down East. As that occured around 1700/1704 time frame it would be hard to figure what they would think now.

    Yes I do like Thoreau and thank you for the quote. Thoreau really liked the area I live in now as well. I suspect my ancestors and Thoreau would have hit it off well.

  31. dcpetterson says:

    Oh, and lying under oath doesn’t have anything to do with sex.

    Yes it does, when the question is asked for nothing other than prurient interest, for the sole purpose of seeking publicly humiliating admissions about sex. The Republicans really didn’t fool anyone. It was all about sex, and everyone knew it.

    Personally, I think war crimes rise to a greater level of misconduct than wayward sexual exploits, but I’m no theologian. Oh, wait, yes I am. (I don’t talk about it that much…)

  32. Mule,

    Reading between the lines, I could see we had inflation coming, possibly serious inflation in our not-so-distant future, especially in key areas that hit everybody in food and energy.

    I don’t remember you mentioning it, but I don’t have any particular reason to doubt you, either. The thing is, I, too, could see it coming…eventually. The hard part was identifying exactly when. The primary factor behind the inflation, when it did hit, was oil. Same thing is happening now. But two months ago, would you have predicted $4/gallon gasoline before spring? I sure wouldn’t have.

    And, in the absence of the oil pressure (no pun intended, but it’s still pretty good if you ask me) on prices, there have been forces pushing in the direction of deflation for a couple of years now. Not heavy forces, but present nonetheless. So it’s not like deflation wasn’t also a concern.

  33. Monotreme says:

    Just heard a joke:

    Q: You know how much coke Charlie Sheen did?
    A: Enough to kill Two and a Half Men.

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