Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Reflection on Douchebaggery

I am completely and utterly fascinated by the resurgence of the insult "douchebag" and the general concept of "being a douche." The literal implications of the two ideas aside, has there ever been a clearer verbal descriptor with such an elusive and flexible definition? Almost all of us could easily, with very little thought, name someone we have relative intimate knowledge who's behavior, attitude and demeanor fit the ambiguous term "douchebag." Right? You've got a name or a face in your head right now. Need help? Sigh, this was the quintessential douchebag for my generation:

In addition to being fascinated with the resurgence of the word, the writer in me is completely drawn and in love with writing about characters that are douchebags. Now this comes from a brief Twitter conversation I had with some folks about the idea of an "unlikable protagonist."

In my series SEASONS OF DESTINY, in book one: WINTER'S DISCORD, I (and other people) noticed in the query that Ben, the protagonist, comes across as being very "douchey." He's not really, but he kind of is and, to me, that makes him a much more interesting a character to write about and even read about. Now, this isn't the only reason I'm thinking about it. I watched a movie a few nights ago, AMERICAN REUNION.

Now, if you are of a certain age, the AMERICAN movies are part of our pop culture canon. Now, while the first movie came out when I was 26 and it was about teens, I think I was the real target audience because it essential left me with a feeling of nostalgia for those days of my life and the attitudes that I had in those days. I think the same thing can be said for the remaining sequels (I'm ignoring the straight to video/ Comedy Central AMERICAN PIE movies for the sake of this essay.) I found AMERICAN REUNION to be "meh" as a had it's moments, but it was pretty much a tired retread of some of the same ideas they'd done in previous movies. Anyway, I was drawn to a character that I didn't think I would be and it is strictly because of my sudden interest in "douchebaggery:" Stifler.

Now, they sort of retcon some of Stifler's character for the purposes of the story that instead of being the cocky gym teacher/football coach, he's now a temp in an office where he's completely stifled and basically not allowed to be the cocky/douchey Stifler that we know and love. As the movie goes on, he begins to realize that the old days are gone and will never return, no matter how much he tries. In many ways, he gets his comenuppance throughout the story. I was much more fascinated with Stifler's attempts at his own version of redemption throughout the story, his inability to let go of the past and his revelation that he is indeed the problem (a theme that has been explored in the previous WEDDING movie far less effectively). In that movie, his redemption is an actual redemption where he makes up for his mistakes with actions. But in REUNION, they take a different tact. He is the group's douche (or DICK, using a more appropriate 90s vernacular to describe his role) and the realization of that helps define him as a character. His redemption comes in his own realization as to who he is, beneath the douchiness is a person that is deeply loyal to his friends. He is "their" douche and it is up to him to fill a number of roles: keep people in check, protect them when they cannot protect themselves, do the unsavory things that need to be done that the other members of the group won't do and even act as one end of the moral compass for the group at times. This is the very definition of an "unlikable" protagonist. And he's my kind of protagonist. He's all of our kind of protagonists.

Don't believe me? Who are the enduring, most likable people in our favorite pieces of literature or pop culture? Let's think. Let me list a few that I can think of.

  • Han Solo: Dude was a slick, hot rodding smuggler and a complete douchebag. Look at the way he treats Leia in the first two SW movies. Look at the way he treats everyone. That smirk. The way he stood. Christ, he shot Greedo, drove the SW Universe equivalent of a Trans Am and wore a Corellian bloodstripe down his trousers.
  • Jaime Lannister: Do I have enough room to list all the reasons the Kingslayer is a douche?
  • Countless Shakespeare characters: Henry V, Falstaff, Hamlet, MacBeth...I think you get the point.
  • Mat Cauthon: Supreme douchiness...he would have been on the Randland equivalent of the Jersey Shore. (Actually, almost all of the male characters have spent time on Douchebag Island at one point or another.)
  • Mouth from Goonies: The archetypical loud mouth douche from one of the best pure adventure stories of the last 30 years. 
  • Holden Caufield: Now to be fair, I read Catcher In The Rye when I was in my 20s, so maybe my perspective is skewed a bit, but Holden is the prototypical literary douche.
SO douchebags exist. Unlikeable as they may be, they are out there. Embrace them, fellow writers, they are far more interesting characters than many of the characters I read today (many of whom might actually fall under some version of the definition of douchebag). 

1 comment:

Anthony said...

I agree that they do exist...