The Bad Boy, and why we love him

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
So I spent a couple of hours researching to compile this information, and I found the results very satisfying. Hope you enjoy my first psychological article, and let me know if you want more!
My sources (cause I'm a big girl):
Taylor and Francis Online: The bad boy archetype as a morally ambiguous complex of juvenile masculinities: the conceptual anatomy of a marketplace icon
Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia: Bad Boy Archetype, Promiscuity
Wikipedia: The Dark Triad (don't judge, the information I chose is from psychological journals that I was too lazy to cite - the names were too long!)

Submitted: August 29, 2019

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Submitted: August 29, 2019

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Whether you’re watching a movie, binging a show on Netflix, or reading a book, there’s one character you’ll come across who, despite your efforts to dislike him, you end up falling for his charms. He’s got rugged, good looks, a leather jacket, and tattoos, and he’s out to break your heart. We’re talking about the Bad Boy.

And he’s got quite the history. The Bad Boy isn’t a postmodern creation. His first “appearance” was in The Story of a Bad Boy (1870), which recounts a young boy’s childhood shenanigans. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that the Bad Boy’s image changed from a child to a teenager who misbehaves due to psychological causes; a troubled past, bad family life, or suppressed desires. A great example would be James Dean in the movie Rebel Without a Cause (1955).

In the 21st century, our rebellious archetype was aged further to encompass men in their twenties, thirties, and even forties; think of Ryan Gosling in Drive and, ugh, Christian Grey. Albeit this change, the primary personality traits remained the same. The Bad Boy is, essentially, a man with juvenile masculinities; aggressive, rebellious, and at times hypersexual. He is brash, prone to hostility, and not afraid of breaking rules and defying social norms. He’s also promiscuous and sexually adventurous, hence why he can also be a player or a womanizer.

It's not only these traits that influence his desirability. For the audience to root for the Bad Boy, he needs subordinate, appealing qualities. He might be a flirt who stirs trouble wherever he goes, but he can also be sweet and sensitive. Maybe he’s good with kids or a hopeless romantic. Another characteristic that adds to the Bad Boy’s appeal is his social presence. He is charismatic, street-smart, and witty. This overlap of positive and negative traits creates moral ambiguities that engage his audience. It may also portray him as emotionally intense or conflicted. This complexity and depth make the character seem more real and give him an air of mystery.

Another factor in the Bad Boy's appeal is his relationship with other women. He comes across as confident, intriguing, but indifferent, which suggests an abundance of sexual partners. As a result, the woman feels an urge to pursue him. This approach contrasts with men who are needy and desperate to please, which decreases their sex appeal because it suggests lower value. (Sorry, Nice Guys!)

An example of the above would be the Bad Boy’s presence in erotica aimed at heterosexual women. The common trope has him facilitating the girl’s sexual desires and her healing his psychological wounds. For the consumer, this archetype dons a talent in pleasure that distinguishes him from other (fictional) men, and the female protagonist only needs to break down his walls for their romance to become authentic.

Indeed, promiscuity is a primary contributor to The Bad Boy's irresistibleness. Sexual prowess in a man’s world is an affirmation of masculinity. Even though the pressure to be sexually competent can harm a man’s self-esteem, when another man effortlessly seduces his way into a woman’s bed, it incites admiration. 

Furthermore, our attraction to promiscuous partners has subconscious roots tracing their way from our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Fathering multiple children ensured their survival and amplified their attractiveness. Combined with being a reliable provider, this proved to be a successful reproductive strategy. 

Another speculation around the Bad Boy’s sex appeal stems from his main personality traits, which are similar to the “dark triad”; Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy. Does it seem far-fetched? Machiavellianism is characterized by cynicism, lack of principles, aloofness, and emotional manipulation. Narcissism includes grandiosity, entitlement, dominance, and superiority. As for psychopathy, it includes impulsiveness and thrill-seeking. People with the dark triad combination tend to have more success in their sexual endeavors, more sex partners, limited self-control, and a game-playing romance style. So, maybe that Bad Boy really isn’t good for you.

What other reasons do you think are behind our attraction to the Bad Boy? And what archetype would you like me to dissect next? Let me know in the comments.


© Copyright 2019 Christy the moonchild. All rights reserved.

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