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!)

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.

Submitted: August 29, 2019

© Copyright 2020 Christy Writes. All rights reserved.

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Add Your Comments:




You'd know better than me but I'm guessing there's a head vs heart ambivalence with girls towards the 'Bad Boy'. People are different: some girls seem a lot more responsive to the BB's charms than others, don't you think?

The other thing to consider is the kind of girl the Bad Boy goes for. Take Bonnie and Clyde. Bonnie sure wasn't the shrinking violet type. Do you think the BB's got type-preferences? Or does he just go after the alpha-chick?

Thu, August 29th, 2019 6:32pm


That's true. It definitely depends on the person and what they're attracted to. Some people don't care all that much about tough facades and rebelliousness, and others find it exciting and appealing.
Lol, that is a good question too. I think some BBs would prefer a girl who can match their dominance, but again, each person has their own preference. Thank you for giving this article a read!

Thu, August 29th, 2019 1:56pm


Jeff Bezaire

Whether a bad boy or a nice guy, they're both double-edged swords . . . or dull-sided cards. Some bad boys disappoint in the end, as do some nice guys; and some bad boys and nice guys surprise with what's hidden beneath the surface. There are a lot of softies who are "bad boys" and there are a lot of take-charge nice guys. Ultimately, bad boys are the bolder, more daring types, so are more appealing.
This is a good article, although I think a little too short. But then again, you could write a book about the bad boy archetype and still have more to say.
Good article, Christy!

Thu, August 29th, 2019 8:23pm


If you really want to know, the notes I combined had a bigger word count than the actual article lol. I had to cut redundant sentences and definitions that I think everyone is familiar with. You could say that this is a shortcut to a good amount of information on this archetype, as in, I must've read at least 5000 words to give you this humble 800ish words article. xD
I do agree on your take about Bad Boys and Nice Guys. I think archetypes aren't a good representation of how people really are, or how they should behave. But archetypes do give characters their own flair, and in some cases make them appealing to the audience. In a way, they're like stereotypes; they get the broad strokes right but they're not the whole truth.
Thank you for reading, Jeff!

Thu, August 29th, 2019 2:10pm


Melancholic Wisdom

This is an interesting write, I've never really given a lot of thought to the archetype of a bad boy. I can certainly agree that the sexual aspect probably does play a significant role. But I also think that bad boys capture attention much more easily because they stand out from the crowd, which can lead people to idolize them and want to be around them since they subvert societal norms. I'd like to see you break down much more archetypes, a suggestion might be the girl next door type, that's just the first one to pop into my mind

Fri, August 30th, 2019 4:09am


Hmmm, the Girl Next Door is a type I've never given much thought to, but it would be interesting to read up about her more. Thank you for the suggestion and for reading!

Sat, August 31st, 2019 5:05am

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