We love them. We fantasize about them. We sigh and dream about one of them sweeping us off our feet and whisking us off on an exciting romantic adventure. I am of course talking about the bad boy hero. They run rampant in romances-whether they be rakes in Regency historicals (man, London was full of them back in the day, huh), the tattooed biker dude, or the hero with the bad reputation and mysterious past, we love us some bad boys don’t we? But what is it exactly about the bad boy that fascinates and speaks to us so? I ask that y’all indulge me and allow me to philosophize and theorize about this all important issue today.
On the surface, there’s not much to like about the bad boy. He doesn’t follow the rules, and doesn’t care about society’s approval. In fact, he goes out of his way to break the rules whenever possible. But the rebellion against the rules is part of the bad boy appeal, I think. There is a part of us that admires someone who can thumb their nose at the rules, and stand up and challenge authority. For example James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke, or Ren McCarthy of Footloose fame (the Kevin Bacon version, please), are all characters who spoke truth to power and marched to the beat of their own drum. I know at times I wish I could be like those characters because it can be liberating to stay true to who you are, without caring about what others think. It takes a lot of strength and confidence to be able to do that.
Why else do we love bad boys? The allure of the forbidden. We like them precisely because of the element of danger. The bad boy tempts us to take risks and do things we normally wouldn’t do. Bad boys often push us to lower our inhibitions. They are the last people our parents would approve of and that fact makes them even more irresistible. It’s a common story-the teenager girl rebelling against her parents by going out with the bad boy and the more they say no, the more she wants it. For example, in West Side Story,it can be argued that Maria partly fell in love with bad boy Tony precisely because he’s off limits. Having to keep their relationship hidden increases the intensity of their feelings and attraction, and adds a delicious element of danger because they could be discovered at any time, and the consequences would be disastrous.
I think the major appeal of the bad boy is that we want to be the one to “reform” him. Make him see the light, and be the good person we know he is underneath. We want to believe that all it takes is the love of a good woman-the right woman. And we all want to be that special someone who will be the catalyst to that transformation. That is the theme to many a romance. The bad boy hero, changed and transformed by his love for the heroine, rises up to the occasion, and proves himself to be a good honorable and decent man underneath it all. That is a very strong and powerful fantasy, isn’t it? Wouldn’t we all like to think that we can have the sort of power that can inspire someone to change for the better because of us? The real life implications of this idea-whether or not it’s realistic and/or healthy message-is definitely food for thought, but not what I want to focus on right now. Just suffice it to say, our love for bad boys exists on several levels.
One of my favorite bad boys has to be Dr. Mark Sloan (aka McSteamy) from ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. When the viewers first met him mid season 2, we already know he’s bad news because he slept with his best friend’s wife and broke up a marriage. He’s also an undeniable man whore. There is nothing admirable and appealing about a person like that. But yet, his underlying charm and vulnerability tells us there’s more beneath the surface. You come to see that beneath the swagger is a flawed man struggling with demons and you can’t help but start to root for him. Then along comes Lexie Grey, and she and Mark fall in love during the course of the fifth season. Their relationship was funny, charming, sexy and romantic. It didn’t take long before I was on the Mark and Lexie bandwagon. You have to love this scene where she asks him to “Teach Me”. And all the dirty flirting.
Mark and Lexie’s relationship perfectly exemplify everything we love about the bad boy hero because he does indeed rise up and become a better man because of Lexie. She pushes him to be the best version of himself he can be. Like Callie says here, “He doesn’t look at my boobs anymore.” Because of her, he’s no longer a man whore, and even screws up the courage to have dinner with Lexie and her father. Anyone who’s had a relationship advance to the stage where you meet the parents knows how huge that is. We shan’t discuss how Shonda Rhimes and co them proceed to ruin that relationship, but I think my point still stands.
Another well-know bad boy hero is Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent from Lisa Kleypas’s Wallflower series. Talk about the ultimate bad boy right? This is a man who kidnapped his good friend’s fiancee for her fortune. Lisa herself said she knew she had a long road ahead of her to redeem Sebastian and make him hero-worthy after a stunt like that. * But she rose to the challenge, and Devil in Winter is the favorite of many a romance reader, including me. We all rooted for Sebastian and Evie as they fell in love, and loved watching his transformation into a loving and devoted husband.
So-do you love bad boys? Do you believe they can truly be reformed? Is it true that “reformed rakes make the best husbands”? Which bad boy romance heroes are your favorite? Let’s talk below!