Think decent behaviour is boring and the last bastion of cool is a leather jacket, a cigarette and a snarl? Get a grip, says Hamish MacBain
When considering whether it is best to be regarded by the outside world as good or bad, one should bear in mind that it is usually good ‘guys’ and bad ‘boys’. This is absolutely key.
Bad boy is a status you aspire to attaining when you’ve only just grown out of watching cartoons where the hero thwarts the villain at the end of every episode. A good guy is what you want to be when you’ve seen enough in life to wish you could make this the case in the real world.
A bad boy is what you want to become when you’re yet to lose your virginity, you’ve just heard (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction for the first time or seen the first two hours of Scarface. Which is fine. But a good guy is what you commit yourself to turning into once you have – or know someone who has – a daughter, you’ve just looked at the Rolling Stones’ 2013 ticket prices or got to the bit where Tony Montana kills his best friend and his sister. Being bad is for children, being good is for adults. And just to be crystal clear: being a child means being a boy, being an adult means being a man.
Also, importantly: what being a good guy does not mean is that you have to be boring or sensible or Aled Jones or Cliff Richard. It means the reverse. Ryan Gosling is good. Jay-Z is good. Good is complex. Bad is straightforward. Consider the list of good guys over the page: I could argue a case, fairly easily, for most of them actually being bad, or at least partly bad, whereas you could never, divide-straddling former president JFK aside, ever say the same for the corresponding roll call of baddies. The characteristics of bad are so linear, so easily defined, so easily co-opted, so conservative: wear black, smoke, don’t call girls back, laugh maniacally, spill drink now and again. Instant baddie.
Jack Nicholson? Do me a favour: rewatch the video of him crashing Jennifer Lawrence’s post-Oscars interview earlier this year, during which he tells her she reminds him of “an old girlfriend”. Tell me you do not find it the most deeply unthreatening, unsleazy thing ever. It’s cute, for goodness sake! Keith Richards, with his fondness for calling people “cats” and falling out of trees and half hearted drug innuendos? Make that two favours. Don’t get me wrong, I love both of those men and what they’ve done and (some of what they) continue to do, but their version of bad – ie, the version that people who go on about being bad aspire to – is a cartoon. Admittedly a great cartoon, but a cartoon nonetheless.
The idea of “not giving a f*ck” is a nice one, but it’s just not real. It’s naff. It’s a fantasy concept. Try it, really try it, for even a day. Don’t offer your seat on the bus to an old lady, be rude to a waiter, make stupid demands of people you work with, turn up late, cheat on your partner, puke up over yourself, don’t pay your mortgage and spend the money on drugs instead.
Wow. I’m petrified. Except that I’m not, I’m dismissing you, and so is the old lady, and so is the waiter. It’s boring and predictable and clings, in its own way, to a strict set of rules and conventions. The truth is you’ll never meet anyone as conservative and as preoccupied with keeping up appearances as the man who purports to not give a f*ck.
The coolest guys at the coolest parties are usually sober, smiling, taking the time to talk to everyone, and leaving a good impression on everyone. These are the people that you want to know, because the thing about them is that you find yourself thinking, ‘Wow, if they can carry themselves with such poise and grace and charisma and an air of power, then imagine what they would be like if they abused their God-given gift of being great, and used it to be bad instead?’
The cool people, if they so desired, could do bad better than the baddest badasses on the planet. But they don’t, because it’s better to let the wannabe bad boys – and in fact all self-regarding bad boys are, by definition, wannabes – think that they are really, genuinely upsetting everybody. To leave them in a corner doing so together, while getting get on with making your life and everyone else’s life a bit better. If they start bothering you, just offer to go shot-of-Jack-Daniels-for-shot-of-Jack-Daniels with them and make them cry and go home.
Nice guys do not finish last, they just make the people whose be all and end all is finishing first think they are finishing first. Nice guys are the tortoise, bad boys are the hare.