The Danny Zuko Complex

john travolta

Recently, my good friends decided to watch the three seasons of Veronica Mars on DVD. I was excited, of course, to have someone to discuss the many attributes of one of my very favorite shows of all time.

I would have been even more excited if I’d been able to watch it with them. But *sigh* it was not to be. Instead, I had to be content with asking every few weeks, “So, do you still love it? Isn’t it awesome?”

At one point, my friend mentioned that Logan, one of the main characters (for those of you unfortunate enough to have not watched it yet), was a real jerk. I said, in my infinite wisdom and maturity, “Just wait. He gets way cuter in season two.”

A few weeks later, my friend – having apparently started season two – said, “Umm, didn’t you say that he was going to get cuter? Because he’s still a pretty big jerk.”

And that’s when it hit me: She was never going to think Logan was cute, because she doesn’t like bad boys.

While I’ve never been so enamored of a “bad boy” that I poured myself into a black leather catsuit, teased my hair and took up smoking, I did take what felt like a big risk at the time when I started dating Mark. As one of our less-than-subtle classmates taunted shortly after our first date, “I can’t believe this! The troublemaker and the goody two shoes? Together?”

Yes, that’s right. I fell for the bad boy.

It’s been quite a while since anyone would consider him much of a troublemaker, but he definitely had some explaining to do back when I got up the nerve to tell my mom about his interesting past. The whole situation was a really big deal back in high school, but that was a long time ago. And I rarely even think of it now.

But after talking to my friend about Veronica Mars and the hot-or-not Logan, I started thinking about this “good girls like bad boys” thing. And I realized how many of my favorite movie and TV characters – the ones I root for and hope get the girl and just maybe wish I was “the girl” – are Bad Boys.

Then I thought back to my [much] younger days and thought of the boy I had a crush on in high school. (Before I started dating Mark, if you must ask about the timeline. But . . . maybe after, too. What can I say? It was high school.) That guy? From what I hear, he’s still playing the part of the bad boy.

What IS it with me? And, I suspect, with a lot of women. Based on the lengthy list of examples I came up with (with the help of TVTropes.org), this idea of a reformed bad boy holds a lot of appeal for a lot of us.

Some actors have even made entire careers by playing this character over and over. Think Pierce Brosnan in Remington Steele, the James Bond movies and even The Thomas Crown Affair. Or Harrison Ford as Han Solo and then Indiana Jones.

Why is this such a strong trend? Why do we fall for it? Why, as Roger Ebert asked in his review of Twilight, “do girls always prefer the distant, aloof, handsome, dangerous dudes instead of cheerful chaps like me?”

I don’t have any answers. And I don’t know that – for me, at least – it’s so terrible for me to admit that Uncle Jesse was way cuter than Uncle Joey and Neal Caffrey is attractive for more than his pretty blue eyes. However . . . when I think about my daughter and raising her with a healthy view of relationships . . . I’m a little worried.

What do you think about this? How do we encourage our daughters to [avoid a lot of heartbreak and] pursue “the good guys”? Do you have a thing for bad boys, a Danny Zuko complex, if you will? (And if you want to play along, who’s your favorite bad boy character?)

This post contains affiliate links. Also, if you’re a nerd like me (go ahead and admit it!), you might be interested in reading about the three slightly different types of bad boys, according to the highly entertaining and interesting and time-sucking TVTropes.org. You’ve got your choice: reformed rakes, troubled but cute, and lovable rogues.