Nasty, nasty boys, let me see your body groove. — Janet Jackson, “Nasty”
There has to be a word for it. And if there isn’t, we should scour world’s languages over to invent one. Because it’s legit. I remember how I felt in the moment I fell for Shane Vendrell, sometime around season two of The Shield, and my heart just started pounding, and I thought, “He is so fine that I am going to literally die from how fine he is.” Then I discovered he was the cast member with the last name Goggins and thought “Well, Mrs. Elizabeth Goggins doesn’t sound that weird….” But through all of it—through the casual racism and the grenade throwing, the violence and the threats, Shane was my One True Love, right to the end. I was there for all of it.
And I thought maybe it was a one-off thing. Nope. A whole series of trash boys followed. Jimmy McGill on Better Call Saul. Lester Nygaard on Fargo. Boyd Crowder on Justified, and on and on and on. There’s one in every series.
I am not really like this. My husband is a well-regarded figure in our community. He is honest and handsome, a sweet man who buys me Donald Fagen records for Christmas. I have never once wanted to date a “bad boy;” in high school and college I happily dated a series of nerds, guys who listened to Billy Joel or watched anime or went to ren faires. I have always been attracted to nice boys. I am a feminist. I demand respect, Ms. Cudmore if you’re nasty.
But I confessed this terrible feeling to my other girlfriends and, as it turns out, they all had their own trash boys. Caleb on Bates Motel. Gus Halper as Erik Menendez. Jax on Sons of Anarchy. They’re the first entry on a game of F•ck/Marry/Kill, but they are down for a good time. And so what if they impregnated their sister or murdered their parents or take sleezy career shortcuts? We love them just the same.
To men, these characters often play as a sort of justification for all their weak impulses. Who hasn’t felt like they’re misunderstood in their work or by their spouse, believed they deserved more, that they had earned what they’d stolen? It’s an outlet, a fantasy that they could get away with being something other than the common human we are all guilty of being.
But to women, they are someone in need of love, of fixing, of understanding, then maybe they wouldn’t do such terrible things. There’s a certain power, at least to me, in loving these sorts of characters. We could keep their secrets. We could help bury the bodies. We are bold and trustworthy broads, and no man would ever think of double-crossing us. We can hold our own in a gunfight or a car chase.
It’s dangerous thinking, in real life, to imagine that you are responsible for fixing someone. But in film and fiction, it’s an addictive thrill. And a good writer knows this. A good writer knows how to make a man desirable and repulsive all at the same time, give him something the audience recognizes as a nearly-palpable need and then twist that into something selfish, the push and pull with the audience. It is almost erotic when done right.
Crime fiction thrives on nasty boys. But a good writer can make even the worst of them somehow charming, to keep the reader turning the page, breathless and, just maybe, slightly in love.
And while you’re working on that, I’ll be trying to create a new word for that stupid-twisted-love feeling. I’ve got another season of Fargo to get through.