Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Ugly Man's Hour

Since I seem to be on a roll for interrupting my intended post series everywhere I go, I thought I'd continue the trend.

My hometown newspaper recently posted this article on a study's find that the brain equates beauty and morality. In summary, the same part of the brain is stimulated when viewing images of attractive individuals as when weighing the morality of an action (say, saving a dog from a burning building). Now, I'll say right off that I don't really know whether brain area is enough to indicate a certainty, but either way the concept is a familiar one, and it's one I'd like to apply to one of the long-standing topics here on the prairies.

Bad boys.

It's almost a requisite for treading that fine line between Jerk You Shouldn't Mess With and But He's So Dreamy. A pleasing appearance counters beautifully with displeasing behaviour, and perhaps part of the reason they become appealing (and in some cases, to my personal chagrin, redeemable), is that we can't help but assume there's something morally laudable in them. Maybe it's not just that they're bad but nice to look at, and may one day not be so bad, but that their physical appeal actually contributes to the impression that they're not so bad after all, and gives us 'proof' that they will change.

But what about the ugly ones? We can debate the appeal of bad boys from any standpoint imaginable, social, cultural, biological (how about a Marxist take, anyone?), but what about the poor sods who don't get chiseled jaws, flashing eyes, or thick raven hair? Take Byronic heroes, for instance. Plenty of captivating, larger-than-life traits, but good looks isn't expressly one of them. Sure, plenty of Byronic heroes are good-looking, but their sheer force of will may often be what makes them appealing. Even then, though, I have a hard time coming up with many examples. I don't remember the precise descriptions in my mind, whether Emily Bronte ever called Heathcliff handsome, or if I've merely taken his traits and made them of handsome form in my mind. Any movie casting, of course, is bound to have a handsome face in the role. They're movies, even the ugly people are pretty.

So, writers and readers of romance, I turn to you, the supreme authority on bad boys in all their incarnations. How many unattractive bad boys can you think of, and what makes them appealing? Heck, let's be generous, even if they're just not expressly handsome, shout 'em out! Can unattractive men still capture that bad-boy appeal, or do we need some level of looks to think them, deep down, morally good and desirable?


Hayley E. Lavik said...

I'll start us off with the one that springs to my mind right away, an old favourite from my teenage years:

Dragonball Z's Vegeta, a miserable, arrogant, short son-of-a with a bad temper and a receding hairline.

What he's got going for him: He's cunning, powerful, resourceful, takes numerous beatings and keeps coming back, never relents his indomitable pride. In short, alpha, and someone you can count on to push back if you push him.

In the looks department: He's very... symmetrical, and symmetry technically is a factor in judging physical beauty. So...he's got symmetry going for him, at least.

DebH said...

the first person that came to mind when reading this is Steve Buscemi. In every movie i've seen him, he's not particularly handsome, but he does manage to steal the scenes. He's not a leading man though, so i don't know if he counts. Like i said, his name was the first to come to mind when you mentioned "ugly".

Probably not what he'd want to know. *heh* But, I do so enjoy the movies he's in because he does make things so much more interesting with the characters he plays.

Silver James said...

Christopher Eccleston comes to mind. He's not classically handsome and some of his roles beyond Dr. Who have been quite dark. I'll be thinking about this through the day and trying to come up with more.

Dang, Hayley...LOL!

Joanne Brothwell said...

Interesting post, Hayley. I think there is something to the misguided notion that beauty is somehow an outer manifestation of the inner workings of the person, that the bad boy must be redeemeable because he's just so darned pretty.

I can't think of any unattractive bad boys that I liked, probably because it's a rare hollywood movie that doesn't cast a pretty boy.

Anita Mae Draper said...

My internet's been up and down all day so hopefully this will get through...

What about Ben Stiller... He's not what you'd call an alpha hero but he sure plays a lot of romantic lead roles. Makes me laugh just looking at him, though.

When I think of cunning, I think of Lee Van Cleef although I'm not sure if he ever came out of the shadow of Clint Eastwood.

Robert Mitchum played some pretty mean characters and had his share of romantic leads, too although I've never considered him handsome. Too squinty eyed with drooping corners.

I'm not doing too good, am I? LOL

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Deb, Steve Buscemi is definitely a scene stealer. I can't say whether a lot of women would find him desirable, necessarily, as I don't find that same appeal in him, but he's quite engaging (and a damn good actor).

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Silver, I think Christopher Eccleston is a good mention, although definitely attractive compared to regular schmoes. In the world of gloriously chiseled cinema figures, he's definitely an alternative. As you say, not classically handsome.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Joanne, I'm thinking we may need to plunder our books and such, rather than tv and film. On-screen badboys are just way too striking. Heck, the only one I could think of was a cartoon!

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Anita, it's a tough thing isn't it? I've been browsing a wide array of the actors you mentioned (didn't know Van Cleef by name but I recognize his roles :) Done up right, there's definitely a lot of grit and grime in there, but underneath it all (actor headshots etc) hmm... pretty darn handsome. Again, maybe it just comes down to symmetry, and that makes it pleasing enough.

As I mentioned to Joanne, definitely thinking we need to look into books and such more, see if we can find any authors who don't actually call their bad boys 'striking' 'handsome' or the like, or who actually go so far as to say they're unattractive.

connie said...

Hey, What about Mel Gibson? He is only so-so handsome. He may not play bad boys in movies, but his good boy image - e.g. as Sir William Wallace - compared to his real life image - not good. He is a nasty drunk and I would like to know if he has ever done any good for anyone. Doubt it

connie said...

Oops! - I forgot Jack Nicolson. He looks bad even when he is good

Janet said...

Brilliant comment just eaten by Blogger.

Long and short of a very verbose answer to your question:

Suzanne Brockmann's heroes are not the pretty boys types. She has many that are less than ideal. And in one of her last books, Jules gets his own story (he's a regular in the Troubleshooters' series) - he's also gay. An amazing story with a very unlikely hero.

Linda Howard has also written some great 'ugly' heroes. One such was a drunk who had to overcome so much in order to help the heroine protect herself from her insane husband. Sorry, I can't remember the story right now and am too tired to go Google-ing!

Great post, as usual, Hayley. Very though provoking.

BTW - Anita, I think your Ben Stiller answer is perfect in the world of movie stars. Very unlikely, but pulls it off everytime.

Anita Mae Draper said...

I actually think Harrison Ford fits this category.

I've thought about him all day but didn't put his name forward because... well... it's a joke in our house that hubby thinks he looks like him. So every time Air Force One or an Indiana Jones movie comes on TV, we all say dad's on TV again.

And to tell you the truth, most of my heroes are cowboys and have that lined and weathered look despite their age. Even in Emma's Outlaw, Dan’s bearded face is more rounder than a truly handsome face calls for.

At least that's the way my books start until they fall for their man. Then he looks good. LOL

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Connie, say what you will about Mel Gibson, but he's definitely handsome -- and very unstrung and morally ambiguous in some of his earlier roles. Jack Nicholson though, yep, I think you've found a winner for this topic!

Hayley E. Lavik said...

So glad you brought some books into it, Janet. I know there are less-than-gorgeous heroes out there in fiction land (even if they still look hunky on the covers :p), so I'm glad to see them cropping up. Are all of your examples bad boys as well, or just different types of not-gorgeous heroes? The Brockman hero sounds interesting.

Hayley E. Lavik said...

Anita, you've raised an interesting point there. Once the heroine falls for her man, he's going to look good, so perhaps the entire hunt for unattractive bad boys is redundant? If a woman falls for a really poor choice of a man, and finds him attractive for it, perhaps that's always going to tie in and give some semblance of potential to redeem bad behaviour.

Also, I am appalled at myself for realizing I've started and encouraged an incredibly superficial topic! Shame on me! Oh well, I'm sure everyone wants a break from me over-analyzing their subgenres ;)

Karyn Good said...

I think Benicio del Toro qualifies as a fantastic example of someone who's extremely compelling but not classically handsome.

And I agree with Janet about Suzanne Brockmann and I would add J R Ward to a long list of romance authors who's hero's aren't necessarily beautiful to behold :D

Ban said...

Great answer Karyn ! He is a compelling ugly cuss!!!