Gordon Gekko, Troy Dyer, and the characters that 'backfire'
Image Credit: Everett Collection(2)Patton Oswalt was on The B.S. Report podcast a few weeks ago, and during his awesome two-part interview, he and Bill Simmons started talking about Reality Bites. “I contend that the Ethan Hawke character is the exact same thing as the Gordon Gekko character in Wall Street,” Oswalt said. “They set up him as, Hey, this is a really horrible way to live; this guys kind of a douche. And instead, people looked at that and went, I’m gonna be like that…. Oliver Stone wrote Gordon Gekko to be the most ultimately evil guy, and then to his horror, everyone started going like, I’m gonna get my suspenders! It’s weird when a character backfires.” Later in the podcast, Simmons and Oswalt add Vince Vaughn’s character from Swingers to the list, too. (Listen to the whole interview here and here.)
Ever since I listened to this, I’ve become obsessed with this concept of characters America wrongly embraced. The clearest example for me is Rob (John Cusack) from High Fidelity. He became the iconic cooler-than-thou dude, but…he’s pretty despicable, he treats people like garbage, and his theory that what matters is what you like — not what you are like — is a pretty rotten, soulless way to go through life. Because the movie has a happy ending, we get this false sense that the film was trying to tell us Rob’s way works out, but what actually happens is that his life bottoms out and he has to profoundly alter his behavior to get back any semblance of adult happiness.
Female characters are a little harder to fit into this model — bad behavior in women isn’t lauded the way it is in men — but I nominate Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly: She’s been canonized, rather than seen as the identity-shedding flake and mooch she really is.
Your turn, PopWatchers: What characters can you think of that “backfired”? And if you’re not listening to the B.S. Report, you’re missing out.