It is coming! The Good Boy Woobie is coming! Save yourselves!
So, a single-celled organism crawled out of the primordial ooze, and that pretty much led to a little something I like to call Good Boy Woobies or GBWs for short.
What are these GBWs you speak of, you ask? This character trope doesn’t even exist!
Well, actually, my friends, GBWs have been living among us for some time now, quietly infecting our TV screens ever since the dark day that Dawson Leery’s forehead entered the teen drama landscape.
Crying!Dawson, you call to me with a siren song all these years later!
Dawson has been joined in the GBW ranks by Dean Forester from Gilmore Girls and Matt Donovan from Vampire Diaries, characters who you are often bashed over the head by writers with the message, “Like them, like them, like them! They are so kewl! Feel sorry for them and their manpain and mangst”, but may have left you with the nagging suspicion that, actually you kinda loathe them with a fiery passion or are occasionally overwhelmed by the sheer extent of their douchiness.
TV characters and ships, particularly when it comes to supernatural dramas where lives are constantly at stake, are all about the survival of the fittest.
Certain character tropes tend to be the most appealing to audiences…
…and these characters are the ones that usually get The Girl at the end, evade death, avoid getting shipped of to Siberia or Pittsburg (whichever the writers deem worse) or in the very least are killed mid-heroic act.
Woobies garner a lot of audience sympathy. TVTropes.com says that woobies (named for a children’s security blanket) are characters that “you want to give a big hug, wrap in a blanket and feed soup to when he or she suffers so very beautifully”.
Typically, the most popular woobies have been Bad Boy Woobies. These snarky, sexy boys suffer exquisitely for us week in week out, and in return we drop our panties for them.
Spike from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries, and my personal favourite Logan Echolls from Veronica Mars are all bad boys with soft sides/underbellies that have been/are in the process of being woobified in their series. Woobification usually comes hand in hand with a redemption arc. It’s angsty, it’s hot, and it’s no wonder BBWs get our fangirly senses pinging in more ways than one.
My blogger friend 12_12_12 summed up some of the hallmarks of BBWs and BBW ships in an incredibly interesting livejournal entry about Tyler/Caroline on TVD and gender issues. I’ll paraphrase her points but I’ve included direct quotes as well in bold because she explained a lot of this way better than I ever could.
BBWs can be among the most compelling characters, but writers always walk a tightrope with them. Executing their redemption arc is incredibly difficult to pull off effectively, and opinions always vary wildly for popular characters about whether this has been achieved or not. It’s also up to you to decide whether or not these woobies have fallen victim to some of the potential pitfalls of being a BBW.
BBW hallmarks/potential pitfalls:
An important aspect of the woobie is that their suffering has genesis in external sources, and the internal impacts of external sources. We often develop a strangely deep emotional connection with these characters because a hurt/comfort dynamic emerges, whereby the more a woobie is tortured the more we love them, because we can wish away their pain, which is strangely cathartic for us, the viewer.
Writing often absolves BBWs of some or all responsibility for their actions. Reasons might include: “His mommy/daddy never loved him!” “He just needs someone who understands him!” “It’s that psycho bitch of an ex-girlfriend who messed with his head!” “He’s just afraid of feelings!” “He’s had such a hard life!” And my favorite: “He has low self-esteem!” This pitfall can be avoided/minimised if the woobie takes responsibility for their actions (e.g. Damon telling Stefan that Stefan can’t take his guilt, he “owns” it and his actions).
The biggest problem with any ship involving a BBW is that it could turn into an example of the “Any jerk can be redeemed by the love of a good woman” trope. (as opposed to redemption coming from within).
Redemption through the love of a woman is problematic because it can lead to a Madonna-Whore complex, in which the Woobie elevates his One True Love above all other women, and the writers try to emphasize how much he loves her by having him treat other women badly. It feeds into the fantasy of, “Wow, if this jerk is nice to ME, then I must really be something!” while it’s somehow less exciting if a good guy is nice to you, because he’s nice to everybody. But that means that the appeal of a BBW ship is at least partially BASED on misogyny. It can lead to male characters making value judgments about which women are “worth it” and which are not, rather than allowing the women to just be.
Suddenly though, there has been a shift in typical Bad Boy versus Good Boy dynamics. It isn’t just the Bad Boys who are being woobified any longer. Now it is happening with Good Boys too.
Shocking, I know.
On my favourite show, The Vampire Diaries, this has been evident in the pairing of best friends Tyler Lockwood and Matt Donovan (though the best friends part has diminished somewhat of late).
Tyler has all the hallmarks of a Bad Boy Woobie (poor little rich boy, abusive father, artistic leanings he tries to keep under wraps that demonstrate hidden sensitivity) yet, in terms of how he is written, and – most importantly – fan reaction, he’s not a woobie, his best friend and Good Boy Matt Donovan is. As 12_12_12 noted in a PM to me, “It’s like Tyler got the Woobie Resume but Matt went on to have the Woobie Career”.
Tyler was a distinctly unlikeable character until late season two…
Knight in shining armour he was not.
… (circumstances have forced him to grow up dramatically in a short space of time), and unlike virtually every other non-Big Bad male character, has actually been called out for it. Women are often judged on The Vampire Diaries: Bonnie is “judgy”, Katherine is a “slut” and “skank”, Caroline is “neurotic” and a “control freak”. Tyler is really the only male character to be labelled so bluntly (“tool”, “dick”). (Jeremy was called a “pill pusher” by Tyler in early season one, but the name had less impact than if given this assessment by a character like Elena, rather than Tyler, who wasn’t really fully respected or taken seriously by anyone. Plus, “dick” and “tool” are subjective assessments of someone’s persnality, whereas “pill pusher” was just a statement of fact about behaviour that Jeremy was engaged in at the time).
Any Spidey readers knows I adore the character of Damon Salvatore. But, if we’re brutally honest, fandom is much quicker to forgive Damon for comparatively more heinous acts than those committed by Tyler.
So why does Damon earn forgiveness more easily than Tyler? Simple. Because Damon is a BBW (a well acted and well executed one IMO), but Tyler, while a Bad Boy, is not a BBW. And I am not immune to this, as I’ll explain in more detail below.
Now, it would be easy enough to say that Damon fulfils the BBW quotient for the show, and this is why the writers haven’t gone there with Tyler. But I noticed something interesting in terms of the reaction to Matt Donovan, the Good Boy foil to Tyler’s Bad Boy – the writers and Matt’s fans are totally woobifying him!
Take linchpin fan forum Television Without Pity, for instance. Matt has been given the nickname Pudding Pop by the TWoP recapper for Vampire Diaries, with “take him home and feed him pudding” as his character thread tagline.
For all the shitty things that have happened to Matt’s friends and ex-girlfriends, like suffering through hours of torture because you are transforming into a werewolf or being vamped before you’re legal, I would say that if the show harps on about the hardships anyone has suffered the most, it would be Matt. (I mean this in terms of Telling, as opposed to just Showing). Equally, many fans defending Matt’s douchey moments fall back on the excuse that he has had a hard life, what else do you expect?
Matt’s speech in episode 2×21, whereby he dumps vampire girlfriend Caroline, is a good example of this. After discovering the truth about Caro being a vamp, Matt has seen how becoming a supe has caused her normal life to spiral out of control. He even contributed to the suckiness of her lot in life by conspiring against her briefly with her vamp-hating sheriff mother Liz.
Yet even though he acknowledges that Caroline’s personality and spirit remain intact despite her being a vampire, not once does he apologise to her for his actions, attempt to make amends or ask how she is coping with everything (contrast to Tyler and Caroline, who are always interested in the welfare of the other now, regardless of the state of their relationship).
In fact, he breaks up with a speech designed to Tell us how hard his life is, and how he can’t handle her supernatural baggage on top of everything else.
This was pretty much me, looking at my watch wondering when this little spiel would be over and done with and we got back to Forwood.
Caroline: But you can [handle being with me even though I’m a vampire]. Matt…
Matt: I don’t know if I can, Caroline.
Matt: I get it. This is your life now. You know what my life is, Care? My life is an absentee mom. And a bunch of bills to pay, and school, and a job, and it sucks sometimes. But it’s my life, and… I think that I just want to live it without all of this.
Dawson suffered in his own way too (broken family from his parents divorcing, being treated like crap in film class and getting poor reviews for a film he screened at a festival etc), as did Dean (though mainly in terms of how much Rory played with his poor heart, I have to admit – of all the GBWs he is the one I feel most sympathy for).
Anyway, there are some facts I just tend to take for granted about The Vampire Diaries.
Like Elijah has fabulous hair.
Or Damon is an awesome dancer. The douchery of Matt, despite being at odds with the golden boy persona he holds in the writers’ and other characters’ perception is simply another.
My antipathy for this character and his relationship with Caroline in particular has grown since mid season one – I have hated his character development from the first few episodes onwards, and it has been like watching a slow train wreck of douchiness ever since for me. No matter how hard I have tried, I simply can’t understand how Matt can be viewed as the honest-to-goodness Good Boy that some members of fandom have passionately argued he is. (This is probably because most of his screentime has been sucked up by his relationship with Caro, and ships are where GBWs’ worst colours are evident).
Many don’t see the passive-aggressive emotional manipulation and general mindfuckery that, for me, typifies his relationship with Caroline. Some have bashed CAROLINE, who has made every effort to be The Girl for Matt, for being the reason Matt/Caroline didn’t work out.
I just for the life of me have been unable to see how anyone could believe Matt and Caroline are healthy for each other, particularly when there is an IMO infinitely hotter and more compatible option (TYLER!), despite much associated angst, waiting in the wings.
But then it hit me: Matt is a Good Boy Woobie!
He and the Dean Foresters and Dawson Leerys of this world are a brand of character the writers tell me are Good and that I should want to succeed because of their “plight” (broken home, girlfriend who takes them for granted etc). Yet somehow it is the Bad Boy foils to these Good Boy Woobies – Tyler Lockwood, Pacey Witter (Dawson’s Creek), and Jess Mariano (Gilmore Girls) who are the ones who have/had my sympathy and are the boys I ship my favourite girls with.
On paper, these boys sound like textbook BBWs, but IMO, don’t quite fit the bill, because they aren’t absolved of their wrongdoings in the way woobies typically are by writers – this may be a controversial opinion, but I think that in one way or another, the writing calls out Jess, Tyler and Pacey more harshly than ordinary BBWs for their shortcomings. This might be through self-awareness (Tyler: “I’m an angry guy”) or dialogue from other characters.
Going back to the example of Damon vs Tyler – I love both characters, but interestingly had a more viscerally angry reaction to Tyler hesitating to help Caroline when she faced death as opposed to Damon snapping Jeremy’s neck.
I couldn’t really work out why, aside from Ian Somerhalder’s hypnotic blue eyes. Yet, Tyler is my absolute favourite character, so you’d think if I was going to cut anyone slack immediately, it would be him.
When I looked deeper and discussed this stuff with other members of fandom, I realised it’s all in the writing. The writing is much more sympathic towards Damon, yet to forgive Tyler I usually have to do the heavy lifting – the writers leave it up to us to make the decision whether or not to bother caring for/deciding to forgive Tyler, and frankly I can understand how people can hate Tyler. He doesn’t have a heart of gold, more just a softer side that comes out occasionally, but his recent experiences as a werewolf and with Caroline is becoming more prominent.
When Damon snapped Jeremy’s neck in the season two premiere, this action was surrounded by writer explanation (“it’s because of Katherine” “he’s unstable when she [Katherine] is around”, “he wants to be hated, it’s easier that way”).
In contrast, when Tyler hesitated in a crucial moment where Caro’s life was in peril, she lambasted him and slammed a door in his face. Even when Caro forgave him, there was no explanation for the action – Caroline basically said “yep, you screwed up but I don’t hate you despite this” and forgave out of the goodness of her heart, and it was entirely left up to us to make the decision whether to follow suit. Given Damon is a leading character and Tyler is a secondary character, I’m not surprised that there is a little more guidance from the writers on how they want Damon to be viewed and more encouragement to support his redemption, whereas with judgments about Tyler you are pretty much on your own. I’m curious to see if this changes next season with the growing popularity of the Tyler character.
So writers are starting to encourage us to forgive Good Boys like Matt their more douchey moments too. These Good Boy Woobies usually have straight Bad Boys, not BBWs as a foil (e.g. Tyler is Matt’s best friend) – both because the Bad Boy is intended to make the Good Boy look even more Good in comparison, and because we immediately know the Bad Boy can’t be that Bad deep down if he hands out with the Good Boy.
Of course, writers often don’t anticipate a backlash from people like me, who not only tend not to be sympathetic to Good Boy Woobies, but outright LOATHE them, and are on Team Bad Boy. This post will go along way towards explaining why Dawson, Dean, but especially Matty annoy the freaking hell out of me. It’ll also help explain why I think pairings like Tyler/Caroline are > > > pairings like Matt/Caroline, and so is part of the Great Forwood vs Caratt debate on this blog.
So, let’s take a closer look at this new breed of TV character. What is a Good Boy Woobie? What makes them tick? How do they differ from Bad Boy Woobies? How do their interactions with love interests compare to Bad Boy Woobies?
Good Boy Woobies: in writers’ minds versus the reality of how they appear
(this is modelled after 12_12_12’s summary of Matt)
In Writers’ Minds:
Matt, Dean, Dawson:
A basically decent, stand-up guy who is there for his friends and can be trusted even by adults. This is the type of guy you can bring home to meet the parents, or you might have actually grown up with. They are a dependable, high school sweetheart type. They might not necessarily get your heart racing like Bad Boys in your life, but you can always rely on them to follow through. In supernatural shows, they often represent the innocent human element who remind us of what the good guys are fighting to protect.
These Good Boy Woobies are often self-righteous and judgmental, and tend to blame anyone but themselves for their problems. They are prone to self-pity and self-centredness, and see other people’s problems in relation to how they affect them. GBWs are often skilled manipulators or in the very least emotionally manipulative/passive-aggressive, and if they are dating someone who they see as beneath them are not above using them as an emotional punching bag. They are also prone to extreme jealousy and possessiveness, and may view love interests as property that belongs to them and can be “stolen” from them, even if they are not currently dating the girl of interest.
How this plays out more specifically…
12_12_12 and I discussed via email how one thing is distinctively different between BBWs and GBWs when it comes to their love interests. For BBWs there is only ever one love interest, only one Girl. GBWs have both The Girl and Another Girl AKA The Placeholder.
As I mentioned earlier, a Madonna-Whore complex plagues a lot of BBW ships, whereby the BBW elevates one woman above all others, and his love for her is underscored by how badly he treats other women in comparison to her. (This can become more complicated in supernatural dramas if the BBW is a monster like a vampire, and he doesn’t consider humans and vampires as being on the same playing field, and other humans might simply be food to him).
In contrast, GBWs Dean, Matt and Dawson have The Girl (the Madonna of the Madonna-Whore complex: Rory, Elena and Joey) and Another Girl aka The Placeholder that they often treat badly after an initial sweet honeymoon period, because The Placeholder doesn’t live up to the standards of The Girl (Dean’s first wife, Caroline, Jen once Dawson discovered she wasn’t a perfect virginal angel). It’s a reverse Madonna-Whore complex where The Placeholder is treated like dirt while the GBW is an all-around nice guy to pretty much everyone else (except enemies).
GBWs are presented as being hopelessly in love with The Girl and hung up on her well after they have broken up, and treating The Placeholder like dirt or as less special. Ironically, The Girl can often take or leave the affections of the GBW, but The Placeholder, who is usually genuinely in love with him, is also the person he tends to take his frustrations out on. I guess it’s because The Placeholder is willing to put up with their crap, whereas The Girl (usually the leading lady) would not be.
Caroline has infamously been treated as second best to leading lady Elena Gilbert. Even after Elena broke up with Matt he told her sweetly, “I just want you to know, I’m not giving up on us”. Caro/Matt hook up in season one only after Caro got fed up with Matt digging in his heels about taking their budding friendship to the next level and he realised he was going to lose her. His very romantic assessment following their first kiss? “This’ll never work” he says to Care.
His reason for dating Caro at all is likely out of sheer loneliness (it was telling that in early season two he says to avoid breaking up with her “I’m not in a position to lose anyone else right now”), rather than because he is enamored of her like he was with Elena.
Matt considers breaking up with Caro in season one (when less lonely because Tyler is still more in the picture) after she has the audacity to take his hand in public in front of Damon and Elena when they first start going out; this little territorial gesture hardly warranted the degree of annoyance it was met with. Matt also does things like ducking out of kisses Caro tries to initiate in school hallways when Elena is in close proximity. At the first sign Elena might want to get back together (e.g. when Elena is sniffing around at the careers fair in season one because she thinks Stefan is leaving), Matt drops his burgeoning relationship with Caro in a heartbeat.
When Matt discovered his sister Vicki was dead, he turned to Elena rather than Caro for support, which was understandable due to his lifelong friendship with Elena but still broken an unwritten relationship rule. On an ill-fated first double date between Stefan/Elena and Caroline/Matt, Elena and Matt reminisce arguably a little inappropriately about their couple days and are oblivious to how this badly this might make Caro feel until she calls them on it (in the case of Elena)/inappropriateness becomes blatant (in the case of Matt). Caroline was determined to win Miss Mystic Falls because it symbolised a victory over Elena for once. Matt bitched about Caroline’s neurotic personality to friends like Bonnie and Tyler, but never once heard says a mean thing about Elena. I am curious to see if there is any fallout between the Matt/Elena relationship next season, in terms of her role, however small, she played in Vicki’s death.
Dean was established in the first two and a quarter seasons as being head over heels in love with Rory, to the point of being controlling and obsessively texting her when he was worried that she might dump him for new Bad Boy Jess, a fear that turns out to be founded.
Dean proposed to first wife Lindsay when they are still young and speaks fondly of her in their initial coupledom stages, acknowledging her sweet, generous personality. On Dean’s bachelor night, however, he drunkenly admitted to local diner owner Luke that he is still in love with Rory and doesn’t know why she didn’t love him back. He pursued Rory even after marrying Lindsay, and Rory lost her virginity by committing adultery with Dean. Rory justified this by saying Dean is “her Dean”, even though her mother Lorelai aptly argues that actually, he is “Lindsay’s Dean” – but the writing supported Rory’s assessment. Dean treated his wife progressively worse, to the point that an episode was devoted to Lindsay walking on eggshells and going all out to prepare his favourite roast in a desperate bid to please him and save her marriage. Lindsay and Dean were fighting before Rory/Dean slept together, but his perceived view of Lindsay’s shortcomings compared with Rory after committing adultery worsens. This leads to him treating Lindsay more and more like dirt, until Lindsay suddenly find outs about his adultery with Rory by accidentally intercepting a letter from Rory to Dean and divorces him.
Dawson had relatively sweet relationships with Gretchen Witter in season four and Jen Lindley in season five, but always ultimately ended up pining away for Joey. Although Joey found true love with Pacey by the end of the series and is off the market once and for all, Dawson is alone – and exec produces a TV series that is The Story of Joey and Dawson and amounts to him vicariously re-living his relationship with Joey. When Dawson sleeps with Joey for the first time, he does so despite having an LA actress girlfriend at the time. In season two, when Dawson and Joey break up and eventually he starts dating Jen, Jen bonds with new Creekster Jack McPhee (who is dating Joey at the time) by telling him he’ll get used to being treated like second best by his girlfriend, because she has with Dawson.
With GBWs, there is a reversal of the “reforming the guy through love” trope – it becomes “making myself worthy of the guy”.
The halo of the GBW means that The Placeholder and sometimes even The Girl feel like their personality or issues are the source of any problems between them. So rather than going for a guy who clearly accepts them exactly as they are (Tyler! Pacey! Jess!) and isn’t ridiculously territorial/possessive/controlling of them, this girl will persist on making the relationship work and fit the romantic ideal they think it represents, even when it’s obvious it is falling apart – they think they’ll be losing a Great Guy and stable relationship otherwise.
The general message from the writers is that the GBW is a Nice Guy, ergo anything nasty or controlling he says or does must be justified. Even worse, The Placeholder and occasionally The Girl have value judgments placed on them with respect to the GBW – she might be viewed as “asking for it” or “deserving” of bad treatment by the poor, downtrodden GBW who has to put up with her crap. (it must be said this last part drives me up the wall with Matt/Caro in particular, where her neurotic qualities, whether through her natural quirky personality or going through the kinks of being a baby vamp made it okay for Matt to be a jerk towards her in some fans’ eyes. Sorry guys, but UGH!)
The Placeholder/The Girl pretty much NEVER breaks up with a GBW. Either the GBW breaks up with them, often to sort out his own issues, or the girl only breaks up with them if their douchery builds to a point that cannot be ignored.
(see Bill Compton from True Blood, a Good Boy Woobie in seasons one and two – blogger pal Amy wrote a great post blasting him that shows how annoying these characters often end up being). As a vampire his darker side is prominent from day one, but essentially is set up in the first few seasons as a goody-two-shoes, fuddy-duddy, geeky type compared to the rest of his kind. Indeed, we discover that he is turned into a vampire as a result of his inherent goodness; as a civil war soldier taken in by a woman Lorena, he refuses to sleep with her because he has a wife, and she vamps him because she has been waiting for a decent man like him.
The Girl in True Blood, Sookie Stackhouse after it comes to light that he orchestrated her being almost beaten to death so she would be forced to drink his vampire blood to survive – he did this because ingesting V directly makes you sexually attracted to the vampire, and he was ingratiating himself into her life as part of a larger plan.
Fortunately, the actor playing Bill, Stephen Moyer, is like the anti-Bill and has certain, um, physical charms…
… so it’s not like he doesn’t have ANY redeeming qualities. Head to Amy’s blog to see just how many redeeming qualities he has! Also, don’t miss blogger pal Julie’s awesome True Blood recaps now that True Blood is off and running, so we call all come together in a safe place with our Bill hatred)
Even if the GBW is the one who dumps The Girl/The Placeholder, he tends to view them like property that can be “stolen” and he will seek to reclaim if his hold over the girl is threatened.
Not quite Crying!Dawson, but this is what I call teetering on the edge of a 5000 km high cliff with a sheer drop, with one foot dangling over the side. Your mileage might vary.
Caroline’s relationship with Matt has pretty much been predicated on her not being worthy of Matt. Matt has ALWAYS treated Elena with unequivocal, no-holds-barred respect, even after she broke up with him. In contrast, even when dating Caroline he has tended to insult her to her face or behind her back, or even when complimenting her done so in a backhanded way.
“You’re a lot of things, Caroline, but you’re not a liar.”
“I came to see if today’s basket-case period had expired.” (based on Caroline’s erratic behaviour just after being released from hospital – admittedly it is because she has just become a baby vamp, but he should have cut her slack regardless based on what he knew).
“Tonight, even though I wanted to throttle you, I think I’m falling in love with you.”
Tyler: “All that talk about how you like her, and you’ve gone off her already?”
Matt: “Yeah, she seems kind of clingy.”
(this was because of her slightly territorial hand grab. Geez, how dare she do such an awful thing!)
Matt, to Tyler: “Look, I like Caroline. She’s got this thing, this way about her, and I like her. And I’m not going to defend it, or apologise about it.”
(the implication being that in order to like Caroline there must be something to apologise for).
Caroline’s friends have always treated her like a second class citizen too until recently, when the writers wised up to her awesomeness. For example, Bonnie said to Elena, “Caroline deserves a nice guy like him [Matt]”, but never once does anyone express the viewpoint that Matt is equally lucky to have Caro.
This treatment of Caro was apparently fine because she was “neurotic” and “insecure” and damned with faint praise and a poor appraisal by the writing and other characters in general – so therefore Caro was “asking for it”. The value judgment for the majority of the show has been that Matt deserves a ribbon for putting up with Caro, rather than that he should thank his lucky stars for having her. Thankfully, as her character grows more confident with her vampire transition, writing for Caro is changing for the better.
Caro is yet to be the one to dump Matt other than provoking him into dumping her when she was first vamped, for the sake of his safety. She stayed with him in season one even when he treated her like The Placeholder to Elena blatantly. After discovering that he conspired with her sheriff mother when they discovered she was a vamp, she doesn’t even get angry with him, in fact, he dumps HER as mentioned before, because he can’t handle her supernatural baggage! This comes after him dumping her earlier in the season over her perceived jealously issues – and they only got back together IMO because Matt felt territorial when he could see Tyler and Caro growing closer.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think that Jared Padalecki, who plays Dean, is a drop dead gorgeous honey of a man. Heck, I thought Dean was the Perfect Boyfriend the first time I watched the various seasons of Gilmore Girls that he was in. Subsequent re-watchings have changed my mind quite dramatically about him. My main beef is how we are continually beat over the head with how he is the Perfect Boyfriend (especially in contrast to Jess), but his flaws of being prone to extreme jealousy and possessiveness of Rory/quick to anger and overreaction are barely acknowledged.
Dean is presented as reliable and dependable, and the ultimate first boyfriend a girl could have. He worships the ground Rory walks on, calls when he says he will, never pressures Rory to move faster into the physical realm of her relationship than she is comfortable with, and even builds her a car from scratch! All good things, but he takes his protectiveness and love of her too far.
He breaks up with Rory in season one for the first time when she can’t reciprocate his “I love you”…
He doesn’t give her any extra time to be able to return a sentiment she clearly wants to mean when she says it for the first time. Interestingly, they only get back together AFTER Rory finally tells him she loves him later down the track. At a school dance, Dean threatens to “kill” Tristan DuGray, who has a thing for Rory and is acting as an ass because of this towards the pair. Overreaction much? When Jess outbids Dean at a charity auction to spend an afternoon with Rory, Dean acts as though Rory is cheating on him even though she had nothing to do with Jess’s actions.
When Rory loses a bracelet Dean made for her, she panics not because she cares so much about the bracelet (after all, we find out it had been missing for two weeks before she noticed it was gone), but because she knows Dean will be incredibly angry at her for losing it and view it as a slight on their relationship, rather than an honest human mistake of LOSING SOMETHING.
That’s when I started wearing Free Rory t-shirts. Well, not really, but she needed to snip Dean outta her life.
(Jess had found the bracelet and kept it as a memento of her not realising what it meant to her. He held off for a little while on sneaking it back to her without her knowing who had it, yet, I thought Dean was the bad guy in the situation to be honest).
Even when it was obvious to everyone that Rory had fallen for Jess over Dean, she isn’t the one to initiate the break up, because she couldn’t face losing a perfect, stable GBW relationship. In fact, it is DEAN who breaks up with her because he is tired of being treated like a placeholder – Jess had her heart, but he represented messiness and the unknown, and she only went after this when she had no GBW to fall back on anymore.
Rory’s mother Lorelai, the person she is closest to, constantly cheerleaded Dean’s attributes to Rory. I think perhaps the most extreme example was after Rory is hurt in a minor car accident with Jess behind the wheel. Lorelai breathed fire after Jess, despite Rory saying she was equally at fault and Jess hadn’t been recklessly driving. When Rory asks how she would react if Dean was behind the wheel, Lorelai responds that an accident would never have happened if Dean had been driving, which is incongruous given that an accident by definition is something that is unplanned and can happen to the most responsible and attentive driver.
Joey and Dawson have an unhealthy, codependent relationship throughout most of Dawson’s Creek. I have to admit Joey went kinda crazy in season two and gave nebulous reasons for breaking up with Dawson for the first time – she wasn’t sure she had an identity when with him, had to find herself etc. Still, when Joey offered herself to Dawson in the season three premiere in an attempt to win him back, he humiliated her by turning her down, despite ostensibly loving her. Fine, I can cut him slack because he believes that another tumultuous year of make ups and breaks ups could kill their childhood bond for good.
His behaviour when he discovered that Joey had fallen for his best friend, Pacey, who he had asked to watch out for Joey while they were broken up, is what sealed his deal as the very worst kind of GBW for me. This was compounded by the fact that the linchpin of the show was the idea that Joey and Dawson were childhood sweethearts and soul mates who “belonged to each other”, and anything else was textual blasphemy.
Despite showing little interest in Joey all year, and coming close to losing his virginity to trashy femme fatale caricature Eve, who was as subtle as her temptress name, he complete overreacted to discovering Joey had moved on from pining for him (Joey had dated college boy AJ earlier, but Dawson recognised only Pacey was a real threat). He then issued Joey a totally out of line ultimatum to stop seeing Pacey or he would totally withdraw his friendship, and ended his friendship with Pacey. Joey, who had a broken family and a father in prison, had found sanctuary in Dawson’s home growing up, so Dawson was playing on her deep abandonment fears.
Dawson also staged an antiprom, presumably to help his friend Jack, but later he admitted in an attempt to win back Joey’s favour, despite her clearly stating she would only go with him as friends after the PDJ angst had gotten out of hand.
Even with all of this douchery (which is contrasted by the gentlemanly behaviour of Pacey), it took DAWSON telling Joey it is obvious she is in love with Pacey and should go and be with him for her to finally follow her heart. One of the exec producers, Paul Stupin, likened this scene in the commentary to a marriage break up. For me, it was simply yet another instance of a girl being faced with the perplexingly easy (to the viewer) choice of dumping a GBW, yet being too scared to lose the stability and sanctuary this boy represents to them.
Oh yes, I would be remiss not to mention that Dawson tells Joey to be with Pacey but not to expect his friendship anymore… and in season four Pacey and Joey spend a great deal of time begging for his forgiveness despite having fallen in love while both single and having done nothing wrong.
But it was all worth it, because this led to Crying!Dawson.
So, as I come close to the end of this monster length post, there is one fabulous aspect of GBWs – they usually are accompanied by a totally awesome Bad Boy Best Friend, Frenemy or Rival.
This bad boy is initially conceived as the foil to the GBW – being a Bad Boy, their “vices” are supposed to make the traits of the GBW look even shinier in comparison. Somehow, these Bad Boys take on a life of their own and end up winning a lot of hearts, taking the writers by surprise.
GBWs are seen as deserving The Girl/The Placeholder right off the bat, of being worthy of her, by virtue of their golden persona.
But is if often this Bad Boy who wins her heart in the long term, and knows her in a way the GBW never does.
Joey Potter famously ended up with Pacey Witter due to strong positive fan reaction, even though Dawson’s Creek creator Kevin Williamson has implied he intended Dawson and Joey to end up together in the series finale.
Joey states at one point in the series that Dawson and Pacey are the only ones to know her intimately, but I would say that while Dawson is the key to her childhood persona, Pacey understands the grown up Joey in a way Dawson doesn’t. This was symbolised in the “I remember everything” scene at the antiprom, where Pacey comments on the earrings and bracelet she is wearing.
Pacey: “Where did you get those? [the earrings] They’re not you.
Joey: “Why, because I’m just a poor tomboy, or is it because Dawson gave them to me?
Pacey: “Neither. [graps her wrist gently] See this? This is you. It’s not showy or gaudy. It’s simple. Elegant. Beautiful.
Joey: “It’s my mom’s bracelet.”
Pacey: “I know.”
Joey: “How do you know?”
Pacey: “Well, because you told me. Six months ago. You were wearing that blue sweater with the snowflakes that you have. You were walking down the hallway at school. I was annoying you as per usual. You said, ‘Look, Pacey, I just found my mother’s bracelet this morning, so why don’t you cut me some slack?’
Joey: “You remember that?”
Pacey: “I remember everything…”
Rory Gilmore and Dean Forester break up over Jess Mariano, and if not for the fact that actor Milo Ventimiglia only wanted to sign a two year GG contract, creator Amy Sherman-Palladino said she had ended Rory and Jess to be the soul mates of the series.
In season three of The Vampire Diaries, I’m looking forward to GBW Matt Donovan merely being a blip on Caroline Forbes’ radar, and hopefully some hot baby were on baby vamp action.
But most of all, I am craving seeing the fabulous Caro in a ship where the guy she is with truly “gets” and appreciates her.
If Michael Trevino happens to get shirtless in the process, so be it.
And if he does the signature Tyler Chin Tuck (TM Gen), I might just fucking die from the hotness of it all.
So, what do you guys think? Are there any Good Boy Woobies I missed? Do you think I am crazy for dreaming up this new character trope? Do you think writers are becoming less capable of writing Good Guys effectively?
Can GBWs ever become more likeable? I mean, at least with Bad Boy Woobies there is the potential for self-reflection and self-awareness of their flaws, because this is often an important part of their redemption arc. But GBWs, by virtue of being Good Boys, don’t NEED to be redeemed in the writers’ eyes. Is going bad the only way to make them more palatable?
Dawson is Model 1.0 for me, though I’m curious if anyone can identify any predecessors?
Update: Hey, I was thinking about it, and realise dthat James Van Der Beek’s foray into Tumblr amounts to him reveling in his Good Boy Woobiedom, since for most fangirls he is linked with Dawson forever and always. James has turned the douchery of being a GBW into an artform and turned the hatred on its head, mocking his own GBW image!
Update 2: I was having fun playing with the GBW model, and here is another one for you: George O’Malley from Grey’s Anatomy. I liked him initially, but he descended into douchedom around the time of Callie and Gizzie.
GBW = George. The Girl = Meredith/Izzie. The Placeholder = Callie. Callie loves George and tries to make their marriage work, even going so far as to try to have a kid with him to inspire loyalty when she felt him slipping away. Of course, he had an affair with Izzie, and Callie’s marriage to George was somewhat of a sham to begin with – it was impulsive and not a I Know You’re The One kinda impulsive but the I Will Regret This impulsive, with George getting cold feet the day they step back into the hospital after having a shotgun wedding in Las Vegas (IIRC). BB foil = Karev.