Gordon Gekko, Troy Dyer, and the characters that 'backfire'

Gordon-Gekko-Reality-bitesImage 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.

Comments (56 total) Add your comment
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  • Buffy Freak

    Well these are not movie characters but there were/are a whole bunch of people who emulate(d) Paris Hilton and the Jersey Shore dbags…

    • Genie

      Unfortunately true, especially teenagers.

  • tracy bluth

    I agree about Holly Golightly. It also makes people think the entire film is just about a girl who wears pretty clothes (which it isn’t!).

  • Rob

    Couldn’t agree more about the BS report. Simmons is great.

    • Mr. Holloway

      Yeah, I’m usually plugged into the BS Report while I’m trolling EW.com…and occasionally I get my work done.

  • Shannon S

    I guarantee we’ll see something similar with Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg in Social Network. He portrays him not as a bad guy, but as an example of how NOT to treat your friends, and how horrible he was at creating real relationships with people. But I guarantee you that the effects of Facebook arleady have people looking at the character and thinking it’s OK to treat others that way.

  • MCS

    Entourage is the reverse. They were meant to be likable, but they just came out as idiots.

    • TL

      Great point. Totally agree. But gee, aren’t you just pulling for Vinny to be a huge Hollywood star…?

    • Mallory


  • Sarah

    I love this! Troy Dyer was a total d-bag, and not only did people want to be like him, but we girls wanted to date him….

  • sarah d

    scarlet o’hara. Rotten, rotten b!tch.

    • Anonymous

      Exactly. I’ve been telling this to a friend who loves that novel and movie for years. When Rhett (not that he isn’t fairly despicable himself) tells her off at the end, I was like ‘it’s about d*** time.’

    • Flyer

      I was hoping I wasn’t the only one to immediately think of Scarlet O’Hara. I have never understood why readers/viewers were supposed to root for a woman who couldn’t appreciate the love right in front of her because she was too busy trying to steal her cousin’s husband. What a tramp.

    • Carrie #2

      Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have never understood why Scarlett O’Hara is so looked up to and seen as a strong woman. In reality, she’s just a b—-!

  • Shawn

    I would, to some extent, add Al Pacino’s ‘Scarface’ to the list. Though he is more idolized rather than emulated (I hope).

    • JLAJRC

      To a similar extent, if you eliminate the fact that he’s a murderous psycho, how about Christian Bale’s “American Psycho” character?

  • Kevin

    Margaret Lyons, you have been found GUILTY by the Internet Grammar Judicial Court of using the word “that” in place of “who.” Your penalty: DEATH BY SARCASTIC RESPONSE.

    • becks

      lol! :-)

  • ChanelB

    Scarlett O’Hara. A golddigging b*t@h, who was obsessed with her bestfriend’s husband.

    I would like to add, that I complete agree with Ms. Lyons that the BS Report houses a plethora of pop-culture information/references masked as a sport podcast.

    • Lucy

      Didn’t Scarlett also steal her sister’s fiance at some point? I enjoy that novel and movie, but are we supposed to like her as a heroine or to shake our heads in dismay at her shenanigans?

  • Brian Wallace

    I have two people America wrongly embraced: Bill Simmons and Patton Oswald. Generation X/Man-Children whose parents got divorced and can only communicate through pop-culture references and “theories.” Their influence is fading. The general public has realized that you can try to make a career out of Rocky III and Star Wars Holiday Special references but it only makes you part of The Worst (Whining) Generation.

    I disagree. If you ARE listening to the B.S. Report you’re missing out on a lot of things. Let’s see….a life. A LOVE life. A girlfriend and/or boyfriend. Good communication skills. The ability to see beyond your navel. A million obscure TV and film references… Shall I go on?

    Simmons and Oswald didn’t have a mommy. TV was their mommy. And look how it turned out. Oooh! A 9,000 page book of basketball/pop culture diarrhea that became a NY Times bestseller and for Oswald? I don’t know… Are they remaking “The Wizard of Oz” and need someone for the Lollypop Guild?

    Brian Wallace

    • pastafarian

      rant much?

    • humperdinck

      Hey Brian, your bitter is showing.

    • Seth

      Wow. You suck.

    • Mother Nature

      As a card-carrying member of Gex X, I resembled that remark–as a teen. We WERE raised by TV, mom and dad did suck (what’s best for mom is best for family? No, it’s not). Pop culture references are one of the only defining characteristics and common experiences we can call our own. We’ve dealt with our lives, but obviously YOU haven’t. We’re all grown up now, have families of our own, and are doing well (basements? what?). Your rant is really odd. What is your problem?

    • Shawn

      It’s ‘Oswalt’.

    • Pat

      Ha! Brian, you just made me actually laugh out loud! You do see the irony of your rant? Telling others to live their lives, while you yourself are trolling on an internet website and commenting. Maybe Simmons or Oswalt dissed Brian at some book signing?

    • Jackson

      Ball-less Brian Wallace.

  • pastafarian

    Beavis & Butthead. Mike judge’s critique of MTV -alternative-burnouts totally backfired at my high school.

  • db

    Sherlock Holmes. Arthur Conan Doyle’s intent was to portray Holmes as a man who so highly developed his intellect that he was emotionally stunted. A brilliant detective, but if not engaged in a case he was a depressed, unstable misogynist who turned to drugs for stimulation. No wonder Doyle was apalled when people lauded Sherlock as an exemplary human being and hero. Mind you Doyle softened his portrayal of Holmes’ dark side once he returned from the dead.

    • Flyer

      That’s an excellent assessment of the Holmes character!

  • sam

    bella from twilight. not a horrible person but i don’t think she is a good role model. giving up everything in her life for a drip with no personality just because he is “pretty”

    • aughra

      I agree–the whole Twilight series is about poorly-managed obsession, which is a lousy basis for any relationship, eternal or mortal.

      • Cantu

        Both of these responses miss the intent of the question. The interesting question posed in the article above was “which characters have been been created with the intention that the character to be viewed in a negative light, yet the reverse happens?”

        I don’t believe Stephanie Meyer really intends for anyone to look down on Bella, in fact, the author actually believes her to be an extremely strong character, albeit with human flaws.

        As for my example, it’s not from movies, but from professional wrestling: both of the characters of The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin were contrived at one point or another to be villains; however, the people playing those roles exuded such charisma in them, that fans cheered them instead of booing them. It took a while for the creative powers in charge at the time to accept it and eventually go with it, but once they did, it did wonders for their business at the time.

  • Jake

    1) Darth Vader. Every kid wants a Darth Vader costume.

    2) The Joker. Every nerd has their own impression of Heath Ledger’s performance.

    3) Hans Gruber from Die Hard. Over time, he has become the exemplary model of cool, clever villainy that people quote as often as Bruce Willis.

    4) Agent Smith from the Matrix. We all make fun of Keanu Reeves but quote the bad guy. “Miiiiisterrrrr Anderrrrrsooooon…”

    Basically, any bad guy in an iconic film franchise.

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