In this third instalment of One Issue, One Trope, Kate O’Mahoney questions if the character of the nice guy is truly nice and worth endearing.
A recurrent figure in film and television, especially in sitcoms, the ‘nice guy’ gives us a sense of comfort. They are often funny, charming and appear kind-hearted to the untrained eye. The nice guy is someone you’d love to have as a friend and someone you’d even consider dating. Their existence maintains our faith in the fact that we too might find someone as good as them. On the surface, they appear considerate, affectionate and amusing. Nice guys stereotypically spend most of their time on-screen time swooning over the leading lady. Ross in Friends for example, pines over Rachel for ten seasons. However, beneath it all, these characters can be much more complex. When closely analysed, many are deeply problematic. Although their overly-emotional personalities may encourage men to be more in touch with their feelings, their overall behaviour can be a sobering portrayal of upsetting behaviours.
Nonetheless, Hollywood has crafted some genuinely pleasant men. These exceptional characters' thoughts and actions are irreproachable and help construct fairytale-like storylines. After all, seeing an attractive, witty and an all-round good man ‘get the girl,’ provides some hope for romance. Take Jim Halpert from The Office: he is known to be a hardworking man which is balanced out by his roguish personality. Regardless of him living each day to annoy his co-workers, he knows when to stop and never crosses the line. Him and his “frenemy” Dwight Schrute are constantly caught up in pranks against one another, yet the mutual respect between them is evident. In regards to his feelings for the endearing receptionist Pam, characters and viewers alike hope the pair end up together. The beginning of their relationship cements the idea that such a partnership is not only possible but aspirational.
Although their overly-emotional personalities may encourage men to be more in touch with their feelings, their overall behaviour can be a sobering portrayal of upsetting behaviours.
The ‘good guy’ – a common persona in most comedies - usually comes out victorious from courtship. In Brooklyn Nine-Nine Jake marries Amy, Ted and Robin finally start dating in the How I Met Your Mother finale, and Ross and Rachel finally get together in Friends. The latter couple is one that is especially problematic. Indeed, at first glance, Ross is a hopeless romantic who never gave up on his true love. A closer look reveals the harsh truth: Ross’s insistence was (at times) obsessive. While he would have done anything for Rachel this led him to make problematic decisions. What he did out of love for Rachel was at times misplaced and not disinterested.
Notably, during the third season he barged into Rachel’s workplace and showered her with gifts to satisfy his own insecurities about the relationship. Furthermore, after their inebriated Vegas wedding, he lied about having it annulled. Again in season 8, episode 4, although Ross accidentally filmed the pair being intimate, Rachel’s privacy was seriously violated as he never admitted to keeping the tape - a clear violation of trust. When Rachel tries to move on with their mutual friend Joey, Ross guilts them both despite having himself tried to date Joey’s ex-girlfriend. Ross’s constant disdain for Rachel reaches its peak when his opinions on her career ambitions influence her decision to renounce her dream career in Paris. She “gets off the plane” to be with him instead. While he denies explicitly making her choose between Paris and himself, his accusations are clear and showcase that he cares for her to be at his side rather than to do what fulfills her.
There seems to be a worrying trend of the nice guy eventually “winning”, understanding dating the woman he was pursuing regardless of what he had to do to get there.
There seems to be a worrying trend of the nice guy eventually “winning”, understanding dating the woman he was pursuing regardless of what he had to do to get there. Female characters are written to turn a blind-eye to their outbursts, and put their needs behind those of the infatuated male love-interest. One could argue that suggesting that your dream man is one who will toy with your emotions and make your life as difficult as possible is not the message young people ought to learn from the media. Once again the nice guy’s behaviour is downplayed with the excuse of them simply displaying their “affection.” It is alarming that we celebrate romance when a mans’ warped lust is weaponized so that a woman jeopardizes all she worked hard for. Such toxic behaviour should not be rewarded, especially not with a relationship. It is not what women should aspire to.
This worrying tendency of the nice guy influencing a woman to forgo making decisions for herself in favour of their romance is even seen in movies targeted towards a younger audience. Despite being polar opposite best-friends, Ron and Hermione’s chemistry throughout the Harry Potter franchise was beloved by fans. But is the allure of their relationship enough to ignore the fact that some of Hermione’s decisions were drastically out of character?
If we were to closely analyse their words and behaviour, we could get a deeper understanding that these characters may not be quite as nice as they appear.
Although she is normally against any sort of dishonesty, in the Half-Blood Prince, she casts spells to ensure Ron makes the quidditch team. Why did she do this? Was it after Ron’s extreme jealousy towards her first relationship with the acclaimed Krum in The Goblet of Fire? In the former film he appears to use his classmate Lavender Brown to make Hermione jealous. Should she accept such antics?
In fact, Ron’s disregard for Hermione’s feelings goes back as far as the very first movie. While Ron may have been just an insecure teenage boy, it is possible that he was disguised as a ‘nice guy’ with deeply rooted troublesome behaviours. Again, this could be a matter of concern in an environment where bullying and gender inequality often coalesce. Throughout the saga Ron seems to constantly belittle Hermione’s intelligence as well as her academic achievements thus embodying the infamous quote seen in rom-com such as He’s Just Not That Into You: “if a guy is mean to you, it means he likes you!”
Perhaps we need a new story line. As shown from the examples above and the wide array that exist in other media, making sure the nice guy ‘gets what he wants’ might be an ill-suited pursuit. While there are some exceptions, the true nature of these characters is eventually revealed. Love and concern seem to turn into manipulation and obsession. If we were to closely analyse their words and behaviour, we could get a deeper understanding that these characters may not be quite as nice as they appear. The ‘nice guy’ may be a stereotype born from noble intentions, but he ends up doing more harm than good – for both the characters on screen, and for our everyday lives.