originally published July 20, 2012
Okay, so you’re male, fourteen/fifteen years old, and heading to a new high school in a month and a half. No one knows you, so no one can call bullshit on the version of you that you choose to sell as the truth.
But what to do? Who do you want to be?
Fortunately, as with most any personal dilemma you may encounter in life, you can always turn to Wikipedia for an answer.
The category of Interpersonal Relationships on Wikipedia is vast and at times confusing. But hidden among curious entries like ‘Romance Film’ and ‘Premastication’ (that’s the act of pre-chewing food for someone else to eat), you might find the outward image that will best fit your needs.
The Bad Boy is a tempting persona. From the Fonz to that mopey kid on Head Of The Class, there is no shortage of role models in this field. Plus, it doesn’t take much work. All you need to do is look glum and introspective most of the time, while subtly hinting at the very real possibility that you might someday snap and get all stabby in the cafeteria.
In fact, if you’ve got the easy access to a leather jacket and switchblade-comb (those are still considered bad-ass, right?), I’d stop looking and go with the Bad Boy for the new you. Evolutionary psychologist Bill von Hippel believes that women are particularly attracted to bad boys when they’re ovulating. At high school, there will always be someone ovulating, you’ve just got to hang out nearby.
(NOTE: Don’t ask women if they are ovulating. The image of “Creepy Future Sex Offender” is not the one you want to carry through the next three or four years.)
The term ‘Good Ol’ Boy’ can have two meanings. One refers to cronyism, and unless you’re planning on passing yourself off as a somewhat chauvinistic member of an oil company’s board of directors, you might try to adopt the smiling visage of Door #2. The Good Ol’ Boy you’ll find at your local high school is clean, coiffed, and cowboyish. You’ll have to be humble, gentlemanly, and… you know what? This one is a lot of work.
Also, the Good Ol’ Boy will have to give up whatever he really enjoys and listen to country music. It isn’t worth it.
This next possible you might appear not to translate to the high school social battlefield. But the image of a Kept Man is one that could score you an interesting niche as a teenage curio. You’ll need to appear affluent but not overly ambitious, committed to leisure but possessing a natural affinity and familiarity with the trappings and comforts of the upper class.
A Kept Man is financially supported by a wealthy woman (or man – whichever suits your tastes), with an implied, though not necessarily verifiable promise of sex in return. How do you pull this off at school? Simple.
Drink from a flask. Don’t fill the flask with booze (you don’t need to get expelled), but always be vague and change the subject when someone asks what you’re drinking. Speak in passing of ‘The Duchess’, but refuse to elaborate. Always stay calm. Purchase a crushed velvet vest. Practice your knowing smile in the mirror until it becomes a reflex.
You can do this.
I’m going to come right out and advise against this one. The Nice Guy will net himself a boatload of friends in high school, many of whom will be female, but when the lights are getting flicked off at the end of a party it’s the Nice Guy who’ll be stacking up the empties and scrubbing the hash oil stain off the formica.
Nice Guys don’t necessarily “finish last”, but they also tend to “finish” by themselves, if you know what I mean. The Nice Guy puts the needs of others ahead of his own, and generally falls at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Bad Boy. This refers both to his appearance and demeanor, as well as his romantic success.
The Outcast is not going to net you a reputation for being mysterious or existentially cool. Take, for example, the story of the original Outcasts.
In Ancient Greece, if you behaved in a fashion that was outwardly aggressive or hostile, or if you simply broke a local taboo (some ill-timed flatulence while those around you are praying to one of your gods), your name would be written upon a broken shard of pottery, then placed inside a large container in middle of town. If your name wound up on six thousand pieces of pottery, you would either be banished or you’d receive the silent treatment from the entire town for ten years.
This story carries three distinct lessons. First, the Ancient Greeks were ridiculously lenient, opting for a six-thousand-strike rule before punishment. Second, someone had to sift through that (ostensibly huge) container and count the name-shards. This job would suck. Third, and I can’t stress this enough, using this story as an icebreaker in high school next year, or really at any point in your life, will most likely doom you to being an Outcast.
So if we rule out the Good Ol’ Boy, the Nice Guy and the Outcast, what you’re left with is a brazen attempt at faux-sophistication of the Kept Man, adorned with the callous shield of selfish contempt carried by the Bad Boy. This brings us deep into the heart of Lad Culture.
Popularized in the mid 1990s, Lad Culture encapsulates the identity adopted by the Britpop stars from shortly before you were born. These are men who embraced the stereotypical trappings of the working class – drinking, fighting, belching, with a fiery streak of sexism and even racism along their fringes.
Lad Culture is postmodernist, postfeminist, and post-giving a shit. You’ll exude the narcissism and self-indulgence of a Bad Boy and the assertive worldliness of a Kept Man. You’ll appear untamable and irreverent. Desirable and complex.
And all you have to do is fake it. Study up on the image you want to project and practice in front of your dog. Or your cat. Forget those schmucks who tell you to ‘be yourself’. They’re only saying that because they secretly want to destroy you. You should listen to me – well, to me and to Wikipedia. Because if you can’t trust a community-edited online resource and some random guy who reads that resource a lot, who can you trust?