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Douche Vs. Douche: Close Encounters With the Third Kind (Of Douchebag) As Illustrated by My So-Called Life

By CARINA SANTOS

Growing up in the 90s will most likely have exposed you to the life and times of Angela Chase, the fiery-haired teen protagonist of cult hit, My So-Called Life. If you are anything like me, you will have lamented the doucheface that is Jordan Catalano, leading to you dubbing your own similar, real-life situations with the following exchange:

Angela: Why are you like this?

Jordan: Like what?

Angela: Like how you are?

In Angela Chase’s world, the obvious contender for Douchebag of the Year is Jordan Catalano. Angela is “in love” with Jordan. Jordan, who drives a red car he named Red, that he made a weird, ‘shippy song for. Jordan, who plays guitar in a band called “Frozen Embryos,” has hair that needs to be pushed back, and was held back for two years because he can’t read long words and is too cool to even bother to try. He brings girls down to the Boiler Room to make out with them and has that detached, disinterested vibe down perfectly. He’s that guy, who’s mostly wishy-washy and mostly makes you feel like crap. He’ll “umm” your best friend, even if you’re like, in desperate love with him. And, despite all of this, you ascribe an almost poetic reason behind his (probably) stoned, glazed over look, turning it into something like poetry: “He’s always closing his eyes, like it hurts to look at things.”

The thing is, I know a lot of Jordan Catalanos, except they’re maybe not as pretty as Jared Leto. They’re jerks because they can afford to be jerks, and if you’re anything like me, the type of “douchebaggitry” that the Jordan Catalanos of the world display is, to be honest, sometimes kind of attractive, sometimes kind of appealing to me. This detachment and aloofness is probably appealing because of the mystery that is attached to it. Probably.

Because Jordan Catalano is such an obvious douchebag, most sensible people resort to rooting for Brian Krakow, Angela’s neighbor — a nerdy, curly-haired boy, who tucks his shirts in his (pleated) pants. He answers Jordan’s “Red” with a (probably one-gear) bicycle that he rides up and down their street, either tormenting or ogling Angela. Whenever Angela encounters a problem with Catalano, Brian is there — even if she doesn’t want him around. His constant pursuit of and spurned advances toward Angela, and general underdog appeal makes you want to make her give him a chance. But, wait, hold up! If you think about it, Brian is a douchebag, too!

In the pilot, we see him taunting Angela, who snuck out at night to get into a bar, “You look better before. Oh, look at me, I’m way cool.” He’s the dork that no one really thinks about, and no one really becomes friends with, which is sad and kind of pathetic, but kind of fitting, because he honestly believes that he’s better than anybody. Everything he says seems like it was doused in a bucket of condescension. When Jordan flakes out on meeting Angela’s parents for the first time, he says, “Were they, like, revolted?” He makes every effort to tarnish the holy name of Catalano, just to prove that he is smarter and nicer and better than Jordan could ever be. Brian is the guy hopelessly in love with Angela, who only sees him as her annoying brother, which makes him act exactly like that.

I haven’t met a lot of Brian Krakows in my life, but I suppose it’s because they’re pretty much in hiding. On the surface, a Brian Krakow is something like an undiscovered gem, a diamond in the rough. You know, those nerds and losers in high school who blossom into the guys everyone wants to date, once we get over the dark, broody guys, aka the Jordan Catalanos, and figure out how big jerks they truly are. No one ever notices how particularly unforgiving and wishy-washy some of them are as well. Brian Krakow’s brand of douchebaggotry is unattractive and unappealing, because it is a particularly scathing kind. While Jordan Catalano blows Angela off because “she just makes too big a deal out of everything,” Brian Krakow resorts to always belittling her feelings for Jordan and building up his own image. “I’m the one who’s taking up calculus. I’m the one who everybody expects to get A’s. I’m the one people think of as perfect. Me, me, me.”

Are you sure, t-shirt-wearer?

If you think that’s bad, here’s the big clincher: Brian always laments the fact that Angela brushes him off whenever Jordan comes a-calling. And yet. He does the exact same thing. First, he asks a new transferee, Delia, to the dance… and ditches her when Angela asks for a ride to the dance. What’s worse is he blows off their mutual friend, Ricky, when he suddenly finds himself alone. Afraid that his presence will cramp his style and ruin his chances with Angela, Brian tells an already emotional Ricky, “Maybe you shouldn’t come over. We might want to like, dance, or something.” What. A. Douche.

So, if you think about it, Brian Krakow isn’t the foil to Jordan Catalano’s douchebag. They’re just different strains of the same disease. At least the douchebaggitry of the Jordan Catalano kind is upfront about it. He knows he’s being a douche, and he knows that people know that he’s a douche, but the Brian Krakow kind sneaks up on you and attacks when you least expect it. When he’s let down, even for just a tiny, tiny thing, he acts like he’s been betrayed just because he usually feels like he’s entitled to something more than he actually is.

So, here’s the first moral, (which I will shamelessly borrow from 10 Things I Hate About You, where a pre-pubescent Joseph Gordon-Levitt spats at Alex Mack) “You know, just because you’re beautiful, it doesn’t mean you can treat people like they don’t matter!” Or you know, phrased in a less poetic, less teenage angsty way, “Don’t be a douchebag.”

The second moral, is that not all the underdogs deserve your vote. Some of them are underdogs for a reason. Brian, for example, is an underdog because he is a dork. However, no one really likes him because he’s not such a nice person either. So, be warned, “The Stealth Douche” is probably lurking around you, somewhere. I mean, Brian Krakow was Angela’s neighbor.

It’s usually true that “nice” guys finish last, but some of them deserve to.

* NOTE: Devon Gummersall who played Brian Krakow in My So-Called Life grew up to play Sean DeLuca in Roswell, in which he was marginally attractive and also less of a loser.

* ANOTHER NOTE: Recently, Jared Leto and Angela Chase reunited again for the first time since Life was on air (in 1994!). I’m pretty glad that Angela grew up to be way cooler than Catalano. Deep down, I kind of always knew that.

____________________________________________________

Carina Santos has recently joined the ranks of the unemployed. She spends her time looking for odd jobs, quoting Harry Potter and watching television. This is where she spends most of her time. (It should also be noted that, if she is completely honest, she never really quite got over Jordan Catalano.)

Discussion

3 Responses to “Douche Vs. Douche: Close Encounters With the Third Kind (Of Douchebag) As Illustrated by My So-Called Life”

  1. I feel obligated to play Brian Krakow’s “social defense counsel”, given how much I personally identified with the character, in high school. I won’t attempt to defend the Krakows that Carina has personally encountered, but the “actual” Brian Krakow (from MSCL) had his fate sealed as a character, from the moment the network canceled the series. I won’t deny that he was consistently douchebaggy throughout season 1 (perhaps even more so than I care to remember). However, had the show been allowed to continue, viewers may well have seen him outgrow that mentality; to start treating people like individuals, and not just chess pieces in his little game of self-aggrandizement. But that is never going to happen outside of fan fic (which i’m not up to writing or reading, frankly).

    And really, I’d argue that insensitive, wishy washy behavior might well be an unfortunate byproduct of the kind of social circumstances that make the Brian Krakows of the world into underdogs, in the first place. It’s wholly inconsiderate, I agree, but does that put him beyond redemption as a character?

    I’ll readily concede that not all underdogs are worth cheering for (a point that has been recently discussed on Jezebel as well). But I think Krakow’s faux pas with Angela, Delia, and Ricky are relatively trivial, compared to decidedly more extremist underdog behavior, both real and fictional: school shootings, date rape (warning: MAJOR SPOILERS for Veronica Mars season 2 if you haven’t seen it yet) and, um, becoming a super-villain.

    Posted by paolo | 03.25.2010, 12:35 pm
  2. i guess there’s always something about the elusive that makes it so attractive. hence, our perennial fondness over the jordan catalanos of this world, at whatever phase we are in our lives.

    Posted by bellestar | 03.25.2010, 2:14 pm
  3. Ah yes, that most excellent part of the feminine psyche called “justification”.

    Posted by Scholasticus | 07.23.2012, 4:51 am

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