We’ve all heard of the dreaded Nice Guy™ right? For a lot of us, we’ve crossed paths with him. We know him. He’s a friend. He’s the one claiming he’s different from all the other guys. He promises he’d treat you better than the jerk you’ve spent the past hour and a half crying and complaining about. He believes that he’s the nicest guy on Earth, and that in return his niceness should be rewarded with romantic affection.
This Nice Guy™ exists both in reality and in fiction. Turn on a TV show or a movie and there’s at least one character who falls into this archetype.
Two weeks ago popular Chinese and Taiwanese American filmmakers, Wong Fu Productions, released their “Just Another Nice Guy” series on Youtube. This three part series is a sequel to an older short film of a similar name“Just A Nice Guy” which was originally released in 2007.
In the 2007 version, the film’s protagonist Nick is the “Nice Guy” who develops unrequited feelings for his friend Amy. While Nick doesn’t come off nearly as entitled and bitter as other portrayals of Nice Guys™ in pop culture, he does exhibit typical characteristics and traits. Nick is awkward, unconventionally attractive and isn’t familiarized with dating and women.
Throughout the film, he’s exasperated over being disregarded as a potential romantic partner and doesn’t understand why women wouldn’t be attracted to “Nice Guys”. After confiding in a friend, who tells him that women only like cocky, confident, and assertive Jerks. Nick attempts to impress Amy by emulating a version of what he thinks is “The Jerk”, eventually he realizes it doesn’t work and gives up. The short film ends with Nick finding the courage to confess to Amy and spoiler alert: he finally gets the girl.
Phil Wang (co-founder) confirmed that “Just A Nice Guy” was an ode to all the “nice guys” in the world, and his intentions in writing the story was to give them hope. This is a good example of pop culture perpetuating and reinforcing this trope. Validating men who live by the Nice Guy™ code does more harm than good.
It also brings us to our next Nice Guy™ from the Wong Fu series, Derek. After watching the “Just A Nice Guy” film and learning what a Nice Guy™ is, he decides he never wants to be subjected to the “Friend Zone”. So, when Derek falls in love with his friend Audrey, he does everything in his power to avoid “falling into the standard Nice Guy™ traps”. His strategies include not talking about other girls in front of Audrey, purposely distancing himself from her, and doing anything that wouldn’t place him in the“Friend Ladder” also known as the “Friend Zone”. Confident that these strategies were working, Derek confesses to Audrey spoiler alert: only to discover that his feelings aren’t reciprocated.
It’s at this point in the short, where I feel that the situation starts to become more reflective of a realistic scenario. For anyone who has been in Audrey’s shoes (I know I have), we understand that when rejecting the Nice Guy™ it only gets uglier and messier from here on out. Derek, unlike Nick, didn’t get the girl and so he lashes out to get back at her. He completely cuts Audrey off from his social media, he avoids any interaction with her in real life, and he goes around telling their friends that she was “leading him on” behind her back. All of these attempts were made to paint Audrey as “The Bitch”, but also to guilt trip her into reconsidering her feelings.
“Just Another Nice Guy” challenged the Nice Guy™ trope in ways that “Just A Nice Guy” didn’t. For instance, I appreciated Audrey calling out Derek on his entitlement to a relationship with her. In the first installment, the narrative of the story was different so we didn’t get to see that same conviction coming from Amy.
Listen my friends. Regardless of genuine intent, no one should be rewarded with romantic attention just because they were performing basic kindness and human decency.
But while I liked that about Audrey’s character, there wasn’t a deeper evaluation as to where this male entitlement of the Nice Guy™ comes from. It never explicitly connects the idea that cis-het male entitlement, masculinity, misogyny and sexism in our culture helps breed and keeps this trope alive. It also doesn’t address how violent and dangerous Nice Guys™ are and can be, and how that type of behavior often leads to violence against women. There are underlying messages that need to be addressed and discussed, and telling a Nice Guy™ to accept the rejection and move on from it, isn’t the best or only solution to the problem.
Pliab (Plee-ah) Vang is Hmong American. A feminist. An undergraduate senior at St. Cloud State University, majoring in Psychology with a minor in Women’s Studies. She enjoys talking race, gender, class, social issues and pop-culture and is passionate about Asian American and Pacific Islander issues. Pliab is a Master of Procrastination. She spends an unhealthy amount of her time binging (but never actually finishing) TV shows, scrolling through Twitter, and hanging out with friends.