There’s something undeniably appealing about the antihero. From Hamlet to Han Solo, and from Butch Cassidy to Wolverine, they come in all shapes and sizes. They also share little in common, beyond the tendency to do things their own way. However, now we’re seeing the ascent of a different kind of TV antihero: the dirtbag.
Of course, the question is why the dirtbag, and his subset, the dirtbag boyfriend, is having his moment in the sun. Perhaps it’s because this generation is realizing what previous ones know well. Sometimes, dirtbags are sexy.
The Dirtbag (Boyfriend or Otherwise), Briefly Defined
Merriam-Webster’s definition of dirtbag is pretty straightforward: “A dirty, unkempt, or contemptible person.” There’s nothing redeeming, alluring or remotely positive there, right? And certainly nothing sexy. So how is it the dirtbag is enjoying his moment as the object of so many viewers’ desires?
It’s because the dirtbag is also handsome, virile, and displays a certain competence — at least in his modern TV form. His dirtiness translates instead into an indifference to basic standards of style and, yes, hygiene. His unkempt appearance suggests he can’t be bothered with petty details. And his contemptibility? That only means he is above the triviality in which so many become tangled.
In other words, those seemingly undesirable attributes somehow become strengths instead of drawbacks.
The Dirtbag, From Tommy Lee to Eddie Munson to Carmy
For a long time, the archetypal sexy TV boyfriend was the so-called himbo, a mashup of him and bimbo. (Why do we borrow a word used to disparage women to form a portmanteau to deride certain men?) That character was perfectly on display in many roles once played by Matthew McConaughey. You know, before he suddenly realized he was actually a good, and serious, actor.
The himbo is handsome and virile, but undeniably vacuous. He’s the butt of the joke, but always a well-meaning dope. On the whole, he’s pretty boring, but also easy on the eyes.
The dirtbag, by contrast, is many things, but he’s never boring. It’s what intrigues us about Eddie Munson on Stranger Things, Carmy on The Bear and Tommy Lee on Pam & Tommy. Anyone willing to buck society’s conventions – while blissfully unaware they’re even doing so – is interesting, by default.
And when he is also physically attractive, poised, and self-possessed, in his own way? He transforms into the object of desire, and the subject of thirst tweets.
Never Underestimate the Power of Groupthink
We’re accepting that the dirtbag is in now. And the dirtbag boyfriend is the type many women (and men) seem to desire. That’s despite the realization there’s little boyfriend material to be found in TV’s current standard-bearers: Jeremy Allen White’s unwashed chef “Carmy” Berzatto from The Bear; Joseph Quinn’s counter-culture D&D player Eddie Munson from Stranger Things; and Sebastian Stan’s bad-boy rocker Tommy Lee from Pam & Tommy.
RELATED: Stranger Things’ Millie Bobby Brown Has Powerful Words Against Sexualizing Her – And Hollywood Needs to Listen
So, why are so many people suddenly so into the dirtbag boyfriend as an aspirational partner? It may be, in part, because so many other people are into it. The unkempt archetype is having his moment, largely because people are hopping on the dirtbag bandwagon of the moment. That makes sense. The days of the hipster with the thick beard and checkered shirt have faded. So why shouldn’t the dirtbag have his moment in the sun?
Perhaps, soon enough, the clean-shaven man with the crisp suit and impeccable timing will become the ideal boyfriend goal. He may not be as gritty and memorable as the dirtbag. However, reliability could be sexy next, for all we know.
Two Ironically Conflicting Reasons We Want an Eddie Munson
A dirtbag boyfriend (we’ve fully accepted the term at this point) presents a potential partner with two approaches to a relationship, such as one is even going to exist. The first is to accept, and even embrace, his dirtbag ways, without expecting him to contribution much to the relationship. Don’t get worked up over his irresponsible, sometimes erratic, ways. Don’t become overly invested in the a relationship that we know will fracture, sooner than later, because of his actions. It can be an easier way to relate, provided you are primarily interested in the here and now, rather than sharing a meaningful future.
The second approach is to attempt to steer and, and attempt to “correct,” the dirtbag boyfriend. Effectively to try to mold him into someone who’s no longer a dirtbag. That’s a relationship goal that can only work if he is, on some level, open to change. However, they have to view it as self-improvement, or else risk feeling cornered by the partner.
If the dirtbag has no interest in changing his ways, then trying to reshape him into the person you think you want will only push him away. So, be careful of a savior complex, and only proceed with caution.