Time Machine: Bad Girls

Michael O. Varhola

Back in the late '90s, most of my favorite gaming publications had become soulless house organs for big companies, and one of the freshest and smartest 'zines available was an independent publication called Serendipity's Circle. One issue I particuarly enjoyed had as its theme "Bad Girls," the editorial for which appears below (and in which editor Serendipity Jones gives a bit of a pass to Bathsheeba and is somewhat hard on bandit queen Phoolan Devi). This publication dedicated primarily to horror and the macabre in gaming was, in fact, largely run and written by women, notably my friend Julie Hoverson, something that I think contributed to its unique voice. 

Americans have built up a rather cinematic myth around bad girls — sexy, untamed, confident, and naughty, but not actually evil. This issue is mainly devoted to that archetype, whether classical — Antigone, Bathsheba — or contemporary — Mae West, Madonna, Camile Paglia. Of course, the essence of horror is Going Too Far, so we'll also explore a bit of the dark side as well, women like Salome, Elizabeth Bathory, and Phoolan Devi — ladies who are bad to the point of being downright evil

"Bad girl"hood is strongly visual (the term is derived from the style of pin-up art typified by Bettie Page and Will Eisner). But ever since Eve, bad girls have fascinated both sexes, in legend and fact alike. Hey, they're simply more interesting than the so-called "ideal woman" — in fact, if their popularity is any indications, they are the ideal woman, especially these days. 

During the Victorian Era, bad girls started appearing in real life with greater frequency and more tolerance. Social mores had become strict enough that you didn't have to be psychotic or suicidal to break them. Great bad girls like Sara Bernhard and George Sand flouted convention in ways that any sensible person could forgive and admire, but which drove the straightlaced aristocrats nuts (which is exactly what a bad girl does best). 

Why are bad girls so popular? The attraction for women is probably the fact that bad girls illustrate what is possible — taking control, living by your own rules, and being just as good as anyone else — the same reason guys tend to admire "bad boys" like cowboys and bikers. For men, on the other hand, it's usually the sex factor, as in just about everything else. 

What makes a bad girl sexy? Sometimes, just being sexy is enough to establish a reputation for badness, even if you're otherwise pretty vanilla (think Brooke Shields). But there are many cases in which the allure only comes after fame, or not at all (Roseanne, depending on your tastes). Most of the time, the two traits are linked chicken-and-egg fashion, the one ensuring the other. 

Why is badness itself sexy? For the most part, it's that cowboy spirit — freedom, rebellion, solitude, an aggressive approach to life (not necessarily mean-spirited, but unpassive). Bad girls don't play by the rules ... and, as often as not, men don't actually like those rules any more than women do. Rebels of either sex represent the insolence and idealism of youth, even when they're old. Okay, "bad grannies" (remember Mork  & Mindy) aren't all that sexy, but Bette Davis and Joan Collins managed it, among others. 

And then there are those who are too severely dysfunctional to be labeled with the cutesy epithet "bad girl." They aren't choosing to be bad, these genuinely troubled women have had badness thrust upon them, they're not happy and they're not fun. Loreena Bobbitt, Divine Brown, the offstage Judy Garland, Aileen Wournos. Where bad girls represent the exhilaration of  of taking control, these sad girls illustrate the misery of losing control, being forced by circumstance into acts of violence (toward others or self-inflicted) or degeneration. 

— Serendipity Jones