5 Important Childhood Archetypes the Movies Overlooked
Hollywood loves the "close childhood friends" movie genre - Stand By Me, The Goonies, Super 8 - and they all seem to think that, with little variation, the five basic types of kids in the world are: The Fat One, the Tough One, the Normal One, the Funny One, and the Girl. There are a few childhood archetypes that they've forgotten, however. And in fact, the forgotten ones may be the most important of all. Because while knowing the Fat One teaches you that fatties like food almost as much as they like being made fun of, and knowing the Girl teaches you that boobies, it's the lesser known archetypes that manage to teach us something about life itself, and how to live it. So here they are: The five childhood friends (and the lessons they taught us) that both we, and Hollywood, could stand to pay a little tribute to.
The AlienIt's not the Alien's fault that they don't understand our Hu-Man customs: They probably had hippy, new-ager, do-what-you-feel kind of parents. Maybe he was a home school kid that you always saw plunking quarters into a Street Fighter machine at the 7-11, but never saw in class. Maybe she was the girl next door that would occasionally dance naked in the yard while you were stuck waiting for the bus. The Alien's house always smelled like something you'd never experienced before, something bizarre and unique that you could never quite place, (PROTIP: It was weed) and everything else in their home life would mirror that same foreignness as well. The first hour at the Alien's house was great: It was pure anarchic fantasy, like the first hour of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Unfortunately, the second hour was also like
I'm still terrified of both water and purple. Oddly cool with Gene Wilder, though.I once had a friend we'll call Nick (to protect his identity...although it's likely he's waging war with the internet right now from a hollowed out tree in the Redwood Forest, so it's probably a moot point anyway). Nick seemed completely normal at first, and indeed, we got along brilliantly. Our priorities were totally in sync: We would empty out milk jugs, fill them back up with water, string them up from the rafters of my back porch, wrap our hands and feet in ace bandages, and pretend to be
You all know who I meant.Story wasn't exactly our strong suit, all right? The important part was round-housing something until it exploded, and also getting hurt a little in the process -- because if it's painful, we reasoned, then it's no longer "playing." In other words: Totally normal, prepubescent boy stuff. But all that was at my house, until one day Nick invited me over to
The Devil On Your ShoulderThe Devil On Your Shoulder was the kid with the brilliant ideas that, in retrospect, always turned out to be incredibly stupid and dangerous. He's the reason every single new game you and your friends invented always ended when somebody got hurt. You never thought to build endings into the rules - nobody invents innings, or score limits, or overtime in their youthful fantasies - so a new game only ended when it got boring, or more likely, when the Devil On Your Shoulder politely reminds everybody that there's some lighter fluid in the garage and he's pretty sure that tennis balls are flammable.
"No, I hear you: You're saying the thumb tacks hurt. But I'm saying you'll barely feel the thumbtacks if we light the whole damn thing on fire."The Devil On Your Shoulder from my childhood was named Robert, and I actually still keep in touch with the guy to this day. He's me. Friends would come to my house and we'd start an innocuous enough game, like hide and seek. One or two rounds would pass, at most, before my jaded, over-stimulated child-brain needed to up the ante. Now it was hide and seek, but also freeze tag. Then it was team hide and seek. Then the boundaries expanded and expanded, eventually disappearing entirely. Three hours later and we're playing something called "night fighting" which, stunningly, is exactly what it sounds like: Night-time hide and seek where you fought everybody after you found them. That game inexplicably lasted an entire summer, and by the end, every player had jury-rigged up
Like this, in my head. Like a chubby 11 year old in Bermuda shorts holding half a golf club, in reality.Somehow, not a single neighbor called the cops that summer to report the epic child-war being waged every night in their backyards, beneath their decks, and on one occasion, inside of their empty pool. It went on way longer than it should have, and we all earned way more than our expected allotment of scars. And that's why you need the Devil On Your Shoulder: To teach you the value of boundaries as a child. See, anarchy sounds like a damn fine time to a kid. Who needs these god damn
The EnemyEvery group has one friend that seems to belong more with the Enemy: The sporty kids always had one smaller, scrawny dude in an Atari shirt who was constantly losing the hackeysack on the roof. In every gaggle of asthmatic nerds there was one kid who had to duck out of DnD in the middle of a Beholder battle to make soccer practice. Sean was the Enemy in my childhood clique, and, obviously, he was the athletic exception to our nerd rule. Sean absolutely shared our priorities: He loved Micro Machines and Transformers, and had the one single subscription to Nintendo Power that we all circulated. He wanted to belong with us geeks, and for the most part he did, but unfortunately, God cursed him with a working human body and the urge to use it.
You poor damned, accursed soul.He would try to hang back with us during the weekly mile, after we'd all valiantly sprinted the first lap, and then lapsed into a haggardly crawling walk for the remaining three. He'd slow his pace with ours, but it wasn't natural to him. You could see it in his eyes: Athletics called to him like the Wild calls to a captive wolf. He would reluctantly shuffle along, but was always urging us to speed our pace. When that failed, he would start jogging in short bursts, then stand and wait for us to catch up. Eventually he was circling us, running ahead and running back. Finally his body simply couldn't take the passivity anymore, and Sean would inevitably disappear, legs pumping furiously, blonde bowl-cut gleaming like the sun itself, trying to make up the time he'd spent stuck with the nerds. Eventually, he would disappear from our lives entirely in much the same fashion, metaphorically making up lost distance in the great mile that is life. The Enemy is there to teach us that the other side isn't necessarily the villains we make them out to be. There are nerds that love football, and jocks with Level 20 Paladins out there, and even if those differences pull us apart eventually, it's only our stubborn, insecure, self-set borders that turn them into animosity.
The ExpatNo matter how tight knit the circle of friends, there's always one kid that just plain doesn't get it. They may not be dumb, or especially awkward, or have any other valid reason to be singled out, but they are. Maybe they came to the group last, or maybe you all graduated elementary school together, but his house was in a different district for middle school, or maybe she was just Canadian. The Expat laughs a bit too late at inside jokes that, come to think of it, they weren't there to understand in the first place. When you dreamily reflect on all those hot, gangly middle-school girls in their form-fitting skorts, the Expat doesn't recognize any of the names, or even care that Amelia is finally starting to get some tits. The Expat is the one you have to explain the controls to, when the rest of you are pulling chain combos and seeing if you can exploit some obscure glitch that somebody's probably pretty sure they once heard a Japanese kid did in the next town.
"This is very important to me. I am willing to devote a lot of time to this." - Every kid in the early '90s.In my group, this was Richie: He was a year younger. He was a child of a friend of the family that the adults figured should be my friend too - as if affection could be gained through osmosis. For no particular reason, Richie was the foil for every joke we made. If we thought of a good prank, it was always on Richie. If someone needed to take the fall because somebody else (me) missed the garage door during Shuriken Darts (possibly due to throwing five at once) and broke the crazy Australian roommate's window, there was Richie. Nick and I once spent an afternoon carefully choreographing an elaborate, life or death action-movie fight for Richie's benefit. We weren't putting on a show for him; the goal was to convince him it was real. Nick started off as the aggressor, mocking Richie's haircut or something else entirely irrelevant, and I valiantly stepped up to defend Richie. In retrospect, this sudden nobility on the part of the kid who once suggested that we fire bird-arrows at the girls next door - you know, to show we like them - should have been his first clue. But he didn't catch on. He thought we were really arguing about him. Eventually, the confrontation escalated into a shoving match, then a full-fledged fight. Nick took a swing at me; I ducked, kicked out his leg. He flipped back to his feet, and jump-kicked me in the neck. I shoulder-threw him into a bush. He came up with a knife that, continuity not being a priority at the time of scripting, probably had no business just sitting in a bush like that. I ducked, leaped aside as he stabbed, twisted the blade out of his hands, held it to his throat, and asked him what it felt like knowing he was going to die. Richie, all the while, cried and pleaded for us to stop -- stop fighting! Please! It's OK, I'm not insulted! Oh god,
The PsychopathRight now, every single person reading this has suddenly remembered, or possibly recognized for the first time, that they were friends with a dangerous psychopath as a child. Mickey was our own lil' sociopath: He was a smaller kid, with a curly red boy-fro and a spattering of freckles. He exclusively wore polo shirts, and he had a weapon collection. They always have weapon collections.
"And this is just the grenade section!"This wasn't a normal, here's-my-little-kid-arsenal-that-I-keep-under-the-bed-in-case-of-ninja-attack; the Psychopath had real, honest to God weapons, and nobody knows where or how he got them. He owned swords, small caliber pistols and knives -- oh, so many knives. He would happily explain why he needed each one -- here's a skinning knife, this one's a deboner (tee hee), this here is a Bowie, better for slashing, and that's a stiletto, mostly for stabbing -- but there was only ever one real reason: His dad died in the army and his mom couldn't afford therapy. Or maybe she just drank, or maybe it was his older brother that died; totaled his Trans-Am in a drag-racing accident. There were logical reasons for his behavior, but somehow, looking in Mickey's eyes, you just kind of knew that he was born a little off.
"There's something subtly, almost subliminally wrong with this guy. I can just feel it..."He didn't go around strangling kids in the bathroom or anything. He was only cruel when it was socially acceptable to do so. But he always jumped into it too eagerly and took it too far. When your group collectively made fun of a friend's shoes, and everybody started riffing, it always ended abruptly and awkwardly when Mickey joined in on the fun with the worst thing you've ever heard. "Nice shoes, Payless," you'd say. "Does Fresh Prince do your shopping for you?" Nick would add. "What are those, Roobeks?" Sean would snigger. "Do they light up, or do they have pockets?" Richie would interject. "YOU LOOK LIKE A FUCKING FAGGOT!" Mickey would scream, giggling. And there would be silence.
"Now we've talked about this, honey. You can't go around saying you'll 'Slit everybody's jew dyke throat.' Other kids just don't get your sense of humor."Mickey stayed over one weekend and my dad asked me where he was. "Stabbing squirrels in the yard with his switchblade" I answered honestly, having grown so slowly accustomed to Mickey's "foibles" that I hardly even noticed them anymore. My father's eyes grew wide, and he silently stepped outside. Mickey's parents came to pick him up an hour later, and that was the last time I saw him. But we all needed to know The Psychopath back then, as kids, before their sadism had time to fully mature. The Psychopath is like chickenpox: If your first exposure happens when you're young, it's uncomfortable, but not terribly dangerous. If your first exposure happens as an adult, it's probably going to kill you. And then make a puppet out of your corpse.
You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Or you could head down to the comments section to bitterly complain that Robert got it all wrong because you didn't have a psychopath in your group, then finish up what you were doing before he distracted you: Tying a little noose out of pipe cleaners to hang a gopher.
And check out more from Robert in 5 Awesome Cases of The Internet Owning The Mainstream Media and 5 Classic Movies If They Got Pitched in Hollywood Today.