How’re we doin’, buddy?
Nice job, buddy.
Watch it, buddy!
though I take no offense to its use in reference to an absent individual, as in this example:
My buddy over in Halifax can unpeel a clementine in one piece.
There is something about being called buddy specifically that irks me in ways that being called man, dude, brother, son, or even the occasional guy or chief do not. (These last two are so astoundingly rare that hearing them is for me anachronistic, so that I would be more likely to comment on the curiosity of these words than on any specific feelings arising from their use.) People often say that if I don’t like being called buddy, then why am I okay with other terms of endearment that are also (arguably) meant to embody close relationships?
The best illustration is an example from writer/director Savage Steve Holland’s* offbeat 1985 comedy Better Off Dead. The moment occurs after the scene where Lane Meyer (John Cusack), starting his shitty new job at the Pig Burger fast food restaurant, has just created a dancing claymation cheeseburger that sings Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some.” The cigar-smoking owner, catching Lane burning his meat, becomes enraged and hurls a hapless Lane into the restaurant where he lands at the feet of the film’s jockish villain, Roy Stalin.**
A little background: Lane Meyer is a high school senior whose decidedly bizarre world is filled with desserts that crawl off his plate and Japanese drag racers who speak like Howard Cosell. Lane is ill-adept at building things, is comically-far behind the rest of his geometry class, and drives a shitty station wagon. Just about the only things he has going for him are his skiing ability and his girlfriend Beth—both of which are taken from him by the confident, charismatic (“Who wants to hold my clipboard?”) Roy Stalin, who is far more popular than Lane and attracts the admiration of everyone for his own superior prowess on the ski slopes.
As Lane lies pathetically on the floor of Pig Burger still wearing an embarrassing chef’s hat with a pig snout attached, Roy Stalin sits above him with one arm around Lane’s former girlfriend. The camera looks up at Stalin from below so that he appears to tower over Lane as he taunts him:
STALIN: Buenos dias! (He makes obnoxious pig snorting noises.) Lookin’ real good, buddy. Lookin’ real good.
Here we have a moment where a clearly stronger character is making fun of a weaker character while also addressing him using the word buddy, a careful choice of words by screenwriter Holland. Whereas the use of Lane’s name would imply a more equal relationship with Stalin, buddy here accentuates Lane’s inferiority. It is not a direct insult, but Holland inserts it to highlight Stalin’s superior, bullying attitude and mockery of Lane’s embarrassing situation just as he also used the lower camera angle. The word buddy here only goes one way: Lane cannot call Stalin buddy because Stalin is a stronger character than Lane is. Holland wants us to hate Stalin and empathize with Lane, and his careful choice of words makes that even easier.
I’ve heard buddy used in this context many times before, from experienced athletes addressing their unconfident teammates to the derisive way that adults speak to small children. Again, in both instances, there is an imbalance in the relationship: the less-experienced teammate has no business calling his superior buddy any more than a child would call a teacher buddy. When the word is spoken to me by my peers, even in the most casual or innocuous of situations, I too feel inferior, as if the other person is also deriding me on the floor of my humiliating fast-food job.
I know that not everyone who uses the word buddy uses it with these intentions. I have been told that many times by many people. But the image is one I cannot shake any more than the lover who feels an excited burst of energy at hearing his partner’s name, or the woman who feels a disgusted chill at hearing the word cunt shouted aloud.
* I re-watched Better Off Dead recently and was struck by the daring nickname and double-crediting of Savage Steve Holland as writer/director of his first movie. Who was Savage Steve Holland, and what other quirky, creative gems had he produced to equal the masterpiece that is Better Off Dead? I jumped on the internet and, finding his filmography disappointingly short, sought out his second film, One Crazy Summer, again starring John Cusack alongside a St. Elmo’s Fire-era Demi Moore. I dismissed (or skimmed over) the film’s poor reviews and watched it one evening after work only to be utterly disgusted by one of the most insulting movie experiences of my entire life. This movie is so bad that it deserves a proper blog entry explaining how bad it is, and not just a footnote within a marginally-related entry. It’s not even worth watching to see for yourself how bad it is, nor is it worth watching with friends to make fun of a la She’s the Man with Amanda Bynes. The film is made worse by my confusion and disgust at how Holland went from portraying twistedly funny distortions of reality in Better Off Dead to churning out cheap jokes and sight gags slapped on to a clichéd teen movie plot barely a year later. The story is one you’ve seen a million times before: a guy has to win the girl and save a town from destruction by corporate greed, blah blah blah. But while ‘80s movies like UHF or The Goonies have similar plots, they at least have redeeming jokes and characters to support them, whereas One Crazy Summer has none. The animated scenes are uninspired, the theme of a character wanting to find love never resonates with anything, actor Curtis Armstrong (the “Sometimes you just have to say ‘What the fuck’” guy from Risky Business) is frustratingly underused, and one of the other sidekick characters is so annoying that I found myself constantly withholding the urge to punch him in the face. My suspicion is that this movie came out so abominably because Holland, newly-initiated into the world of Hollywood, forgot the natural creativity that allowed him to produce his first film and instead wrote and directed the movie he felt audiences wanted to see, because that’s what everyone else was making, and that’s how grown-up writer/directors made movies, right? (Think of it as an ‘80s Barton Fink.) Writers who lack confidence in their creative abilities (myself included, though moreso when I was younger) will often fall back on clichés and conventions to progress a story, fill out a scene, or even shape an entire work. Imagine an endless string of these conventions pieced together into a movie, and that’s One Crazy Summer.
** My attempt to locate this scene on YouTube only resulted in a video of the original “Everybody Wants Some” scene dubbed over with Creed’s “Take Me Higher,” which I will not be reposting here for obvious reasons.