Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why I Hate Being Called Buddy

I have several pet peeves, the one that occurs the most frequently being the use of the word buddy as a form of direct address, as in the following examples:

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.


Danicus said...

I think it has a lot to do with connotation, as well. I have a couple of friends where thats how i greet them on the phone, and I dont mean anything derisive about it at all.
"Hey, man."
"Hey, buddy. What's up?"

It's also how I end phone conversations with my brother, most times.
"all right, I gotta get to class."
"cool. talk to you soon. Love ya, buddy."

Mike said...

If only there were a word that made me so mad, maybe then I'd understand...

Anonymous said...

I understand what you are saying for sure. I wasn't sure why it got on my nerves so bad but that makes alot of sense. It also bothers me because I am a girl! I feel like buddy is referring to males so when guys call me buddy, it makes me mad. What would be an equivalent of buddy to guys that would make guys feel girlie. I would like to try that out on some of my guy friends and see how it makes them feel. And I do call young male boys my little buddies so I can see the inferior thing...and I don't mind that I am the guys' friend but I definitely don't want to be one of the guys...and that's what buddy means to me.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I work with a man about 13 years older than me who addresses me as "buddy" at times. I believe it is inappropriate, and I do feel that in the workplace it is a superior/inferior connotation. I do not like this at all, but I endure it knowing that I am really not the one with the problem. Some people just love to feel important, and they degrade others to place themselves on a pedestal that will someday be knocked out from under them.

Anonymous said...

I also hate being called buddy. Glad to see my understandably irrational irritation effects other people.

Anonymous said...

I hate it too. I work with a guy that says it all the time and it drives me nuts! I'm not the only person he says it to so I don't think he means it in a degrading or insulting way but I don't like it. Glad I'm not alone.

Anonymous said...

I totally loved this article. Spot on. I hated the word since ever and this article clarified and shed light on why i dislike the word.

Anonymous said...

I've heard "buddy" and "dude" and it's mainly due to their own insecurities. One guy recently found out that I make more money than he does and now it's "buddy" rather than my name. Another time when I was promoted to lead a team, one of the guys stopped calling me by my name and started calling me "dude". I mentioned that he probably should be more professional in how he addresses me on a regular basis (every so often, who cares). He seemed more put off than "shocked" that I would call him out on it. :)

Anonymous said...

I have a British friend and she calls me 'buddy'–and I really don't like it. So I ended up here trying to see if others hate being called buddy too–and yep! We all don't like it. I hate being called buddy because it sounds impersonal and insincere. Anybody, anywhere is 'buddy'. There is something condescending to it: I've noticed it is often used by supervisors in service occupations like fast food jobs, gas station attendants, clerks: "hey buddy can to clean up that mess? Thanks!" or "good job on that buddy, now I need you to..." It's demeaning. It's also generic: addressing someone by their first name acknowledges their individuality whereas calling someone buddy is totally impersonal, like they're just another 'dude', 'man', etc.

::::P said...

wow i have found someone who feels the same way, I come from Northern Ireland and guys here usually call me "bud"/Buddy lad dude or mate all of these drive me mad i would rather have someone ask my name

Anonymous said...

If someone does not know my name then it's not a problem. But, if the person knows my name it is insulting.
I usually inform the person that "Buddy is an Elf". Unfortunately the Bozo does not "get it".