Reflections on a Gamma Icon

A Gamma wonders if perhaps he might have done better to avoid patterning his behavior on an iconic Hollywood Gamma.

A generation of American male teenagers, me included, saw themselves in Duckie—charming, quirky and overlooked. Duckie belonged an elite gang of best friends “Pretty in Pink” screenwriter John Hughes made the beating heart of his ’80s teen filmography—Cameron Frye in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” Farmer Ted in “Sixteen Candles” and Watts in “Some Kind of Wonderful”—characters who embodied the pain of being young and not yet able to be honest about your own desires.

Beyond Hughes’ other sidekicks, “Duckie” has become synonymous with “weird friend thrown over for safe, popular choice,” adolescent canon reinforced by a generation of boys who mimicked Duckie—in dress, manner and seduction—to joke and serenade their way into the hearts of their dream girls.

Disciples of Duckie, we had it all wrong.

No, you don’t get to be with the girl of your dreams just because you want to. No, you don’t get to avoid telling her how you feel and then resent her for showing interest in another guy. No, it’s not romantic, but rather a little sad that you can only express how you feel to her father and in charming but empty gestures like lip-synching Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness.” And no, you aren’t an unsung hero because your dream girl doesn’t dream of you. You’re a bad best friend for not respecting her decisions and thinking that means her love for you isn’t worth anything.

Re-watch “Pretty in Pink” and Duckie comes off not as a role model but as a cautionary tale about what we can destroy while growing up: The movie may end happily for everyone — even Duckie, who doesn’t win Andie’s heart but nobly tells her to forgive Blane for canceling on taking her to the prom. Before all that, Duckie comes dangerously close to losing Andie forever: Not 30 seconds after the Otis Redding serenade, Blane shows up to take Andie on their first date. Duckie, not knowing about the date, accuses Andie of disrespecting herself by going out with a rich guy, and then threatens to not be there (i.e., not be her friend) if she gets her heart broken.

Never mind that Duckie doesn’t know Blane and has no claim on Andie, and, since Andie is a smart, self-possessed, attractive young woman, she has probably received this kind of attention before. Since Andie and Duckie have been friends since childhood, Duckie having his world rocked when Andie goes on a date feels less like unfairness and more like Duckie ignoring an entire adolescence’s worth of evidence that Andie isn’t just his pal or his valentine, but a woman and a person in her own right.

“But Duckie’s pain was real!,” I just heard a squad of ex-Duckies cry. I used this excuse to not grieve my own teenage heartbreak but instead make it the heartbreaker’s fault. I wish had known better than to think my high school best friend/crush would fall for me after months of not letting on, and then getting mad when she fell for someone else, and in between trying to woo her with a lip-synch performance (mine was Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home.” Laugh all you want.).

It strikes me that the primary challenge of the Gamma is overcoming his intrinsic narcissism. Again and again, in fiction and in real life, we observe the Gamma’s total inability to grasp that everything is not about him.

The Alpha jock doesn’t hate you. He doesn’t think about you at all when you’re not actively annoying him or one of the women in his orbit. The hot cheerleader doesn’t despise you. In fact, she would be offended by the very idea that she had any opinion about you at all. The normal people don’t particularly dislike you, they just want you to shut up and leave them alone. The Girl of Your Dreams is not, and will never be, attracted by the strength of your desire for and/or your devotion to her.

And literally no one thinks you’re charming or roguish. Snark and sarcasm are not wit. Neither are movie quotes, however apt. Just stop it already.

The world isn’t out to get the Duckies of the world. It simply doesn’t like them very much because they’re weird and reliably annoying narcissists.

In sum, the Gamma’s emotional pain is no one else’s fault and no one else’s problem.