The Case Against Troy Dyer from Reality Bites: Selling Out To Not Sell Out
We’ve all met this guy, perhaps several time in our lives, and in various forms. His roots can possibly be traced as far back as Dylan McKay. You know who I’m talking about– that semi-disheveled, cooler-than-thou, seemingly confident guy who’s maybe a musician, idolizes Cool Hand Luke, seems to always have something witty to say in an off-the-cuff kind of way, and seems to have it all figured out even though he’s “living on the edge”. For anyone who grew up in the 90s, this “type” was best embodied by a character played by Ethan Hawke in a little film called Reality Bites. That character’s name is Troy Dyer. Jeez, even his name is hot.
In the film, the protagonist (played by Winona Ryder) Lelaina Peirce, is caught between Troy and the anti-Troy, Michael, a milquetoast, sucessful music producer played by Ben Stiller. As this is a coming of age story for the post-collegiate, Dyer is probably meant to represent the “not selling out” option for Lelaina, as Dyer is the less “easy” option of the two. In the end, Lelaina chooses Troy because Michael, though generally a textbook “decent guy”, ends up, well, selling out her dream of becoming a documentarian on her own terms. But, here’s my issue– was Troy REALLY the better or only other option? Was choosing Troy REALLY choosing to not compromise one’s self? Let’s take a gander, shall we?
1. Troy Dyer only cares rbout random details
“There’s no point to any of this. It’s all just a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes. So I take pleasure in the details. You know, a Quarter-Pounder with cheese, those are good, the sky about ten minutes before it starts to rain, the moment where your laughter become a cackle… and I, I sit back and I smoke my Camel Straights and I ride my own melt”
— Troy, in an excerpt from Lelaina’s documentary
Though I agree with about 80% of this statement, can you see how this would be problematic? I agree that one should take pleasure in the small details in life (though not in Quarter Pounders, ew), because we’re all ultimately alone, we’re all gonna die, nothing means anything, blah blah blah. BUT, if the whole idea here is that you live in the moment and enjoy as much as you can out of life, and you’re ONLY caring about the small details, you are actually (and ironically) LIMITING yourself in terms of enjoying what life has to offer. It’s fine to “ride your own melt” (though that in itself is a kind of annoying and contrived statement), but it’s kind of ridiculous to say or think that you can guard yourself off to everything else BUT the small details in life. Frankly, it it’s a slippery slope into justifying any selfish/asshole-ish behavior, because, like, none of it really even ultimately matters, maaaaan.
2. Troy Dyer doesn’t have a “real” job and justifies stealing Snickers bars
Well, not having a “real” job isn’t necessarily a crime or red flag. It seems like Troy, on the surface, doesn’t have a “real” job, because music is what’s really important for him, and resigning himself to be invested in anything else would be “selling out”. Really, though it kinda seems like it’s a justification for him to self-righteously defend his own laziness and/or inability to humble himself. And the thing about The Establishment owing him a Snickers bar? I mean, mystery solved, ok? This guy’s a grade-A entitled ASSHOLE.
3. Troy Dyer has no shame about openly being a total asshole to your current boyfriend
Michael : “Have I stepped over some line in the sands of coolness with you? Because excuse me if somebody doesn’t know the secret handshake with you.”
Troy: “There’s no secret handshake. There’s an IQ prerequisite, but there’s no secret handshake.”
As actually funny & witty a statement that is on Troy’s end, the more I think about it, it’s like– wow, what a self-important asshole. If Troy was a decent and human being who’s actually secure with/confident in himself, there’s no way he would be this mean to poor, non-threatening Michael. And even if Michael is ultimately a douchebag as well, it probably speaks more poorly of Troy that he was clearly so threatened to the point that he actually threw out all regard for how Lelaina would feel about all this. Because you see, Troy doesn’t really care about Lelaina. All that sort of time, energy, and emotional investment is taken up in obsessively maintaining his alterna-alpha male image. Because you know, it’s all about the details, RIGHT?
4. Troy Dyer can’t handle his own truth
When Troy first semi-confesses his feelings for Lelaina and they sleep together, Troy ends up ditching & avoiding her the next day….just like everyone else he sleeps with. This of course, pisses Lelaina off. Before I go on to totally berate Troy, I must confess something: I have completely done this exact thing….maybe even more than once. But honestly, I think that gives me more credence to deconstruct this type of shitty behavior. At best, I think this is simply a self-preservation technique of the emotionally immature. If you can’t handle the consequences of expressing your own feelings, you probably can’t handle any potential relationship to follow. It’s kind of a fucked up fear of failure syndrome. But, here’s the thing that REALLY makes you an asshole: there’s a whole other person involved aside from YOU, who, OMG, ALSO has feelings, desires, etc. It’s really not all about you and whether or not YOU can handle whatever. It takes real balls to be able to put yourself on the line like that, clearly, balls that Troy and that sometimes I don’t have. Troy, though, instead of reflecting on and learning from this behavior, just gets worse…
5. Troy Dyer ain’t real much
“You can’t navigate me. I may do mean things, and I may hurt you, and I may run away without your permission, and you may hate me forever, and I know that scares the living shit outta you ’cause you know I’m the only real thing you got.”
So lemme get this straight– Lelaina is the one who needs to “man up” and adjust HERSELF to HIS behavior? Wow. Just wow. This is one step away from being a battered wife, essentially. To paraphrase Lelaina’s response to this statement, if he’s the only “real” thing she’s got in her life, well then, that sure as hell ain’t real much. If Troy is actually the only other alternative to Michael, we might as well all kill ourselves now. But here’s the thing– this is just a movie, and Troy is just an archetype.
Though there are really Troy-like dudes out there (as I seem to have dated quite a few of them), there is a whole range of people outside of this. Believe it or not, there are decent guys out there who are neither concerned with looking cool and detached nor exploiting something personal that you’ve created. All I’m saying, really, is that you shouldn’t sell yourself short for the sake of “not selling out”. Your integrity and tolerance for 1970’s pop cultural references will thank you later.