Sex and Dating

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.

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Anna G - Caliburg Contributor

Anna G - Caliburg Contributor

Anna G. is a Southern California native living in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn since 2005. Anna is constantly trying to unite her love of CA sunshine and the excitement of the New York urban jungle, all the while trying to keep her unwieldy credit card debt under control, and look fabulous at brunch, no matter how un-showered and hungover.


  1. November 30, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Wow, I really liked this! You kick ass little more in book today, Broke Ass Stuart!

  2. Broke-Ass Stuart - Editor In Cheap
    November 30, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Thanks, but it’s Anna’s piece, so she’s the one who is kicking ass 🙂

  3. November 30, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Ah, OK.

    “2. Troy Dyer doesn’t have a “real” job and justifies stealing Snickers bars…”

    Hahaha, genius insight! I would have been beyond impressed if a guy had wrote this. But still a great article. Rock on!

  4. Theresa
    December 1, 2009 at 10:15 am

    I was the exact age of these characters when this movie came out. Me and my guy friends were all 23 and sitting in the movie theater freaking out about what we were gonna do with our lives. When we dropped off one of our friends after the movie- he didn’t say a word. He just slammed the car door and went into his parent’s house. It really hit home.

    Remember these characters were just beginning to live their lives. Ben Stiller’s character had been living awhile and was more chiseled. Yes, he was more responsible, but man he did not get artistic people. That can be very frustrating for creative types. It’s a whole other language. Was Troy immature and self righteous? Yup. But he was also only 23.

  5. Oh no you didnt
    December 3, 2009 at 10:58 am

    Being only 23 dosnt give you free license to be a massive jerk off. By the way, that’s old enough to have your s**t figured out! Some people are married with kids by then so whatever. I dont think there is a whole other language to understanding artistic people. PULeeeze dont preach about how frustrating it can be for creative types. Most arent as talented or as creative as they think if they were they would be successful. Tory was in a crappy band and had to crash at the girl’s apt. What’s so hard to understand about his character? He’s your typical self-important d-bag

  6. October 10, 2011 at 9:36 am

    […] My fifteen-year old self was in LOVE with Troy, however, my adult self sees him for what he just may be: a pretentious dick (as others would agree). […]

  7. LauraKat
    February 22, 2012 at 8:41 pm

    Thanks so much for writing this! I just watched this on netflix and the ending made me so angry. Troy is clearly a self-absorbed, abusive jerk. Remember how he puts her down when she wears a dress? That such a typical abusive tactic that guys use to knock women’s confidence so they won’t leave them.

    Such a terrible message to give young girls.

  8. August 17, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Having “LIVED THIS” unfortunate “REALITY” personally, I must say Helen Childress’ genius is that she is a brilliant dialogue and relationship writer… This is because she never forgets what she’s seen, heard or experienced… And she works harder to fine tune her screenplays than any other writer of her era. Not withstanding the fallout to my reputation, and her own because of lawyers, studios and Hollywood legal wranglings, I can only offer her praise and wish her and husband, Carlos Brooks, well in their continued success with Stiller’s development of her latest projects and Dreamworks development of Carlos’ directing/writing talents. She is brilliant, funny, sexy and a joy. Carlos is a consummate craftsman as well. I am just Troy.

  9. Mike Stag
    September 7, 2012 at 3:47 am

    You’re a naive asshole.

  10. Jen
    January 28, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    Did everyone forget his dad was dying? I would be losing my emotions too if my dad was dying at 23. Also, I respect most of the things Troy said because despite it being blunt he was honest. He wasn’t afraid to be real with people. He didn’t believe in sugarcoating. He was blatantly rude to Michael because he knew he wasn’t the right guy for Lelanie and he was also afraid he was losing the only stable person he had in his life. Out of everyone Lelanie was the one who gave a shit about what he was doing with his life. But let me refute the article in order 1. He enjoyed random details. I don’t see how that could ever be a strong argument in the first place but I digress. Living in the details of life, means that your enjoying life day by day. Instead of wasting your days planning a future that will inevitably end in demise anyways. 2. He doesn’t have a real job and justifies stealing snickers bars. Again, he is losing brownie points because he realizes earlier than most other people that becoming a richer person is more valuable than a grade a worker that will get you nothing in life but a pat on the back. But I guess your right money is the only goal in life. 3. No shame in being an asshole. I said this before. His dad dying and him losing stability seems like a pretty good justification for being an asshole. 4. Troy Dyer ain’t real much. Well you’re right he won’t be your gold-digging pimp daddy. Say adios to your Prada’s. But I would much rather have a companion who was real. Who loved the little things about me and appreciated me for who I was. Who wasn’t afraid to fight and have problems, because they’d inevitably be there until the end. See, I don’t think this movie was interpreted at all as the way it should be. For one, this movie was a story of a moment in time. Troy’s actions weren’t encompassing the person he was, they were encompassing the things and feelings he was going through in that moment of time.

  11. Dust Bunny
    May 20, 2013 at 2:45 pm

    The Troy parts that stood out for me–I’m only a bit younger than the characters in the movie but I didn’t see it until I was well into my thirties, which is way too old–were the “I may hurt you” soliloquy, and the part about Lelaina’s dress. Michael likes it and tells her to keep it on. Troy doesn’t and tells her, and when she decides to keep it on, he berates her, “or don’t think for yourself!” Well, how would listening to Troy be different from listening to Michael?

    He doesn’t get a total pass because his father was dying, either. My mom watched her mother die of cancer when Mom was twenty-two and there is no evidence that she used it as an excuse to be a jerk. She and her mother were close, too. Troy was still an emotionally immature loser.

  12. Wanie Harun
    August 19, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    I dont really agree with what you said here. Its just my opinion but if i really have to choose, i will choose Troy and not Michael. Michael bores me to death. Troy might look like a jerk but cant you guys see that he is so into her and what more can you ask for? In fact, its all about chemistry and choosing a soulmate. Not about choosing someone who has a better career, financially stable. No, that’s not what I want. Just saying.