The Bowie Connection

Jim Henson had Bowie in mind for this role, citing that because of his extensive career, every generation already had a good relationship with him. The decision to cast Bowie would exponentiate that concept beyond all imagining, as "Labyrinth" implanted him in another generation, one with even more potential for future rollover.

Watching Jareth now, it's impossible to picture anyone else in the role. He's the perfect fit down to every nuance, and he's a skilled actor enough to sell this unlikely premise. Labyrinth does have some tough material: Jareth's parts of the script are sometimes weak, there's the difficulty of working with puppets, working with a minor (Connelly), toeing the romantic line between an adult and a 14 year-old, and doing it all in wardrobe and all on set. This is a tall order for anyone, and Bowie was still somewhat green as an actor. There are some awkward moments in the print, but overall the performance is remarkable.

Jareth comes off as everything he should be, a boyish and lovable villain who plays at cruelty but has a store of humanity, perhaps unwanted. Bowie's charm is there in the smile and the subtle glances, and his mysterious, guarded nature is Jareth's too. He obviously had fun in the role, and it translates well to the playful moments. Even with the minimal script, he did everything right to create this scoundrel, the heartbreaker who makes everyone long to be whisked away to the Underground.

Jareth: The Perfect Beast

Most girls (and some guys) fall in love with Jareth. He's the identity of the film, the most complex character and the most sympathetic. People secretly (or obviously) root for him to win, and only very young viewers see him as a true "villain" to be defeated. But even they soon begin to pick up his appealing qualities and sexual signals, and all at once Jareth is The Dream that Froud intended.

For story purposes, our Protagonist (Sarah) has to resist his charms and rescue Toby. This is believable enough the way she plays the character, but reality would never agree. A real Sarah wouldn't be able to say No to him. For one thing, she's way too old to be so slow on the take. She represents Ages 14-16, an ideal range for falling in love, and this guy has been tailored for her. Even Labyrinth's general audience was much younger than this; the fan community is populated with girls who first saw it at ages 4-10, and Jareth even worked his magic on them. Ergo, Sarah would have no chance.

But what's so appealing about him? Even some Non-Bowie fans - who don't find him attractive anywhere else - admit being taken by Jareth's spell. Why exactly?
We're fascinated by all the romantic interest in this beautiful Bad Boy, so we decided to try organizing the most important traits of the archetype. Have a look at our List!:

The Fantasy Bad Boy Checklist:

"What a Guy Needs, to be What a Girl Wants"

1. The Perfect Age

Fantasy Guy needs to be an adult, but still a young man. (Bowie wasn't even forty.)

Details: Fantasy Guy should be 30-45, old enough to have experience in the world, but young enough to be energetic and have a strong libido. He needs to be single, carefree, and able to score with a good range of women. Anything legal (or close enough) is fair game.

Nevermind crying "Jailbait." It's meaningless to girls (in fantasy and in real life) All that matters is that they're attracted to him and comfortable with the idea of sex, and most 16+ girls would be thrilled to jump on Jareth.

2. Super-Cute

He needs to be gorgeous, obviously. Bowie has the face of a Greek God's prince.

Details: The body type here can vary a bit. An older girl will probably want a taller, more muscular guy with rougher features, while an inexperienced girl like Sarah would go for a lean guy with a smoother look, something not as intimidating. Jareth fits the bill perfectly.

3. Powerful

He needs to have some element of strength or power, and Jareth is a King.

Details: Chicks always dig power, and the confidence and advantages(money/resources) that come with it. Sometimes the power is simply in physical strength. But for Sarah, the Goblin King is a figure of strength, mystique, and influence, especially since he's her adversary, and in control of the fantasy world that means everything to her.

4. Sophisticated and/or Smart

He's got F-F-F-Fashion! Even a Goblin cleans up nice and can do a Romantic Evening.

Details: Sophistication can also mean Smart. Fantasy Guy can be ignorant about some things (that makes him endearing), but he's quick and calculating, and he's an expert in his specialties. He may be a dope in matters of communication and relationships (he usually is, actually) but he's sophisticated in sex and romance. And like Jareth, he's got polish and swagger; he's hot and knows it.

5. A Nice Guy with a "Bad Boy" Veneer

His personality must include this paradox, and Jareth has it in spades.

Details: Fantasy Guy is a good person with many positive traits (passion, strength, loyalty, morality, romance, heroism) but he also has bad habits. He's possessive, sometimes violent, sometimes a liar, and selfish. He's moody and gets angry and jealous, and sometimes he's even dangerous.
Like Jareth, Fantasy Guy may have a mean streak and enjoy exerting his power over others. He likes to tear up the town a bit.

We're not sure why... but this Good Guy/Bad Boy complex is irresistible to most women. It could just be that "nice guys" are too steady and predictable. The Bad Boy adds excitement.

6. Flawed in Some Way

He must have some kind of weakness or shortcoming, either physical or mental.

Details: Girls want a guy to be *human*, because a weakness gives depth of character. A common flaw is Jareth's: Overbearing ego and (especially) weaknesses about girls. Other popular ones are: Courage that borders on foolhardiness, lack of control over emotions, and weaknesses about substances, especially alcohol.
(Think about this - how often male protagonists enjoy the sauce and need easy sex. Such vice might seem disruptive to a romantic image, but women actually enjoy watching it in the fantasy realm of TV and movies.)

7. Anguished About Something

Fantasy Guy is troubled. There's always something keeping him unhappy.

Details: Jareth loves Sarah, is conflicted about the villain role he must play in her life, and confused about why she doesn't accept his love. Fantasy Guy should have some unresolved pathos - a dark secret, a nightmarish past, even a practical problem that has no solution - This is the source of his anger and moodiness.

This is another strange quality that girls love and we don't exactly know why. It could just be that we like guys who are thoughtful and emotional. Shallowness is the Anti-Fantasy.

More Perqs of Jareth

We think the checklist is pretty flexible and works as a continuum. Even Partial-match guys are loads of fun to watch in movies and on TV. Then there's the occasional guy who hits most/all of these traits, a character like Jareth, Rochester, Sawyer, or Wolverine. These are the Captains of Romantic Industry, and Jareth has even more advantages:

Jareth is in control of an entire fantasy world, he has a dusky, British voice that drives women crazy, and he's vaguely Period. As Rochester would also tell us, historical setting is a great leg-up for Fantasy Guys, because it rides automatically with some of the desirable traits. (Sophisticated wardrobe, chivalry, heroism, and general romanticism.) And of course, unlike other fictional hunks, Jareth isn't some One-Shot experiment embodied by an unknown actor. He's David Bowie; he charges out of the gate with an indomitable resume and reputation.

For these reasons and more, Jareth might just be the greatest Bad Boy of them all.

Exploitation Theater!

Despite all of his selling points, Jareth is one of the strangest film characters ever devised, especially for play in a "Family Movie." He's been written and cast deliberately as a girl's fantasy, an exploited sex object, and this is much of his purpose in the plot. The Plot of Labyrinth actually is:

"What Happens When Ordinary Girl Meets Fantasy Guy?"

All the other stuff, goblins, and kidnapping, is just elaborate frosting.
This is why the film's final showdown is an emotionfest between Sarah and Jareth (Toby Who?), almost a marriage proposal.

It's a good thing that Bowie was approached for this film with descriptions of its trappings (the muppets, the cool fantasy world, the artwork) instead of the heart of the matter. They never actually told him:

"Hey, you're great for this, because you're beautiful and everyone wants to have sex with you.
Wanna be hot catnip in cinemas all over the world?"

A Matter of Perspective

Of course, unlike chicks, many dudes are comfortable being meat-marketed. They consider it a compliment when girls lust for them enough to jump them, even if the girls show no interest whatever in their personality. Only girls whine about why men don't care about their other qualities. In a man's world, it's flattering to be pounced on for any reason, so being cast as Jareth could be considered high praise for Bowie. Being sexually desirable (especially to large numbers of people) speaks to the visceral masculinity in such a way.

Still, there's an element of the ridiculous about Jareth, something belittling considering that Bowie is a Rock God and one of the most respected artists ever. Also a great actor and a brilliant man, perhaps with enough humility to find the meat-market a little embarrassing. Despite his fame, well-publicized hedonism and drug history, and flashy stage identities, Bowie came from the quiet nothing and nowhere, and is a down-to-earth guy, even a bit shy at times. Exploitation - especially the weird, subversive kind as Labyrinth communicates - may be an uncomfortable idea. (?)

Bowie On Jareth ?

Bowie certainly enjoyed working on Labyrinth. But we get the feeling that he doesn't know what to make of Jareth now. They seem as brothers with "an Understanding," which in Bowiespeak is like a respectful version of PNG. He seldom mentions Labyrinth, but refers to it as the "kid's movie" he did. Maybe he thinks that Jareth is just another of his many performance characters that should be left on previous tours. Jareth's appearance is a shade of glam rock-star, and even Bowie suggests an autobiographical connection when he says that Jareth would "rather be down in Soho," a haunt from his own life.

But beyond the conceptual similarities, Jareth is little like Bowie's other incarnations. Jareth left his mark on a new generation, not in high school or clumsy adolescence, but at their most impressionable periods of youth. Not as a stage performance lost to time or a floating voice on the radio, but in their homes as an enduring, visual influence.

To young girls in their formative years, "Labyrinth" is like "Cinderella," an instruction in romantic relationships that will be carried through a lifetime. Ages 3-10 see the brain's development of complex ideas about love and sex, and Jareth easily becomes a part of this. He's the prince, and he becomes part of the mental framework for "Ideal Male Partner." On some level, aspects of his likeness and behavior will be sought after during the selection of future boyfriends and husbands.
So, even Ziggy never had this kind of widescale, manipulative access to female culture. It was through Jareth that David unwittingly played his largest role ever in the psychosexual development of millions of girls.

And here at The Labyrinth Pages, we wouldn't have it any other way. We're glad that Jareth is a part of us, and we can't imagine a proper upbringing without him.
To Bowie we say:

"Thank you, and well played, Sir."

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