Turns Out You DO Know JackJuly 12, 2009
I used to really like the name “Jack.” I considered it a couple of times when babies were on the way, but it never made the final cut. Now I’m glad. Because Jack seems to be the go-to name when creating new characters for television, books and movies. I don’t know why it’s so popular, but it is; there’s a whole category on Wikipedia on Things That Begin With Jack.
Maybe it’s just laziness on the part of writers:
- Writer No. 1: “We need a tough guy, a leader, a no-nonsense man of action. Let’s call him Fred.”
- Writer No. 2: “Are you serious? How about Nick?”
- Producer: “Nah, that’s too ethnic. Let’s go with Jack.”
- Writer No. 2: “But we have a Jack on five shows already.”
- Producer: “See? That proves it works!”
As you know, I think about the important things in life so you don’t have to. Let’s take a look at a few fictional Jacks of the past century or so:
Jack Shephard: Matthew Fox plays this heroic doctor, a main character on the television series Lost. This Jack is a compassionate, dedicated surgeon, wracked with self-doubt and a bit of a martyr complex, who steps up and leads the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 through five (so far) seasons of adventure. He can be a bit heavy-handed, and Fox’s limited acting range has given rise to a drinking game based on his few facial expressions, but this Jack lives up to the heroic sound of the name. You can tell, because he rips the sleeves off his shirts. Jack Shephard is so tough that he manages to keep his stubble from growing. As his fellow castaways get shaggier and shaggier, Jack’s facial fuzz stays at the quarter-inch mark until he decides, later on, that he needs a massive Jakobian megabeard. That’s willpower.
Repairman Jack: F. Paul Wilson’s heroic character, the star of about a dozen series novels as well as two key books in the Adversary Cycle, is a no-last-name off-the-grid freelance do-gooder, a New York paladin who collects vintage toys, blends into crowds and can kill you with a fingertip. Once a month, he heads into Central Park and mugs muggers, turning their stealings over to churches’ donation boxes. He also tends to fight otherworldly monsters once in a while. This Jack is the classic knight errant, an anonymous ronin who lives to do the right thing, even if he has to break the law to do it. Which he does.
Jack Dawson: When was Leonardo DiCaprio this young? I’d forgotten. But then again, it has been a long, long time since this Jack gambled his way onto the Titanic and sailed into legend. Mock it all you want, but I love this movie, just as I love Titanic lore, and I thought Leo brought the perfect blend of sass, charm and steel to his portrayal of Jack Dawson. The elegant dinner scene was priceless: “Hardly any rats.” And although you may find the “I’m the king of the world” sequence cheesy as all get out, Jack proved it a short while later. In the back of a car in the cargo hold. Yeah, you know what I’m talking about.
Big Jack: This was the African-American member of the Big Jim action figure family in the 1970s. Don’t remember Big Jim? That’s okay. You’re probably a foreigner. Big Jim was a sports/outdoors action figure, a rare thing among the soldiers and space heroes of 1970s tall-doll collections. He had special mechanical arms covered in soft rubber; bend his elbow and his bicep pumped up. Pretty cool. His friends were Big Jack, who came with red shorts and boxing gloves (or a basketball), Big Jeff, who was blonde and wore safari gear, and Big Josh, who had a beard and dressed like a lumberjack. Looking back, I now see the joke the Big Jim people played on us little boys, particularly since we would never allow Barbies near our men. “Big Jack in his red satin shorts is hanging out with the lumberjack!”
Jack Bauer: If you had told me a decade ago that Keifer Sutherland would be one of television’s greatest action icons of all time, I would have laughed at you. But the Keif proved me wrong. Season after season, this Jack goes without sleep, food and bathroom breaks to smash global terrorism plots really, really quickly. Hey, I was in Wal-Mart today, and I noticed that the in-house phone system used by staff rings with the 24 CTU ring. Jack Bauer would kick ass in a Wal-Mart. He’d fight off an army of terrorists with a Swiffer Wet-Jet, several bottles of bleach and a clearance rack full of super-soakers.
Jack of Hearts: This is one of the lamest superheroes of all time. Marvel introduced Jack of Hearts in the 1970s. He has some kind of weird disfigurement that turned half his body black and gave him blasting powers or something. After he gained his powers, he started dressing like a giant stupid playing card and called himself Jack of Hearts because … well, his name is Jack Hart. See how that works? He was an Avenger for a while, but they let him go because he was so lame. How lame? So lame that they got Starfox to give him the axe. That’s a hell of an insult. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, consider yourself lucky.
Jack the Ripper: Whoever killed five women in London’s Whitechapel more than a century ago, a whole genre of fiction has arisen in his name. Jack the Ripper stars in comics, books, movies and TV shows. He’s been played by more actors than Dr. Who and James Bond put together, and in many ways. But they all have something in common: They’re badasses. Because if you’re going to be a mysterious serial killer, if you’re going to commit your crimes before vanishing into the mists of time, and if people are going to continue to debate your identity a century later, you’re a badass, and your name is Jack.
Jack Reacher: Lee Child’s giant ex-military-policeman is an American vagabond, a road warrior exploring the country book by book. He carries only a toothbrush and a bank card, and relies on his superior deduction skills, his quick wit and the 250 pounds of muscle on his 6-foot-5 frame to pound the living crap out of smugglers, terrorists, militia fringers, thieves, killers and bikers. Every single day. This Jack is the hero of some of the finest thrillers of the last decade, books that prove big tough thugs can be smart, too. Unlike most other Jacks, this guy’s full name is just that: Jack. Of all the people on this list, he’s the only one I hope doesn’t read this.
Jack McCoy: When Sam Waterston joined Law and Order as new ADA Jack McCoy, I was wary. But he made the role work perfectly, bringing his craggy looks and laid-back style to the courtrooms of New York City. Jack McCoy was a smart, quick, dedicated lawyer, never afraid to smack the law around a bit if necessary, but always focused on putting the bad guys away. He proved you don’t always have to be a physical tough guy to be an action hero. I always thought of him as a next-generation Atticus Finch without the careful attention to fashion.
Lightning Jack: Paul Hogan tried to revive his career with this movie and its titular character. He’s a wise-cracking bloke with a hat who gets into adventures … wait, I can’t keep going with this. When I think “Australia” I think of that stupid Kangaroo Jack movie, and also Hungry Jack’s, which is what they call Burger King down under. Hey, creators: Think up a new cool first name, okay? We’re all Jacked out here.