“New Girl” just released its third season on Netflix, and in between burying myself amidst my textbooks, I’ve been binging on the wonderfulness that is Zooey Deschanel…which has unfortunately also reminded me of a recently developed pet peeve.
Manic pixie dream girls.
Criticism of MPDG has been growing since the term’s birth in an article by Nathan Rabin. But it’s not the trope that bothers me. It’s the criticism. Every time a female character barely steps into the territory of being quirky or vivacious I feel like the critics come swarming like piranhas to a wounded cow in the Amazon. From Barbara Streisand in “What’s Up, Doc?” to Zooey Deschanel in…well everything she’s in, people hate the manic pixie dream girl, complaining that she doesn’t exist and that she’s a shallow character.
The criticism of MPDG has progressed from complaining about an under-developed character to hating the entirety of the character…something which I would blame on the term itself. Rather than highlighting the tendency for female characters to be written solely for the support or fulfillment of the male protagonist (dream girl), it highlights the personality (manic pixie).
But people really do have those personalities! I have one of those personalities. I am unabashedly quirky, bordering on downright weird. My love of life leans very much on the side of childlike wonder, particularly in the fall and winter. You don’t have to spend much time around me at all to figure out that I live in a magical little world of my own.
Although I admire what Rabin was trying to do when he invented the term, I find that those who use it most often are participating not in a feminist critique of lazy character-building but in a veiled form of misogyny. Like the “body-positive” movement that has a tendency to demean and ridicule thin women, criticism of MPDG has become an excuse to rag on any characteristic that someone finds annoying.
I want to see more female characters who have lives of their own that don’t revolve around a man. I would love to see an independent woman with her own desires and dreams in a movie, one who doesn’t need to fall in love in order to be fulfilled in the story line.
But I also love seeing manic pixie dream girls on television and in movies. It’s a nice validation of who I am. As much as I love my unique experience of life (and try to share it with anyone who doesn’t run away screaming), it gets lonely trying to live a magical life in a non-magical world. When I see a manic pixie dream girl, she restores my love of life!
I don’t think the two desires are mutually exclusive because the point of the MPDG trope was never to criticize a person, it was to criticize the way a person was used. As a feminist manic pixie, I demand my right to be represented in the stories of my culture in a way that recognizes my personality as a whole person who is real and complex in addition to being quirky and lively.
As Rabin says in his article in which he apologizes for creating MPDG, “Let’s all try to write better, more nuanced and multidimensional female characters: women with rich inner lives and complicated emotions and total autonomy, who might strum ukuleles or dance in the rain even when there are no men around to marvel at their free-spiritedness.”