…is usually a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
For serious, guys & gals, can we talk about Manic Pixie Dream Girls? Because man are they annoying. I realize this might not be a trope that everyone is familiar with, but it’s incredibly prevalent, especially in “indy” or “nerdy” books/movies, so I guarantee you’ve run up against it. But, for those who haven’t, here’s a brief run-down:
A Manic Pixie Dream Girl is the free-spirited, quirky cute love interest girl in stories that feature nerdy, socially awkward boys who in no way deserve her, at least in their own minds. They often like to dye their hair absurd colors, rail against the “norm” and talk about sex to get a shock reaction out of their male counterparts. Examples abound: Sheeni Saunders in Youth in Revolt, Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Clementine Kruczynski in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, John Green’s entire female character repertoire (except for Hazel Grace in The Fault in Our Stars, but Augustus Waters is a Manic Pixie Dream Boy, so he only gets a few measly points for that), Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Danielle in the Girl Next Door, the female characters in just about every dystopia ever (1984, Fahrenheit 451, We, and, I’m sure, several others that I haven’t read due to my extreme distaste for dystopias [post pending]), and, of course, Zooey Deschanel (Summer Finn in 500 Days of Summer, Trillian in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Jess in New Girl being prime examples). See TV Tropes for more details.
Now don’t get me wrong. A lot of the movies/books I just listed are well worth watching/reading. But they are good in spite of their central female character, not because of her (except, maybe, 500 Days of Summer, which actually plays with the concept in some interesting and worthwhile ways). Because the thing about Manic Pixie Dream Girls is that, on the surface, they look like strong, independent and unique female characters, but in actuality they are thinly disguised male fantasies who exist solely for nerdy boys to lust after. They don’t have personalities; they have quirks. They define themselves not as individuals, but rather in opposition to other people, especially other girls (or, often, society in general). Their own problems always stem from past relationships with men, which often gives them a bit of a Damsel in Distress vibe and makes them ripe for the saving. And they fall in love with the utterly boring male protagonist for no discernible reason, after which they have an alarming tendency to give up whatever self they do have in favor of becoming A Girlfriend.
So what’s the point of them, anyway? Basically, MPDGs are what authors use to escape accusations of misogyny. “Look!” they cry. “She’s active! She does things! She says what she thinks and likes to make a scene! Isn’t she unique and interesting?” Except that underneath all of the quirk, there’s nothing there—no substance. They are still puppets masquerading as women.
I have a hard time articulating exactly why this bothers me so much more than weak and ineffectual female characters (they do bother me, but not to nearly the same degree), but I think it lies with the fact that they are portrayed as being “a real” perfect woman, with whom a Happily Ever After is guaranteed. They encourage nerdy, socially awkward boys to think that if only they could find their own MPDG, she would fix all of their problems and teach them to live life to the fullest, and everything would be swell and dandy. Basically, the trope is encouraging boys to think of girls one-dimensionally, and doesn’t allow for an inner life. The second that quirky cute girl demonstrates a flaw, or even simply fails to make him Happy Ever After, the illusion is ruined and it’s her fault. Essentially, it’s the same reason I hate Edward Cullen [possibly post pending]: it models a “perfect relationship” with a character who not only doesn’t exist in reality, but would actually make a horrible significant other if s/he did (the MPDG due to lack of depth, and Cullen due to his obviously abusive personality).
So no, Hollywood, I am not impressed with your quirky and fun-loving bohemian fairy girls, in case you were wondering. Please to be doing better in the future?
“Too many guys think I’m a concept, or I complete them, or I’m gonna make them alive. But I’m just a fucked-up girl who’s lookin’ for my own peace of mind; don’t assign me yours.” -Clementine, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
P.S. The ever brilliant XKCD has also touched on this phenomenon.
pg. 259 of Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift