From a young age, I have considered myself quite the connoisseur of the English language, primarily because I completed scholastic instruction before the American public at large acknowledged that it might be a good idea to move toward a bilingual approach to education since there are a lot of countries and taco truck employees who don’t speak English. In my youth, I was not a favorite playmate of the other girls in my class, one of whom succinctly explained away her disdain thusly: “She uses too big of words.”
Rather than take this grammatically offensive accusation as a cue to simplify my burgeoning vocabulary and secure the approval of my peers, I opted to alienate these prepubescent philistines further by collecting unusual, frequently outdated words, looking to Shakespeare and interminable games of Balderdash to secure my place in society as an insufferable know-it-all bitch monster.
Now that I am technically a full-fledged grown-up, adult woman, I’m not able to devote myself to studying American English’s idiosyncrasies with quite the same fervor, but I do try to make it a point to zero in on any interesting, sexy or otherwise useful additions to the lexicon.
And so it happened, on or around January 25, 2007, I stumbled upon the phrase “manic pixie dream girl,” probably in a drunken stupor, probably eating an entire bag of Cheetos dipped in Tostitos queso dip, not that it’s any of your business, thank you very much. Coined by the very talented, very sexy (pending photographic confirmation) Nathan Rabin, a film critic for The Onion’s AV Club, the manic pixie dream girl is a “bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” Rabin discovered this insidious stereotype during a forced viewing of that Orlando Bloom-starring cinematic abortion, Elizabethtown, but has identified the first appearance of said stereotype to be Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, which film yours truly first became aware of during my extensive study of Ann M. Martin’s Babysitters Club series, which study probably deserves its own series of posts on this site, because I read damn near every one of those books in spite of their repetitive introductions of the BSC’s members, to the point where my parents forbade me to read said expository chapters aloud during the period wherein my Fascist schoolmarm forced her students to read aloud to their parents, presumeably to forestall any arguments about certain students’ obvious illiteracy during parent-teacher conferences (ie the “too big of words” girl).
But I digress. The term in question (”manic pixie dream girl,” as a brief reminder for our hungover/ADD-addled readers) slowly worked its way into the public consciousness via various feminist blogs and a feature on NPR. Those media outlets, in addition to my fake Internet boyfriend Mr. Rabin (seriously, dude, call me. I’m 83% sure I’m not pregnant. Anymore.) worked hard to poke holes like Swiss cheese in the idea that any such manic pixies exist in reality. I, being a contrarian armchair linguist, agreed that the idea of some chick swooping into some dude’s life to fix everything and show him the vaginal equivalent of a plastic bag wafting around in some suburban strip mall parking lot and presumably suck his dick on a semi-regular basis is, in fact, a fantasy, but also felt that if this dehumanizing portrait of ladies kept worming its way into pop culture, it must be based in some kind of reality.
After two and a half years of pondering, binge drinking and Cheeto/queso consumption, I have come to the conclusion that the “manic pixie dream girl” (hereafter MPDG) is the result of phallocentric delusion and womankind as a whole has been victimized by the projection of this delusion onto various silver screens nationwide. The delusion itself results from the existence of what I like to call “manic pixie nightmare girls,” ladies (ie ME) who seek to elevate their manly partners, but have their own agendas, baggage, interest in life’s infinite mysteries and adventures and yes, depression to cope with, and who would be perfect for said manly partners if only they didn’t use their bubbly inspiringness for their (the MPNGs’) own good, because seriously, we all know that “any man” > “any mere woman.” Damn women with their distracting boobies and their annoying capacity to grow fetuses and their bouncy hair. So what we wind up with are the creepy, lobotomized versions of these otherwise awesome, normal, imperfect ladies, painstakingly edited to fit the writer/director/viewer’s fantasy of womanly submission and devotion.
This would be all well and good if viewers of MPDG-centric entertainment didn’t have such a faulty conception of fantasy versus reality. Because, see, straight dudes perceive (correctly) that society doesn’t let them have feelings or boobs of their own, but they also don’t want to be party to any faggy self-examination or formalized psychotherapy. So instead, they hit the multiplex (or the arthouse theatre, if they are particularly secure in their masculinity) and let Zach Braff convince them that moving home after failing at whatever the hell it was they were trying to achieve in life is TOTES FINE, because there is surely a lovely, Natalie Portman-esque MPDG just wasting away forlornly because she doesn’t have a special, unique snowflake of an emotional cripple on whom to work her life-fixing magic. She, being a woman (a WOMAN, for god’s sake), surely has no aspirations of her own or problems that can’t be eradicated through fellatio and/or psychotropic medication and/or childbirth, and can thusly focus all her time and energy on Zach Braff or his Midwestern, non-famous equivalent (ie all of my ex-boyfriends, who, if there is such a thing as cosmic justice, are currently dying in rape fires), presumably spending any time she is not interacting with her Braff wannabe in a catatonic, Stepford Wives state of suspended animation.
Now, readers, I know what you’re thinking: “Whoa, Kelly, that’s an awfully reductive view of American masculinity, to say nothing of your wholly self-serving crack at your ex-boyfriends, with regard to that “rape fire” business. Now who’s got a ‘faulty conception of fantasy versus reality?’” To which I would reply, bravo, unnamed reader! Way to use my own lazy bullshit blog post against me! That is an excellent point because it belies the very lie of the MPDG stereotype, as well as the stereotype of American dudes, sensitive or not–the idea that any complex human being, dude or dudette, can be reduced to a simple, descriptive catch-all nomenclature.
As always, my point is that you, yes, YOU, should be hella pissed off. Why? Because there’s not nearly enough manic pixie nightmare girls represented in popular culture. A cursory Google Search reveals not only that I may not have officially coined the phrase (but I’m totally willing to take the credit if anyone is interested, because I am a total MPNG), but that only a few Internet citizens have pointed out examples of the flip side of the MPDG, namely Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married and Jennifer Aniston as Liz Lemon’s old college pal on 30 Rock. Seriously? Manic pixie nightmare girls are way better and more entertaining than manic pixie dream girls, if only because we can have bad idea sex with no comeuppance. I want more of them on my teevee. They will make me feel more justified in my continual consumption of artificially flavored cheese snacks, especially those produced by Frito-Lay, because manic pixie nightmare girls are very committed to senseless brand loyalty for no good reason. Because we are inexplicably awesome. Anneken out!
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