Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I'm In Love and It Ain't With a Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Thanks to my friend Danee who pointed me toward this piece, in which EJ Dickson describes her issue with Zooey Deschanel. I am absolutely enamored with her thoughts. Some highlights:

I hated her Hanes cotton ads, where she preened in front of a mirror while her pigeon-like warbling played in the background. I hated that her website was called Hello Giggles, and that she regularly posted Facebook status updates that said inane things about Muppets and baby animals and mirrors. And when I see her in the promos for New Girl — which describe her character as "adorkable" — I picture a bonfire of every flower and rainbow and Lisa Frank notebook I've ever seen.

But of course, these reasons were all secondary to why I really hated Zooey Deschanel: the nebbishy, bookish dudes I dated had no compunction about advertising how much they wanted to fuck her. Although I don't usually get jealous over my partners' crushes, it offended me that they thought their attraction to Zooey Deschanel was somehow higher-minded than wanting to fuck someone like Megan Fox, or Lindsay Lohan. Did they really think that this chick had depth and meaning because she had big blue eyes and tweeted about mirrors? Did they think that her vagina had magical, restorative powers that would make them want to live life to the fullest?

I knew, of course, that I couldn't compete with Zooey Deschanel — or her magic vagina — on any real level, because the whole point of MPDGs is that they're DGs; no girl on the planet can ever be like that, even if they cut their own hair and post pictures of their feet on Tumblr. But when you first start dating, and everything you know about relationships comes from romantic comedies, not being like Zooey Deschanel didn't stop me from trying. It's embarrassing to admit now, but I wanted to be worshipped for my uniqueness and lusted after for my adorkableness; I wanted to be the girl who made sensitive neurotics want to change their lives.

She continues,
I blame my behavior during this period on Zooey Deschanel. Zooey Deschanel made me think that falling in love was an Olympic decathalon in quirkiness. Zooey Deschanel convinced me that I looked good in dark-rimmed nanny spectacles when I really just looked like Ira Glass in drag. Zooey Deschanel led me to believe that guys would want to go out with me if I dressed like a menopausal librarian, when I probably would've gotten laid more if I'd followed my instincts and dressed like a total slut.

But now,
I no longer hold her accountable for any of my relationship fails, just as I don't directly blame Vogue for eating disorders or Hunter S. Thompson for making college boys want to become violent alcoholics.

But it still would be nice to see her in a movie where she plays someone quirky without being brain-dead, or dorky without being adorkable. And after hip, quirky twenty-somethings see this movie with their equally hip and quirky girlfriends, they should go home, eat a bucket of chicken wings, and have sex, without a unicorn or rainbow in sight.
This is the kind of stuff I was talking about when I wrote my piece on getting over Deschanel-hate. See, it's ok to actually look at the message that Deschanel's persona and characters send out into the world. Just because a female character represents something intended to be counterculture (in this case "quirky" and "weird") doesn't make it any less oppressive to women than more traditional female stereotypes (ie the hot chick, the vapid supermodel, etc.)

While I can readily admit that I have an issue w/ girl hate involving one Ms. Zooey, I can also understand her culpability in the whole thing. A list celebrities rarely are "just being themselves." Rather, they represent a brand, which is typically specifically designed to send a message out into the world. The message they choose to send is their own and that's fine; but that doesn't exempt them from being subject to critique about the character they choose. For example, I'm going to call out Johnny Depp on a rape analogy. (Sure he'll never see it, but whatev.) When a celebrities' chosen persona and roles directly replicate a tired trope, people are going to say something about it.

I guess what I would love is for guys to just understand what a joke the whole Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) thing is. Like Dickson says when she tried to play the MPDG role, "Sometimes, it seemed like guys were disappointed that being with me fell short of their expectations, because I didn't make them want to go bungee-jumping or sing Hall and Oates songs." Of course they were disappointed. No one is really like the MPDG characters. Sure, there are hella quirky, nerdy, cutesy, hipster girls out there. They are aplenty. But they will not really solve your live problems and take your creativity or life purpose to a whole new plane of existence. Women are not tropes; they are actual people who have actual relationships. And in actual relationships everyone is going to be dealing with actual issues.

I can't help but invoke Clementine's iconic line here: "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."

I can't say that I've ever actively tried to play the MPDG role. I've been weird for the sake of being weird and having fun. In high school I did a few of the things Dickson admits to doing (like wearing animal ears in public.) However, around then, Deschanel was playing roles like, "gas station girl" and was just about to appear in Elf, so I can't say that she had any influence on society--yet. I'm dating myself, but it's true. Then, the indie/hipster thing wasn't mainstream (yes, I just said hipster-ness is mainstream. How meta...) Quirky girls weren't the sought after ideal of the dating world for indie guys. The ideal woman was still more like the stereotypical ideal. (For example, the top 5 Googled women in 2002 were Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, Shakira, Halle Berry, and Jennifer Love Hewitt.)

So in some respect, I like that there is a lot more flexibility in personality types. Trust me, I'm all for quirky-ness. One of my catchphrases is "normal is boring." But as I said before, the pressure to fit a MPDG mold is not much better than the pressure to fit the vapid, hot girl mold. A mold is a mold and any relationship founded on the expectation that one or both parties should fill predetermined expectations is bound to fail. Besides, I feel like with the pixie part of MPDG there's this whole petite body expectation anyway--but that's a complaint for another day.


  1. I'm pretty conviced it were those skinny hipster/indie girls that look good in everything that gave me my body issues. :(

  2. Another right on assessment of the MPDG trope vs. the real women it often gets projected onto. Wish I could force-read this to some of my exes... ;)


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