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I never could have imagined how that phrase would explode
July 15, 2014 1:43 PM   Subscribe

"I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to pop culture: I’m sorry for creating this unstoppable monster. Seven years after I typed that fateful phrase, I’d like to join Kazan and Green in calling for the death of the “Patriarchal Lie” of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope.

More on the manic pixie dream girl trope, including several links from the article above:

The original article, coining the term 'Manic Pixie Dream Girl


Slate: Is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Dead?


Jezebel: Manic pixie dream girl has lost all meaning.
posted by ActionPopulated (120 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
It seems weird and unnecessary to have a backlash against a phrase and call the phrase misogynist without having a backlash against the thing that the phrase was trying to bring to light. It's really a real thing that female characters show up whose sole purpose is to be delightful, airy trifles to cheer up depressive guys without having any interior life of their own or goals outside of cheering up this one guy. How are we supposed to describe that now?
posted by bleep at 1:52 PM on July 15 [63 favorites]


So, Nathan Rabin doesn't enjoy the smell of his own farts.
posted by Ennis Tennyone at 1:57 PM on July 15 [8 favorites]


Yeah, it named a real phenomenon, and the fact that it isn't be applied as the creator meant it doesn't mean some pernicious mission creep is in process, but that the phrase is more broadly useful than he conceived.

I remember a few years ago the guy who came up with the phrase metrosexual wrote an article about the phrase complaining about it. He seemed somewhat put out that people actually enjoyed thinking of themselves that way. Sorry, guy, but I made up the word malcompetent to describe George W. Bush, but that doesn't mean I own the word and nobody else can use it as they see fit.
posted by maxsparber at 1:59 PM on July 15 [18 favorites]


Perhaps I'm too much a literalist, but the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope bothered me for decades before it got such a catchy label. So what's the patriarchal lie? The phrase? No, the phrase calls out the patriarchy rather than supporting it. The existence of the freewheeling girl who makes our her feel better about himself. No, that's staggeringly common and actually patriarchal.

So, what am i missing? The article seems like it's from backwards land.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 2:00 PM on July 15 [21 favorites]


Oh. So Nathan Rabin came up with the term "Manic Pixie Dream Girl".
posted by deathmaven at 2:01 PM on July 15 [3 favorites]


Doesn't this always happen? A clever label for something distinctive gets expanded or repurposed until it looses all meaning?
posted by The Whelk at 2:01 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


Well, at the very least, the "MPDG" label was responsible for this awful and uncomfortable video which seemed to totally miss the point of what it meant, so it will be good to see it go, I guess.
posted by koeselitz at 2:04 PM on July 15


But wouldn't it be great if he actually got under the sheets and took a deep breath and smelt/felt the *nuances* and started talking about them, instead of disavowing the whole thing?
posted by Ennis Tennyone at 2:07 PM on July 15


I can understand not liking the overuse of it, sometimes to dismiss valuable female characters in the same way "Mary Sue" is sometimes used, but it's not anywhere near a 'lie', unfortunately. It's one of a class of female (or sometimes PoC) character types that exist strictly as props for the 'growth' for the male lead. 'Magical negro' and 'woman in refrigerator' are overused terms in the same class. Trying to destroy the phrase when the situation still exists seems wrongheaded, especially since one of the useful things about specialized vocabulary is the ability to discuss such cliches without having to spend a huge amount of time explaining what you mean first.
posted by tavella at 2:07 PM on July 15 [10 favorites]


Doesn't this always happen? A clever label for something distinctive gets expanded or repurposed until it looses all meaning?

Yea. Cf white knight, would be one of the closest examples i can think of.

It originally started out meaning "whiny friendzoned guy who thinks if only he defends his fair maiden can he finally have the sex when she realizes he's worthy" to being re-purposed by well, a bunch of neckbeards and MRA types to mean "Any guy who defends against us attacking a woman or says anything we consider feminist".

They eventually abandoned that for the balls-out and blatantly offensive "mangina", but watching it happen was eyebrow raising.

That said, i don't understand what's wrong with this phrase. As was said above, it's describing a real tiresome thing. Just because some people misused it doesn't mean that thing doesn't exist.
posted by emptythought at 2:07 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


The problem with the MDDG stereotype for me wasn't so much that it was wrong as that it was focusing on one particular aspect of a larger thing, and not recognizing other things as part of the same class because they didn't fit particular details. (Much the way a friend of mine to this day will stand up and fight you over the proposition that Blade Runner is not Cyberpunk because they don't plug their brains into computers in Blade Runner and if nobody jacks into the net, it is not Cyberpunk, QED.)

The MPDG is just one era's particular version of a female character who exists primarily to have an impact on the male main character. (See the magic negro as well, who is there basically to deliver some wisdom to the white male main character and tell him black people aren't holding a grudge.)

Before the Manic Pixie Dream Girl there was a rash of Sexy Criminal Dream Girls who similarly got straitlaced, bored male characters into trouble and showed them how to break out of the ruts they were stuck in. Melanie Griffith in Something Wild. Michelle Pfeiffer in Into the Night. Hell, maybe even Jamie Lee Curtis in A Fish Called Wanda, although that movie was so much more self-aware than most.

I agree that you're missing the point if you focus on the quirky, pixie-ish qualities that just happened to define the trope for a while in the Indie 90s, and figure anybody who reflects those characteristics must therefore be a manic pixie dream girl. Holly Golightly and Annie Hall are absolutely not MPDGs just because they're kind of manic and pixie-ish, because they're not used the same way in their respective stories. Melanie Griffith in Something Wild absolutely is, although she's not remotely pixie-ish.
posted by Naberius at 2:07 PM on July 15 [21 favorites]


My feminist bike gang has been using "Manic Fixie Dream Girls" as our tagline for a long time now, and we're NEVER CHANGING IT UNTIL WE THINK OF SOMETHING FUNNIER
posted by Juliet Banana at 2:08 PM on July 15 [97 favorites]


“Manic Pixie Prostitute” is a subversive spin on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype

If we're trying to rehabilitate concepts that have been badly used and abused can we go after "subversive" instead?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:08 PM on July 15 [12 favorites]


He named the character-who-exists-just-to-get-main-male-character-to-grow perfectly. Manic Pixie Dream Girl as a phrase has now made people say, no, this character isn't MPDG! Maybe it'll result in having better female characters onscreen. (Ha, I can dream, right?)
posted by sfkiddo at 2:09 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


Doesn't this always happen? A clever label for something distinctive gets expanded or repurposed until it looses all meaning?

Right - "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" cannot, by original definition, describe Jess from New Girl; it's her story -- or at least the show certainly started out that way. Yet just because Zoey Deschanel played the character and because she had some of the external qualities associated with the term, she, and the show, were labelled that, even though, if anything the first season of the show was about how the men in the show didn't really have discernable personalities at first and the "journey" was about Jess changing.

And that gets to the problem of the continued use of the term. It dismisses female characters that are "that type of woman" (not overly serious, "flighty", more what we call childlike than concerned with "acting sexy") but decidedly not focusing on why the original definition is a problem. It compounds not taking women characters seriously rather than trying to make it better.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:11 PM on July 15 [12 favorites]


Oh sure, Nathan, way to throw Tasha Robinson under the bus!
posted by edheil at 2:11 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


It seems a wee bit counterproductive to write an article decrying how your name is linked with a phrase, by repeating that phrase in nearly every sentence. Because now online, your name + phrase is going to come up even more. Unless your real aim was to make sure everyone knew you coined that phrase.
posted by emjaybee at 2:11 PM on July 15 [11 favorites]


Now that Manic Pixie Dream Girl has helped Nathan Rabin to complete his own character development arc, he's ready to dump it and move on.

but I'm being uncharitable
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:12 PM on July 15 [117 favorites]


Doesn't this always happen? A clever label for something distinctive gets expanded or repurposed until it looses all meaning?

Paging "disruptive innovation."
posted by escabeche at 2:13 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


It is the fate of all things to loose meaning. We cannot excape it.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 2:14 PM on July 15 [9 favorites]


Thankfully I had never had any meaning in the first place.
posted by The Whelk at 2:15 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


I'm confused. The MPDG phrase (or so I thought) is itself calling out the silly, sexist way which women are presented in movies written by and revolving around mopey, affluent young men.

Calling Natalie Portman's character in "Garden State" a MPDG is sort of calling attention to the fact that the character is pure male fantasy, and doesn't represent a real, nuanced woman with myriad flaws, virtues, tics, etc. and instead posits that these whimsical creatures are gamboling around out there in the world, waiting for a sadsack guy to come along that they can attach themselves to and infect with joyous wonderment.

I didn't think he was endorsing the depiction of women this way by coining a phrase which mocks that depiction. So why is he apologizing?
posted by Alonzo T. Calm at 2:17 PM on July 15 [10 favorites]


I'm eagerly awaiting Maniac Pixie Dream Girl in which Zooey Deschanel plays an endearingly daffy, ukelele strumming serial killer who teaches a series of broodingly soulful young men to embrace life before taking it from them via meat cleaver dismemberment.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 2:17 PM on July 15 [71 favorites]


I really feel like I'd heard this term way before 2007.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:22 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


> My feminist bike gang has been using "Manic Fixie Dream Girls" as our tagline for a long time now, and we're NEVER CHANGING IT UNTIL WE THINK OF SOMETHING FUNNIER

Manic Fixie SCREAM Girls? Barbaric yawps and all?
posted by benito.strauss at 2:25 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


So, he's hoping Manic Pixie Dream Girl meme will fall like a Lead Zeppelin?

Good thing the creator retains control over.... hahahahaha, only in law does that ever happen for anything at all!
posted by IAmBroom at 2:27 PM on July 15


I'm eagerly awaiting Maniac Pixie Dream Girl

Or even Manic Pixies Dream Girl, where Kim Deal finally has enough and kicks Black Francis's pretentious butt.

I kid because I love.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:27 PM on July 15 [15 favorites]


The Whelk: "Doesn't this always happen? A clever label for something distinctive gets expanded or repurposed until it loses all meaning?"

Trope.
posted by RobotHero at 2:27 PM on July 15


So what's the patriarchal lie?

The original conception was that the female character had virtually no agenda of her own. She was a two dimensional powerless prop.

As the phrase has bled over to describe any lively female character with a male involved, it has become a way snidely ignore the strength and depth of some very solid female roles.

I've never encountered that myself, but that appears to be the concern.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:28 PM on July 15 [4 favorites]


MPDG: not to be confused with Manioc Pixel Drum Ghoul, which describes the hackneyed old trope of a vagabond poltergeist which steals tapioca from your cupboards, joins in drum circles uninvited, and appears to be rendered in 8-bit.
posted by Alonzo T. Calm at 2:29 PM on July 15 [15 favorites]


I don't watch New Girl and I think it's possible that Zooey Deschanel was invented in a lab because she's too pretty and quirky to be real. However, I liked this quote from this episode of New Girl:

"I brake for birds. I rock a lot of polka dots. I have touched glitter in the last 24 hours. I spend my entire day talking to children, and I find it fundamentally strange that you’re not a dessert person. That’s just weird and it freaks me out. And I'm sorry I don’t talk like Murphy Brown, and I hate your pant suit and I wish it had ribbons on it to make it slightly cute. And that doesn’t mean I'm not smart and tough and strong."

I will say that part of the reason the term lost its meaning, if it ever had any, was that it was used inappropriately. In my opinion, the defining characteristic of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is that they help the male protagonist self-actualize without pursuing their own goals. For that reason, Annie Hall is not really a MPDG because she has her own thing going on. On the other hand, Natalie Portman in Garden State and Scarlett Johannson in Lost in Translation are MPDGs.
posted by kat518 at 2:31 PM on July 15 [12 favorites]


This kinda reminds me of when Ronnie James Dio got all upset about people overusing the "devil horns" sign. Only not nearly as cool.
posted by spilon at 2:31 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


I've been called that before, and I think it was meant as a compliment. (ugh)

Which is to say, I would believe that as it has become popular, it has started to lose the social-critique it originally had. (Not that this article isn't totally wanky.)
posted by likeatoaster at 2:34 PM on July 15


I'm eagerly awaiting Maniac Pixie Dream Girl in which Zooey Deschanel plays an endearingly daffy, ukelele strumming serial killer who teaches a series of broodingly soulful young men to embrace life before taking it from them via meat cleaver dismemberment.

I keep threatening to write this as an episode of Hannibal.
posted by The Whelk at 2:36 PM on July 15 [6 favorites]


Natalie Portman in Garden State and Scarlett Johannson in Lost in Translation are MPDGs.

Natalie Portman, 100% yes, but I don't agree on Scarlett Johannson in LIT. That was a pretty low energy performance to be considered MPDG ( I like the movie and her performance in it, I just really don't think she fits the criteria).
posted by sweetkid at 2:37 PM on July 15 [4 favorites]


I saw a Manichaean Pixie Dream Girl in a movie once. I found the character to be rather two-dimensional.
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:37 PM on July 15 [12 favorites]


Even if he cannot control the use of this phrase, he's surely permitted to have an opinion about it, right?
posted by MoonOrb at 2:37 PM on July 15


MPDG and side order of a plate o' beans, please.
posted by davidmsc at 2:38 PM on July 15


> in movies written by and revolving around mopey, affluent young men.

That would be literally every movie I've seen starring Jason Segal.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:38 PM on July 15


I just noticed this isn't directly linked.

(Video safe for work, audio contains a few sexual references)

Manic Pixie Prostitute.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:39 PM on July 15 [4 favorites]


This kinda reminds me of when Ronnie James Dio got all upset about people overusing the "devil horns" sign.

Did he write a thinkpiece about it for Kerrang!? Cause that would be awesome.
posted by Atom Eyes at 2:40 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


The Manchurian Pixie Dream Girl, she's the smartest, bravest, most loyal person I ever met.
posted by The Whelk at 2:41 PM on July 15 [15 favorites]


and infect with joyous wonderment.

Coupla shots will clear that right up.
posted by octobersurprise at 2:41 PM on July 15


I miss dirtynumbangelboy.
posted by nanojath at 2:43 PM on July 15 [9 favorites]


The reason that the term itself is misogynist or patriarchal (or both?) is never delved into in the article, it seems more like it's just been widely misunderstood and misapplied and he's just tired of having the argument. Naberius has the best take on why it's reductive and unhelpful as a term, but Rabin himself didn't really touch on that.
posted by anazgnos at 2:44 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


I think Zooey's turn in Elf is the perfect example fwiw.
posted by OHenryPacey at 2:48 PM on July 15


MANIC SAUCY BREAM CURLS

with chips
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 2:52 PM on July 15 [3 favorites]


Isn't the fact that Will Ferrell's character is substantially more manic and pixie-ish a mitigating factor?
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:52 PM on July 15 [6 favorites]


Doesn't this always happen? A clever label for something distinctive gets expanded or repurposed until it looses all meaning?

ironic, isn't it?
posted by bitteroldman at 2:54 PM on July 15 [8 favorites]


It seems a wee bit counterproductive to write an article decrying how your name is linked with a phrase, by repeating that phrase in nearly every sentence. Because now online, your name + phrase is going to come up even more. Unless your real aim was to make sure everyone knew you coined that phrase.

I didn't even think of this... and now i can't unsee it.

slow clap
posted by emptythought at 3:18 PM on July 15 [6 favorites]


Manic Pixie Dip-Shit: those who grab for the gold ring of fame for their writing, but then have regrets when they see their words used by others in a way they did not intend.
posted by sutt at 3:20 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


I thought the episode of Community season 4 (yeah, I know) where Abed has to juggle two simultaneous dates to the same dance, the "cute n' quirky" one was a pretty funny sendup of the MPDG type.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:20 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


Nathan Rabin has to come up with a new hashtag, because this isn't #humblebrag but it's close.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:27 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


I'm eagerly awaiting Maniac Pixie Dream Girl in which Zooey Deschanel plays an endearingly daffy, ukelele strumming serial killer who teaches a series of broodingly soulful young men to embrace life before taking it from them via meat cleaver dismemberment.


Start up the kickstarter, I'll contribute. And not just because I've been tossing around that term for awhile.
posted by happyroach at 3:29 PM on July 15 [4 favorites]


Before the Manic Pixie Dream Girl there was a rash of Sexy Criminal Dream Girls who similarly got straitlaced, bored male characters into trouble and showed them how to break out of the ruts they were stuck in. Melanie Griffith in Something Wild.

I saw Something Wild around when it came out, so I was in high school or just starting college. And I had a feminist sensibility but not much vocabulary to express it, so there would just be things that made me SO MAD but I couldn't really say why.

And so for years, I just seethed about how much I hated Something Wild, and how I hated that theme of the kookaloo lady who frees a straightlaced guy through sexin' and kookiness and so I was actually pretty happy when I first heard the term Manic Pixie Dreamgirl because I could say, Yes! That!
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:31 PM on July 15 [11 favorites]


For me the purest archetypal form was Phil Hartman on Sprockets.


...what?
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:37 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


I think some people don't entirely grasp the idea of fiction. So all the stuff about agency and inner life and what role does the character play in the story goes in one ear and out the other, and then they are fixating on what kind of hat did she wear and contributing "in real life" entries to TVTropes and accusing people of slut-shaming Starfire.
posted by RobotHero at 3:38 PM on July 15


I feel deeply weird, if not downright ashamed, at having created a cliché that has been trotted out again and again in an infinite Internet feedback loop.

And so you wrote an article for Salon about it? Maybe look to the cliché in your own persona first, Apologetic Nebbish Internet Pundit.
posted by RogerB at 3:48 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


Now I have "MODOK Pixie Dream Girl" running through my head. Thanks, assholes.
posted by Etrigan at 3:57 PM on July 15 [4 favorites]


"I'm sorry I haven't come up with another idea that has gone viral, but I'm writing this article for Salon so people know that I did something that was cool and also this'll get me in bed with a few people because 'Salon article + did something cool once = sex.' (Fingers crossed.)"
posted by Zack_Replica at 3:59 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


Stop picking on Rabin. He's a pretty good critic, and The Dissolve has been a great addition to the internet.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:03 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


Molten Pixie Dream Girl, coming after you through the keyhole, through the cracks in the walls.
posted by The Whelk at 4:04 PM on July 15 [5 favorites]


Death of authorial intent.
posted by Apocryphon at 4:06 PM on July 15


Machine Pixie Dream Girl, only perceptable while taking DMT
posted by The Whelk at 4:07 PM on July 15 [8 favorites]


MORLOCK PIXIE DREAM GIRL
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 4:09 PM on July 15 [3 favorites]


Malbolge Pixie Dream Girl, a series of circles full of torture with ice at the core.
posted by The Whelk at 4:09 PM on July 15


[Ok, maybe time to let the riffing go and let the conversation about the article continue?]
posted by mathowie at 4:11 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


Mobile Panzer Division Gundam
posted by juv3nal at 4:11 PM on July 15 [14 favorites]


I really feel like I'd heard this term way before 2007.

At first I thought this as well, but google has been of little help to source anything prior to the Nathan Rabin's Salon article from 2007. Which is not all that strange, really, given that almost all humans tend to suffer from source amnesia, way more often than they really cognitively recognize.

That is not to say that we did not hear the phrase (or a phrase very similar, in discussing the character and trope that the phrase describes) in other medium. However on the web, and in popular culture, almost all of that is sadly lost to the search algorithms of our internet search overlords. And, of course, if you search for the phrase now, the first 20+ pages of results are links to the FPP's articles, or maybe the original 2007 article, but nothing shows up with accurate date tags (and the SEO results are astounding, please keep SafeSearch on unless you really want to suffer from Rule 34).

Of course, I'm sure if we asked the NSA they could probably pull up the very first reference to the phrase on the web and pinpoint the exact time, date, location, IP address, and probably have a picture from the webcam of whoever first published a webpage with the phrase on it. Maybe someone should fill out a FOIA request and see if that goes anywhere... (I'm only half-joking. You get to guess which half).

If you search just on Metafilter alone, the phrase does not start showing up for the first time until August 6, 2008, with this post, which actually originally linked to the AV Club article that is no longer a live link called "http://www.avclub.com/content/feature/wild_things_16_films_featuring", which I believe is the article that Rabin discusses in his apology.

So, ostensibly, given the current preponderance of evidence, at least supplied by the likes of Google search results, and the historic archive of Metafilter discussions, the full phrase "manic pixie dream girl" did not enter the lexicon before the original article in 2007. I'm going to continue to search for any evidence to the contrary, but for now, it seems to be a fair cop.
posted by daq at 4:12 PM on July 15 [3 favorites]


Manic Pixie Dram Girl, who slings shots of single malt whisky to everyone she meets to a soundtrack of Vampire Weekend.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:35 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


Now I have "MODOK Pixie Dream Girl" running through my head.

Manic Organism Designed Only for Kwirkyness
posted by Greg Nog at 4:39 PM on July 15 [14 favorites]


(Video safe for work, audio contains a few sexual references)

Manic Pixie Prostitute yt .
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:39 PM on July 15 [2 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


Still so good. A classic.
posted by Bwithh at 4:54 PM on July 15


Knock knock
Who's there
Bechdel Testing
Bechdel testing who?
Excuse me ma'am is the man of the house available?
posted by humanfont at 4:58 PM on July 15 [17 favorites]


The awful stupidity of that terrible, terrible "Manic Pixie Prostitute" video might have been redeemed if it were even remotely funny and didn't rely on jokes that were being done to death on terrible sitcoms a decade ago.
posted by koeselitz at 5:10 PM on July 15


Now that I think about it, it could be that his point was that the 2 examples he originally had were never followed up with actual representative examples, most of the ones in the follow-up listicle being not really defensible and diluting the concept - "Bringing Up Baby", "Annie Hall", "Amelie". 2 examples does not a trend make. It could be that it was a brief moment that's over now, in which case, thank god.
posted by bleep at 5:13 PM on July 15


("You don't have sexual urges, that's not part of your character..." - Seriously? If you're going to parody MPDG stuff, shouldn't you actually have seen some movies or shows based on the trope, or at least maybe know what the term means?)
posted by koeselitz at 5:14 PM on July 15


It seems like Rabin isn't really opposed to the phrase's usage, he's just opposed MPDG being used incorrectly, as with his Annie Hall comparison. It's a perfectly good and useful term; who cares if some people are doing it wrong?
posted by zardoz at 5:28 PM on July 15


I can tell you for a fact that Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a thing for some sexworkers, cam girls and phone sex girls. I am not sure what this means but it seems interesting.
posted by the anticipation of a new lover's arrival at 5:40 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


The awful stupidity of that terrible, terrible "Manic Pixie Prostitute" video might have been redeemed if it were even remotely funny and didn't rely on jokes that were being done to death on terrible sitcoms a decade ago.
posted by koeselitz at 5:10 PM on July 15 [+] [!]


Which sitcoms do you mean?
I would like the list if possible so I can.... um, check your citations.
posted by Bwithh at 5:45 PM on July 15


"Amelie"

Amelie is a weird one. It's the French Forrest Gump, but of course it fits into the MPDG family too.

I loathed that movie viscerally when I saw it and I just sat there in the cinema in grim stony silence throughout. I couldn't walk out as I wanted to because my friend and half the audience (the other half seemed silent like me) were just engaging in gales of joyful laughter, totally transported.

There's a bit late in the movie where someone (on-screen) hints strongly and seriously that Amelie is mentally ill. I remarked on this after the movie but my friend didn't know what I was talking about.
posted by Bwithh at 5:49 PM on July 15 [6 favorites]


i want to know if Depressive Sluggish Uninspired Man is a popular fantasy with young woman.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:49 PM on July 15 [21 favorites]


i want to know if Depressive Sluggish Uninspired Man is a popular fantasy with young woman.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:49 PM on July 15 [1 favorite −] Favorite added! [!]


I wish.

mind you, there was a Slate article saying that's women settle for these days anyway from a couple of years ago but I can't find it atm
posted by Bwithh at 5:51 PM on July 15


I liked the term and I think it's useful in a lot of contexts (and even in a certain way women treat themselves -- like Laurie Penny's piece from last year that I related to in a lot of ways). It's privileging a man's story over a woman's. She's a collection of quirks but not an actual human. I get that. It's a term that's meant to be a criticism of how screenwriters often dismiss female characters rather than about the female characters themselves.

But I do think it's become shorthand for "any superficially interesting female character I don't like" in terms of people in the audience. I absolutely understand that wasn't the intention of it, but that's what it's turned into. And I see how that's a problem. It's stopped criticizing how women are treated on screen and has started criticizing women, period.

And yeah, there is the issue people took the idea and decided it was a good thing and intentionally began to write characters as MPDG. And then the people (mostly men!) who decided that they were totally going to subvert the motif by ... well, mostly buying into it.

I am on board with the idea it's time to move on from it. Alerting people to it being a stereotype didn't help anything. It just made it worse.
posted by darksong at 6:28 PM on July 15 [4 favorites]


Woah. What. How is Amelie akin to Forrest Gump?

And in what way is she an example of MPDG? The movie is literally about her. The dude that she pursues is, if anything, a catalyst for her character development.

Also how can you hate that movie?
posted by kavasa at 6:54 PM on July 15 [11 favorites]


i want to know if Depressive Sluggish Uninspired Man is a popular fantasy with young woman.

Well, I got married, so that's one.

I'll defend Rabin, who is one of my favorite movie writers. Here's two great articles of his from the My Year Of Flops series that birthed the MPDG: The Hudsucker Proxy and Dune. (trigger warning: Sting in a winged metal codpiece.)
posted by vibrotronica at 6:57 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


Scarlett Johannson in LIT... was a pretty low energy performance to be considered MPDG

Low energy is not the biggest problem with tagging Charlotte with MPDG. She is not simply a prop for Bob. The movie is as much about her drama and internal life as his; he's as much an emotional catalyst for her as the other way around.

For me this captures two problematic ways the trope often seems to be unproductively/unfairly brought to bear on discussion:

* Overfocus on the way the prop is specifically painted rather than the fact that a character is just a prop. Joie de vivre and quirky-novelty aren't really the issue with such characters.

* The assumption that if a woman functions as a catalyst for a man, she's fulfilling the problems of the trope, when it's really only problematic and meant to apply when she has no inner life or arc of her own.
posted by weston at 7:05 PM on July 15 [5 favorites]


To preempt yet another posting about Manic Pixie Prostitute by somebody who didn't read far enough down the thread, I present the Manic Pixie Nightmare Girl.

You're welcome. Die with dignity.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 7:06 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


It's stopped criticizing how women are treated on screen and has started criticizing women, period.

repeated for emphasis. The term morphed, Spanish Flu like, from "hey this type of character is really lazy and kind of insulting and we should be aware of it" to "OMG WOMEN am I RIGHT? They always gotta DO THINGS."

Why it's almost like criticizing women no matter what they do is the default setting for culture or something.
posted by The Whelk at 7:13 PM on July 15 [28 favorites]


Also how can you hate that movie?

For me, "hate" is a bit strong, but Amelie has the twee and the smugness turned up to 11. From frame one. It's all a bit too self-aware and precious and "ain't I just so cute?" for me. YMMV. But for what it's worth, I agree that Amelie (the character) definitely isn't a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.
posted by zardoz at 7:14 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


kat518: "In my opinion, the defining characteristic of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is that they help the male protagonist self-actualize without pursuing their own goals. For that reason, Annie Hall is not really a MPDG because she has her own thing going on. On the other hand, Natalie Portman in Garden State and Scarlett Johannson in Lost in Translation are MPDGs."

Wow, we clearly had completely different reads on LIT. As I saw it, the movie is about her, not him. It's about her dissatisfaction with her current experience and her choosing to have new experiences with different people. Sure, Murray's character has his own stuff going on, but I truly saw it as her story. It's only now on reflection that I find myself thinking "huh, I guess it probably is at least balanced." Might be time to re-watch it.
posted by Lexica at 7:17 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


Woah. What. How is Amelie akin to Forrest Gump?

And here we have an almost perfect example of this term being subverted to convey the opposite of its original meaning: in this case by anti-feminists who are using to attack complex female characters.

When you take a character like Amélie Poulain, or Ramona Flowers, or Clementine Kruczynski (from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) -- all of whom show up prominently as MPDG's in a google search -- you are taking a very cursory and visual impression of their characters and using it to fold them into a frame of helpless two-dimensionality. But of course none of these characters are helpless, none lack agency, none exist solely for the benefit or improvement of a male lead you're supposed to really care about. People who might be moved by, or inspired by, these characters are essentially told that their only interest is as physical objects. Label them as MDPG's, and all that interest and power and individuality goes right out the window.

It is so, so easy to dismiss people using loaded language, turn them into something less than human. Historically, this has applied massively disproportionately to women: If she's angry she's just hysterical. If she's assertive she's just a bitch. If she's powerful, she's shrill; admonishing, a scold; sexually self-assured, a slut; sexually unavailable, frigid. And now we have a new ornament to hang around the necks of women who we perceive as eccentric and non-conforming: she's not an imaginative individual, she's just a Manic Pixie Dream Girl!

I can quite see how the coiner of this term might well want to distance himself from it.

p.s. zardoz, I'm not counting you among those who think that Amélie Poulain is an MPDG. You've made it very clear that you don't like that movie on its own merits, which is totally fair. For the record, I found it charming, but each to their own.
posted by Dreadnought at 7:18 PM on July 15 [22 favorites]


the SUPER ANNOYING thing about Clementine is that she's the perfect example of focusing on shallow, superficial traits and not getting into character. Pretty much the main thrust of the movie is Joel and Clem are doomed to repeat this relationship dynamic FOREVER (because they never learn from experience, cause no one in the movie does cause they just erase painful memories away, so they never grow as people.) so they are in fact made for each other as a morose, passive-aggresive ying to a flighty, self-loathing yang. If nothing else the movie stomps all over the idea that being in a relationship helps or improves these people at all, if anything it enables their worst impulses cause it gives Joel and Clem Someone To Fight.
posted by The Whelk at 7:45 PM on July 15 [4 favorites]


Actually, while I wouldn't call Ramona Flowers a MPDG, she was of the same genre -- a female character that basically exists to provide growth to or be a reward for the vapid male lead. The five seconds of trying to refute this via dialog at the end didn't change that for me.
posted by tavella at 7:58 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


(Movie Ramona is a bit ...uuugh cause of the chip in her head. Book Ramona is way better. Movie Scott is also a little less clearly a jerk with selective memory but another rant another time)
posted by The Whelk at 8:07 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


I think Dreadnought has it. I think Rabin coined a phrase that identified a specific type of character in usually a specific type of film, and the article comes from him feeling he's seen as encouraging the stereotype, or buying into the inherent sexism of the character type by identifying it.

It doesn't make sense that identification would signal endorsement, but that's a very internet argument to make, and he's primarily an internet writer so no wonder he's seen it a lot.

The article seemed, to me, to come from the way the 'manic pixie dream girl' phrase has been misused. By its very nature the phrase shouldn't be applied to real women, but it is. It's now also applied to any female character who's a little quirky (cf Zooey Deschanel, who has played the MPDG much less than you would think if you read many of the articles about her, especially around the launch of New Girl and the way 'adorkable' was applied to her by FOX marketing). It's your standard way-too-shallow reading of a concept, in this case taking the idea that MPDG = quirky woman, rather than = female character whose quirks can't really disguise that there's nothing to them other than their desire to help the main male character.

I wouldn't put it past Rabin to write it as a bit of a humblebrag; I really like him as a film reviewer, especially when he reviews dross, but it's plausible for him to do that, I think. But I also sympathise with the idea that his phrase skewering a sexist trope now gets misused so frequently that he's been accused of promulgating sexism, rather than simply identifying it, and that he would want to just wash his hands of the whole thing.

I can pretty much guarantee he did invent the phrase, though, at least as connected to describing these characters. There won't be evidence of it before the Elizabethtown article because that is exactly the source for it. I can't talk to all the other second-guessing in the thread, but that I know to be true.
posted by gadge emeritus at 9:10 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


I agree that Amelie (ugh, ugh, hated that movie) is not a MPDG -- not because of her personality, which hits all the MPDG notes, but because she is the protagonist and has her very own (stupid, stupid) arc, and it isn't about Making Some Guy Better. You need both.

I'm of two minds about Jess on New Girl. She's sort of on the cusp -- she is the protagonist, but her role in the apartment seems to be Helping The Roommates Quirkily. But sitcoms tend not to have character arcs at all, so it's hard to blame her for not having one.
posted by jeather at 9:30 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


Oh my god I'm cry at "Machine Pixie Dream Girl only perceptible"

But actually I agree with Rabin: this trope has been co-opted from the beginning as a putatively feminist way to to shit on a certain kind of woman. This has been true of the MPDG trope from its birth in 2007 when it first took essay form, when Sadie Stein wrote a hit piece for Jezebel about the real girls, with their real names published, who she envied and resented in high school and college for successfully dating the boys she liked.

Moving on to the AV listicle. In at least half of these films, the emotional climax of the story is the big reveal that behind these women's odd or quirky personas, their lives are meaningful in some profound and unfixable way that the self-pitying male protagonists haven't noticed until they explode into the plot, and can only barely wrap their minds around. The women's stories are universally more interesting than their love interest's standard background of boredom, directionless wealth, and benign parental neglect. Their lives still serve the sad white boy character arc because the revelation of the women's full humanity is usually the men's game-changing moment of "other people are real, their pain is real" and coming to the understanding that their own struggles aren't the center of the universe, but I think dismissing these female characters as airy trash mostly comes from a failure to pay attention to their stories.

What are the Tragic Pixie Dreamgirl stories? Penny Lane tries to kill herself, and has been using her "luminous" groupie queen persona as a facade for her real issues which Cameron Crowe realizes exist, although he is not privy to them. Maude successfully kills herself, has been planning to do so for some time and rocks apart Harold's ennui when she opens up to him about her time in the camps during WWII. Charlize Theron's character is having a mental collapse because she has a cancer diagnosis she can't cope with. Amelie is the titular protagonist of her own movie, but her backstoryless cute love interest is somehow enough to relegate her to "sexual/existential prop" status. Okay. Holly Golightly? The narrative climax of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" is Holly's breakdown when she gets the telegram about her brother Fred, and subsequently the revelation of her horrific childhood, miscarriage later in the story, etc.

Natalie Portman's Garden State character, one who everyone here seems to agree is a total MPDG, is also three dimensional when you scratch her surface. She meets Zach Braff at the neurologist: his brain problems are psychosomatic and hers are real and destroying her life. His prescription is "you're normal and overmedicated, congratulations!" Natalie's epilepsy meds have stopped working, so she can't drive or hold down a job, and is living back home in her little-girl room full of stuffed animals, watching home videos of her dead figure skating career with her mom and glomming on to strangers out of loneliness and desperation.

Underneath all the petty sexual jealousy of the original "Amazing Girl" piece, there's a slip that allows Stein to feel like she can hate them with righteousness. She lists a handful of female painters, filmmakers, poets, and writers as offenders, and then:

"I began to keep lists of famous Amazing Girls: Joan Baez and Judy Collins, of course, but also Anais Nin, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Miranda July, Lady Ottoline Morrell, Edie Sedgwick, Caroline Blackwood, Vanessa Bell --to say nothing of Rima.[...]
Then one day, while staring at Vermeer's “Young Woman with a Water Pitcher” on an excursion to the Met, I had a horrible revelation: an amazing girl! And not just her, either! I thought of all the youthful poets and composers I knew, swooning after the vacant-eyed waifs who sat, chin on knees, gazing up at them at parties, nodding understandingly, breathing "amazing...” then leaping up to dance, abandoned, when someone's band started to play. Surely Raphael had been just as susceptible. The Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, the Nude Descending Staircase, the subject of every famous painting, poem, and piece of music -- they had all been Amazing Girls. I was as sure of it as I'd ever been of anything in my life -- Amazing Girls are and always have been the world's muses. "


Via whatever process of mental alchemy, Stein decided that the real artists are either mass market Old Masters or the anonymous male "youthful poets and composers" of her generation, and that her list of female creators were not artists at all, but "vacant-eyed waifs... the world's muses." The unnamed young men she went to school with are going to grow up to be real musicians or writers; she didn't know or care about the "short stories" her hated Amazing Girls wrote, didn't care about their photography portfolios, didn't care about their music-- no matter how good their writing was, god dammit, they were never really artists! They were just "treated as [artists] for doing nothing but sleeping with them!"

So whose failure is it to recognize the humanity and creative legitimacy of the Amazing Girl? Who is really the two-dimensional character in MPDG movies?
posted by moonlight on vermont at 9:35 PM on July 15 [12 favorites]


This is Stein's idea of Vermeer's MPDG?
posted by Bwithh at 9:41 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


The trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a fundamentally sexist one, since it makes women seem less like autonomous, independent entities than appealing props to help mopey, sad white men self-actualize.

Why does Rabin specify that it's a white thing? I am 100% baffled by that purported aspect of the MPDG trope.


Full disclosure: I am not white.
posted by Bwithh at 9:45 PM on July 15


Ha, here's a proposed list of African-American MPDG counterparts
posted by Bwithh at 9:49 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


But since that list is full of actresses, musicians, comedians, etc. instead of fictional characters, it's already outside of how Rabin was applying it the same way he was objecting to here.

Now if we can find a list of movies about mopey, sad black men and the female characters that help their mopey sad selves, we're getting somewhere.
posted by RobotHero at 10:35 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


Even in the Laurie Penny article that darksong linked to above, which is mostly very good, she uses the term at one point to objectify other women. The title of the article is "I used to be a MPDG". She says "My Facebook feed is full of young male writers who I have encouraged to believe in themselves, set up with contacts, taken on adventures and talked into the night about the meaning of journalism with who are now in long-term relationships with people who are content to be That Girl."

How on earth can she feel comfortable basically saying "my friends girlfriends are so two dimensional, unlike me" in a piece that purports to be feminist?
posted by hazyjane at 11:31 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


One issue with Clementine Kruczynski is that effectively for the bulk of the movie she explicitly is not her - she is the her that is in the head of her mopey boyfriend Joel, who decides to over-ride her rather clear indication that she never wants to have anything to do with him again by focusing on her so obsessively in his head that he retreads a similar path and meets up with her again, presumably to restart their relationship but without having learned anything because both of them forgot their relationship with each other.

I mean, I loved a lot of aspects of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but Clementine essentially doesn't exist in it - it's very focused on her boyfriend's fantasies about her (in fact she outright says as much in one of their fights, if I remember correctly - that he doesn't interact with her, he interacts with who he thinks she is, and as long as he does that they can't have a real relationship).

I'm much fonder of a movie with a similar message about the superficiality of some relationships called Don Jon, where both the main characters have images of the other person that they interact with, and how this undermines both their relationship and their ability to be intimate with each other.

Jon, like Joel, is the protagonist, but I'm much more comfortable with how Barbara, his main love interest, is represented because you see her as her, not a series of her within his head - and while it dwells less on Barbara's intimacy issues, it acknowledges where she's coming from, and the structural similarities to Jon's problems.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:19 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


As a critic whose name I've forgotten once said, "You don't have to be an asshole to hate Amélie, but it helps."
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 2:16 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Woah. What. How is Amelie akin to Forrest Gump?

And in what way is she an example of MPDG? The movie is literally about her. The dude that she pursues is, if anything, a catalyst for her character development.

Also how can you hate that movie?
posted by kavasa at 6:54 PM on July 15 [4 favorites +] [!]


Hmmm. Put like that, I agree she isn't a MPDG in the strict definition

She's like Forrest Gump because the protagonists are both innocents with severe cognitive difficulties (as defined by the mainstream establishment, if you like); also both movies extensively digitally manipulate real world scenes ( historical news footage, Paris) to heighten the fantastical spectacle of both the protagonists' adventures in ways which define the movie.

I hated the movie because I found Amelie the character excruciatingly saccharine and because I have no heart
posted by Bwithh at 2:29 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Why hasn't someone in Silicon Valley or whatever created an MPDG AI executive personal assistant / life coach app yet? It's a no-brainer. We're not talking Kickstarter money here, we're talking the next Facebook money.
posted by Bwithh at 2:34 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


Woah. What. How is Amelie akin to Forrest Gump?

And here we have an almost perfect example of this term being subverted to convey the opposite of its original meaning: in this case by anti-feminists who are using to attack complex female characters.


Hey, "stupid is as stupid does". Gump is a complex protagonist with literally history-changing agency.
posted by Bwithh at 2:48 AM on July 16


Why hasn't someone in Silicon Valley or whatever created an MPDG AI executive personal assistant / life coach app yet?
I got the beta version of Siri and she is always changing my meeting times and sending me to mini golf and getting me singing telegrams. Might have to switch to android.
posted by shothotbot at 4:01 AM on July 16 [5 favorites]


For what it's worth, Rabin's original article really helped me be more critical of the roles that female characters are assigned in movies. I can see why he's upset about the overuse of the term but I feel like it's opened up a lot of dialogs that might not have happened.
posted by octothorpe at 4:56 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


It's really a real thing that female characters show up whose sole purpose is to be delightful, airy trifles to cheer up depressive guys without having any interior life of their own or goals outside of cheering up this one guy. How are we supposed to describe that now?

Clara Oswald
posted by Legomancer at 6:21 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


There really is an xkcd for everything, isn't there?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:59 AM on July 16 [3 favorites]


Rabin's writing is generally excellent. I had no idea he coined this phrase.

Yes and Dreadknought hit the nail on the head. The problem is that MPDG isn't used to describe something, its used to dimiss something.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:43 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


I dream of a Clara that is a real person, because I want to enjoy Capaldi's run. So much. so very very much.
posted by stoneweaver at 7:54 AM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Amelie is the cutest, most adorable gaslighting ever.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:15 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


as long as they grow up to be a debaser
posted by The Vice Admiral of the Narrow Seas at 10:18 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


I long for a CGI version of Gail Fisher as Peggy from that 1970s detective show with Mike Connors and the Lalo Schifrin theme music.

That's right, a Mannix Pixar Dream Girl.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:31 AM on July 16


Not bad, but I have been longing for a folk singer named Ives to travel to the Isle of Man and perform a concert that consists entirely of him raking himself with cactus needles while howling with pain.

That's right. I have been longing for a Manx Prickly Scream Burl.
posted by maxsparber at 11:39 AM on July 16 [2 favorites]


I can understand being annoyed that the MPDG name is now being used to mean "weird/quirky female character" (or anyone played by Zooey Deschanel). Because the entire point of the MPDG is not that she's quirky (although that's a requirement - ScarJo in Lost In Translation is too sedate to be a MPDG), but that she is an empty construct who serves no other purpose than to cheer up some sad-sack and show them how magical life can be. Natalie Portman in Garden State is a paradigm case (even though I still love that movie).

On that point, I don't understand why [500] Days of Summer gets included in the MPDG trope. The entire point of that movie [SPOILERS] is that she is not the end-all-be-all for him, but a real person who ultimately turns out not to be a good fit. It turns the trope on its ear.
posted by Ben Trismegistus at 12:24 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


Sometimes you just have to ignore all the people who do something incorrectly. Personally, I'm just going to keep insisting that the word "literally" doesn't mean "figuratively", pronouncing the animated image format like "gift" minus the T, double-spacing after sentences, employing the Oxford comma, and using the MPDG term as useful shorthand for describing a female character—maybe not even a quirky, artistic one—who exists solely to cheer up a sad sack rudderless male hero.
posted by intendedeffect at 2:46 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


It's stopped criticizing how women are treated on screen and has started criticizing women, period.

Wait. Are you saying that the dominant culture has somehow co-opted language that was originally intended to critique it?
posted by straight at 3:14 AM on July 17 [5 favorites]


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