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April 3, 2010 7:50 PM   Subscribe

Manic Pixie Dream Girls!
posted by WCityMike (132 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
If Diane Keaton in Annie Hall and Katharine Hepburn in Bringing up Baby are MPDGs, then I am a big fan of MPDGs.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:54 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I hate that horrible term.
posted by pinky at 7:55 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


However, "entirely docile" (from the Wikipedia entry) is a terrible description of Katharine Hepburn in Bringing up Baby. Cary Grant is the docile one; Hepburn drives almost all the action throughout the movie. It's like they just needed to plug in a standard feminist critique but they weren't really thinking about it too hard.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:58 PM on April 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yeah for Hepburn I think they just needed a black-and-white example of it. I really don't think it fits the bill. The MPDG is supposed to have no other purpose in life but to enlighten the gloomy male. In Bringing Up Baby Hepburn exists only for herself.
posted by amethysts at 8:09 PM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's no way that Annie Hall counts. She doesn't spring out of nowhere to make Alvie Singer's life better: they gradually begin a relationship which improves both of their lives a little but inevitably falls apart because of his neuroses. The MPDG is a device and not a character; Annie Hall is definitely a character.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:10 PM on April 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


In Elizabethtown, Kirsten Dunst plays the archetypal Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a flirty, flighty chatterbox stewardess who razzles and dazzles brooding sensitive guy Orlando Bloom. Coked up, or merely high on life?

Or, if you watch the movie closely, she's a (literally) fallen angel that falls in love with a human and turns her back on God and heaven to spend the remainder of her life with him.

No, dude, I'm not kidding.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:14 PM on April 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


Hollywood movies employ one-dimensional archetypes.

That is shocking!
posted by oddman at 8:16 PM on April 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hollywood movies employ one-dimensional archetypes.

That is shocking!


Not to pick on you, oddman, but I'm a little tired of the news-at-eleven comments on MetaFilter. Just because something is obvious or not-brand-new doesn't mean it isn't interesting or worthy of discussion. These kind of threadshits don't really add anything, and sort of serve as a your-favorite-band-sucks/would-I-need-a-teevee-to-know-about-this kind of condescending dismissal of everyone else's interest in the conversation.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:19 PM on April 3, 2010 [45 favorites]


The AV Club article specifies that MPDGs are typefied by their total one-dimensionality, and then lists the character from "Almost Famous," whose whole point was that she was basically pretending to be a MPDG while actually having, y'know, thoughts and desires and so on?

Man, if you can't even follow your own rules for two paragraphs straight, why am I reading your article?
posted by Scattercat at 8:22 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind kind of riffed off of that concept.
posted by delmoi at 8:23 PM on April 3, 2010


Can't believe I neglected to hat-tip windigo, who linked to the Wikipedia entry in a recent status update of hers.
posted by WCityMike at 8:25 PM on April 3, 2010


Previously
posted by ill3 at 8:26 PM on April 3, 2010


Funny, I was just reading about MPDGs the other night after reading a particularly fascinating interview with Jaclyn Friedman, called Fucking While Feminist.

The relevant portion is..
You know the idea of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl? She’s light, and quirky, and she has no inner life of her own, and just there to serve our hero’s development and erotic interests. I sort of feel that I get cast in these dudes’ narratives as the Hellcat Dream Girl, there to prove how bad-ass they are because they’re dating such a bad-ass woman. They think it’s cute or sexy. But when I use that smart, outspoken bad-assery to challenge their own perspectives, it’s suddenly not sexy at all. It happens when they say something that I disagree with, and I act like a person and not someone that is playing out their particular fantasies.
Now I'll have to run around and find examples of the Hellcat Dream Girl in pop culture...
posted by revmitcz at 8:38 PM on April 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I had no idea there was a name for one of the main reasons I disliked 500 Days of Summer.
posted by jabberjaw at 8:38 PM on April 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh, and to actually add a little more to the FPP..

As per usual, TVTropes has a very thorough article on MPDGs.

What I found interesting was their mention of Marla Singer :
Fight Club has a truly disturbing example in the form of Marla Singer, who could perhaps best be described as what happens when the Manic Pixie Dream Girl grows up. Marla is dirty, living in poverty, and clearly suffering some form of mental illness, and gets into a fairly unhealthy relationship with Tyler
Maybe the appeal of even discussing MPDGs is wrapped up in the argument of "well, THAT's not a MPDG because of THIS.." whenever someone suggests a character of dubious MPDG qualifications.

Can we all agree that Natalie Portman's character in Garden State is THE MPDG by which all others should be referenced against?
posted by revmitcz at 8:39 PM on April 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh yeah, crazy people. I remember when you used to be my dating ideal.
posted by Artw at 8:41 PM on April 3, 2010 [12 favorites]


I think there is an element of truth to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl character. I dunno about whether these girls as written in the movies actually exist in the real world, but they sure as hell exist in the memories of the guys who watch and write these movies. I think one thing you'll find that most of these stories are written about 'the one that got away'.

Without getting too personal, i've known and/or dated more than one MPDG and they leave a mark on you. I thought that Eternal Sunshine hit really closest to home that way, the good and the bad.
posted by empath at 8:41 PM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've always figured Manic Pixie Dream Girls were just the lazy screenwriter's character+plot development device: they come along and force the main character to have fun and do interesting things. The same situation with the sexes reversed shows up in lots of romantic comedies, where the quiet girl is drawn into becoming a more complex and active character by the Guy with Zany Antics.

And from lazy screenwriters to lazy daydreamers the MPDG meme goes.
posted by hattifattener at 8:47 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, or what Artw said.
posted by empath at 8:47 PM on April 3, 2010


Can we all agree that Natalie Portman's character in Garden State is THE MPDG by which all others should be referenced against?

Sorry. For me, it's Holly Golightly. God, I used to want to be Holly Golightly when I was young.

Thank freaking god I never succeeded.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 8:49 PM on April 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Charllize Theron deserves more than just the one citation.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 8:55 PM on April 3, 2010


empath: The reason I said that Eternal Sunshine riffed on this was because was that Kate Winslet's character wasn't really a MPDG, in fact her character literally stated that she wasn't at the outset of their relationship. "I've got my own problems, I'm not here to make your life interesting, etc."

I think the idea of the MPDG is that she isn't really a character in her own right, but rather just there to help the guy through his own growth. That's why feminist writers are so annoyed, because the story is about the man, and the female character is just there to facilitate it.

I think the inverse would be the "Bad Boy" tattooed badass dude that women seem to be attracted to. Just look at Saundra Bullock. And I bet you could find lots of examples of movies with one dimensional "bad boys" for women to swoon over.

Also related: Suicide Girls. I mean the whole idea is to sell the "Manic Pixies" ideal to lonely dudes.
posted by delmoi at 8:57 PM on April 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


Christ, I hate Holly Golightly.

I lost a boyfriend to a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. She was very petite and pretty, she used to shoplift meat from the supermarket, and she created "art" by covering her naked body in paint and rolling around on a big canvas.
posted by Evangeline at 8:58 PM on April 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


(I think some of you might be missing the point, though. MPDG doesn't just mean "Crazy girl" but rather a crazy girl who is one dimensional and there to benefit the male character)
posted by delmoi at 8:58 PM on April 3, 2010


I never saw the movie "Amelie", because from the previews she looked like the ultimate MPDG. Just so frikkin' whimsical. But I see nobody has used her as an example. Am I wrong about that movie?
posted by Evangeline at 9:00 PM on April 3, 2010


Amelie is definitely not a MPDG. The movie is all about HER and her inner life and her problems.
posted by amethysts at 9:05 PM on April 3, 2010 [10 favorites]


Yeah. Fuck MPDGs. And fuck anybody who finds them attractive.

Let's start making movies about bitter feminist bloggers who take movies too seriously. Boy won't that just be a hoot.
posted by Sloop John B at 9:05 PM on April 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


> basically pretending to be a MPDG while actually having, y'know, thoughts and desires

> She’s light, and quirky, and she has no inner life of her own

More than anything else, this seems a combination of sour-grapes and projection. While individual characters may be underwritten, or ineptly played, or dramatically justified, the act of lumping them all together as a type seems to be motivated by something more than dramatic criticism.

It seems like saying,"All these whimsical pretty girls are just so fake!"

The MPDG concept, though cute and magnetic at first, seems, on closer inspection, to be artificial, a wish-fulfillment construct, one with little inner life or existence apart from the needs of the critic who uses it as a temporary emotional crutch while on some grand and grandly self-obsessed journey.
posted by darth_tedious at 9:07 PM on April 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


> dramatically justified

dramatically unjustified
posted by darth_tedious at 9:10 PM on April 3, 2010


I never saw the movie "Amelie", because from the previews she looked like the ultimate MPDG. Just so frikkin' whimsical. But I see nobody has used her as an example. Am I wrong about that movie?

Amelie is a MPDG, more or less—the main difference being that she's the film's central character instead of simply a glib romantic cypher for the leading man. However, this merely cuts out the middleman: instead of directing the full power of her high-voltage adorability at the actor, she funnels it straight into the camera.
posted by hot soup girl at 9:12 PM on April 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


Faye Wong in Chungking Express is the greatest MPDG ever! I know this post is supposed to make me see them for what they are but I'll never stop loving Faye.
posted by cazoo at 9:14 PM on April 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Holy shit is there some point missing going on here! Folks, this FPP doesn't exist to make your life more interesting, it's got problems of it's own.

Anyway. Loved the article about "Amazing Girls". Talked about it with my girlfriend, who got it more than immediately. If that's possible.

For myself, I finally have a name for a whole bunch of cultural bullshit that I can now dismiss in the knowledge that to do otherwise would be a waste of my precious thinking time.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 9:21 PM on April 3, 2010


I iwsh other Lazy Plot Devices had snappy names.


off to TV tropes again...
posted by The Whelk at 9:22 PM on April 3, 2010


Let's start making movies about bitter feminist bloggers who take movies too seriously. Boy won't that just be a hoot.

This short film features a character who is both a bitter feminist blogger and a Manic Pixie Dream Girl!
posted by delmoi at 9:24 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind kind of riffed off of that concept.

Indeed, one of the reasons why I love it - also the whole cold hard reality of the protagonists, they're both just a little too old to be behaving like this- past the point where it's still cute. The whole Rockaway Junction Desperation feel of their shitty apartments and shitty commutes.

Amelie gets a pass cause she's the main character and she gets to have Other Feelings and the whole whole is a big ass cartoon. Although when I watched it with a friend (who watched Kate Winslet do the MPDG thing on the train and went "Oh god I did the same thing when I was 14. Wow. It looks so sad from the outside") and she grumped through the whole movie until we saw the subway station and she piped up with "Oh that's the place they had all those murders." Sigh.
posted by The Whelk at 9:26 PM on April 3, 2010


empath: The reason I said that Eternal Sunshine riffed on this was because was that Kate Winslet's character wasn't really a MPDG, in fact her character literally stated that she wasn't at the outset of their relationship. "I've got my own problems, I'm not here to make your life interesting, etc."

It's a realistic take on the MPDG, but she is still a MPDG. Dating a girl like that usually ends up being a disaster, because your fantasy of who she is at some point runs into the reality of who she is. The bad movie versions of mpdg are usually about the fantasy and kind of gloss over the part where you wake up one day and realize you don't know this person at all.

Eternal Sunshine had both, and dealt with how fantasy, memory and reality interact in a really literal way. Even the last part really hit home to me, when they are looking at each other in the hallway, when they know the truth about each other and then decide with their eyes open whether they want to get involved. That always happens at some point in every relationship.

(btw: the original ending of the movie had the two of them erasing each other over and over again for the rest of their lives.)
posted by empath at 9:31 PM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, French people are ALL crazy.
posted by Artw at 9:32 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, I stopped being really frustrated with the A.V cClib (why are you bad and then so good! gah!) when I found out how many hours and how many words they have they do a week. Ye-ikes.
posted by The Whelk at 9:32 PM on April 3, 2010


I like new threads on previously discussed stuff is that I can post stuff that popped into my head weeks after the thread has closed. Two points:

1. I disagree that the "magic negro" even exists in film as a stock character, as I there are films with transient non-black characters that exist just to help the protagonist, like Obi-Wan Kenobi or Mr. Miyagi; and there are even films were a black protagonist has some older subservient magical helper, Kris Kristopherson in Blade, (guessing from the trailer) Jackie Chan in the Karate Kid remake, and Sean Connery in Finding Forrester. I think the "janitor type with mystical powers that helps the protagonist" may be some sort of variation on the "supernatural aid" part of Campbell's monomyth, and is quite common in film but they come in all races. Stephen King seems to be fond of making that character black, but I would say the "magic negro" is a Stephen King stock character rather than a Hollywood stock character.

2. How is (500) Days of Summer being dragged into the MPDG debate? The protagonist played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a young, handsome, and sociable, he doesn't get depressed until the relationship starts going south, so I don't think his character fits the MPDG pattern, it's Zooey Deschanel's character that is brooding and depressed. While she's played the MPDG role before (Gigantic) her character in (500) Days of Summer is fairly non-(eccentric and bubbly). If anything he is romantic and bubbly and she is brooding ("You're Nancy, I'm Sid" she says at some point). I would say her character in the film reminds me more of a Japanese stock character, the Tsundere, than a MPDG.

And I appreciate the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind for getting ahead of the MPDG phenomenon and showing a MPDG relationship months later when the magic's worn off and they are both sick of each other.
posted by bobo123 at 9:33 PM on April 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Does Mathilda from The Professional count?
posted by Splunge at 9:35 PM on April 3, 2010


The Whelk: when I found out how many hours and how many words they have they do a week. Ye-ikes.

... well ... ? Don't leave us in suspense.
posted by WCityMike at 9:37 PM on April 3, 2010


Also, I don't think the writer of the article actually watched The Apartment. She's ...quite the tragic figure.

Almost Famous, sure, but I almost feel you get a pass for ciphers when you're doing broadstroke teenage love ..that's how the meotions feel then, like saying Opera is too overblown.

I'm with you on garden State and Autumn In New York- bring Up Baby? Please. Breakfast At Tiffany's? Maybe it's my love of the short story it's based on getting in the way but Holly isn't, uh a noble character. She's also supposed to be like 16.
posted by The Whelk at 9:37 PM on April 3, 2010


Mathilda.
posted by Splunge at 9:38 PM on April 3, 2010



... well ... ? Don't leave us in suspense.


They're tied to a lot of content demands. I thought doing 4-posts before noon for Fleshbot was hard. Which makes me wonder why don't do more podcasts, or longer ones. The Hatcast is slow to be fun, ramps up, then just fizzles out. I don't mind listening to nerd talk about movies and be kinda funny and it's usually better then facile lists-o-things. So, yes.
posted by The Whelk at 9:40 PM on April 3, 2010


I'm convinced that Something Wild is still the most honest version of this trope because it explores the traumatic consequences of flirting with crazy with more physical weight than most of these other examples,
posted by oraknabo at 9:45 PM on April 3, 2010


Can I pull in The Dreamers as having a MPDG (or a Manic Pixie Dream Sexually Liberated Twins) who is more realistic (for values of Manic Pixie Sexually Adventurous Twins realistic)? All that being totally charming and fast talking is maybe just another way to hide how fucked up you are and it's a great way to control people? Maybe the discomfort we get from MPDG characters isn't so the bad writing or lazy characterization (and there a lot of that) but that the character is so immature. That's not how an adult acts. That's how a teenager thinks an adult acts. It's naked and fake and good creators dig into that and bad ones play it up like it's SUCH A GOOD THING that this , to quote Peggy Olsen, 25 year old acts like she's 14. That's creepy and gives us the icks.
posted by The Whelk at 9:48 PM on April 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


...and the disquiet of having a character who exists solely to fulfill the needs of another character without any kind of inner life or goals of their own. That's just bad writing.
posted by The Whelk at 9:51 PM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, concerning the Professional, MPDGs seem to be a running theme for Luc Besson. The female leads in the 5th Element and Angel-A are both supposed to be actually magical, but fit the description pretty well in their relationships to their leading men.
posted by oraknabo at 9:51 PM on April 3, 2010


My annoyance with the MPDG is similar to my annoyance with those mass manufactured fake designer purses you can buy off carts in big cities. When people buy those, I know they have a right to their own taste, but I can't help wanting to tell them that the reason they're buying them (for the assumed sophistication or hipness lent by the designer name) is totally obliterated because the purses aren't even good fakes. A MPDG is a figment of the mind. She is not a real person. That wacky crazy girl you dated is not a MPDG because a MPDG is an imagined thing, a personality that exists to draw out and compliment and please whatever desires her man/woman has. All of her whimsicality is precious and endearing, and her free spirited nature extends only as far as would please you. Everything she does is entrancing, because she's in your head. People who fall in love with MPDGs are falling in love with the benefits they imagine a MPDG can provide them, and, like the person who plucks a Glucci bag off a cart, they end up without what they want (a fun-loving and carefree adventure guide who will change their lives and show them new and amazing things) but rather what they seek to avoid (staying inside the boundaries of their own minds, imagining a fiction rather than dealing with a real live person).

And the reason the only MPDG character I like is the eponymous Summer of 500 Days of Summer is because that movie forced you to live through the protagonist's realization that his MPDG was not perfect interestingly-damaged free spirit he fell in love with but rather a living breathing person who broke his heart and chose someone else and ended up seeming kind of normal after all.

MPDG exist only in fiction; there are no girls like that. There are girls who seem MPDG-like, who you think at first fulfill every Garden State wet dream on Earth, but then it turns out that they have morning breath and get pimples like everyone else, and that sometimes they're cranky and they need to get work done and they can't be bothered to invent hijinks to entertain you, and that what you thought was eccentricity is actually an annoying compulsion to be trendy or a symptom of mental illness or something she read online and thought boys were attracted to. People don't date MPDG, they admire them from afar and fantasize about them instead of attempting the very scary work of risking their hearts on a real girl.

Let's start making movies about bitter feminist bloggers who take movies too seriously. Boy won't that just be a hoot.

Yes, totally! Because clearly everyone who objects to the annoying faux-whimsicality of the MPDG must be a bitter feminist blogger who takes movies too seriously. And she's probably single and jealous of all the attention the MPDG gets too, isn't she? She just wishes she were hotter. Also, she has no sense of humor and she like doesn't shave her legs, which is the gross kind of free spirited, as compared with the MPDG, whose free spirited tendencies manifest as not wearing a bra.
posted by sallybrown at 9:54 PM on April 3, 2010 [85 favorites]


The Amazing Girl post did a great job of summing up everything that irritated me about Edie Brickell. Henry Rollins has a great spoken-word bit about an imaginary performance art bit where the performer throws himself onto a bed of broken glass everytime he hears "Edie Brickell Still Lives."
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:55 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe the discomfort we get from MPDG characters isn't so the bad writing or lazy characterization (and there a lot of that) but that the character is so immature.

I actually wrote a story when i was 25ish about a MPDG who was literally a pixie. Blame it on too much time spent at raves.
posted by empath at 10:07 PM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


This MPDG description makes me think of Maude of Harold and Maude, and is partly why I found that movie irritating as hell. I'm sure that makes me a terrible person or something.
posted by shen1138 at 10:10 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe there's not a male equivalent of the MPDG because men dominate the film industry, but I wonder sometimes about how much I and most of my female friends love When Harry Met Sally. I'm having a hard time putting it into words, but there's something about the combination of Made For Each Other plus Safe Eventuality there; Harry was the safe nonsexual friend for Sally all along until one day she realized she wanted him and yeah, it got a little rocky there for a while with the dragging the Christmas tree home alone thing, but in the end your Harry'll run through the New Years' Eve to get to you and tell you that because he wants to spend the rest of his life with you he wants the rest of his life to start as soon as possible. Even though you're extremely picky and your only sex dream consists of a faceless man ripping his clothes off, even though you lose touch and years go by, even though he's annoyed at having to spend the night after sex with you, none of that (including your horrible perm) can dissuade him.

The MPDG's trick is she's just real-seeming enough to get you to believe. I don't think Hunky He-Man is the right comparison. But Harry seems just real enough.
posted by sallybrown at 10:22 PM on April 3, 2010


I don't know if we need to make MPDG a pejorative term. I don't think that it's much different than other 2D female characters - like Bond Girls or the Damsel in Distress. It's just the definition of another archetypal literary character.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:28 PM on April 3, 2010


It's an archetype going all the way back to Shakespeare's Ophelia and it's a worthy one that really shouldn't be turned into some sort of dismissive snarky backlash, because the one's without any inner life are really just either badly written or the director just doesn't give a damn.

A good MPDG is really a the ingenue if done well. The role is usually so crucial to a storyline, I can't imagine something working without that character being fleshed out.

Natalie Woods seemed to play the role, effortlessly in a bunch of films, West Side Story, Splendor in the Grass, a few more I'm forgetting right now...
posted by Skygazer at 10:35 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


>> I disagree that the "magic negro" even exists in film as a stock character

Have you seen Baz Lurman's Australia? How about his Australian tourism ad from last year (seriously, you need to see this one, it's a perfect example)? Much of the ouvre of David Gulpilil? Have you read Tim Winton's novel Cloudstreet? This stock character is definitely out there.

>> How is (500) Days of Summer being dragged into the MPDG debate?

Deschanel specialises in MPDG roles, and in my opinion (500) Days was her most egregious example yet; Peter Bradshaw, in his review for The Guardian described the film as being "being weirdly incurious about the inner life of its female lead." We don't know anything about Summer. Oh, but we do know she likes The Smiths, because of this wonderfully nuanced exchange:

Summer: I love The Smiths.
Tom: [removing his headphones] Sorry?
Summer: I said I love The Smiths. You... you have a good taste in music.
Tom: You like The Smiths?
Summer: Yeah. “To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.” I love ‘em.
[Summer steps off the elevator]
Tom: Holy shit.


Holy shit is right, dude: she fucking loves The Smiths! Just imagine all the other personality traits she must have! She's fucking perfect for you.

Suffice to say, I barely made it to the end of this film. I nearly walked out at the introductory voice-over: "There are two types of people in the world. There are men, and there are women. Summer Finn was a woman." You heard the man, folks. All those books about feminism and gender determinism? Feel free to just rip them the fuck up.
posted by hot soup girl at 10:37 PM on April 3, 2010 [15 favorites]


A drunk person asked me if I was trying to be a manic pixie mumble mumble one time and I have been wondering about it ever since. I thought he was doing some sort of extra-pretentious neg (see: the Game). I guess he was because he only said I was trying.

Mystery: solved! Off to go roll in meat and make paintings that express my quirky feelings about the Shins!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:41 PM on April 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


Henry Rollins has a great spoken-word bit about an imaginary performance art bit where the performer throws himself onto a bed of broken glass everytime he hears "Edie Brickell Still Lives."

"I just, like, want to drop a train on her head. Die! 'Writin' songs is just like paintin' pictures.' Die!"
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:42 PM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


In Secretary James Spader is the Man version of this. He's like hi, let me tell you how many peas to eat and make your life hot for no discernible reason. I have no backstory or personality. You think about me when you're doing your laundry and how I will make your life interesting. Bye!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:45 PM on April 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


jabberjaw: “I don't know if we need to make MPDG a pejorative term. I don't think that it's much different than other 2D female characters - like Bond Girls or the Damsel in Distress. It's just the definition of another archetypal literary character.”

Hey, the inventor of the term is the one that made it pejorative by mentioning Natalie Portman's character in the execrable Garden State.
posted by koeselitz at 10:49 PM on April 3, 2010


Maybe there's not a male equivalent of the MPDG because men dominate the film industry
I think the male equivalent is Jess in Gilmore Girls: the sensitive artistic bad boy. Only Rory understands that inside the juvenile delinquent from the wrong side of the tracks is the heart of an artist, and she's rewarded for recognizing Jess's artistic soul by being liberated from her boring good-girl status. I feel like the sensitive artistic bad boy shows up in other places, although I can't think of any off-hand.
posted by craichead at 10:50 PM on April 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I actually spent last night watching two aspiring MPDGs fight over Michel Gondry at the after-party for the premiere of his new documentary (and watching the victor mack on him at the karaoke bar after that).
posted by Now I'm Prune Tracy! at 10:53 PM on April 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is so frustrating...as soon as I read the premise, I thought of a movie I thought was called Windy after the song by The Association, about a free-spirited hippie girl who shows an aging and cynical screenwriter that Life Is Wonderful. But that's not the name, I can't recall any of the stars, and nothing I can think of dredges it up. But it was absolutely completely MPDG, and I remember watching it like a slow-motion train wreck. It was supposed to be about the clash of generations, but really it was just an aging screenwriter's fantasy about how he was going to get some hippie squack and it would heal him.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 10:59 PM on April 3, 2010


(500) Days of Summer is such a weird, awful movie, especially considering all the plaudits it got from people whose opinions I respect. I think it can be read, though, as a cautionary tale: if you fall for an MPDG, this is what you get -- a shitty relationship that goes nowhere and ends in heartbreak until you meet someone new with a name reflective of the fact that you're moving on.
posted by incessant at 11:00 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


The male version of MPDG is obviously Edward from Twilight.
posted by empath at 11:01 PM on April 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


In Secretary James Spader is the Man version of this. He's like hi, let me tell you how many peas to eat and make your life hot for no discernible reason. I have no backstory or personality. You think about me when you're doing your laundry and how I will make your life interesting. Bye!

Well, how Spader's character ended up like that is actually really interesting. When the director, Steven Shainberg, spoke with author Mary Gaitskill about adapting her short story Bad Behaviour (a very dark, bleak story with no romantic happy ending) for the screen, he apparently promised her that he wouldn't "do a Pretty Woman" to her primary text. (The original concept for Pretty Woman depicted Vivian as cocaine-addicted and hypersexual, and ended with Edward kicking her out of his car. Needless to say, this is not how the film ended up once Roberts and Gere got attached to the project.)

In any case, Gaitskill was promised that this sort of Disneyfication wouldn't happen to her story, and in fact that's exactly what happened: Spade's character was changed from an opportunistic abuser who further traumatises the main character into the Prince Charming of BDSM. It's kind of nuts. And maybe not that relevant to discussion at hand. But I thought you might be interested.
posted by hot soup girl at 11:06 PM on April 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


Jimmy Havock:

The Muse?
posted by empath at 11:13 PM on April 3, 2010


As far as the alleged nonexistence of the Magic Negro, I dare you to sit through The Legend of Bagger Vance and try to make that claim afterwards.

(Charlize Theron is also in that movie, and is also largely tasked with helping Matt Damon feel better about his penis throughout.)
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:24 PM on April 3, 2010


................................................... You all just don't get it. His inner life, your inner life, all irrelevant. This whole thing is an ephemeral dog and pony show to convince your precious, "interesting", "complex", "deep", "complicated" "critical" persona to have sex, have babies and let the next generation do the exact same thing with differently shaped shoes and weird colored hair. The up side is you get to find interesting ways to delude yourself you're feeling fulfilled in the process.

So either get on the making babies bandwagon, or consign yourself to the infinite meaningfulness of non-existence.

Here is my cinematic proof.

posted by DetonatedManiac at 11:37 PM on April 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is all wonderful, but I'm pretty sure a post on Metafilter was what introduced me to the concept of the MPDG (thereby allowing me to articulate precisely what had pissed me off so much about Garden State) six months ago. Certainly all those links were familiar and I wouldn't have stumbled on them by myself.

Still, worth reading again. Thanks!
posted by lapsangsouchong at 11:38 PM on April 3, 2010


I would say the "magic negro" is a Stephen King stock character rather than a Hollywood stock character.

No, sorry, unless Stephen King was involved in production for Song of the South, To Sir With Love, Forrest Gump, The Hudsucker Proxy Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, and any number of other films. King really likes the trope, but he is far from the inventor or the sole user of same.

Likewise, the presence of Whistler in Blade doesn't mean the magical Negro doesn't exist in film's library of archetypes. If anything, Blade is in the business of subverting all of the racial tropes it encounters. The older white man is the sidekick, Blade is the hero despite being a dhampir, the younger white vampires exhibit stereotypical gangbanger behaviors. The subversion of a trope in film doesn't negate the trope's existence.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:39 PM on April 3, 2010


Jimmy Havok, you might be thinking of the fairly creepy early Clint Eastwood flick Breezy.
posted by cgc373 at 12:31 AM on April 4, 2010


You can tell apart movies marketed at men vs women by who's doing the work in the relationships. If the women gets to wallow in every neurosis imaginable and generally put He-man through shit before after an hour and maybe a year of the dudes life, she let's him kiss her, the movie is directed at women. (this is often found in the 'rom com')

If the guy gets to be a crass man-child and still somehow gets to sleep with several women throughout the movie before nailing the chick he should have been seeing from the beginning after a few throw away messages of sincerity, it's directed at men. (this is often found in action movies)

Both of these play into pretty standard gender roles.

The interesting thing about the MPDG is that all of a sudden it's the men who are piled high with emotional disturbance, and it's the poor put upon woman who has to save him. If I had the tolerance to sit through a bunch of romantic comedies, I think I'd come to the conclusion that the MPDG simply repackages semi-tragic romantic comedies at men, who in the end, through doing nothing more than being themselves, gets everything they want.
posted by Alex404 at 12:37 AM on April 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


Alex404: "If the women gets to wallow in every neurosis imaginable and generally put He-man through shit before after an hour and maybe a year of the dudes life, she let's him kiss her, the movie is directed at women. (this is often found in the 'rom com')"

It's so weird to me that so much stuff marketed to women involves the women NEVER GETTING LAID!

WHAT!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:40 AM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I mean seriously market something where a normal lady (or, not lady but female or female-ish) still gets laid and doesn't have to get

waxed
take out ponytail
wear tall shoes
put on strapless bra or those sticky faux bra things
say "arrghh"
sigh a lot
talk to friend and sigh
eat chinese takeout
sit on a couch with legs tucked under butt
wear a bra under her PJs
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 12:44 AM on April 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


Holy shit is right, dude: she fucking loves The Smiths! Just imagine all the other personality traits she must have! She's fucking perfect for you.

God forbid someone find a rare other someone who has one of their very esoteric yet deeply cherished interests in common with them! And then actually become interested in them!

I have to ask? How the hell do you find people to date and assess them? Because as soon as I find out a girl shares a couple of my eccentricities I consider her a solid potential until proven otherwise.

I swear you're just being cynical for cynicism's sake.
posted by Talez at 6:02 AM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


We don't know anything about Summer. Oh, but we do know she likes The Smiths, because of this wonderfully nuanced exchange

Well, that's kind of the point of the movie, isn't it? Tom thinks Summer will be the perfect girl for him because of some superficial, trivial things about her, and ends up being horribly wrong.
posted by oinopaponton at 6:40 AM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I disagree with a couple of the characters the AV Club chose for their list (Annie Hall, really?) and really, really wish they had included certain others - in particular, Emily Watson in Punch-Drunk Love. I had struggled for a long time to put into words why I found that movie so tedious, while my boyfriends have often loved it - the MPDG concept sums it up better than I could on my own (and actually the AV Club agrees with me that's she's a MPDG, although their reviewer thinks Watson is just so awesome that the character works anyway).

But lists are made for quibbling. The most interesting of the links here, to me at least, was the "Amazing Girls" one - I was torn between on the one hand agreeing with her that yes, "Amazing Girls," are a special species of obnoxious, and on the other hand thinking that perhaps she was a bit jealous of AGs and that all the girl-on-girl hate going on was sort of overkill. Plus "Petite Sophisticate" totally sounds like something an AG would name her blog, and there's a picture of her wearing a chunky scarf - just which side are you on?
posted by naoko at 6:56 AM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Since when is liking the Smiths a "very esoteric" and considered an "eccentricity"? An unabashed love for Gregorian Chants? Sure. But as much as I love the Smiths...
posted by griphus at 7:20 AM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


those sticky faux bra things

THE WORST
posted by sallybrown at 7:23 AM on April 4, 2010


I feel like the sensitive artistic bad boy shows up in other places

Jake Ryan! And most other John Hughes movies [including James Spader in an earlier dick role]
posted by jessamyn at 7:32 AM on April 4, 2010


Since when is liking the Smiths a "very esoteric" and considered an "eccentricity"? An unabashed love for Gregorian Chants? Sure. But as much as I love the Smiths...

Getting off topic but the awesomeness of brit-pop in general not withstanding, if The Smiths wasn't esoteric I'd hear "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" on an average classic pop/rock radio station rotation rather than almost exclusively on my iPhone. Same goes for bands like The Lightning Seeds and Supergrass.

I stand by my point though. If I could find a girl who liked "Life of Riley" I'd probably ask her out on the spot.
posted by Talez at 7:44 AM on April 4, 2010


Well, that's kind of the point of the movie, isn't it? Tom thinks Summer will be the perfect girl for him because of some superficial, trivial things about her, and ends up being horribly wrong.

More explicitly, from Tom's sister in the film: "Just because she likes the same bizzaro crap you do doesn't mean she's your soul mate."
posted by bobo123 at 7:54 AM on April 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


How the hell do you find people to date and assess them?

Um, dude...this is the internet. THEY DON'T.
posted by jonmc at 7:59 AM on April 4, 2010


It's interesting how the word manic, in describing these characters, is presumptively assumed, an accurate descriptor. It's bandied about and given a free pass. Not so fast. Kind of a strong word that could be debated inaccurate on merit or lack thereof. A leap of faith that is forgiven so that the detractors of anything that somehow characterizes women as one dimensional, superficial, vapid (as they sometimes can be ) is jumped on. Now why? Hopefully for the determination that the portrayal of women can include characters with their own problems, solutions, autonomy and a bit of edge and depth to them.

But it's a fine line. The purpose of film is to entertain first, then perhaps share deeper lessons. The type of film alluded to is purposefully playing into the romantic fantasies of men and women of average intelligence to provide a canvas upon which they can project themselves and escape for an hour and a half. Their fantasy doesn't 'need' a women who challenges him, is incapable or not desirous (or thinks she's not desirous) of submitting and has a raft of neuroses as well. It could be argued that this in fact diminishes this target audiences experience. Just because you don't like this type of film and characters doesn't discount the millions who do. Thats the fantasy and girl exemplar they are there to see! Its a model of a perfect world he can escape into from his imperfect world that he has few tools to deal with. Escapism works for him. He gets plenty of imperfection modeled in real life.

Your critiques smacks of an agenda that somehow you feel a 'higher ideal' and a stronger story arc needs to be modeled by Hollywood film characters. Now this is a slippery slope I'm sliding down because the argument could be made that one of films roles is to teach men and women how to function and grow both in relationship and as individuals. There is a certain type of film that does that. The escapist rom-com or bro comedy is not usually the vehicle for that. The consumer of that type of mindless and fun fantasy and escapism does not usually expect to have to think and learn during his or her ninety minutes of entertainment. Nor do women who read mainstream romance novels. He or she is there to escape the very things that you are insisting characters need to or 'should' portray. This shows a lack of understanding about the variety and range of product being offered, why and to whom. You must realize that there needs to be a product that caters to those with average intelligence (who are in the majority) not just those with above average intelligence (like yourselves).
posted by Muirwylde at 8:00 AM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


You must realize that there needs to be a product that caters to those with average intelligence (who are in the majority) not just those with above average intelligence (like yourselves).

Oh, good grief.
posted by jonmc at 8:03 AM on April 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


...if The Smiths wasn't esoteric I'd hear "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" on an average classic pop/rock radio station

Or "How Soon Is Now?" on a car commercial. Which is where I first heard it. But I get your point, if only by replacing "esoteric" with "somewhat obscure(d) in 2010."
posted by griphus at 8:03 AM on April 4, 2010


Ghost Dog is the best Magical Negro movie of all time.
posted by Artw at 8:18 AM on April 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


If you're trying to decide whether a character is a MPDG, the Bechdel Test is an excellent diagnostic. No true MPDG would ever pass the Bechdel Test.
posted by ErikaB at 8:18 AM on April 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


In Secretary James Spader is the Man version of this. He's like hi, let me tell you how many peas to eat and make your life hot for no discernible reason. I have no backstory or personality.

But... but... he was born in Des Moines! That's backstory, right?

In that sentence, I originally typed "but" as "butt," twice, and "born" as "boring." So yeah, you're right.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:24 AM on April 4, 2010


"My wife and I rented this movie because we like Sandra Bullock, especially, and also Ben Affleck. We didn't have high expectations, except to be entertained. And we found it very entertaining and not particularly predictable. Affleck, the prospective groom, has to make his way to Savanna in two days after a plane problem, complicated by an arriving hurricane. He meets up with the ditsy Bullock, and both of them learn quite a bit about themselves.

If you watch the special features on the DVD, Bullock explains how every one you meet, even short "chance" meetings, have some impact on you, and this is a large part of what the movie trys to convey. And it does it very well. There's good acting, lots of interesting "developments", and a very good story in total. I give it 8 of 10. It is a much better movie than I expected.

The DVD picture is very well done, and the sound track likewise, with appropriate use of the rear surround channels. My only complaint? Not enough bass rumble during the lightning and thunder scenes during the storms."


Total Grosses Worldwide: $93,888,180

i couldn't have said it better myself. not enough bass rumble.
posted by Hammond Rye at 8:56 AM on April 4, 2010


More explicitly, from Tom's sister in the film: "Just because she likes the same bizzaro crap you do doesn't mean she's your soul mate."

Double more-explicitly, in movies where a dude is unlucky in love, there is almost always a best friend character who dispenses wise love advice. In this movie, they made that character a ten-year-old girl, to further hit home the fact that the protagonist is being an idiot: "Hey, Jordan Gordon Lightfoot, I'm 10 years old and I can already figure this shit out. You are being an idiot here."
posted by 23skidoo at 9:00 AM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


The problem with 500 Days of Summer isn't the fact that Summer has no inner life. The problem with 500 Days of Summer is that no character outside of the protagonist has an inner life. The baffling kid sister, the doofy friends, the coworkers, and Summer most of all exist to interact with him and do nothing else.

Was nobody aside from me bothered by this? It was like someone adapted the Kilgore Trout story in Breakfast of Champions where the protagonist is in a world where every single person exists solely for the purpose of eliciting reactions from him. It's like someone took that premise and turned it into a hipster romantic comedy. Who are this guy's parents? What's up with the little sister? Do his coworkers have feelings? Why the hell do we know so little about this girl he's obsessing over and why should we even care?

The only way I can effectively read that film is as a cautionary tale about the dangers of extreme narcissism.
posted by Ndwright at 9:14 AM on April 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


> I feel like the sensitive artistic bad boy shows up in other places, although I can't think of any off-hand.

10 Things I Hate About You, the tv show, seems to be heading in the direction of the sensitive bad boy helping the uptight female lead become more relaxed and authentic.

I'm old, so my first experience with the MPDG was Something Wild, which made me aware of the trope, though I never had a cute term for it. I always thought of it more as the sexual free-spirit chick who helps a normal guy escape from him depressing suburban future, which is why I don't feel Breakfast at Tiffany's fits the category at all.

Another mid-80s movie, Desperately Seeking Susan, is an interesting girl-on-girl twist on the archetype.

"Just because she likes the same bizzaro crap you do doesn't mean she's your soul mate."

Oh man. I spent years in college trying to tell my guy friends that compiling laundry lists of obscure pop culture categories a potential girlfriend must be into was a dead end street. "How about someone nice and attractive who really loves you?" fell on deaf ears as they debated just which records or comics on Mythical Girl's shelf would be a deal breaker. I eventually shut up and left them to their narcissism.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:54 AM on April 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


A very insightful friend of mine said, when were discussing this article a while back, the reason the relationship in Annie Hall fails is that she's not an MPDG when Woody Allen wants her to be.
posted by Eideteker at 10:08 AM on April 4, 2010 [8 favorites]


Why the hell do we know so little about this girl he's obsessing over and why should we even care?

As a real-life person all too often mistaken for a MPDG, I appreciate Summer a character. The whole point is that Tom doesn't know anything about this person. YMMV.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:11 AM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't believe the AV Club article included some of what it did (e.g. The Apartment) but left out fricking Juliette Lewis in What's Eating Gilbert Grape. She's up there with Portman in Garden State.

Dharma and Greg?
posted by Beardman at 10:45 AM on April 4, 2010


Twin Peaks plays with this idea (both male and female) in Laura Palmer and James Hurley. Everyone loves Laura because she's a beautiful free spirit that they think can save themselves from themselves. But, in spite of how light and free she is (maybe because of it) Laura has an insanely dark side that ends up killing her. James Hurley is the sensitive artist bad-boy type, but he's also a fucking doofus.
posted by codacorolla at 11:05 AM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


A very insightful friend of mine said, when were discussing this article a while back, the reason the relationship in Annie Hall fails is that she's not an MPDG when Woody Allen wants her to be.

Interesting. "MPDG" is a perfect description of the brief but crucial scene after they play tennis and they're offering each other a ride. And maybe it fits a few other moments: Annie Hall's story about her narcoleptic relative, the lobster scene (though Alvy is equally silly in the lobster scene).

But as discussed above, the other 90% of the movie doesn't have much to do with the MPDG concept. Diane Keaton is at least as dominant in the relationship. Her decisions drive a lot of the plot. She controls their sex life (such that in the one scene where he overtly calls the shots, the sex doesn't work); she decides to go to LA whether he likes it or not; she takes adult-education classes whether he likes it or not. His stand-up comedy routines are incidental and low-drama, while her progress in public singing is an emotional triumph.

As with Bringing Up Baby, "entirely docile" is a much better description of the man than the woman. People just perceive the woman as "docile" because they're applying traditional gender stereotypes or trying to give a feminist critique (which perversely amount to the same thing).

A thought-experiment: could you come up with a list of 20 movies with an inexplicably-but-conveniently wacky male character who exists only for other people's ends? I'll bet you could.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:49 AM on April 4, 2010


James Hurley is the sensitive artist bad-boy type, but he's also a fucking doofus.

Jesus Christ, James Hurley. Every time he was on the screen my wife and I would go 'I have so many EMOTIONS!!!'
posted by shakespeherian at 12:15 PM on April 4, 2010 [6 favorites]


I think Eternal Sunshine is an interesting subversion of the MPDG - Joel thinks Clementine is one, even though she tells him "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." We (and he) obviously come to see her as a real, fucked-up person.

The only way Joel can maintain the illusion that he's dating this MPDG is to erase his memory every time their relationship evolves past the point where that illusion is possible to maintain. And she of course erases hers, and is able to keep the newness alive rather than being bored.

The message of the film seems to be that yeah, you can have your MPDG/ideal-happy-relationship but your sacrifice for maintaining that fantasy is never knowing someone on a more intimate level.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:17 PM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


A thought-experiment: could you come up with a list of 20 movies with an inexplicably-but-conveniently wacky male character who exists only for other people's ends? I'll bet you could.

Would this character be the wise-cracking homosexual? Or is that stock character strictly for comic relief?
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 12:28 PM on April 4, 2010


Benny and Joon, in which both Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson serve as the MPDGs.
posted by electroboy at 12:43 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


My frustration lately is that someone in Hollywood is convinced that Jennifer Anniston is the perfect manic pixie dream girl (ALONG CAME POLLY, LOVE HAPPENS), but her whole persona is begging to be cast as the uptight, neurotic OCD woman with a twisted past.
posted by Gucky at 12:53 PM on April 4, 2010 [5 favorites]


Yeah, Breezy. I couldn't quite remember that William Holden played the lead.

I watched it on TCM one evening with my own MPDG as we shared shouts of horror at what a middle-aged wank-fantasy it was. It's hard to believe it was directed by Clint Eastwood.

Funny that I remember Holden's character as being a screenwriter. Maybe because he was such an obvious stand-in for the writer's own fantasies.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 1:02 PM on April 4, 2010


It's an archetype going all the way back to Shakespeare's Ophelia

Skygazer: Wrong. Just so wrong. Have you ever even seen Hamlet?
posted by jokeefe at 1:51 PM on April 4, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think my husband thought of me as being an MPDG straight out of the movies when we met. I'm tiny, I was interested in the same stuff as him (some of which is unusual for women to be into), and BOY do I have quirks. I watched Garden State with him and while I loathed it (Zach Braff gives me the wig), he got all sentimental about how Natalie Portman's character reminded him of how he saw me when we met. It's a little scary to realize movies that seem so cheesy to ME really shaped the worldview of the man I love.

If this archetype weren't around, would he have known I was someone he should be attracted to? Would he have seen my weird obsessions as something to cherish, or would they just have been weird obsessions?
posted by little light-giver at 4:52 PM on April 4, 2010


I'd say the just-released Greenberg is a pretty good deconstruction of the MPDG archetype. Greta Gerwig's character actually suffers due to the emptiness that is at the heart of the MPDG. She really is missing something, maturity-wise, and it's not depicted as adorable.
posted by HeroZero at 5:46 PM on April 4, 2010


JoKeefe: Wrong. Just so wrong. Have you ever even seen Hamlet?

You don't have to agree with me, this isn't exactly a Graduate English course on Shakespeare's tragedies, and there's always room for speculation and thought experiments and general free-form thinking, so can I ask please, ask that you not personalize this, and get a grip on the condescending tone? I'd appreciate it. (And I'm sure the mods would as well.)

At any rate, wrong about what, exactly? That an MPDG is a very thinly drawn superficial ancestral cousin of the Ophelia archetype?

Talk about your self-absorbed male characters. Hamlet is wandering through that play trapped by his demons and growing pyschosis, in spite of Ophelia, who is trying with all her charms to get him to snap out of. She's life and beauty and youth and flowers and herbs and innocence. I think she's very pixie-like, I think most people would agree. She's a hell of a lot more complex than this MPDG-ephemera. She becomes completely swallowed up by grief (for Polonius) and Hamlet's relentless batshit murderous insanity.

SO yes, big huge difference, Seems to me, if I understand right most of these MPDG's being spoken about here, if the guy they loved was going stark raving mad, would roll there eyes, snap their bubble gum and just go find another boyfriend.
posted by Skygazer at 6:33 PM on April 4, 2010


I think my husband thought of me as being an MPDG straight out of the movies when we met.

posted by little light-giver


epixiesterical.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:46 PM on April 4, 2010 [4 favorites]


She's life and beauty and youth and flowers and herbs and innocence.

The flowers don't enter the picture until she's gone insane mourning her father and trying to reconcile her feelings of grief for her father's death with her love for the man who killed him. Her most "whimsical" moments come after everyone has recognized that she's lost her mind.

She's an ingenue. She's a particularly innocent ingenue. She's young and presumably pretty, but... full of life? Well, she's definitely alive, but I don't see any evidence that's she's particularly bubbly. We don't really see that much of Ophelia in the play. Her longest scene, before the "crazy" flower scenes, is one in which Hamlet tries out his insanity act on her and ends with telling her "get thee to a nunnery".

It's a mistake to think all ingenues are MPDG's.
posted by Evangeline at 8:12 PM on April 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


She's a hell of a lot more complex than this MPDG-ephemera..

Some might say exactly this shows Ophelia isn't a MPDG.
posted by dd42 at 8:13 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Evangeline: The flowers don't enter the picture until she's gone insane mourning her father and trying to reconcile her feelings of grief for her father's death with her love for the man who killed him.

Interesting, I always thought those things, the flowers and herbs and language of those things, and nature were an essential part of her being, just gone into overdrive by the grief and madness, not symptoms of that grief and madness.
posted by Skygazer at 10:05 PM on April 4, 2010


You don't have to agree with me, this isn't exactly a Graduate English course on Shakespeare's tragedies, and there's always room for speculation and thought experiments and general free-form thinking, so can I ask please, ask that you not personalize this, and get a grip on the condescending tone? I'd appreciate it. (And I'm sure the mods would as well.)

Skygazer, don't try to invoke the power of the mods (who have had nothing to say about my comment, I note) over what was the equivalent of a blurted, disbelieving, "you gotta be kidding me". And nobody has to be in a graduate seminar to see that Ophelia is a full human being, with a life and a mind separate from Hamlet's, changed by his actions and made mad from grief. She's about as far from the MPDG as you can get, because MPDG don't do tragedy-- that's their whole point. They're too insubstantial for genuine emotions, they're ciphers that serve only to catalyze the male characters. Ophelia wandering around with flowers in her hair isn't Pixie-ish; it's rather horrifying. Experiments and free-form thinking are fine, but a reading of Ophelia that places her in some kind of lineage with the modern character of the MPDG would meet, I believe, a general sense of resistance to the idea.
posted by jokeefe at 11:15 PM on April 4, 2010


And I really think that "archetype" is a word which should be reserved for genuinely profound figures that cross human cultures... the Hero is an archetype; the Manic etc. Girl is just a variation on a 20th century comedic female character which dates back surfaces in its more modern form in the 60s and probably originated with the flapper in the 20s.
posted by jokeefe at 11:21 PM on April 4, 2010


Argh. Pls to delete "dates back".
posted by jokeefe at 11:22 PM on April 4, 2010


Skygazer: “It's an archetype going all the way back to Shakespeare's Ophelia and it's a worthy one that really shouldn't be turned into some sort of dismissive snarky backlash, because the one's without any inner life are really just either badly written or the director just doesn't give a damn. ¶ A good MPDG is really a the ingenue if done well. The role is usually so crucial to a storyline, I can't imagine something working without that character being fleshed out.”

I bristled the same way jokeefe did when I read this, Skygazer, and I think I can say why: because it simply feels wrong to connect the archetypes of ingenue and manic pixie dream girl. There's a massive distinction between the two, a distinction that makes them so different as to be two types on separate ends of a certain spectrum, though they may in fact often aim at the depicting same kinds of people in real life.

That distinction is simple: sexism. The MPDG is a subtly but distinctly sexist character, I think, because she represents a fantastically one-dimensional nullification of herself which serves the sole function of activating and nurturing male fantasies. The MPDG is never threatening; doesn't despise or even dislike anything; she's always up for it in the most friendly and blankly accommodating way possible; and she always plays directly into the central male's hopes and/or fears. She never, ever wants to hit somebody, or is really annoyed at something, or tells the male what she wants when she wants it (unless he already wants it too), or tells somebody to go to hell, or even takes a shit. She doesn't plan out her life, or act selfishly, or have ambition or drive, or sacrifice the moment for something she cares about more.

This is not only a convenient vision of females for many of us males - it's subconsciously a perfect ideal for a lot of us, at least in our adolescent stage when we haven't quite learned the benefits of having living, breathing human beings around. And unfortunately it seems to be a view of women that's more and more common in media, and I suspect in the adult male population. Many of us dream about the type of woman who is a dilettante at everything but lighthearted and silly and sparkly enough not to care about any of it, who will forgive all of our faults with a wink but won't have any real human struggles of her own, who will accommodate in all things and demand nothing. I think that's a remarkably unrealistic female ideal for us to have, and, as I say, it's a sexist one.

And that's why, although I don't doubt that just about everyone who writes a MPDG character in a play, book, or movie thinks that he's writing an ingenue, we can say definitively that he isn't. Ingenues are quite often well-inflected characters and snapshots of real, well-drawn human beings, with no sexist weirdness thrown in for good measure. Some people might disagree with me, but I think it's clear that Shakespeare's Ophelia is nothing like the character I've described above; most of all, she isn't a sexist projection of a denatured ideal foil. That's why I think some of us are rushing to say that some of the better female characters in fiction which have been called MPDGs here and elsewhere (I would count among them Shirley MacLaine's wonderful character from The Apartment myself) are not in fact of that type at all; because we see the type as an example of misogyny in literature and film, one that's a bit repulsive on examination.
posted by koeselitz at 11:54 PM on April 4, 2010 [7 favorites]


'Amazing Girls' are human beings, not characters, the opposite of MPDGs. The author seems to forget this, as well as the fact that human beings have inner lives that compel them to act. The problem is that attractive men who are otherwise "logical" get their heads twisted around by said 'Amazing Girls.' This flies in the face of any kind of feminist thinking. When I was young, for a time, I resented men who project, loudly and pointlessly, their 'character' into a room, and then I noticed that the women who were attracted to them were not people I was all that interested in getting to know, and so I got over it. MPDGs are obnoxious because they aren't real and nobody thinks they are. 'Amazing Girls' are obnoxious if all you can do is seethe over how they're getting more male attention than you. People who are incapable of empathy are obnoxious, no qualifiers.
posted by Football Bat at 11:55 PM on April 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Back in the day, I was a real life MPDG. Not by choice, I should add - I was quirky and liked books and dyed my hair bright colours and wanted someone to tell secrets to. Cue boyfriends who said things like 'You promised to help me!' and 'You're just like all the rest' when I started showing signs of having my own needs and wants. I watch those films and I see those characters through the psychological equivalent of the male gaze - these girls are cute little helpmeets who aren't allowed to have anything beyond the relationship, and once that got old the relationship would fail fast.

And that is why 'feminists' hate the MPDG. *shakes magenta bob and goes off to bake cakes*
posted by mippy at 6:12 AM on April 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


also! Natalie Portman seems like a very smart, strong minded girl in real life, which is, amongst other things, probably why that character seems such a pain to so many people.
posted by mippy at 6:13 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


Interesting, I always thought those things, the flowers and herbs and language of those things, and nature were an essential part of her being, just gone into overdrive by the grief and madness, not symptoms of that grief and madness.

I would have to go back and reread the play since it's been awhile, but I did play Ophelia, and that is not my memory at all. My memory is that the flower imagery doesn't come into play until she's lost her mind.
posted by Evangeline at 6:56 AM on April 5, 2010


'Amazing Girls' are obnoxious if all you can do is seethe over how they're getting more male attention than you

That's really all that article seemed like to me -- basic jealousy that someone else was less boring and getting all the attention.
posted by oraknabo at 7:21 AM on April 5, 2010


So I've been thinking, off in my little vacuum, that if sweetness and passivity are defining hallmarks of the Manic Pixie Deam Girl, then characters like those of Melanie Griffith's from Something Wild and Katharine Hepburn's from Bringing Up Baby really don't fit the definition at all.

These characters don't serve as dreamy muses so much as forces of chaos and even violence that enter a man's life, dragging him along through their complicated lives, and allowing him to thereby eventually uncover his own more robust masculine self. I think Manic > Hellcat Dream Girl might be as good a term as any.

So the Manic Pixie Dream Girl helps the "brooding artsy loser" "revive his creative and sexual juices" and the Manic Hellcat Dream Girl helps the milquetoast career man become commanding, and handy with his fists, and escape his ill-matched fiancee and emasculated drab future.

And then I was really bored at Easter dinner, and my mind turned to the current popularity of vampire-based stories, as it so frequently does. I consume a lot of this vampire stuff, but always with some queasiness, because at the bottom of the vampire story is the running theme that, along with sex and the promise of undying love, the vampire men bring chaos and violence into the human female's lives. I mean, most of the Sookie Stackhouse series consists of her getting beaten up, blown up, stabbed, or completely smashed up in some way because of whatever supernatural guy she's dating at the time.

So the vampire lover seems to be a Manic Hellcat Dream Guy, with the violence and chaos being a fair trade to the female character for gaining love and crazy-ass sex and escaping having to date disappointingly frail mortal men?

And then I had an ending quip about Edward just being a guilt-tripping putz, but I've forgotten it.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:39 AM on April 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


"If I could find a girl who liked "Life of Riley" I'd probably ask her out on the spot."

Hey, I know all the words to Life of Riley. But then, The Lightning Seeds were a Top 10 band over here.
posted by mippy at 8:36 AM on April 5, 2010


I haven't come across Louise Brooks in 1929's pandoras box or prix de beauty mentioned, but she was the first time I loved this (at the time) un-named trope. But she actually pushed the faux sense of danger into the real when she killed her husband in pandoras box.
posted by saucysault at 8:55 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wonder if Julie Christie's Liz from Billy Liar fits into this - she's a crazy character who wants to take Billy away from it all.
posted by mippy at 9:16 AM on April 5, 2010


Fortunately Foxy Ninja Chicks do not exist in the real world, or nerds would totally be chasing after them just like the crazy girls. And the fallout would be worse - rather than suprise miscarriage story or midnight plate mashing for no reason it'd be all sudden fight with assasins or shruiken stars to the sternum.
posted by Artw at 9:18 AM on April 5, 2010


Fortunately Foxy Ninja Chicks do not exist in the real world

Earlier today I was listening to a radio program where this guy's RL Manic Pixie Dreamgirl turned out to be a FARC assassin... it didn't end well...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:44 AM on April 5, 2010


Did she do a lot of leaping over rooftops whist wearing some kind of leather bikini affair?
posted by Artw at 11:48 AM on April 5, 2010


My memory is that the flower imagery doesn't come into play until she's lost her mind.

This is true, and of course because Elizabethans would have been more conversant with the language of flowers, her gifts would have been construed as a fairly plain symbolism and evidence of her damaged mind. Remember that her madness is nearly immediately apparent, and interspersed with her declarations are the anguished cries of her brother and the queen; as soon as she begins handing out the flowers, Laertes calls the demonstration "a document in madness: thoughts and remembrance fitted." Her flowers and songs come only once she has been destroyed by grief, and they are properly seen as the manifestations of her imminent and inevitable death. Hardly the stuff of adolescent fantasy.

Indeed, one need only read A Midsummer Night's Dream to see how Shakespeare would have described the pixie-ish figure: flighty, capricious, haughty, and above all dangerous. A fair remove from the bland and nonthreatening cipher described here.
posted by Errant at 11:52 AM on April 5, 2010 [3 favorites]


I stand by my point though. If I could find a girl who liked "Life of Riley" I'd probably ask her out on the spot.
posted by Talez at 10:44 AM on April 4 [+] [!]


aren't you a little young? I thought "Sense" came out in like '92. Well, ok, I'm here to help. I'm already married, but I can tell you I first heard the song (like, 6-8 times a day) when it was on the store soundtrack at The Limited where I was working. We used to dance to it while folding sweaters over paper and fanning shirtsleeves on our walls and rounders.

So, all you have to do is find yourself a cougar with a taste in clothing that runs to sloppy knits and who was marginally employed in the early 90s. wait... are you sure you don't want to rethink this?
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:53 PM on April 5, 2010


I would say the "magic negro" is a Stephen King stock character

My memory must be failing. Lesse, The Shining, The Stand, The Green Mile, and um... well, I haven't followed hte last half dozen novels so closely, so perhaps I missed a few.

I guess three or four novels out of, you know, 30 or 40 is AN ADDICTION!

It's so weird to me that so much stuff marketed to women involves the women NEVER GETTING LAID!

As always, xkcd.
posted by rodgerd at 2:40 AM on April 6, 2010


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