A Side Trip to Media Land – How the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Trope Discourages Activism
Today, in the midst of catching up on Mad Men and lamenting all the issues I could be covering here instead of relaxing, I saw that Zooey Deschanel iPhone Siri commercial one. more. time., and *finally* figured out my issue with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) trope in tv, advertising, and film.
Sure, I’ve heard the arguments about the MPDG’s focus on uplifting central male characters, and having little to no lives of their own. Of course that’s a problem, but not one that is terribly specific to the quirky MPDG characters in film and television – those media are full of female characters that serve as support or window dressing only, quirky or not. The MPDG trope also seems to exclusively use young, fresh-faced white women – women of color and older women (and poor women, etc.) are apparently not useful in the role of gleeful weirdo muse, but lack of representation exists across media in general, and is not specific to just the quirkier supporting female characters. Thus, objection to this specific type of stereotypical character has always kind of whizzed by me as one more problematic portrayal in a sea of problematic portrayals.
But here’s where we loop back into women’s health and reproductive rights. If you’ve seen the Siri commercial with classic MPDG Zooey, you know that she plans to clean up tomorrow – today we dance. She’s ordering delivery food because she doesn’t want to put on “real shoes.” Like most MPDGs, she’s blowing off any real responsibilities in the service of fun, in the service of not showing any signs of being a real grown up.
When I’m sitting there thinking about the reading and writing I’d love to be able to fit into my life, about the internal pressure I create for myself to stay on top of and write against the tide of recent reproductive rights attacks, the MPDG is an attractive alternative. It says, “today, let’s just dance.” And that’s fine to some extent – focusing only on issues and seriousness at all times is a quick path to burn-out. But the MPDG is one more way of encouraging grown women with the means to do so to blow off seriousness, to not take themselves too seriously, and to not work too hard at anything other than fun (and enabling men). The MPDG is sharing new music, not talking about abortion and inequities and proposed state legislation. The MPDG is the devil on my shoulder that wants to stay in pajamas all day (like Zooey) – and believe me, that impulse of mine is strong, and does not need further encouragement.
Silly is good. Fun is good. As a lifestyle, it’s damn hard to sustain as a focus if there’s anything you actually care about, if you want to take time to think about serious issues, if you have real grown-up responsibilities and limited funds. That’s what finally struck me – the Manic Pixie Dream Girl isn’t just one more limited way of being a woman and an adult – it’s a way that discourages adult women from taking anything seriously, from objecting to disparities and injustice, and from doing the hard work of changing the world.