The Manic Pixie Dream Girl: A Life

I thirst for knowledge. I make it a point to learn something new every day.

Today was no different, and yet it was. Today, I had my mind absolutely blown.

Let’s start where I started:

After writing about my love for Stargirl Caraway in this week’s blogpost, I decided to read up on my favorite novel, Stargirl. I have read it cover to cover several times, but I had never searched the Internet for people like me, “Star People,” if you will. As I have reiterated several times, the novel is about a teenage girl with a nonconformist attitude. She dazzles the high school she attends, and in particular, one boy who is swept up into her mystery and her majesty. And like the high schoolers, I became just as infatuated with her. She’s cheeky, smart, and best of all, she’s her own person. But her most shining feature is that she is half mythical creature and half legend. By the end of the novel, the students can hardly separate fact from fiction regarding Stargirl. Some think of her as a complete fake, others believe that she is as real as it can possibly get.

Enter the short summary of the novel I read that suggests that Stargirl is your typical “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” trope. Besides sounding like a character on HR Puff ‘N’ Stuff, I had never heard of a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl.” All I knew is that I needed to find out why my most beloved book character of all time was being called one.

Trippy Tropes

After some very scholarly, academic research on the credible website Wikipedia, I found that MPDG was a common trope in film. To rewind for a second, a “trope” is one of those very interesting words that means one thing, but gets reshaped down the line to better serve society’s needs. More aptly named, a trope is a “contranym.” To rewind even further, a contranym is any word that has two true but opposite meanings. So, according to Merriam-Webster, a “trope” can mean “a phrase used in a different way for artistic effect” or an “overused cliche.” It’s a contranym because it is difficult to use something “differently” when it is also a “cliche.”

I also see these two elements at odds because I do not believe that art can exist without cliches. In my view, the two opposite definitions are redundant.

Humans need common touchstones to view art, to perceive what artists are essentially poking fun at or trying to mimic. All art is simply the construction of or on something that has come before it. There are no more original ideas on this earth: there are only descendants of ideas and the equal, opposite reaction to that same idea. It’s nothing to be depressed about. We live in a world with many beautiful minds that can take an idea and unravel it faster than a moth-eaten sweater, only to knit something different with the same yarn.

However, we still haven’t come to my epiphany. So, let’s continue with one more definition. What’s a Manic Pixie Dream Girl? According to the film critic and creator of the phrase, Nathan Rabin, it is “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” The Wikipedia article goes on to say: “MPDGs are said to help their men without pursuing their own happiness, and such characters never grow up; thus, their men never grow up.”

And just like that, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor. Because here was a phrase that completely encompassed my entire goals as a child, as a young adult, and now as a woman. And while I did not know how I felt about chasing some idealistic version of myself, I could not completely reject this reality, or pretend that I hadn’t read what I read. I felt a bit betrayed by a sense of ironic unoriginality that was housed in the most original character I had ever met. Yet, these women obviously have some sort of familiarity in film that allows us to revisit and reinvent this trope time and time again. Here are some films that make use of the MPDG:

  • 500 Days of Summer
  • Elizabethtown
  • Garden State
  • Almost Famous
  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower
  • Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World

If you have to ask who the MPDG is in these movies, then you haven’t seen the movie. Or maybe you weren’t watching closely enough.

Feminist Fatale

Now, let there be no mistake. I am a feminist, and I understand that MPDGs definitely represent, even encourage, a misogynistic viewpoint. They suggest that women are air heads with just enough wisdom to enlighten the men in their lives before literally and metaphorically running off into a meadow of wildflowers. The MPDG trope, in its cliched form, suggests that every woman who is a bit weird bears similarities to weird women everywhere. And so, women are again slapped with the labels that we must pretend to shun but embody at the same exact time. At any given moment, we are all the “Mother, Whore, Virgin” and now the “MPDG.”

And yet, I want to ideally see this particular trope in its first definition, as something that is viewed differently to create an artistic effect. Maybe I have rose-colored Manic Pixie Dream Girl glasses on, but I think there are some positives that we can take away from this trope, some lessons that Stargirl can still teach us.

I think people need to be reminded that they only need to grow up in definition, not in practice. I think we also need to keep that one person in our lives that is able to take our hands and whisper “jump” when we are too afraid to take the next step. These are our Manic Pixie Dream Girls, and we need them. We need Summer, we need Holly Golightly, and we need Stargirl.

So, cheers to the mothers, the whores, the virgins, and the MPDGs. May you live out loud in our films and in our lives. (*


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