Thursday, November 19, 2009

Manic Pixie Dream Girls: Blessing or Curse?

This blog post is about crushes, cheesefries and archetypes. Oh archetypes, English teachers love to teach about them and writers love to include them in their books. Heros, wise fools, damsels in distress, these characters have been around for a long time. But, is it possible in this day and age to invent a new one?

A couple of years ago, a critic for The Onion came up with the term "manic pixie dream girl" to talk about a movie character. This was the type of girl who is a little bit off kilter, quirky or a little bit "marching to the beat of her own drummer." She is a girl who walks into the main character's life and totally changes it forever in some profound way. But, according to this critic, the problem is that these girls never really become full people that the audience really knows and cares about. Nathan Rabin, who made up the name explains further:

[a manic pixie dream girl 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."
So, where is the connection to YA? Well, there are lots of novels that happen to have a girl whose appearance in the novel shakes the male character out of his everyday life and makes him realize how many adventures await him. This girl often doesn't fit in and she's extremely unique or special in someway. Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli is one of the first young adult novels with a "manic pixie dream girl" in a starring role. Stargirl appears in Leo's life and suddenly he is joining her on cheesefry runs and leaving change behind for someone else to find it. She is the MPDG who makes him believe in the kindness of strangers.

Bloggers and book critics have been hurling this phrase around as an insult all year. But is it really an insult?

John Green has had his characters named "MPDG"s left and right. He defends his choice of character here and he spends a lot of Paper Towns challenging the term. In his opinion, teens often don't take the time to really get to know someone when they are crushing on someone new. In Paper Towns, Q, the main character jumps in to this whole crush thing without thinking about it too much.

Margo is certainly presented by Q as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl at the beginning of PT. Absolutely. But that only acknowledges that some boys believe in Manic Pixie Dream Girls; it doesn't argue that MPDGs actually exist, or that Margo is one. --- JG

So, what do you think? Is using a MPDG in a novel an easy way out? Is it cheating? Or, do you think that since we all look at new crushes with stars in our eyes the manic pixie dream girl is a product of this wishful thinking? Or, do you think that critics should get over themselves and just enjoy the quirky girls who happen to show up in coming-of-age-stories, especially if they like cheese fries?

If you'd like to investigate further into the world of the manic pixie dream girl, here are some titles to check out:

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas
Paper Towns by John Green
Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger
Funny How Things Change by Melissa Wyatt

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