"Manic Pixie Dream Girl" Inventor Apologizes For Coining the Term 7 Years Ago But He Doesn't Need To
The film critic who coined the term "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" in 2007 offered a written apology for inventing the trope so many moons ago. Nathan Rabin, who at the time of MPDG's inception was working for The A.V. Club, used the phrase for the first time in a review of 2007's Elizabethtown starring Kirsten Dunst and Orlando Bloom, back when both actors were the quintessential leading woman and man of early- to mid-2000 romcoms. His words, which are now eternalized in the popular review, stated:
Dunst embodies a character type I like to call the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (see Natalie Portman in Garden State for another prime example). The Manic Pixie Dream Girl 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 Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite the Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family. As for me, well, let's just say I'm not going to propose to Dunst's psychotically chipper waitress in the sky anytime soon.
Since these fateful words were published, the idea of the MPDG has existed in pop culture on an unavoidable level. As Rabin suggests, Garden State's Natalie Portman is a prime example of the trope, and perhaps even a more perfect example is 500 Days of Summer's Zooey Deschanel. She's beautiful, quirky, bubbly, and lives in a dreamlike state that exists solely to remedy whatever depressing conundrum the film's male lead is trying to temper. Deschanel's Summer is neither a representation of a real woman or a satisfying solution to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's insufferable sadness. Just take her name — Summer — a word that evokes romance, nostalgia, and consistently pleasant memories.
The idea of the MPDG is a slap in the face to women who exist in real life, who have problems of their own, and who might find just as much benefit from finding their own Manic Pixie Dream Guy. And this is exactly what Rabin was trying to convey with the term. But now, as he and other critics and pop culture figures recognize, the term does more harm than good.
John Green, author of the impossibly popular The Fault in Our Stars, wrote his novel Paper Towns as a direct response to the MPDG trope. In a Tumblr post, the author proclaimed his extreme problem with the term, saying his book is "devoted IN ITS ENTIRETY to destroying the lie of the manic pixie dream girl. I do not know how I could have been less ambiguous about this without calling [Paper Towns] The Patriarchal Lie of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Must Be Stabbed in the Heart and Killed.” Yikes.
To be fair, I think the MPDG term has done more good than bad over the past seven years. It has brought to light, in unimaginable ways, the problems surrounding male writers and directors crafting stories that only cater to fulfilling the fantasies of other white males. While Dunst's Elizabethtown character is fun, flirty, free-spirited, and seems like an ideal, albeit temporary, mate — she isn't allowed to have the same faults, needs, or complexities that Bloom's character carries. And this is something we should pay attention to. Nevertheless, Rabin felt the need to apologize for creating the term, which blossomed into a monstrous and stereotype-laden term. His apology is as follows:
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. I would welcome its erasure from public discourse. I’d applaud an end to articles about its countless different permutations. Let’s all try to write better, more nuanced and multidimensional female characters: women with rich inner lives and complicated emotions and total autonomy, who might strum ukuleles or dance in the rain even when there are no men around to marvel at their free-spiritedness. But in the meantime, Manic Pixies, it’s time to put you to rest.
While I appreciate wholeheartedly Rabin's apology, I would like to offer my own gratitude, for the original permutations of the term, and for addressing it again now, seven years later. Let's keep the MPDG discourse going, because while writing fully formed, individual women into fictitious works is the ultimate goal, the MPDG — whether we call her (or him) by that name or something else — will likely exist for years to come.
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