Whether it’s in young adults novels or romantic comedies, the manic pixie dream girl trope seems to be alive and thriving. The term “manic pixie dream girl” was originally coined by Nathan Rabin while reviewing “Elizabeth Town.” The MPDG is lively, bubbly and exists to better the life of the male protagonist. She exists as a supporting character; her personal story never relevant to the main one unless it’s somehow beneficial to the male character.
This trope is problematic because young girls grow up consuming books and movies filled with the MPDG; she can be found flitting around just about any novel by John Green or in popular movies such as “500 Days of Summer.” These types of stories teach young girls that they’ll never get to be the protagonist of their own story, that they’ll get to be the leading lady at best.
The MPDG exists in a world of cliches. She’s bright yellow when the male protagonist exists in a world of grey, sitting in a cubicle from nine to five. She appears in a burst of indie music and says it’s time for our hero to see the world as she does. Only, the audience never actually gets to see anything as she does, because she’s only ever shown through the ever-watching eyes of the male protagonist.
One of the biggest issues with the term “manic pixie dream girl” lies within the first word. Manic, or mania, is defined as mental or physical hyperactivity. This is closely associated with manic depression, a serious mental illness often glamorized by the character of the MPDG. A perfect example of this is young adult author John Green’s first novel, “Looking for Alaska.” The protagonist, Miles, meets beautifully disturbed Alaska Young at boarding school where the two discuss obscure fiction. He describes her as rain because, for him, she was only a passing modifier to his own life, never a fully thinking or feeling person. Later, when Alaska dies tragically in a car accident, the latter half of the novel becomes Miles’ own story entirely, told under the thinly veiled lense of living in a way that Alaska would have wanted. Though the novel was named for her, the story was never hers.
The MPDG is attractive and enigmatic; she’s the perfect storm of sunshine and just enough sadness that it makes her even more beautiful. Of course, she’s never sad enough that she can’t bring the protagonist out of his darkest hour, seeing as she herself is never allowed one. She’s always bright and alive and unfeeling — but this isn’t her fault. The MPDG isn’t at fault for her own flat character; this comes from lazy writing and the allowance of only one three-dimensional character per story. It’s not the fault of the girls who grow up wishing to be as bubbly and beautiful as her. It’s not even entirely the fault of the writers who created her; they’ve likely been spoon-fed the idea that men are the heroes in stories since they were reading children’s books.
Though there may be no one at fault, there must be an end to the MPDG. She can’t continue to exist in an age of progress because she’s far from it. Though maybe, if she was allowed, she’d say that she’s progress, but the rest of us just aren’t looking close enough. Or, maybe not maybe she only exists in fever dreams and cinematically lit train cars. But as long as she exists in books and on screen, there will be little girls saying they can grow up to be pixies too.
Georgia Leipold-Vitiello is a freshman media arts and design major. Contact her at email@example.com.