On Writing: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl and the Stoic Warrior Poet

After reading this article on Cracked breaking down the reasons that Zooey Deschanel might be beautiful and adorable but is definitely not awkward or geeky, I couldn't help contemplating how the trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girlpresents in men.

As I see it, the MPDG is the 21st century version of a muse. She's gorgeous but quirky, insightful but childlike, and never, ever sticks around for the happily ever after--aka, long enough to get boring/quotidian. She appears in the life of a guy who's either mid-crisis or floundering or half-asleep and shakes him out of his doldrums with her beautiful eccentricity. She leaves him changed and bittersweet in a way that allows the real, true Woman to walk in the door at just the right time.

In short, she's an object, a creature of male fantasy, a vehicle to something better. Her function is to awaken the sleeper.

So what I want to know is: what is the male version of the MPDG? 

Because I'm pretty sure that a dude with all of these qualities would not have the same appeal to women. For example, remember Duckie from Pretty in Pink? He was cute, quirky, intelligent, fearless, filled with love and possibility and tenacity. And although women everywhere swore he was adorable, no one ever called him sexy. Or swoony. Or handsome.

He was fun. Sweet. Cute.

These words? Are romance doom.

No one gets a fire in their loins for cute. Even Molly Ringworm chose the smoldering, standoffish, rich dude. No matter what they say, I don't think that, subconsciously, women want to be worshiped like that. They want to be chased like wobbly dibatags by lions with soft paws hidden under extendable claws.

So although your mileage my vary and different strokes for different folks andplease don't attack Delilah for averring something, I believe that the male version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is the Stoic Warrior Poet, sometimes known as the Sparkly Vampire Manboy.

If the idea of this trope is to shake up a person's status quo and make them feel more alive so that they're more open to leveling up as a human being, a woman's biology simply isn't programmed to swoon for a Manic Elfin Dream Boy, a skinny little Ducky or Doctor Who. In her churning cesspit of pheremones, a woman craves a cave man, a beast, a man who will protect her and be entirely competent when it comes to helping her and her offspring survive. But in our world, when any doof in flip-flops can go to WalMart for a steak, our brains tend to forget about that part and lead us to guys who make great friends and loving fathers. And thence, I believe, many women are missing something they crave, deep down, but aren't always aware of.

So our hormones and instincts want a cave man. Fine. But our hearts want romance and poetry and pretty words and soulful eyes, not being raped from the behind in an alley. So these two basic desires are really difficult to come by... because they're entirely opposite. When a man's dinosaur brain wants a fertile woman, that need is expressed by eyes that rove to boobs and butts and facial symmetry-- things that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl has, because she's *always* gorgeous. Add in some intelligence, quirk, and an ability to swig beer and make insightful comments on whatever game or band the guy also likes and you've got your MPDG.

But while a woman's dinosaur brain wants to be protected and carry viable offspring, she doesn't actually *want* to be an object of lust solely for her body. She wants to be respected, understood, adored. She wants power and equality in the relationship. Or so she thinks. Because if there's one thing the men of romance books and movies show, it's that women really dig 100% confident guys who kill things. And that's where Edward, Christian, James Bond, Tony Stark, Khal Drogo, and the dude from Desperado come in. They'll kill something that's trying to hurt you, throw you against the wall for a smoldering interlude, and then write a song about it.

Boom. All your needs, met. And they all have money to take care of you, should that interlude actually satisfy nature's urge and produce the children his dinosaur brain wants and his dude-groin fears. Stoic Warrior Poet always comes with built-in monetary security. Don't worry your pretty little head.

And yet all these characters have an unnatural sensitivity that goes against their forceful nature and allows women to accept all the bad things they do. Edward and Christian (whom some posit as the same person, really) are creepy-ass, super-rich stalkers with man-boy issues, but they play the piano and express their tenderness through twisted acts of physical and emotional tenderness. Khal Drogo, Desperado, and James Bond are basically murderous savages who draw their women into their worlds, hardening them and strengthening them like an annealed blade. Tony Stark is a billionaire genius playboy philanthropist, and yet one woman is able to cancel out the playboy part. Because she's simply that special.

The point is that these guys? They change in one way only: by loving a sensitive woman, they open like barb-wire flowers in one small area of tenderness, but on the whole, they stay the same. Their stability as a trope allows their women to change, to become strong and fearless in a way that your average stay-at-home-mom can't. These dudes are a springboard to awaken women to the passion they've forgotten, repressed, or lost.

Basically, the Stoic Warrior Poet awakens the woman with near-forceful passion that rides the line between rape and acceptance with a precision that's hard to duplicate in real life.

If you sit in a bar and watch human behavior as the flaneur, Wild Kingdom style, the dance is beautiful and fascinating. I was in a bar last weekend and couldn't figure out why so many pretty, dude-seeking girls were wearing dork glasses, tights, flats, high-waisted pants, or tent-shaped dresses, which seems like the equivalent of trying to catch fish with packets of used cat litter. And then I read the Cracked article today and realized that women are actively trying to emulate the Manic Pixie Dream Girl style. That they *want* to be that muse, that adorkable fawn of a girl who dances in and garners every eye, but not because she's a vapid bitch in a skin-tight dress. Because she has some interior magic that makes her special. And I think that some guys are starting to catch on to a more traditional expression of masculinity, Mad Men-style. I still don't understand the hipster boys, though.

And of course, the interesting part is that the few lucky people who function as Stoic Warrior Poets or Manic Pixie Dream Girls in real life naturally attract the opposite sex with a fearful magnetism. You can't fake this shit, to be honest. Zooey Deschanel isn't adorkable; she's beautiful and knows exactly what she's doing. In the movies, it's easy to craft a character who serves as a journey instead of a destination, a conveyance instead of a living, breathing person. But in real life, each angle of the trope must be met 100% or the approach will appear disingenuous and lopsided. And, honestly, kind of lame.

Either you've got it, or you don't, and halfway only counts in horse shoes and NaNoWriMo.

So, in conclusion, instead of dreaming of these fairy-tale concoctions of impossible people waking us up from our everyday lives, let's just set our damn alarms and put in the work. Sitting in a bar, watching people wearing wedding rings chat with eyes ablaze, all I could think was that finding a MPDG or SWP is a lot like standing at the edge of a cliff. It's exciting. It's dizzying. You get a trill in the pit of your stomach. And right after you jump off the cliff, it would be really, super-awesome-fun for the first five seconds. But, eventually, you're going to splatter against the rocks far below.

There's a reason that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl dances right back out of your life.

She's supposed to.