The term "manic pixie dream girl" has become so embedded into our cultural lexicon that at this point, it's hard to imagine we ever lived in a time when it didn't exist. But we did and in some ways, it was a simpler time. Now the man who invented the term would like to apologize for creating it.
A refresher: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) archetype was coined by Nathan Rabin in The A.V. Club (he now writes for The Dissolve) for a 2007 essay he wrote about the 2005 Cameron Crowe movie Elizabethtown. Since then, the term has become ubiquitous and, according to an essay Rabin has published in Salon, dangerously so.
"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," Rabin wrote then as a definition. "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."
Times have changed. "I've been floored by how pervasive the trope has become," Rabin writes in his new piece, arguing that use of the trope has gotten too broad before clarifying specifically that he agrees with actresses like Zoe Kazan who dislike it. (In 2012, while promoting her movie Ruby Sparks, Kazan said she didn't like how actualized female characters were put under the umbrella of this term. "What bothers me about it is I think that women get described that way, but it's really reflective of the man who is looking at them, and the way that they think about that girl, she said.")
The trope of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a fundamentally sexist one, since it makes women seem less like autonomous, independent entities than appealing props to help mopey, sad white men self-actualize. Within that context, the phrase was useful precisely because, while still fairly flexible, it also benefitted from a certain specificity.
"I understand the criticisms that the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl is itself sexist, even as it was coined specifically to critique and condemn sexism in the arts," writes Rabin. He now requests that we "all try to write better, more nuanced and multi-dimensional 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." You heard him: go forth, do it.
Image via Paramount Pictures