It isn’t always easy for a film critic to admit he’s wrong or say he’s sorry. Our job is to defend our statements, even if it comes to revising them later.
It’s even harder for a modern film critic, today’s most dwindling yet thriving non-occupation, to leave a lasting influence on popular culture, the web and language itself.
Yet The Dissolve critic Nathan Rabin did manage to make an impact with a coined turn of phrase that has since hit ubiquity, and he’s now taken to the pages of Salon to apologize.
Back when he was an A.V. Club staffer, Rabin used the phrase “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” in a 2007 essay to slam Kirsten Dunst’s character in the Cameron Crowe movie Elizabethtown. The rest is history, with The A.V. Club themselves doing an Inventory feature looking at Manic Pixie Dream Girls through the ages, everyone from Annie Hall to Zooey Deschanel to perhaps most notably, Natalie Portman in Garden State.
Rabin has been amazed at the phrase’s spread online, including its many incarnations. The Dissolve even went so far as to refer to The Fault in Our Stars‘ Augustus Waters as a sort of Manic Pixie Dream Guy. But he’s now admitted that the phrase itself has not only become a cliche, but a term that’s arguably as diminutive toward women as the character trope it was once trying to criticize.
“I coined the phrase to call out cultural sexism and to make it harder for male writers to posit reductive, condescending male fantasies of ideal women as realistic characters. But I looked on queasily as the phrase was increasingly accused of being sexist itself,” Rabin wrote in the piece.
He talks about how writers like Zoe Kazan and novelist John Green took strong opposition to the idea that a woman who is quirky and unique should be labeled and put into a condescending group of other stereotypes.
“I feel deeply weird, if not downright ashamed, at having created a cliché that has been trotted out again and again in an infinite Internet feedback loop. I understand how someone could read the A.V. Club list of Manic Pixie Dream Girls and be offended by the assertion that a character they deeply love and have an enduring affection for, whether it’s Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall or Katharine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby, is nothing more than a representation of a sexist trope or some sad dude’s regressive fantasy.”
Rabin is right that although sometimes a useful expression, writers should strive to avoid easy classifications and most certainly avoid sexist ones that serve to only place women into boxes. In his piece, he apologized for ever coining “this unstoppable monster”.
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.