Matt Forney
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She Submits as She Dominates: Flakes, Zooey Deschanel and the Abusiveness of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

manic-pixie-dream-girlAs the collective IQ of America slides every year, our discourse becomes increasingly juvenile and trivialized. The cultural Marxists of yesteryear at least had some intellectual chops: our modern overlords can’t discuss anything more complex then pop culture. The chattering classes collectively piss themselves in response to Beyonce having a lit-up “FEMINIST” sign during one of her shows; Anita Sarkeesian collects hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of donations to create a gussied up TV Tropes (itself a mind-numbing cavalcade of stupidity); and the guy who coined the term “Manic Pixie Dream Girl” has been forced to flagellate himself for inventing a “misogynistic” slur.

I’ve never actually seen any of these Manic Pixie Dream Girl movies, mainly because I run like hell from the kinds of “quirky,” navel-gazing indie comedies that feature them (e.g. Garden State, (500) Days of Summer). From my reading of the “literature” on the topic, MPDGs basically serve as props to the male protagonist, experiencing no character development or inner life of their own. So it’s bad writing; big deal. Pretty much every movie these days is written poorly, action movies in particular—no need for an original plot or unique characters when you can just CGI up a bunch of explosions—but the Manic Pixie Dream Girl gets special attention from middlebrows because it’s “sexist.”

How dare men depict women in an idealistic or fantastical way! Don’t you know that every time you fantasize about a girl who’s attractive and not a cunt, the patriarchy wins?

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope is also applied to films that have almost nothing to do with the onanistic early-oughts effluvium from which the concept originated. For example, Katharine Hepburn’s character in Bringing Up Baby is identified as an MPDG, an analysis which completely ignores that Bringing Up Baby was a screwball comedy, a genre that is defined by its flipping of traditional sex roles on their heads. The humor in Bringing Up Baby comes from the fact that Hepburn’s character is domineering and bossy while Cary Grant’s is nebbish and weak-willed, an inversion of the way men and women were typically depicted in films of the time.

But because I am on an eternal quest to understand the thought processes of ordinary fuckin’ people, I decided to watch one of these Manic Pixie Dream Girl movies for myself. The one I got stuck with was Flakes, an indie comedy so insufferably pleased with itself I could practically see stink lines of concentrated smug wafting off my TV. It stars everyone’s favorite hipster pin-up Zooey Deschanel in one of the most psychotic and disturbingly un-self-aware roles I’ve ever seen in a film. I enjoy Deschanel’s music and her loopy, “feminist” philosophy of quirkiness and femininity, but I’ve never actually seen any of her MPDG movies: this was probably not the best place to start.

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a nightmare, a creepy fantasy for men and women to indulge in.

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Flakes revolves around hipster slacker Neal Downs (Aaron Stanford), an aspiring musician working a shit job at a New Orleans cereal bar managed by a senile old hippie (Christopher Lloyd). His girlfriend, Miss Pussy Katz (Deschanel), is tired of his loafing around and decides to leave him… ha ha, just kidding! Nope, instead she insists on taking his place at the cereal bar so that he can get the free time to finish his album. Neal rebuffs her for the sensible reason that he has to pay rent, so she hatches a plot to run the bar out of business by helping build up a ripoff cereal bar across the street, giving him no choice but to record that damn album.

On the surface, we have the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope: a woman who selflessly works to kick her moping, brooding boyfriend into action. But who in their right mind would call this a good thing? Sabotaging your boyfriend’s job, even if you claim to be doing it for his own good, is the height of manipulative, controlling behavior. If a woman did this to a man in real life, people wouldn’t hesitate to recognize her actions as abusive and sadistic. If a man did something similar to his girlfriend, he’d be pilloried as a “batterer,” particularly with the bizarre new initiative against “financial abuse.” And it’s not like the film was trying to be ironic or satirical; it’s made obvious throughout the whole thing that we’re supposed to empathize with Miss Pussy Katz.

Far from being an empty male fantasy, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl goes out of her way to dominate and control her man in sick, clandestine ways.

Flakes provides a perfect example of “topping from the bottom”: women who dominate their husbands through a facade of submission. So-called “red pill women” are notorious for this kind of behavior: adopting a mask of wifeliness so that they might better cut their husbands’ balls off and stuff them in their purses. On the surface, the woman appears to submit to her man’s headship, but privately she controls him through domesticity and sex appeal. Deschanel’s character’s actions are an extreme example of this: using underhanded methods and feminine charm to remake her boyfriend into what she wants.

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Topping from the bottom and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope persist because they appeal to a particular type of man and woman. The man for whom Zooey Deschanel’s Pussy Katz represents an ideal is a psychological codependent. Lacking the will to achieve his goals, too spineless to command his woman, he dreams of a mommy figure who will do all the hard work for him. He wants to submit to a woman, if not de jure, then de facto. You can see the desire for emasculation shot through the sexual fantasies of left-wing/SJW men (click here for a particularly nauseating example), and the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a more clandestine manifestation of that impulse.

But what do women get from the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope? Answer: power and control. The MPDG represents the secret desires of a particular type of narcissist, a woman who wants to manipulate and control her man with subterfuge. Manic Pixie Dream Girls dominate not through the typical ball-busting, confrontational acts of the harridan, but by weaponizing their femininity for personal gain. After all, what red-blooded man can resist a bubbly girly girl who’s in love with him?

Calling the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope “sexist” is completely missing the point.

What movies like Flakes represent is not some wave of misogyny on the part of bespectacled, fuzzy-bearded hipster filmmakers, but a fundamental sickness both in those men and the women they are attracted to. Without masculine guidance, they seek solace in twisted Oedipal fantasies, which their polka-dot romper-wearing paramours are all too happy to give them. Much like Severin in Venus in Furs, they don’t realize that their desires will end up spelling misery for everyone involved.

Click here to watch Flakes.

Read Next: A Week of Praise: Be Like Zooey Deschanel

  • Haven’t seen Flakes, but Deschanel deftly plays the quirky-but-coy non-existent hot loser girl in the series New Girl. I’ve fallen for the MPDG before, and it’s all an illusion. They’re neurotic control freaks, waiting until you are dependent for the claws to come out. Analysis in this article is spot on.

  • Nataliya Kochergova

    Not sure if I liked 500 days of Summer or hated it. It has an annoying protagonist, but I think he’s meant to be delusional during most of the movie. The movie is, IMO, precisely about a desire for a MDPG, that doesn’t become fulfilled. And that can be cringeworthy in a realistic sort of way, hence my mixed feelings.

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