I recently watched Yes Man and Garden State, and have noticed a trend in movies over the past decade which has been summed up succinctly and accurately by Mr. Nathan Rabin
in one phrase: the Manic Pixie Dream Girl
(or MPDG for short).
You know the type. The MPDG is the free-spirited, freewheeling and cute girl next door whom the depressed sad sack of a white dude meets when at the lowest point of his funk, and she exists for the pure and sole purpose of pushing our sheltered and not-so-worldly protagonist out of his comfort zone so that he can undergo a transformation.
I'm here to show you that the world is a playground, because you're not going to leave the house unless you think you'll get to make out with me at some point.
I'd like to deconstruct this a bit. I'm a little conflicted on whether or not this is a harmful trope in and of itself. Certainly the MPDG is a form of wish fulfillment, a clearly idealistic vision of what sort of woman a pathetic white guy who only goes to work and then goes back home alone at the end of the day would like to meet. In a weird sort of way, the MPDG simultaneously provides agency for a man who previously had none, but at the same time has no agency herself since that is her sole purpose in the story. If you look at it from the right angle, the trope both emasculates men (you only have agency and were only able to accomplish anything in your life because you met this magical, idealized, unreal woman) and objectifies women (your purpose in life is to be the motivation for a man to do things, and also your crazy attempts at being three-dimensional make you somewhat flat).
Once in a while, the trope is subverted. The best example I can think of is the show New Girl, which ironically stars Zooey Deschanel, who is typecast as a MPDG almost exclusively. At first it seems like Jess is a pretty standard example of the trope, but it turns out she actually is pretty developed as a character. She does
help the guys out with their problems, but she also has problems of her own and does not exist solely to pull a guy out of his little box.
There's also the gender-swapped version of the MPDG (which sadly does not have a catchy phrase that I'm aware of); men in rom coms follow a very strict formula. They are handsome, courteous, have an easily-overcome difficulty which temporarily keeps the leads apart for a (short) time in order to build up romantic suspense, and above all, they are incredibly successful
the vast majority of the time. The biggest and worst example I can think of comes from the wretched abomination called Sweet Home Alabama, wherein Reese Witherspoon goes to her husband to ask him for a divorce so that she can marry a wealthy man in New York. She is dead set on the divorce, and has been asking for it for years. She starts to come around to his charms again, but it's only after learning that in her absence he has become an extremely successful (and wealthy) businessman that she decides to remain married to him. Oh, sorry, spoiler alert! The unfortunate implications here are obvious and awful.
But is wish fulfillment a bad thing? Maybe sometimes we just want to curl up on the sofa and fantasize for a while.
If everybody was capable of seeing these films/books/whatever
as the media equivalent of cheesecake, you know, all fatty and delicious but certainly not reliable sustenance for every meal, I think it would probably be okay. Obviously people should be free to consume the media they like, and nobody can or should stop these things from being made. The thing that I find distressing, however, is how some people, particularly in the online dating sphere, have taken to expressing their desire to realize these fantasies. Men post on their OKCupid profiles that they're "seeking their very own manic pixie dream girl", literally, and without any awareness whatsoever of what they're doing. I have known men who seek out the MPDG, and typically when they find her, she is very young and immature. For them, the MPDG is a distraction, not a method by which they can transform. Once the inevitable breakup occurs, they go back to being the same whiny, uninteresting and flat person they were when not having to rely on a girl for motivation.
I guess what I'm saying in a nutshell is that we as a culture are addicted to these cheesecake tropes in our media. I think too many of us get our social interaction cues from watching TV and get frustrated when it doesn't translate into real life, in particular when we have expectations for the people whom we have a romantic attraction to which are completely unrealistic or demeaning. It'd be nice if more writers fleshed out characters instead of putting cardboard cutouts of personalities on the screen or page just to appeal to our love of cheesecake.
Note that this thread isn't just about the MPDG or rom coms. It's here to talk about patterns and common tropes that pop up which may actually have a negative impact on the real world in some way, specifically with regard to gender or even gender identity.