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 Girl presents 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 and please 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.


Thoughts? On anything? Please share. I'm just making this stuff up, you know.



Andrew said...

What is an awesome post, Delilah! I totally agree with the Zooey and Ducky analogy. So true.

And yes, it is fun until you splatter on the rocks below.

delilah s. dawson said...

Thanks, Andrew!

I'm waiting for someone to pick a fight by standing up for David Tennant.


Emily Lavin Leverett said...

This is really interesting, and I think the Doctor fits, in part because (at least with the Matt Smith doc) he DOES kill things. He also leaves (or the woman leaves him, but it's because she can't stay).

If we're going to bring the MPDG across to men, I think we've got to keep the fundamental element: leaving (whether before or after a sexual relationship). Whatever it is the heroine does,(and I'm focusing only on hetero relationships, though one certainly doesn't have to, but I think it makes the pronouns easier)
she doesn't get to keep the MPDB. And that's where the "stoic poet" (which i think is a good parallel) is problematic. Sometimes you don't get to keep him (Angel, for example, in the buffyverse), but a lot of the time, you do. (Edward, etc. and most HEA romances, paranormal romances, etc.).

I'm not sure I buy into the hormonally, evolutionarily, hind-brain-ally, women want the warrior to protect them. I'm not sure that's not as much a part of inculturation as is wanting to be thin, or wanting to have sparkly blue eyes, or whatever else the culture says is desirable.

That said, I think the Stoic Warrior Poet is a type, and is does fit in the category of "unattainable types" postied by the original article, but I'm not certain its the same as the MPDG. Every example of MPDG I can think of makes sex irrelevant to her--that is, she's unchanged by the sex she has--if she has it. The change happens to the man who has it. Not so for the SWP. Very often the woman is the one who can touch him, change him, unleash the poet, etc. But for the SWP, and his heroine, her sex is fundamentally transformative, for both of them.

The hero wit ha MPDG doesn't have to worry about hurting her, she's untouchable. The SWP exists to NOT hurt her (and often we get the "you should stay away from me! I only hurt people" line).

I'm aruging, btw, because I'm interested and I think you've given a really cool type that plays a huge role in female (again with the hetero, sorry) fantasy and desire. I'm just not sure it fulfills the same role as Zooey. It's an alternative to other desires (the stable man who will save a woman, for example).

But I do concur with Andrew... and awesome post. And I do think the Dr. Who is closer to the MPDG than is the SWP.

delilah s. dawson said...

Good point, Emily. I was focusing on the hetero side and the aspect of awakening the sleeper, because that's what I encounter the most as a writer, a reader, and a devourer or mainstream media.

While the MPDG is in part defined by the fact that she leaves, I think that since the SWP stays, the story has to end. Stability is great for safety, comfort, and non-sociopath kids, but it's not that hot, romance-wise. Very few writers can maintain reader interest with the same characters over a long period of time, which is why my own series followed a different romance in each story. I am no Diana Gabaldon, and Criminy is no Jamie.

MPDG leaves; SWP stays, but the story stops.

Amber Gardner said...

The Doctor can definitely fit the SWP because he does have claws that come up when the people he loves are threatened. The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant)I think was more like that than any other Doctor. And I have to admit, when he was angry (and when he was angry, he was ANGRY), that's when I found him the hottest. True, he was kind and silly most of the time, but he was also dangerous and scary at times. And so, so elusive. Maybe not the PERFECT fit for the SWP, perhaps a hybrid of the SWP and the MPDB.

But I'm not gonna start a fight.

I love this post the most because...the SWP is something I lust for, but don't allow myself to admit to myself. I want to good guy. I don't like Wolverine. I like Cyclops and I hate how everyone makes fun of him (and also why I hate Wolverine cause I blame him!)

But, yes, Tony Stark is sexy as hell. And omg, don't get me started on Sherlock Holmes (but maybe that's just Robert Downey Jr.)

Point is. You're much as I'm embarrassed to admit :p

Hughes. said...

Maybe if real womenfolk are trying to emulate the MPDG, the male equivalent is the guys from the same movies? Depressive, listless, cute-but-don't-know it guys who are waiting for someone to help make it all make sense.

Maybe the MPDG isn't just a geek male fantasy, maybe it's a whole turn-around of gender rescue. In these stories, the girl is the knight in shining armour, she's the saviour, who sets the guy's world right, then rides off into the sunset.
Zooey is Shane!
I'm going to watch 500 Days of Summer now, to work out which character is Jack Palance.

delilah s. dawson said...

Facebook is arguing that John Cusack plays a version of Manic Pixie Dreamboat, and I don't grok. Fun to talk to, drink with, hang with. But sexy? No. He's like a raven-furred otter.


delilah s. dawson said...

p.s. Several people on Twitter threatened to blog their own thoughts on the matter. I fully expect links here, so that we can continue to debate the relative hotness of Hollywood tropes.

James R. Tuck Dark Urban Fantasy Author said...

As a Stoic Warrior Poet myself,(lol) I think you have assigned us to the wrong role in a woman's life. You are right, we stick around, so we are not the equivalent of the MPDG.

You are looking for the Bad Boy.

Not the "I wear black jeans and I'm pissed off at my old man" bad boy, but the true Bad Boy. The James Dean Bad Boy. The guy who doesn't treat you nice, but he's exciting and gets your blood up because he's wild and reckless and doesn't give a fuck about anything beyond the moment.

He comes along, rocks your world, and leaves your heart bruised for the next guy. He's in and out, come, and then gone. He can't be tamed, has no redeeming quality beyond the dark thrill of it all, and is only good for making you appreciate every guy after who isn't him.

This is just an opinion of course.

delilah s. dawson said...

James, while I agree that you rock the warrior-poet thing better than most dudes, I disagree with the bad boy thing. I'm drawing conclusions from lots of the paranormal romance I read, and the implication is that this dude sticks around, that only his One True Love can tame him. It's simply that no one wants to read more of the story once the push-and-pull, will-they-or-won't-they gets replaced by the "Excuse me, Wrath the Vampyre King, but you left your socks on the bathroom floor again next to the blood spatters."

Amber Gardner said...

I think what would fit better is The Jerk with the Heart of Gold.

I mean, I don't read a lot of paranormal romance, but I definitely know it's the popular character in many T.V shows and films.

The hero who's kinda mean and rude and cynical, but secretly a softy and really a good person, and will only show that side to those closest to him.

I think Tony Stark fits this trope better than SWP, since he's not even a little stoic.

JD Quesenberry said...

Victorian writer Samuel Richardson said it best,
"That dangerous but too commonly received notion, that a reformed rake makes the best husband."

I think Delilah is quite right in saying that it is the notion of something mysterious in a woman taming that which is mysterious in a man, without losing its enigmatic qualities entirely that is the penultimate dreamy/swoony inducing characteristic of the SWP that sets him apart from the "Bad Boy" motif.

James R. Tuck Dark Urban Fantasy Author said...

I see the point, but the MPDG wanders in, gets the guy to change, and then wanders off leaving him ripe and ready for the True Woman to step in and be with him forever.

In this function it's not the SWP but the Bad Boy who comes, does his work, and then leaves.

It's the leaving that makes the difference.

The SWP is similar to the Bad Boy and can be confused for them (and in his own story may have once been a Bad Boy) but they are not the same and they wind up with a different woman.

The MPDG is for a guy who isn't ready to be with a True Woman. She's the trickster muse that prepares him. That's what the Bad Boy does for some women....he's the trickster bastard that makes her ready for a True Man.

Anonymous said...

I agree with James. The leaving is important for MPDG so the male equivalent should leave, too. As much as men are attracted to the MPDG, a long-term relationship may drive the men crazy; quirky is best in small doses.

On the other hand, a Romance (as opposed to a love story) needs a HEA and this may work better for women. After all that time, energy, and emotions vested in a man, be he Bad Boy or SWP, one would want more than just some self-knowledge.

Anonymous said...

I think Whovian fan girls will unite around the extreme sex appeal of David Tennant. There are so many factors involved. First off, most Whovians will be geek girls and face it, we are attracted to a different sort of man. I am not even remotely attracted to a typical "hot" jock character, but dang do smarts turn me on...add humor? I'm swooning. So, lets get back to the 10th Doctor. He's ridiculous smart, he has an excellent sense of humor, the hair...oh the fantastic hair on that man, the suit and tie with Chuck Taylors, the raised eyebrow and finally, did I mention the hair? David Tennant is a total geek girl package. Then you can compare him to the womanizer/manizer/alienizer, Captain Jack Harkness. Yes, he's gorgeous, but he gives no inclination of being long term relationship material (other than the fact that he's incapable of dying. Lol) so that is an automatic no. Now to me, the more important question is the appeal of Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor. Smith is, well, initially unattractive. Jay Leno chin, no eyebrows, pants that are too short, bow ties (bow ties are cool) After a few seasons, his intense awkwardness and his fabulous personality have won me over to where this "Ten" girl is officially an "Eleven" fangirl to the max. While Smith doesn't have the sex appeal that Tennant does, if any...oh my word, if I could get that man to marry me, I'd do it tomorrow. Smith, not Tennant. Awkward and geeky to the max? Yes, please.


delilah s. dawson said...

Trickster muse.

Oh, I like that.

delilah s. dawson said...

Becky, the message isn't that the Doctor doesn't have inherent hotness. The message is that he doesn't fit the schema of a Manic Pixie Dreamboat *or* a Stoic Warrior Poet.

I believe strongly in the hotness of humor and geekery, you know.

Nicole Mc said...

This was a great read. I have only one thing to add. I dream of Khal Drogo!!! Yum!

Lexi H said...

Sparkly Vampire Manboy...*snort*
I love your version better: Stoic Warrior Poet...much much better. Guess you hit it dead on with what women really go for.

Anonymous said...

Oh I got that, Delilah. Just trying to explain the allure of The Doctor (10 or 11 for that matter) even though he doesn't fall into either of these categories.

Cam said...

Wow! What a great post! I have a huge girl-crush on Jess(Zooey). I want to be her or at least wear her brand of glasses. I think, though, that Zooey must be an MPDG in real life as every part she plays is exactly the same (except for the awful The Happening). So she's either an MPDG or a bad actress.

I also think you're very insightful regarding women not really wanting to be worshipped by a boy like Ducky. Quite a turn-off. You neglected to mention the complete package of Thor in your analogy tho. He's a perfect caveman/sensitive poet.