le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

manic pixie dream boys

Since I started really applying myself to reading YA, in spring/summer 2010, one of the tropes I find myself laughing/shaking my head at a lot is the New Boy whose hair falls into his (green) eyes, who is well-liked, popular even, but still enigmatic, who has Wisdom and Knowledge, probably from Sad Experience, who recognizes the flawed/broken heroine protagonist as flawed/broken, and still cares about her, and helps her recover from whatever her particular trauma is.
This boy often has a name like Jake or Mason or Charlie or Connor. He is, as are the heroines, pretty much always white. He often has some kind of vaguely artistic or intellectual pursuit - perhaps he is always reading Russian literature, or taking photographs with an old manual SLR, or strumming a guitar. He is not a butch jock, but can often play impromptu games of basketball or baseball or soccer well, or maybe he goes for long solitary runs. His hair falls into his eyes. Possibly he has a dimple. Frequently, he loans a jacket or hoodie to the heroine, who then spends time smelling it and feeling comforted by it. Usually, he and the Heroine are at odds with each other, maybe put together by a science project or the school newspaper or an art assignment; they bristle at each other, they become reluctant friends, then of course realize they are In Love.

He's a stereotype, a trope, and I think he is the male equivalent of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl - in other words, a function to change the course of the protagonist's life.
Recently, the man who coined the term MPDG, Nathan Rabin, apologized for it and wished to pull it from pop culture. I appreciated his reasons, but since I have never heard nor thought of MPDG in a positive way - it is always antifeminist, it always reduces the female to precisely a dream of the hetero male protagonist/viewer/gaze - I don't feel a need to pull it from circulation. I think it's a useful way of describing a specific trope that occurs very frequently.
I don't know what the male equivalent of this should be called - he isn't manic, he's usually quite calm and collected; he isn't a pixie (but what is the 'masculine' equivalent of pixie?); he IS a dream; and of course, he's a boy, not a girl.
He's not identical to the MPDG, either, because he plays a more serious role: he saves the heroine from self-sabotage. He doesn't bring sunshine and silliness into her life, he brings a life preserver and a solid rock to anchor it to. He is, ultimately, more important than the MPDG, because without him, the heroine would, perhaps, become suicidal, would die, would never identify the rapist/murderer who traumatized her, would never admit to, and seek professional help for, the psychological problems or mental illness from which she suffers. In other words, he saves her life - he rescues her, and he pushes her along to recovery, always standing by her side.
In a lot of ways, he's actually quite like Prince Charming or any other knightly figure who swoops in to save the damsel in distress. He's just figured in a way that doesn't make him look quite so domineering. But he has the power/agency - without him, her story would not continue. Without the Dream Girl, the hero of the story will go on - perhaps boringly, perhaps with an unpleasant wife and children, but not suffering psychological torment or PTSD.

I would like a term to identify this guy, so we can get him the hell out of there.
I like a cute, intellectual boy with hair that falls into his green eyes as much as the next hetero girl, but he's a FICTION. Very few boys OR girls are as wise and sensitive as he is while they're in high school, or as willing to stick it out over the long haul while the girl is hospitalized with an eating disorder or whatever. But this is not the worst of the problem with him -

The real problem is that still, even in books with smart, clever, interesting female protagonists, they need a Man to Save The Day. Why can't a heroine come to terms with her grief over accidentally killing her sister through a relationship with a good friend, or a mentor, or a cousin, or an aunt? Why don't any of her friends, or any of the women in her life, recognize her depression/trauma/helplessness? Why does it take the arrival of a mysterious, hot new boy for anyone to realize our Heroine is in trouble, unhappy, ill?

Why do our female protagonists still need a man, even a teenage boy, to give them a sense of value, worth, purpose, place in life?

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