The "John Green Formula" Of The Manic Pixie Dream Girl

The "John Green Formula" Of The Manic Pixie Dream Girl

The quirky girl with a dark history might be "cool" in books, but does this become a toxic characterization of real-life women?
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John Green is a popular young adult fiction writer and YouTube video blogger, best known for books such as The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns, which recently became top-selling novels and movies. Green’s popularity has skyrocketed since the release of TFIOS, and has generated buzz around his frequent discussions about the manic pixie dream girl and male-female relationships as teenagers.

Although John Green did not invent any of the recurring tropes heavily found in his books, the impact of Green’s books has led me to develop a theory entitled the “John Green Formula.” This formula is commonly found in contemporary young adult fiction where person X (typically a girl who is “not like other girls”) and person Y (typically a boy who may have a plethora of personality traits, more than the girl) come together under turbulent circumstances, fall in love, and may leave a problematic impression on readers. There are a million and one interpretations over how Green uses this formula; other authors are now showing signs of it as well.

...But, what is the “manic pixie dream girl” trope? “Manic pixie dream girl” (MDPG) is a term coined by film critic Nathan Rabin in 2007. Rabin originally called for the term to describe a female counterpart to a male protagonist existing solely to provide happiness to a brooding male without having any of her own independent goals. Later, it became misconstrued to define characteristics of all quirky, Zooey Deschanel-esque female supporting characters. Rabin later disowned the term, and now the MPDG has become a marketable trope for young adult authors.

In books, the MPDG can be a toxic character, leaving an impression on young readers, both male and female. Mainstream views of women are inherently sexist. A mold for the “ideal female character,” especially in books, is usually a girl who embodies unadulterated femininity whilst disassociating herself with the entire gender. Examples in contemporary culture would be Robin Scherbatsky on How I Met Your Mother, or Alaska Young in Green’s Looking for Alaska. In other words, the ideal is the “she’s not like other girls” girl. Although MPDGs are different than their original textbook definition, it’s the quirky girl with nice hair who reads books by dead authors and has curves that look like they’ve been crafted by a Greek sculptor.

Green relies heavily on MPDGs in his books. In his first novel Looking for Alaska, the main character, Miles “Pudge” Halter, is obsessed with his classmate and new friend Alaska. Alaska smokes, hides alcohol in the grass of the soccer field, and has been through countless hardships that ultimately become her downfall. Pudge places Alaska on such a high pedestal, Alaska had to get herself down somehow. Much of the book’s analysis is focused on the dangers of this view, and how we as people must imagine people complexly. Pudge fails to imagine Alaska complexly in the “before” but learns in the “after.”

Green’s MPDG continues through his other works, too; notably, Paper Towns. Quentin--or “Q” as he is referred in the book--has been in love with Margo since the day she moved next door, and wholeheartedly believes he is able to persuade Margo into loving him and “saving” her from her antics. According to Green’s response on his Tumblr, he said Paper Towns is heavily devoted to “tearing down the Manic Pixie Dream Girl in its entirety.” It is often interpreted as a romanticization of broken people (particularly girls) who need to be saved by boys in order to be happy. Critics and even Green himself have noted the impression this may leave on young consumers if not handled properly in context.

The reliance on MPDGs in Green’s work is overused, and Green could benefit from exploring other topics outside of the traditional heterosexual teenage relationship. The "John Green Formula” is taking over, and misused tropes used as a message against said tropes will get lost in translation. Many newer authors--such as Green’s fellow YouTube star, Zoella or Rainbow Rowell--have taken it upon themselves to emulate the characters in Green’s novels. In Zoe Sugg’s (Zoella) debut novel, Girl Online, the protagonist, Penny, has a very similar characterization as the typical female character in Green’s novels. She suffers from panic attacks and writes a blog, but her character doesn’t begin development until she meets a boy. Penny relates to Hazel in The Fault in Our Stars, who also (in the text superficially) found happiness through a male counterpart--or, the Manic Pixie Dream Boy. A MPDB is just as toxic of an atmosphere for young boys as a MPDG can be for young girls.

The "John Green Formula” has toxic facets that may accidentally embrace the nuances of fabricated fairytale happiness. When writers of books, TV shows, movies, and other forms of media create for younger, impressionable consumers, the typical response is to develop similar personalities to those characters. This real-life interpretation becomes dangerous in the hands of those consumers. To quote Green himself, “Books belong to their readers.” Green’s quote is significant to the dismantling of these tropes because consumers need to sharpen the line between fiction and reality. When entertainment media is characterizing women as “weak” and using phrases such as “you run like a girl” as an insult, the gap between fiction and reality is pushed closer together.

Despite the problems associated to the “John Green Formula,” use of this formula/MPDG is a marketable way of writing novels and producing entertainment. To provide an anecdotal perspective, when I was 15-years-old and chasing after boys, I wanted nothing more than to be someone’s MPDG. Being “the quirky girl” who liked books and indie music seemed much more interesting than the girl who likes parties and pop music--at least that’s what books and TV taught me. Thoughts such as that shine a light on the internalized misogyny deeply rooted in girl-on-girl relationships. Young girls are taught from very young ages to treat men as competition and that if you don’t embody certain traits to look more interesting, “boys won’t like you.” The MPDG trope provides a template for young girls to become more appealing to the opposite sex. Unfortunately, mainstream societal expectations of how women must act are influenced by the opinions of men.

Green plays into this ideal by showcasing its realistic nature, but readers may not recognize the lesson to be learned. Based on certain interpretations, Green’s use of the MPDG is genius, but also problematic. MPDGs are dangerous territory. Green is still a white, cisgender man who may acknowledge his privilege, but that does not stop him from benefiting from producing this type of content. In order to see the positive side of Green’s work, there must be more transparency in how women are perceived in books/media versus real life. Criticisms will not take away from Green’s success, but it just might open the eyes of consumers about the strict standards forced upon women in reality and fiction.

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Why High School Musicals Should Be As Respected As Sports Programs Are

The arts are important, too.
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When I was in middle school and high school, I felt like I lived for the musicals that my school orchestrated.

For those of you who don't know, a musical is an onstage performance wherein actors take on roles that involve singing, and often dancing, to progress the plot of the story. While it may sound a little bit nerdy to get up in front of an audience to perform in this manner, this is something you cannot knock until you try it.

For some reason, though, many public schools have de-funded arts programs that would allow these musicals to occur, while increasing the funding for sports teams. There are a few things that are being forgotten when sports are valued more than musical programs in high schools.

Much like athletic hobbies, an actor must try-out, or audition, to participate in a musical. Those best suited for each role will be cast, and those who would not fit well are not given a part. While this may sound similar to trying out for say, basketball, it is an apples to oranges comparison.

At a basketball try-out, those who have the most experience doing a lay-up or shooting a foul shot will be more likely to succeed, no questions asked. However, for an audition, it is common to have to learn a piece of choreography upon walking in, and a potential cast member will be required to sing a selected piece with only a few days of preparation.

There are many more variables involved with an audition that makes it that much more nerve-racking.

The cast of a school musical will often rehearse for several months to perfect their roles, with only several nights of performance at the end. Many sports practice for three or four days between each of their respective competitions. While this may seem to make sports more grueling, this is not always the case.

Musicals have very little pay-off for a large amount of effort, while athletic activities have more frequent displays of their efforts.

Athletes are not encouraged to but are allowed to make mistakes. This is simply not allowed for someone in a musical, because certain lines or entrances may be integral to the plot.

Sometimes, because of all the quick changes and the sweat from big dance numbers, the stage makeup just starts to smear. Despite this, an actor must smile through it all. This is the part of musicals that no sport has: introspection.

An actor must think about how he or she would respond in a given situation, be it saddening, maddening, frightening, or delightful. There is no sport that requires the knowledge of human emotion, and there is especially no sport that requires an athlete to mimic such emotion. This type of emotional exercise helps with communications and relationships.

Sports are great, don't get me wrong. I loved playing volleyball, basketball, track, and swimming, but there were no experiences quite like those from a musical. Sports challenge the body with slight amounts of tactic, while musicals require much physical and mental endurance.

The next time you hear someone say that it's “just a musical," just remember that musicals deserve as much respect as sports, since they are just as, if not more demanding.

Cover Image Credit: Cincinnati Arts

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10 Shows To Watch If You're Sick Of 'The Office'

You can only watch it so many times...

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"The Office" is a great show, and is super easy to binge watch over and over again! But if you're like me and you're looking for something new to binge, why not give some of these a try? These comedies (or unintentional comedies) are a great way to branch out and watch something new.

1. "New Girl"

A show about a group of friends living in an apartment in a big city? Sound familiar? But seriously, this show is original and fresh, and Nick Miller is an icon.

2. "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"

Ya'll have been sleeping on this show. It's a musical comedy about a girl that follows her ex boyfriend across the country. I thought it sounded horrible so I put it off for WAY too long, but then I realized how incredible the cast, music, writing, and just EVERYTHING. It really brings important issues to light, and I can't say too much without spoiling it. Rachel Bloom (the creator of the show) is a woman ahead of her time.

3. "Jane the Virgin"

I know... another CW show. But both are so incredible! Jane The Virgin is a tongue-in-cheek comedy and parody of telenovelas. It has so many twists and turns, but somehow you find yourself laughing with the family.

4. "Brooklyn Nine-Nine"

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Brooklyn Nine-Nine has been in popular news lately since its cancellation by Fox and sequential pickup by NBC. It's an amazing show about cops in, you guessed it, Brooklyn. Created by the amazing Michael Schur, it's a safe bet that if you loved "The Office" you'll also love his series "Brooklyn Nine-Nine".

5. "The Good Place"

Another series created by the talented Micael Schur, it's safe to say you've probably already heard about this fantasy-comedy series. With a wonderful cast and writing that will keep you on your toes, the show is another safe bet.

6. "Fresh Off The Boat"

Seriously, I don't know why more people don't watch this show. "Fresh Off The Boat" focuses on an Asian family living in Orlando in the mid 90s. Randall Parks plays a character who is the polar opposite of his character in "The Interview" (Yeah, remember that horrifying movie?) and Constance Wu is wonderful as always.

7. "Full House"

Why not go back to the basics? If you're looking for a nostalgic comedy, go back all the way to the early days of Full House. If you're a '98-'00 baby like me, you probably grew up watching the Tanner family on Nick at Night. The entire series is available on Hulu, so if all else fails just watch Uncle Jesse and Rebecca fall in love again or Michelle fall off a horse and somehow lose her memory.

8. "Secret Life of the American Teenager"

Okay, this show is not a comedy, but I have never laughed so hard in my life. It's off Netflix but it's still on Hulu, so you can watch this masterpiece there. Watch the terrible acting and nonsense plot twists drive this show into the ground. Somehow everyone in this school dates each other? And also has a baby? You just have to watch. It might be my favorite show of all time.

9. "Scrubs"

Another old show that is worth watching. If you ignore the last season, Scrubs is a worthwhile medical comedy about doctors in both their personal and medical life. JD and Turk's relationship is one to be jealous of, and one hilarious to watch. Emotional at times, this medical drama is superior to any medical drama that's out now.

10. "Superstore"

I was resistant to watch this one at first, because it looked cheesy. But once I started watching I loved it! The show is a workplace comedy, one you're sure to love if you can relate to working in retail. If you liked the Office, you'll like Superstore!

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