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?

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.

Popular Right Now

Women In The Film Industry Deserve Your Recognition

Working in film and television can be difficult, especially for women.

Think of the three most famous directors in Hollywood you know off the top of your head. Who’d you think of?

Names like Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch?

Okay now name three women directors. Can you even think of one?

It’s no new information that women tend to be less represented in positions of power. But we are living in a new age of Hollywood. Women are sick of not being treated fairly in the workplace. According to a survey done by Cosmo of over 2,000 women in full time and part time jobs, one in three from ages 18 to 34 have been sexually harassed at work. 71% of these women did not report it. Research has shown that women in male-dominated occupations are sexually harassed more than women in balanced or in female-dominated ones. This is most obviously evident from the recent Hollywood sexual misconduct scandals. And film and television are a heavily male-dominated field.

The Golden Globes, the start of the award's season, was on January 7. And it was a lot of things. It was intense, it was exciting, it was incredible. The main talking point of the night was the Times’ Up campaign, led by hundreds of leading women in Hollywood. Almost every person on the red carpet that night was dressed in black, showing solidarity for the movement. The Time’s Up campaign is a call for change from the women in the entertainment industry to women everywhere.

With all that has happened in the last few months regarding sexual assault and harassment in the workplace, this campaign is geared towards changing this imbalance of power. Their legal defense fund has made up to 15 MILLION dollars from over 60 countries. Thanks to the countless brave women who stood up and said #MeToo, this industry is changing.

According to Center For the Study of Women in Television and Film, in 2015, women accounted for 27% of producers, 21% of executive producers, 18% of editors, 13% of writers, 13% of directors, and 9% of cinematographers. Those are statistics for the number of women in all of film and television. But according to Women and Hollywood, out of the 100 top grossing films in 2016, women represented 4% of directors, 11% of writers, 3% of cinematographers, 19% of producers, and 14% of editors. We are seriously lacking in women directors and cinematographers on the big screen.

This is also evident from looking at the history of the Oscars. Only four female directors have ever been nominated for Best Director, Lina Wertmuller(Seven Beauties), Jane Campion(The Piano), Sofia Coppola(Lost in Translation), and Kathryn Bigelow(Hurt Locker). Out of those four, Kathryn Bigelow is the only woman to ever win. A woman has never been nominated in the best cinematographer category at the Academy Awards.

Someplace where women can be accounted for is starring in film and television. According to the Center For the Study of Women in Television and Film, 42% of speaking characters in television are women. Not only that but this year the three top-grossing films featured women in the lead roles for the first time in decades. Star Wars finished 2017 at $533 million, Beauty and The Beast with $504 million, and Wonder Woman with $412.6 million. According to The Wrap, the last time the three top-grossing films were all women-led was in 1958, with South Pacific, Auntie Mame, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

There are a number of resources becoming available for aspiring female filmmakers. The organization Women in Film offers almost 150 different resources for women to learn and grow as filmmakers in this male-dominated world. They provide resources such as workshops, internships, fellowships, pitching forums, fiscal sponsorship, and more.

So how long will it take until women and men are equally represented and respected in the film and television industry? It won’t happen overnight, but it can be done. With the efforts of so many men and women right now striving to make the industry equal, I have no doubt one day we can find a balance of power in the industry.

Cover Image Credit: Via Pixabay

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

10 Binge-Worthy Netflix Shows Every Girl Needs To Watch

These 10 shows will keep you glued to your screen not wanting to quit.

A new semester means more opportunities to procrastinate the things we probably should be doing. And what better way to procrastinate than by binge-watching Netflix? We all have experienced Netflix asking, “Are you still watching?” Maybe this is their way of politely telling us that we have watched too much for the day. however, these 10 shows will keep you glued to your screen not wanting to quit.

1. 90210

"90210" details the dramatic lives of teenagers living in Beverly Hills. Most of the characters are rich and spoiled, but it’s so entertaining to see the ways they spend their money and their time. Life is very different on the west coast, especially for teenagers. The drama can be pretty cheesy at times, but there are always crazy things happening that will leave you wanting more.

2. The Carrie Diaries

A prequel to the TV series, “Sex and the City”, “The Carrie Diaries” follows the life of Carrie Bradshaw played by AnnaSophia Robb. Carrie is a style icon always looking glamorous. After getting an internship in New York City and making friends with the “right” people, Carrie’s life changes. Austin Butler also acts in the show; shouldn’t that be a valid reason to watch?

3. New Girl

"New Girl" will always keep you laughing. I love this show so much that I’m watching it for a second time, and I even got my boyfriend to watch it! The show centers around the main character, Jess, who is a quirky school teacher, and her adventures around Los Angeles after she moves into a loft with three men. "New Girl" is hilarious, relatable, and has great characters that I guarantee you will love.

4. Grey’s Anatomy

Have you really watched Netflix if you haven’t seen "Grey’s Anatomy"? It is the medical drama of our generation. This show will give you all the feels, and you’ll become so attached to the characters that it will feel like you’re a doctor at Mercy Grace, too.

5. The Vampire Diaries

I never thought I’d get into the whole supernatural thing, but after watching "The Vampire Diaries" that completely changed. The main character, Elena, struggles to make a decision between two vampire brothers and their supernatural lives. This show is full of romance, suspense, and drama that you won’t want to miss.

6. Gossip Girl

"Gossip Girl" is similar to "90210" because they both follow the lives of wealthy teenagers and their drama-filled lives. In contrast, "Gossip Girl" takes place in Manhattan’s Upper East Side. These privileged teens find themselves tied up in constant secrets that they’re unable to hide from the ruthless blogger who is always watching.

7. Shameless

"Shameless", released in 2011 and still airing today, will keep you entertained with its humor and drama. The show depicts the life of a dysfunctional family living in Chicago. Frank Gallagher, father of six children, is a drunk always getting himself and his family into trouble.

8. Gilmore Girls

"Gilmore Girls" centers around the relationship between a young single mother and her teen daughter living in Connecticut. The story has memorable moments and unique characters that come together to create a wonderful show.

9. Riverdale

"Riverdale" is one of the latest Netflix crazes. Following a group of high schoolers, this show will bring back memories from your own experience. Each teenage character experiences their fair share of high school struggles that we can all relate to. You will love some characters and loathe others, but that’s the fun of TV, right?

10. Revenge

The last show to add to your list is "Revenge". Focusing on the life of a troubled young women out for revenge on those around her, this show will keep you on your toes.

There are so many great shows on Netflix that you won’t want to miss, so get watching!

Cover Image Credit: Netflix

Related Content

Facebook Comments