Or, "I Was A Teenage Manic Pixie Dream Girl."
Some people blame their romantic failures on their parents, or on magazines that promote unhealthy body images, or on misogynistic rap lyrics. I blame Zooey Deschanel.
As one half of the indie band She & Him and star of the new FOX sitcom New Girl, Zooey Deschanel is the unofficial poster child for hip and quirky twenty-something white girls, who have shaggy bangs and tattoos of fruit on their ankles and a closet full of brightly colored, vintage cardigans. Unfortunately for these girls, however, Zooey Deschanel also serves as an object of lust for their boyfriends, sensitive neurotics who wear thick glasses, brew their own organic beer, and self-identify as feminists.
As a semi-quirky, semi-hip twenty-something white girl, I am contractually obligated to sleep with these men. Unfortunately, while they are my type, I am not theirs. In my experience, the guys who love Zooey Deschanel see their girlfriends as placeholders for the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope (MPDG). Due to her offbeat personality and her unabashed lust for life, the MPDG is usually an adorable cipher, a saucer-eyed gamine whose quirky hipness and hip quirkiness make men want to change their lives for the better.
Since appearing in films like Gigantic and (500) Days of Summer, Zooey Deschanel has come to represent the quintessential MPDG. As such, she is a menace to society, responsible for the unrealistic relationship expectations of twenty-something men and women alike.
The first time I came to this realization, I was watching The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy with a guy I was hooking up with at the time, an aspiring artist whose favorite movie was Garden State. The second that Zooey Deschanel came on the screen, this otherwise jaded and reserved dude jolted forward and started spewing Petrarchan clichés about her hair and skin and eyes. I rolled my eyes as he loudly declared the turgidity of his penis, suddenly wondering how I was going to explain to my friends that I'd hooked up with someone whose favorite movie was Garden State.
After this relationship ended, I started hating Zooey Deschanel for other reasons as well. I hated her Hanes cotton ads, where she preened in front of a mirror while her pigeon-like warbling played in the background. I hated that her website was called Hello Giggles, and that she regularly posted Facebook status updates that said inane things about Muppets and baby animals and mirrors. And when I see her in the promos for New Girl — which describe her character as "adorkable" — I picture a bonfire of every flower and rainbow and Lisa Frank notebook I've ever seen.
But of course, these reasons were all secondary to why I really hated Zooey Deschanel: the nebbishy, bookish dudes I dated had no compunction about advertising how much they wanted to fuck her. Although I don't usually get jealous over my partners' crushes, it offended me that they thought their attraction to Zooey Deschanel was somehow higher-minded than wanting to fuck someone like Megan Fox, or Lindsay Lohan. Did they really think that this chick had depth and meaning because she had big blue eyes and tweeted about mirrors? Did they think that her vagina had magical, restorative powers that would make them want to live life to the fullest?
I knew, of course, that I couldn't compete with Zooey Deschanel — or her magic vagina — on any real level, because the whole point of MPDGs is that they're DGs; no girl on the planet can ever be like that, even if they cut their own hair and post pictures of their feet on Tumblr. But when you first start dating, and everything you know about relationships comes from romantic comedies, not being like Zooey Deschanel didn't stop me from trying. It's embarrassing to admit now, but I wanted to be worshipped for my uniqueness and lusted after for my adorkableness; I wanted to be the girl who made sensitive neurotics want to change their lives.
So I modeled myself after an MPDG by doing the kind of weird, inexplicable shit that I saw make Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Paul Dano go jelly-kneed. By wearing mouse ears in public, or leaving little notes in books I lent to guys I was interested in, or going out in thunderstorms and dancing in the rain, I was sure that I would prove irresistibly sexy to guys who were attracted to my random arsenal of quirks.
Of course, any sane person could have predicted that this would fail spectacularly; instead of finding me quirky and adorkable, most guys thought I was bizarre and off-putting. No matter how many times I danced in the rain or ate Ethiopian food or had sex in an elementary-school gymnasium, I could never quite convince them that I was as fun-loving and free-wheeling as I tried to be. "Is this shit you're saying for real?" one guy said after sitting through a particularly grating diatribe on why I wanted to be a swan when I grew up. Eventually, after a string of unanswered text messages and averted hallway stop-and-chats, I had to admit that no, it wasn't.
Sometimes, it seemed like guys were disappointed that being with me fell short of their expectations, because I didn't make them want to go bungee-jumping or sing Hall and Oates songs. Of course, no one could ever worship me for my uniqueness as much as Joseph Gordon-Levitt worshiped Zooey for hers, so these guys fell short of my expectations as well. When I somehow managed to stumble across someone who thought the sun rose and shone out of my Anthropologie-wearing ass, I quickly discovered what Zooey Deschanel's characters never did: that it's just as lonely to be worshiped as it is to want someone to worship you.
What it comes down to is this: I blame my behavior during this period on Zooey Deschanel. Zooey Deschanel made me think that falling in love was an Olympic decathalon in quirkiness. Zooey Deschanel convinced me that I looked good in dark-rimmed nanny spectacles when I really just looked like Ira Glass in drag. Zooey Deschanel led me to believe that guys would want to go out with me if I dressed like a menopausal librarian, when I probably would've gotten laid more if I'd followed my instincts and dressed like a total slut.
And Zooey Deschanel was responsible for my anxiety when I started dating my current boyfriend, whom I liked so much that I didn't want him to think of me as anything other than a Dream Girl, Manic Pixie or otherwise. Would Zooey Deschanel have sex after eating a bucket of chicken wings?, I often wondered. Would she be self-conscious about the way her stomach looked while she was on top? The answers to these questions, of course, was invariably no, she would not: Zooey Deschanel would be thin and awesome during sex, and after she blew the guy's mind she'd take out her ukulele and write a song about it.
Yet even though he, too, was a sensitive neurotic, my boyfriend did not seem disappointed that I didn't make him want to start a band or go to law school. He seemed to think that I had depth without having bangs, and he seemed to enjoy conversations that had nothing to do with baby animals. And even though sex with me never concluded with an elaborate '80s musical number, it was good enough that it could have, had the right vocal arrangement been available; and I'm confident that neither of us would have chosen anything by The Smiths.
After three years of dating this person — who probably couldn't tell the difference between Zooey Deschanel and Katy Perry without his glasses — I can honestly say that I no longer feel threatened by Zooey Deschanel and her ilk. While I wouldn't turn down monetary compensation for what she did to me in the past, I no longer hold her accountable for any of my relationship fails, just as I don't directly blame Vogue for eating disorders or Hunter S. Thompson for making college boys want to become violent alcoholics.
But it still would be nice to see her in a movie where she plays someone quirky without being brain-dead, or dorky without being adorkable. And after hip, quirky twenty-somethings see this movie with their equally hip and quirky girlfriends, they should go home, eat a bucket of chicken wings, and have sex, without a unicorn or rainbow in sight.