Thursday, July 11, 2013

Seventy-Six: Taking The Stage

In the last week or so I've seen a couple of essays on the idea of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and I read them with disdain. The concept itself itself has been so overused and diluted as to be meaningless. Too many of the people using the term and loading it down with significance in the gender wars seem to have no clear idea of how novels or films are different from real life. I'd think one would want to be clear about that.  Of course the MPDG character exists only to further the growth of the hero. Every character in the novel or film exists to further the hero's story. All those drowned sailors, all those dead suitors at the feast, exist only to help move Odysseus home from Troy to Ithaka and reunion with Penelope. Their stories, whatever they might be in an age of fan-fic, aren't what Homer is telling.

There was an article I found today that was written with some truly off-putting mixture of guilty bragging and self-aggrandizement lamenting how the MPDG trope had "consequences". The author told the story of going overseas in his high school years to meet family in Vienna. One distant cousin was an attractive girl maybe a year older with whom he was instantly smitten. She took him to parties, helped him with his German, smoked hash with him, talked about books and poetry and anarchism, showed him local underground bands and plays, marched with him in some demonstration. They stayed up all night talking and making out. She was--- oh, yes ---every bookish American teen boy's vision of the European girl. When he went back to the States at the end of summer, they exchanged letters for a year or two. When he went off to university, they gradually fell out of touch. A few years later, his family received a black-edged funeral announcement from Austria. The girl had killed herself after a long bout of depression. The story is sad enough, but the writer tried to use her suicide as being a consequence of how he'd seen her as a guide into new experiences. She was his MPDG, he wrote, and somehow he was responsible for her death, though he couldn't explain how that connection worked. The article didn't lament her passing, or note that the depression developed long after he was back home, or even really offer up fond memories of her, or feel grateful for what she'd given him when he was sixteen. It was all about the evil of the MPDG idea--- about specifically male evil. I've read a few of the author's pieces before, and I've disliked him--- this piece was just more evidence of my general contempt for him.

A young lady of my acquaintance wrote this evening to comment on the story. She told me that she was going to get a t-shirt that read "Proud To Be A Manic Pixie Dream Girl" and wear it. Her story, she wrote, was one where she had the skills and knowledge to open up shy, sheltered boys, to be the girl who taught them about a world of new books and stylish sex.  The boys were her supporting cast, she said, and she was glad to be the girl they'd remember as a figure in their education.

There's no positive male equivalent of the MPDG, or at least no positive term for it. I've known for a very long time that my young companions see me as a character in a story. I know that I'm expected to do certain things, to be the older admirer who can introduce them to new experiences. I'm fine with that, mind you. I spent years in front of classes or around seminar tables telling stories and talking about books and ideas, and I always wanted to impart a passion for those things. Being part of a lovely girl's sentimental education is a delight and an honour. I know that I'm not likely to be a destination, but I am there as a kind of adventure along the way. Being the roué, being the older admirer, is always like being a city a lovely girl passes through on a long caravan journey.

I understand the role. It's what I do, and it's what I am. My own story is one where the older admirer with a academic past is able to seduce youth and beauty into his bed with talk of books and ideas. My young companion's story is one where she's opening up to the world and traveling to some unknown country, where the older admirer is there to show her all the new things she can be or do. The trick is to make the two stories mesh, and to be aware that each of us is living inside a novel or a film.  It's risky, yes, but it's also and always a collaboration.

Live inside stories, be someone's story, be part of someone else's story. But do treasure the stories, and treasure the idea of stories.  Be part of a sentimental education, be part of transgressive erotica. Live inside stories, and be proud of being asked into someone else's.

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