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Depressed Goblin Nightmare is the new Manic Pixie Dream Girl
Act fast to secure your own depressed goblin mode!girlfriend
Depressed Goblin Nightmare is the new Manic Pixie Dream Girl
Manic Pixie Dream Girl is out. Depressed Goblin Nightmare is in. At least according to Kate Erbland at IndieWire.
Writing in a review of Zach Braff’s latest movie A Good Person, Erbland says that Braff tried to kill the trope he played a hand in creating, but fails. Instead, he creates another one dimensional portrayal of womanhood. Only this one isn’t quirky and captivating, she’s completely depressed and at rockbottom.
I have not seen A Good Person so I can’t say one way or the other whether Erbland’s assessment of Florence Pugh’s character is worthy of this critique––or how good or not the movie overall is. But I am very interested in this graduation of the manic pixie dream girl into a depressed goblin nightmare. It feels both like the expected over-correction of a filmmaker who spent the last twenty years being critiqued for the trope he birthed in Garden State, AND a metaphor for the general vibe-shift from the early aughts to now. Or even just good nicknames for millennials vs. gen z.
To back up though… “Manic pixie dream girl” was coined by film critic Nathan Rabin in a 2007 review of the movie Elizabethtown. He specifically called out Braff’s Garden State as an earlier example. By Rabin’s definition:
The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition.
Despite the critique, the trope continued to pop up in movies and TV shows for several years––alongside adjacent trends of finger mustaches and galaxy print everything. This made sense because the late aughts and early 2010s were the beginning of “nerd culture is cool,” and a defining trait of the manic pixie dream girl is that she’s inexplicably attracted to the nerdy, misunderstood protagonist.
Even the men who tried to satirize the trope continue to have their works misinterpreted (or disagreed with) today––namely, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character in 500 Days of Summer and John Green’s Looking For Alaska.
And once again, a man has tried to flip the trope on its head and, from Kate Erbland’s perspective, failed. According to Erbland, Pugh’s character in A Good Person doesn’t help the male love interest fix his problems. Instead, “Braff swerves wildly, giving her nothing but problems. Cut her down! More cliches! Pile on the pain! It’s almost enough to make us miss the quirks, but there is no happy medium: It’s mania, or depression, and the narrow idea of what a female character can be.”
As Erbland says,
She’s not manic, she’s depressed. She’s not a pixie, she’s practically a goblin. She’s not a dream, she’s a nightmare.
There is a lot to be said about a male storyteller’s inability to craft a multi-dimensional woman character free of clichés in one direction or the other—and I hope lots of people will chime in on that.
But again, I want to set aside the actual film and gender analysis here and just discuss how dope this term Erbland quasi-invented is. Depressed goblin nightmare.
You may recall (especially if you were a regular listener to the Cool Stuff Ride Home), that the Oxford English Dictionary declared “goblin mode” the Word of the Year for 2022.
They define goblin mode as:
a slang term, often used in the expressions ‘in goblin mode’ or ‘to go goblin mode’ – [it’s] ‘a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations’… The term… rose in popularity over the months following as Covid lockdown restrictions eased in many countries and people ventured out of their homes more regularly. Seemingly, it captured the prevailing mood of individuals who rejected the idea of returning to ‘normal life’, or rebelled against the increasingly unattainable aesthetic standards and unsustainable lifestyles exhibited on social media.
“Goblin mode” was picked as the word of the year not because it was used more than any other word, but because the OED thought it best described the mood of 2022.
As we all reject previously sought-after norms, acknowledge our mental illnesses, and reckon with a daily onslaught of global existential disasters, I can’t think of a better term to describe each of us than “depressed goblin nightmare.”
Perhaps Zach Braff’s version is an unwelcome trope of women (not to mention, by Erbland’s account of the film, of depressed people, poor people, and people with substance use disorder), but I propose we claim “depressed goblin nightmare” for ourselves—-in the same way I always wanted to claim “manic pixie dream girl,” not for what it really stood for, but just because it sounded cool.
In fact, I spent last fall performing a short play in The Infinite Wrench called “Manic Pixie Dream Wannabe” all about my teenage desires to be a manic pixie dream girl and how, in hindsight, I might’ve been viewing myself through some kind of proto-male gaze.
(The thing on my head is a turkey. It was Thanksgiving weekend. It has nothing to do with this particular play. Things get weird at The Infinite Wrench.)
More recently, I discovered the Canadian musician Lady Charles and their new album Manic Pixie Dream Boy.
In a Tumblr announcement post, Lady Charles described the album as being for fans of David Bowie, MGMT, of Montreal, and Kate Bush. Bowie and of Montreal in particular being two of my all-time faves and my endearing obsession with the “manic pixie dream girl” discourse meant this album would probably be right up my alley. And I’m pleased to report that it’s fantastic. Thank you, Tumblr Blaze, you’ve finally hit me with a perfect recommendation.
The song “Godx” is a real banger and the final song on the album “Montreal/Outro” directly name-drops of Montreal, in one of many riffs that sounds particularly reminiscent of the older band.
Lady Charles has a very different interpretation of what I would maybe describe as a manic pixie dream boy––their’s is more glam rock androgyny, mine I think would be more Puckish––but that’s kind of the beauty of all these loaded words thrown together into an even more loaded term… we can make of it what we want.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl discourse has been done to death. Zach Braff tried to reincarnate it as something better, but tripped and created the Depressed Goblin Nightmare instead. And really, didn’t we all kind of do the same?
With a corn cob crust & a butter jar…
Little Caesars made a big stink on the internet last week with a series of videos claiming to introduce corncob crust pizza that comes with a two liter bottle of liquified butter. They made the hoax particularly believable by actually making the pizza and sending it to a few influencers to actually try.
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This is one of those times I wish I’d still be releasing daily content just so I could say “I told you so” right now. Because as soon as I watched those videos last week, I knew this was nothing more than an elaborate campaign to drum up attention for the return of Little Caesars’ pretzel crust. Fast forward to yesterday , and Little Caesars has officially confirmed my hypothesis.
I’m a sucker for anything with pretzel bread so I will 100% be trying this… as soon as I figure out where my nearest Little Caesar’s is.
Some other things
This week is the Trans Week of Visibility & Action. With nearly 500 anti-trans bills introduced in legislatures around the US just this year, trans people are in dire need of support. Visit the Trans Week project to learn more about how we got to this point and how you can take action.
The Internet Archive has lost its first fight to scan and lend e-books like a digital library. This is a resource I use almost everyday while conducting research so I am personally gutted. It’s a complex issue that I did my best to parse out last September on the Cool Stuff Ride Home. Give it a listen if you want to understand more about how e-book lending works at traditional libraries and what the ramifications of this case could be.
What I’m Up To
- Their book is an awesome 102 level guide to gender identity––I should know, I wrote the foreword! I’m super stoked to be a part of Oakley’s first book and, if you’re around Salem then, I hope you’ll join the celebration.
ICYMI, I’ll be performing Friday and Saturday nights in The Infinite Wrench with the New York Neo-Futurists in NYC from April 28 to May 20. You can learn more and get tickets here!
This week, I’m headed to the University of Victoria’s Moving Trans History Forward conference. You might still be able to register to attend digitally. Either way, I recommend checking them out. The University of Victoria houses the largest trans archive in the world.
If you use this Bookshop.org link, I’ll get a little kickback.