Shifting gears from the wild-child cohort of 2005-'09 (restless phase), and the sad-girl cohort of 2000-'04 (vulnerable phase), yesterday I was compelled to reflect once again on the free-spirit cohort of 1995-'99 (manic phase), who I covered off-and-on last year during the series on Manic Pixie Dream Girls (who are born during a manic phase, such as the late '90s).
I'd been checking in on pop culture for fictional examples, but cultural production more or less ground to a halt in 2020 and will never resume, as we sink further into national and imperial decline and outright disintegration. So there are very few memorable examples of any kind of character type these days.
The closest I managed to find was girl-gamer Pokimane from Twitch, who I highlighted in a post on Manic Pixie Stream Girls, since so much of current pop culture is being directed toward the live-streaming format (and relying heavily on video games), rather than movies, TV, and the like. I did tune in to her streams during the height of the Among Us craze last year, and thought she met most of the criteria personality-wise, except that she doesn't play a role in relation to some guy who needs coaxing out of his shell, for whom she acts as an earthly nursing guardian angel.
Even when streamers interact with their chat, respond to Q&A, or have guests on their channel, there is no medium-term follow-up where a relationship of any kind develops. At best, they might play group games with a recurring cast of characters, but as in the rest of the entertainment industry these days, 99% of the guys are gay (whether closeted or out). And neither the guys nor girls are professional actors, so their bearding fauxmances are not convincing or entertaining at all.
With no fictional narrative arc, and no organic social relations between straight guys and girls, there is no way for any kind of guy-girl roles to emerge (other than fag-hag and gay bff, if he's out). The entertainers are static, atomized personas or personalities, not characters playing certain roles in relation to others, and changing due to those interactions. At most, their persona gets a re-branding, which is not caused by their relations with others.
Perhaps the newer VTuber format -- where girls stream behind a CGI anime avatar -- will allow for greater fictional narrative arcs and relationships among the characters, but I haven't watched any of that. None of the characters are male, though, so their MPDG role would have to be a bi-curious one, and I don't think they're up for that. (They may be the "I find hot girls hot, too" type of bi-girl, but not one who would get into a relationship with another girl.)
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Update: I set this post aside for a day in order to dip my toe into the VTuber waters, and of the very popular ones, the one with the most MPDG personality is Gawr Gura (the most popular of the entire format, like the Pokimane of VTubers). She's not a sad-girl, not an in-your-face off-the-wall chaos agent, but friendly, caring, and girlishly scatterbrained.
Although she does not interact with a sad sack male character specifically, she pushes her audience (many of whom must be guys who are stuck in a rut) to pick themselves up after failing, have confidence, and do the best they can. A little vulgar humor, to remind them that she's an earthly guardian angel, not a pure pristine one, but nowhere near the pandering-to-coomers level of other popular personas.
Her voice actress was born in the late '90s, confirming my hunch. Also supporting my physical profile of the MPDG type, she's a corporeal rather than cerebral person (good at rhythm games and singing, bad at arithmetic), and a butt girl (her flat chest being a running in-joke).
However, as with real-life streamers, her persona goes through its existence disconnected from others, rather than play a particular role within a social ecosystem of characters. She may belong to a talent roster of VTubers (signed with Hololive English) who occasionally interact with each other, but not often, and not in a narrative fashion. They mainly stream alone and have their own distinct chat / fandom who they interact with.
They wouldn't even have to write the role within a fictional narrative. They could simply throw a bunch of strangers into the same interactive space for awhile, a la MTV's the Real World, and let the relationships develop. One of those roles to emerge just might be a MPDG. But as societal trust plummets off a cliff, people seem unwilling to enter into that kind of environment. When you don't trust anyone else, keep to yourself.
It occurs to me that the "social ecosystem" genre of reality TV -- the Real World, the Surreal Life, Survivor, etc. -- was another victim of the post-2008 destruction of the economy for good, and with it, any trust in institutions, collectives, or collaborative endeavors with strangers. It belonged to the '90s and 2000s, waned during the 2010s, and does not exist anymore. During reality TV's final decade, it shifted entirely to a "desperate aspiring elite" genre for the permanent economic depression -- Shark Tank, American Idol, Chopped, Bar Rescue, etc.
Even the contest-driven reality shows of the 2000s -- the Apprentice, Project Runway, Top Chef, etc. -- focused just as much on the characters and their interactions outside of the contest itself. And the characters were recurring, so that relationships and roles could emerge over the season -- not a whole new bunch with every episode. The 2010s genre was more like a standard game show, a yuppie reboot of The Gong Show, where you didn't feel anything when the contestants were eliminated because you had not invested more than a half-hour in them by the time they were sent home.
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If there are no more major examples forthcoming from the culture industry, you can still spot examples out in the wild, even if it's only a vignette rather than a full narrative.
The other day at the thrift store there was an alt-girl who I assumed was, like the others, a sad-girl of college age. Rich wavy pink hair of bi- bob length, strapless mini-dress in black with a large purple floral pattern (very '90s revival -- only needed some oversized teal brushstrokes), and combat boots (probably Docs). A couple small tattoos on her olive skin. Only off-putting element was the surgical mask. From afar, nothing out of the ordinary for the "I'm outside the ordinary" set.
And yet she did not have the standard alt-girl shape, or the scene girls before them, who were all skinny and large-breasted. She was voluptuous and hourglass-shaped, more of a butt girl. Curious.
Then I heard her talking on her phone, which she was carrying on for the better part of a half-hour. Hardly anyone uses their phone for talking anymore, and it's just a nerdy handheld computer for online opium on-the-go. The rare times that someone is talking, it's a quick business-like exchange -- "Hey babe, do we need more paper towels yet? I'm in the grocery store now..." Conversing out loud with your friends about whatever-at-all is not part of online, and not part of the daily public sphere.
She definitely did not have a sad-girl voice, but warm, bubbly, reassuring, engaging / probing, and youthful without being an affected "i'm baby" pitch. She was following me around most of the time, and few others were there, so it was easy to hear, aside from her speaking a bit louder than normal just to make sure I heard her.
She was mainly playing therapist to her girl friend, while occasionally sharing her own situation in return. More of an informal, back-and-forth, give-and-take, mutual therapy (though she was more naturally made for that role, and her friend was going through a bit more of a rut). It reminded me of how my teenage girl peers used to chat on the phone at length back in the late '90s, or from '80s movies and TV. She felt like a visitor from another planet.
At one point I overheard something about, "Well you know how many kids I'm responsible for..." So she must be a primary school teacher, babysitter, daycare worker, or some other substitute mother. Nursing and maternal, not only toward her peers and friends, but children as well.
When she got to the checkout line, a suburban normie mom in front of her turned around and inquired about her hair dye, because her own daughter had tried dying it pink but it washed right out. The alt-girl naturally adopted a caring, helpful tone and suggested the brand she'd used (Iroiro), as though she were tending to her own child's needs. So empathetic. Not like the annoying and tiresome brand of whip-smart, "I'm the cool / gay aunt" types who would've made a big status-striving display of it.
She was Tumblr's most wholesome ambassador to the normies -- not a Trojan Horse, a la trad-clad Democrat Party functionaries, but someone who looked like she'd just stepped through the screen of an alt TikTok addicted teen.
While she was following me around, she was not nervous like the sad-girls usually are, or eager and homing in like a missile as the wild-child types do. She was just carefree, moving closer, seeing if I ran away, and when I didn't, just settling in close by. Sometimes almost within my personal space, when I was browsing the DVDs and CDs, while she was browsing the books right behind me in a narrow aisle. Not a nervous wreck, not a vampy man-eater. Just being at home with physical closeness, touchy-feely, lovey-dovey.
And she didn't scurry away from my cologne either, like nervous or non-corporeal people might have while standing nearly back-to-back for 5-10 minutes. That day it was 5 sprays of Hugo Boss, Number One, which has a prominent semi-pissy honey note that could unsettle the wimpy. I didn't smell anything on her, but she could be into unusual perfumes herself. At the least, she was totally cool with earthy, funky scents that you don't smell on people anymore.
But what about the most crucial aspect of her background, to check if she could be a certified MPDG -- when was she born? Well, fortunately she steered her conversation toward her age. First she asked her friend how old her boyfriend was, and then said that her own boyfriend was a year or so older than she was, and that he was about 24 or 25. In other words, letting me know she's 23 or 24 -- which places her birth smack dab in the middle of a manic phase (late '90s). Bullseye! I just knew it.
Does letting me know she has a boyfriend disqualify her from the wholesome, charming role of the MPDG? Hardly -- Julia Roberts plays a literal streetwalker in Pretty Woman, and SanDeE* from L.A. Story not only lets the sad-sack male protag know that she's already seeing someone, but shows him the apartment that they both live in, and even points him out when he's hanging out inside the same restaurant as them during their dinner date!
It's not that the MPDG is looking to cuckold her existing boyfriend, or turn them all into some gross polycule, or even neg the protagonist through jealousy into fighting all the harder for her love. She's just a free spirit, wending her way from one of life's many adventures to the next, and making company with whatever interesting characters she happens to meet along the way. If she has two lovers at once, it's purely coincidental, and she will wind up with whoever she winds up with by the end of the narrative (typically, not with the protag).
You can tell when a girl's keeping you at arm's length with the "I have a bf" claim. It's usually curt, with a fake apologetic tone, eager to get you away ASAP. She was just casually mentioning him while getting closer and lingering longer near me. More of a head's-up courtesy so I knew what I'd be getting myself into, if I accepted her invitation.
But not being a sad-sack in need of an earthly guardian angel to lift me up out of my rut, I didn't send her any overt signals in return. Did what I was going to do there already, just not withdrawing when she got close. It felt more like hanging out with one of the cool alternative girls from high school, only as young adults starting to figure out grown-up life together, comparing notes. I never had that experience, since I hardly ever saw my high school peers after graduating.
So, while you may not be able to enjoy examples of the MPDG from a moribund pop culture industry anymore, you can still cross literal paths with them IRL. This is the time -- the restless phase of the excitement cycle -- and there are millions of free-spirited girls born in the late '90s out there somewhere. The only problem is that Zoomers are so online that they might not venture outside the home often, so you'll have to focus on places where they're bound to visit when they do go out, like thrift stores, coffee shops, used media stores, and other browsing and hanging-out places.