May 22, 2019

Supportive sex worker archetype shows up during warm-up phase of excitement cycle

Related to the post below on the rise of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl during the restless warm-up phase of the cultural excitement cycle, this phase also sees the appearance of the emotionally and socially supportive sex worker (usually a prostitute, sometimes a stripper).

This is a distinct sub-type of the "hooker with a heart of gold" archetype. The general category includes examples that are simply non-stigmatizing or humanizing portrayals of prostitutes -- perhaps they are savvy businesswomen, sources of excitement for the ho-hum world the movie is set in, maternal or sisterly figures to other female characters, etc.

My focus here excludes these merely sex-positive portrayals (such as Ophelia in Trading Places or Lana from Risky Business), which seem linked more to the manic phase and its sex-positive flavor of feminism. See this review post on how feminism changes according to the phases of the excitement cycle.

The type here is one who helps the male character come out of some negative social-emotional state, akin to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl who serves as a nurse to a sick patient. She is a stabilizing rather than anarchic force for him.

He tends to help her rise out of a sunken state as well, typically by getting her to leave her emotionally degrading and socially isolating line of work. This rules out cases where they enable each other's negative tendencies, to their mutual ruin (Leaving Las Vegas).

As a more taboo character, this type does not appear as frequently as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but the timing is still the same.

During the early '60s, there was Irma la Douce, which shows most clearly the congruence between the two female character types -- it was a re-uniting of Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, and director Billy Wilder, who had collaborated on Manic Pixie Dream Girl movie The Apartment just a few years earlier.

During the late '70s, there was Taxi Driver, whose prostitute character is not the typical hooker with a heart of gold, but that just goes to show that it is not her internal motivation or personality that fit her for the role -- but rather how she interacts with the male character, and re-directs the course of the plot and his character development.

She initiates the redemption arc for the protagonist. Up until they meet, his breakdown had been heading in increasingly anti-social directions -- vigilante violence against robbers, nearly assassinating a political candidate. She gives him a more pro-social outlet for his anger, as he sets free an underage hooker from her pimp and brothel, allowing her to return home to her family in a wholesome, non-shithole part of the country. And unlike his doomed date with the adult Betsy, whom he cluelessly takes to a porno theater, his relationship with 12 year-old Iris takes a paternal form, and he struggles to protect her from, rather than expose her to, degeneracy.

During the early '90s, there was Pretty Woman, the most well known of this type, that needs no further comment.

During the late 2000s, there was The Wrestler, whose sex worker was a stripper rather than a prostitute, and who does not actually have sex with the male character. She does try to help the protagonist turn his life around, although to mixed success -- she does get him to reconnect with his estranged daughter, but he ultimately goes back into his dangerous line of work and chooses to do himself in.

Just before the warm-up phase began in 2005, there was a less successful movie with this type in 2004, The Girl Next Door. There was also a less successful form of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl movie from 2004, Garden State. But we don't see this in other final years of the vulnerable phase ('89, '74, '59, or at least so far in 2019). They just got the itch for those character types slightly early in 2004.

To wrap up, what connections do the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and emotionally helpful hooker have in common as individuals, aside from their role in nursing the protagonist back to health? Both are socially marginal -- dorky, awkward, and quirky, or earning a living in a taboo line of work. And they are utterly unknown to the protagonist at the beginning of the story -- she's not a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or a non-blood family member. She seems to come out of nowhere, as though from some alternate reality, making him feel like she's been sent like a guardian angel.

Such a background is necessary in the context of the excitement cycle phases, since he has been in the vulnerable refractory phase for several years now, and still associates his own world with unwanted contact, and from which he is withdrawing to avoid further pain. Then only a person who comes from outside of his own world, which has made him sick, can be treated as safe enough to enter into social and emotional contact with him. If she comes from opposite land, then she will have a light enough touch, and an airy enough presence, to not weigh him down and make him feel over-stimulated like the women of his own land.

This is the central source of irony in the two character types -- if anyone would be likely to physically and even sexually over-stimulate a man, and to have an earthy and physical rather than ethereal presence, you'd figure it would be a hooker. And if anyone would be likely to over-stimulate his social emotions, you'd figure it would be a manic pixie type rather than a boring quiet wallflower type.

But again we can resolve this paradox by looking into the context of the excitement cycle phases -- if he, and just about everybody else, are still in the refractory / emo phase, then someone who comes from a more sexual background, or who has a more cheerful disposition, will appear to be from a different phase of the cycle (namely, the manic phase). Coming from a different phase of the excitement cycle might as well be like coming from a different society altogether, especially opposite phases like the manic and vulnerable phases.

If she's from an opposite phase, she's from an opposite world, and therefore unlike the women of this world, who cause him enough stress that he's retiring from them, and so contact with her would not be painful or over-the-top. These marginal types from opposite land are the only ones who can coax him out of his shell as the refractory phase bridges into the warm-up phase of normal energy levels.


  1. Women's reactions are the same to prostitutes and Manic Pixie Dream Girls. Digging into these archetypes leads to articles which all have a dismissive tone toward the MPDG.

    It's the same thing they say about prostitutes, or the porn girls that their husbands / bfs watch instead of them -- only for being emotional sluts rather than physical sluts. "Why don't you just go fantasize about finding your Manic Pixie Dream Girl, if you don't want to value my emotional labor in this relationship," etc.

    They really hate her!

    She's going to just give it up -- emotional validation and social support -- without expecting the same in return. "He thinks she's acting all altruistic, but she's just being an emotional slut."

    The two archetypes have poor boundaries -- one out of naivete or ingenuousness or childlike psychology, the other out of material gain -- and threaten to poach men from their wives, gfs, or single women who have their eye on the guy. "Go spellbind and seduce someone else's bf, you manic pixie dream bitch."

    Total congruence between the two types.

  2. Sounds about right.


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