February 26, 2020

After nursing others to health during warm-up phase, manic pixie dream girls pursue their own needs during manic phase of excitement cycle

So far we've been looking at the role that manic pixie dream girls play within the context of the restless warm-up phase of the 15-year excitement cycle -- coaxing wary guys out of their shells, so that the sexes can get reacquainted with each other, after 5 long years of refractory-phase hyper-sensitivity.

What happens to these girls once that role has been fulfilled, though, and the cycle enters the manic phase where everyone feels invincible and carefree? There's no longer a need for an earthly guardian angel to lift a guy up out of a deep psychological hole.

Roles are adaptive within a phase, and do not stay constant over time. New environment, new roles. Still, some may be better suited to a particular role than others are, based on their birth and development.

Once the wary people have been rescued from their emo funk by the manic pixie dream girls, during the warm-up phase, the MPDGs are then free to pursue their own social and emotional needs and fulfillment during the manic phase. They've been caring for others for the past 5 years -- it's time for a little vacation, a little break, a little "me time".

They were glad to care for others in the previous phase, and don't resent that at all. But now that that work has been done, it's time to play. They are not abdicating all duties and responsibilities, they're simply going on vacation. And it's not in a hedonistic degenerate way -- they just want to shake off their role of nurse and get footloose and fancy-free for awhile, in a wholesome way. As MPDGs, they were validating others -- now it's their time for receiving validation from others.

That's what was behind the backlash against the MPDG role during the early 2010s, after its heyday during the late 2000s: everyone understood that the MPDGs' function had been successfully accomplished, and now it was time for them -- and everyone else -- to move on to new roles during the manic phase. They were going to have more of a social life of their own, fulfill their own emotional needs, have others validate them rather than vice versa, and have some wholesome fun on their little vacation.

This change to the MPDG role shows up in a new focus on social independence during the manic phase movies with characters who, in the previous warm-up phase, may have been straightforward MPDGs. The girl in Ruby Sparks (2012) gets a life of her own, separate from her author-creator. The operating system in Her (2013) socializes with other OS's and leaves the human social ecosystem entirely. And the mermaid from Splash (1984) ends up leaving the human ecosystem of her love interest, taking him back to her own world under the sea.

This change was foreshadowed already at the tail-end of the MPDG heyday, in 500 Days of Summer (2009), where half the movie explores the MPDG leading a fulfilling married life of her own with another man, after having nursed the male protagonist out of his stagnant depression. It's not that manic pixies are fickle gypsies -- but that roles change along with the phases of the excitement cycle, and some other type of person may need her attention in a different phase (or she may need attention herself).

A more concise, impressionistic display of the changing of roles is this ad for Magnum ice cream with former MPDG Rachel Bilson from 2011 (infectious enough that I still remember it, despite watching minimal TV during my adult life). No longer nursing others through emotional rehab, she's now free to pursue a wholesome carefree treat of her own, on her own:

But the most intense signal of the changing roles is the "it's time for a little me-time" anthem that explodes during the manic phase of the cycle. These are not hedonistic, about cutting all social ties and responsibilities, egocentric, etc. They clearly place the desire for a little vacation and validation for themselves within the context of having already fulfilled their duties to others and behaved responsibly. It's simply time to take a break, catch their breath, and replenish their own emotional stores after having given to others, by having some carefree me-time fun. They will get back to their responsibilities to others, just after a brief rejuvenating vacation.

These anthems were performed by women who were born during a manic phase, just like the MPDGs were (early '50s, late '60s, early '80s). Also like the MPDGs, they socially imprinted on the manic phase environment when they were hitting their adolescent stride at age 15. And in one case, Avril Lavigne, she'd already played the MPDG role during the previous warm-up phase (the late 2000s, in "Keep Holding On" and "Girlfriend").

It's too bad that Cyndi Lauper and Shania Twain didn't have big hits from the late '70s and early '90s, when they would've been naturals in the MPDG role, to show the evolution across phases like Avril did. I assume that they at least resonated with the MPDG role during the warm-up phase, like other manic-phase births do in such an environment. By the time the manic phase rolls around, they certainly show signs of having been through a MPDG role recently -- I've taken care of others, now it's time for a validating vacation of my own.

They don't treat the generic topic of "me-time," though: it's a specifically feminine form of needing to unwind and receive some emotional validation from others. And that, too, is after having fulfilled a specifically feminine role -- nurturing others. That's why these fall into the broader "girl power" trend that characterizes the manic phase of the cycle. (There are different forms of girl power from women who were born during different phases, but that's a matter for a separate post.)

I searched the late '60s manic phase for examples, but came up empty-handed. The "girl power" songs from back then were more about social / political change, as the sudden eruption of the women's lib movement overshadowed the more mundane changing of phases in the excitement cycle. Without such a momentous one-time social revolution under way, I assume there would've been one of these anthems back then as well. Alternatively, in the pre-neoliberal era, it might have been unnatural to make songs that, in however qualified of a way, glorified me-time as opposed to couples-time, family-time, community-time, or country-time.

In any case, these anthems all made the year-end Billboard Hot 100 charts, and are some of the most iconic of the manic-phase zeitgeist.

"Girls Just Want to Have Fun" by Cyndi Lauper (1983)

"Man! I Feel Like a Woman" by Shania Twain (1997)

"What the Hell" by Avril Lavigne (2011)


  1. I also think that as emotions become stabilized, there's more emphasis on the pleasurable(physical) aspect of relationships, less emphasis on emotional comfort. And also trying to boost status or ego by bagging someone popular, instead of looking for a quirky girlfriend.

    That's why the manic phase has themes of vying-for-the-unattainable-beauty, like I mentioned. I thought of some more song examples of that. For instance:

    "Photograph"(1983) - Def Leoppard - singer is obsessed with the photo of a supermodel

    "Hey Mickey"(1981) - a girl singing about an attractive boy("you're so fine, you blow my mind") in her class who is more popular than she is

    More movie examples:

    "Woman in Red"(1984) - Gene Wilder - takeoff of the movie "10", dumpy middle-aged guy falls in love with a supermodel

    "American Pie"(1999) - the sublplot with the exchange student, Nadia

  2. What I suspect is that 'superbabes' are more popular in the manic phase, whereas they tend to be mistrusted and resented in the vulnerable phase - when people can't handle emotional stimulation.

    Trying to think of some examples, can only come up with weird ones:

    In "Can't Hardly Wait", Jennifer Love Hewitt's prom queen character turns out to be kindhearted - she only is distant to stop guys from hitting on her - and gives the nerd a chance.

    That movie was cynically parodied in "Not Another Teen Movie" from the early 2000s.

    You see the flipside in "Freaks and Geeks"(early 2000s), when one of the 'geeks' gets a chance to date his crush - popular cheerleader - and she turns out to be totally vapid and phony.

    In "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", the hot blonde Austrian turns out to be a Nazi sympathizer and falls down a cliff after trying to steal the Holy Grail.

    In "See no Evil, Hear no evil"(1989), the superbabe(played by Joan Severance) is a femme fatale criminal.

  3. Dusty Springfield is the closest example from the late '60s manic phase. "Goin' Back" is about returning to childlike innocence and playfulness, in a specifically girly way. And she wants to go back because of recent emotional exhaustion in adulthood.

    However, she doesn't say she's spent so much time attending to others, and that she'll come back to her responsibilities after a little break. And the mood and tempo are much mellower than the Cyndi Lauper / Shania Twain / Avril Lavigne examples. Close, but no cigar.

    She's one of the few manic-phase births who was big in the late '60s (born 1939). Notable for not having an "equal treatment" song during the women's lib explosion -- those mainly came from vulnerable-phase births (early '40s), who imprinted on an emo environment.

  4. Cher from Clueless exemplifies the post-MPDG trend of the manic phase (1995). She's not a supporting actress, but the protagonist herself.

    She does spend plenty of time attending to others, drawing them out of social isolation and into fulfilling relationships. But that process is shown as more exciting than exhausting.

    Unlike a MPDG, she's not opening herself up or letting her guard down, when drawing the others out of their shells. It's just another fun, cute, risk-free project to make herself feel warm and fuzzy about.

    And before long, the plot turns to her looking for someone of her own. She has to go outside her usual social circle, becoming more independent of them, in order to find Mr. Right (first the new guy, who's gay, and then her non-preppy college-student step-brother).

    Alicia Silverstone is also not a manic-phase birth, but a warm-up phase birth (1976) -- a classic wild child persona, which was more purely on display in the Aerosmith videos of the early '90s, and The Crush from 1993. (That movie deserves its own post for the themes related to wild child types pushing the social-moral envelope during a warm-up phase, after the moral panic of a vulnerable phase has gone away).

    In Clueless, she comes off as still a wild child at heart, someone who gets excited from being an instigator -- but now channeled in a more carefree direction, like making over and setting up her teachers on a date.

  5. You also see the same dynamic reflected in the evolution of PUA(Pickup Art).

    In the mid-2000s, PUA was framed very much in terms of emotional catharsis. In "The Game"(2005), Neil Strauss wrote bitterly about how he didn't get to fool around in high school, and even shared an emo poem he wrote as a teenager about being lonely. PUA would transform you from being an AFC(average frustrated chump) into being a popular jock.

    In the PUA TV show that ran from 2007-2008, Mystery intentionally picked nerdy losers, who often shared their personal problems, to emphasize how PUA could improve someone's self-esteem and happiness.

    But in the early 2010s, Roissy/Heartiste redefined PUA to be about social climbing. He didn't sympathize with nerdy losers, instead shaming outcasts as 'omegas'. On his site was a 'mate value' survey that had questions like "How many house parties have you been to?" The tone of his articles were much more aggressive, less about making yourself feel better, more about proving how manly you were.

    Of course, in the late 2010s PUA morphed again into being anti-feminism, misogynistic, etc. And in a weird paradox, Roissy began to cater more to the MGTOW crowd, predicting the collapse of society because of women's sexual freedom, etc.

  6. Zoe Kazan and ScarJo are manic phase births, to clarify who the post-MPDGs are in Ruby Sparks and Her. So they're the type who would've been MPDGs during the late 2000s warm-up phase.

    I don't know of any such roles they actually performed during that phase, but they were probably in a similar mood as their fellow manic-phase births. Then when the manic phase rolled around, they were itching to take a vacation from that mood, and have some more independent fun of their own, and took on the roles of Ruby Sparks and the OS-gf.

    Body-wise, ScarJo has an hourglass waist-hip ratio like the MPDGs do. And although she has a large D-cup chest, she also has a decent ass, so not a total departure from the norm.

    Zoe Kazan also has an hourglass figure, and appears modest in size above and below the waist. And yet in Ruby Sparks, she shows off her ass-and-thighs constantly, and her chest rarely. She's an ass girl, not a boob girl.

    I didn't realize she was as old as she is, because she has such a youthful face and slender body. She easily looks 10 years younger than her actual age. In Ruby Sparks, she has the jawline of a teenager, despite being 28, and large doe eyes.

    And for those keeping score, "Kazan" is Greek (her mother's side is Germanic). Watching her tonight in that movie, I thought of an old friend who is half-Syrian and half-Central Euro Slavic. But distinctly eastern Med.

    I'm definitely going to have to see what she was up to in the late 2000s -- she would've been a natural at the MPDG role during its heyday.

  7. Scarlett Johansson plays a sort of "proto" manic pixie girl in "Lost in Translation"(2003) - you linked to the song "Death in Vegas"(from the soundtrack) as an example of dream pop:


  8. ScarJo is not a MPDG in Lost in Translation. More of a "shared misery" theme (fitting the vulnerable phase) than a guardian angel nursing a guy back to health.

    In fact, there is a manic, free-spirited, alternative medicine personality type in that movie, and she's shown uncharitably and mocked by the ScarJo character.

    The one who's going on about cleanses to remove the toxins from your body, and ScarJo curtly says "No," no idea what you're blathering on about. They treat her like a flaky ditz, not a manic pixie.

    In a warm-up phase, that character would've been the MPDG -- she's a carbon-copy of SanDeE* from L.A. Story, except in the role she plays within the narrative.

  9. Johansson made another movie in the early 2000s - "The Perfect Score", about a group of high school students who plan to steal the answers to the SAT, so they can get into good colleges.

    That certainly has the 'shared misery' theme, as the characters are all shown as being unhappy and scared of what their futures will be like if they don't get into good colleges - one being from the working-class, whose older brother never got a career and lives in the garage; one is the embittered second highest ranked student in the class; one an African-American who thinks he will be discriminated against, etc.

    Also, the characters are all part of the dominating "Pro-woke coalition" - one a blonde WASP(played by Erika Christensen), one an East Asian, an African-American, Scarjo as a rich girl, etc. Not sure what the connotations of that would be, but perhaps it shows the pressure that the declining Pro-woke coalition - declining even as early as 2004 - were placed under as they were outcompeted by the more ascendant anti-woke coalition. (The characters are all aggrieved for various reasons and believe that the SAT isn't fair, therefore they have to steal the answers).

  10. Christina Ricci is not a MPDG in Buffalo 66 (one of the lamest movies ever). The role calls for a free spirit who takes an interest in the depressed male protag, and shows her nurturing feminine side to nurse him back to emotional health.

    Her character's personality is generally subdued and mousy -- not bright and extraverted. She is an amateur dancer, but doesn't look like she enjoys it much (mainly going through the motions).

    And she's not a free spirit but a literal captive, who has zero motivation to show any interest in the bitter loser protag, let alone go to such lengths to tend to his wounds. It's not even Stockholm Syndrome, it's just terrible self-obsessed writing from some guy who thinks being a reject in high school means he deserves a babe-alicious guardian angel, and only wrote a script to act out his many adolescent revenge fantasies.

    (He should've just hired some girl to shoot a porno with and at least get laid, although he apparently did just that with another stinker staring Chloe Sevigny.)

    Ricci does the best with what she had to work with, and is one of the few bright spots in this insufferable movie. But in any case, not a MPDG. And not like the other roles described above, where she's looking after her own needs for once -- exactly the opposite, held hostage.

    Other relevant aspects that make her character not a MPDG -- movie made during a manic phase rather than warm-up phase, and a constant and heavy emphasis on her big bouncy boobies. I'm not a boob man and even I noticed them, it was so on-the-nose. Makes her come off as more of a robo-gf or sex doll for an anti-social loner.

    That backs up my claim in the original post about why MPDGs are more bunsy than busty -- apart from correlating with a corporeal rather than cerebral behavioral style, it's simply less distracting during face-to-face conversation.

    Heaving her giant jugs right in your face feels manipulative on her part, and makes her untrustworthy. The whole point of the MPDG is to gain the trust of a socially wary guy who's still not comfortable leaving his refractory-phase cocoon. She needs to have a face-to-face appearance that assures him that "Don't worry, I'm not gonna bite." Spilling out of her top is the last thing called for in that role.

    Ricci is a manic-phase birth though (1980), and has an hourglass figure. If they just hid her chest under boxy clothing, and cast her in a role during the late 2000s warm-up phase, she could've made a nice MPDG. May be worth checking out Penelope and All's Faire In Love, to see if she did.

  11. OT: Pocahontas wants to bailout companies that shipped jobs to China and had their supply chains disrupted rather maybe they shouldn't cut corners next time to save every penny


  12. Took a double-shot of Felicity Jones yesterday. She plays a post-MPDG in Like Crazy (2011), which begins with her playing what seems like a standard MPDG role.

    But it quickly turns into a post-MPDG narrative, where her needs are just as important as his, she becomes socially and even romantically independent from him for a good stretch of the movie, and although they ultimately get back together they both realize the initial heady stage can never come back.

    Earlier in 2008 she'd played a quasi-MPDG in Flashbacks of a Fool. The male protag flashes back to his late teenage days, when he was in an emo funk, bored, wanting to escape. Her character takes an interest in him, helps him escape reality for a bit by pretending to be Roxy Music, and is eager to continue on with him.

    But he gets distracted by an older sex-starved housewife (who is a wild child type, not a MPDG), and it ruins his life there, so he just up and runs away from it all to Hollywood.

    A proper MPDG narrative would've had him lose interest in the housewife, fall for the charms of the MPDG, and only left his small world for bigger things once she'd nursed and encouraged him -- not as a cowardly way of running away from big problems that he'd had a direct role in causing.

    Too bad, her character had good potential for a MPDG during the type's heyday.

    Jones is a manic-phase birth (the wild child housewife, true to form, is a warm-up phase birth), hourglass shape, small chest and thicker ass/thighs. Totally at home with the other usual examples.

    Also like Zoe Kazan in being tiny and looking 10 years younger than her true age. Her facial expressions in Like Crazy are so sincere, wholesome, and pure, it's impossible not to be drawn in by her.

  13. I've said that pursuing unattainable beauty is more common during the manic phase. But that is part of a broader trend of "manic" romances that feature low-status men pursuing high-status women.

    I mentioned "Can't Hardly Wait"(1998) already, in which a low-status emo nerd writes a love letter to the hottest girl in class.

    But a much more mainstream example would be the movie "Titanic" - Jack Dawson(Leo Dicaprio), an itinerant drifter and ice fisher, sneaks onto the Titanic and pursues an affair with a beautiful rich socialite(though it turns out she's lost all her money, she still has way higher social status, boarding in the first class section).

    Another example: Shakespeare in Love(1998) - a struggling playwright falls in love with an actress.

    There's Something about Mary - Ben Stiller dates Mary, a character so pretty that she mentions in passing that she used to date Brett Favre; been a long time since I saw the movie, but I believe its also implied that Mary is professionally successful.

    What I suspect is that in the restless, warmup phase - romantic leads have more-or-less equal social status. "Garden State" is a good example - Zach Braff is a struggling actor who just landed a big role, but he and Natalie Portman are still shown as both being basically middle-class kids from the same background - and Portman's character compensates for her more humble background by being so attractive.

    If the girl has higher status in the manic phase, than in the vulnerable phase we can expect the opposite - men are more likely to pursue women who have lower social status relative to himself. this is symbolized by "robot girlfriends" - metaphorically, a robot girlfriend is a woman with very low status.

  14. It sounds like the degree of risk they're comfortable with, based on their excitement levels.

    In a manic phase, people feel invincible and carefree -- so what's the most harm that could happen by pursuing a girl who seems out of your league?

    In the following vulnerable phase, no risk whatsoever can be tolerated -- so just withdraw into your protective cocoon and either fantasize, custom-order a robo-gf, or maybe find someone to share misery with.

    In the warm-up phase, they're getting comfortable interacting with others, but it's only just starting and they don't want to overwhelm their awakening social sense with the most difficult challenge they could find.

    Whether it's looks, class, or whatever, it's about how much risk there is in pursuing the person.


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