Channel Four’s latest US import, New Girl, stars Zooey Deschanel as a cute, silly eccentric. You know the type – beautiful, daft, women-children who can barely cope with their lives. Deschanel’s Jess is struggling to cope after a break-up. She is entirely helpless – trying and failing to flirt, only capable of watching Dirty Dancing on loop, and apparently unable to talk without the aid of silly voices and little ditties all about herself. The show’s advert has her lying in a packaging crate looking confused in a prom dress – as if she really were “new,” a freshly hatched chick with no clue.
But this silly creature is nothing new. The ‘Manic Pixie Dream Girl’ is as old as cinema – epitomised by Audrey Hepburn’s naïve, quirky Holly Golightly. She is the ingénue who exists entirely to bring spark and adventure to the life of the young male protagonist. These darlings are always doe-eyed innocents, impulsive and rudderless, with a pocketful of idiosyncrasies. Some of them even wear vintage clothes. They’re more like children or sweet animals than fully-grown women.
Magazines such as ‘Oh Comely’ take this kook even further. It is packed full of ephemeral faery-women, all floaty and delicate, with their colours washed out. It is all naïve handwritten fonts and pencil sketches. The tangle-haired models look terribly arty , but utterly unchallenging.
It makes us ask – is this sexism for sensitive boys? Is this a fresh kind of chauvinism for clever, complex men who’d never sign up to the patriarchy, but don’t mind a smudge of the patronising? Does this portrayal allow indie boys to stay cushioned by their progressive beliefs, whilst admitting that the beautiful but unthreatening kook is their dream girl?
The women portrayed this way never seem actually weird in an interesting or tough way – they have character quirks, but no real character. With few hopes or desires of their own, they add very little to the scenes they’re in. This breed of cute rapidly becomes grating. Surely it’s high time to kill the kook?