Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the first-year Democratic congresswoman from New York, has been called many things throughout her short time in public life. One writer, this week, called her something new: a “manic pixie dream girl.”
That term was coined by pop culture writer Nathan Rabin in AV Club in 2005 to refer to a very specific trope in movies and other fiction. The manic pixie dream girl character, Rabin wrote at the time, was a female who “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 term was applied to such characters in movies of that era as Kirsten Dunst’s in Elizabethtown and Natalie Portman’s in Garden State and was meant much of a criticism of the male writers and directors who created them than of the actresses playing them or even the characters themselves.
In Tracinski’s analogy, it appears the country is the movie and the Democratic Party/progressive activists are the male lead, while Ocasio-Cortez is the MPDG.
“Ocasio-Cortez’s exaggerated mannerisms are by now well-known,” he writes. “She projects a kind of boundless nervous energy, an unbridled enthusiasm for even the most worn-out idea, an unshakable conviction that policies that have been tried (and failed) repeatedly would work if we just went a little bigger and believed a little harder.”
The comparison has been rejected by none other than the creator of the MPDG coinage itself, Nathan Rabin.
“Nathan Rabin, coiner of the phrase here, just popping up to tell you you’re wrong,” Rabin wrote on Twitter Monday.
Rabin, in 2014, apologized for creating the term in an essay for Salon, arguing that “the more the cultural myth of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl expanded, the more my ambivalence about it grew,” and also that many were misinterpreting what the term actually meant. The 2012 movie Ruby Sparks, starring Zoe Kazan, essentially acted as a feature-length deconstruction of the MPDG trope.
Indeed, Tracinski’s analogy breaks down in several key places. Ocasio-Cortez is not a fictional character. She wasn’t “created” by the party in the way that a screenwriter would create a female character. A key characteristic of MPDG characters is that they are passive, while Ocasi0-Cortez, whatever else one might say about her, seemingly is not. No MPDG would likely ever do something as audacious as running against a long-term incumbent and winning. And Ocasio-Cortez has agency, in a way that MPDGs never did.