Attention! Bangs, glasses, sundresses, and headbands have the power to transform a grown woman into the equivalent of a bumbling, incoherent toddler! At least, that seems to be the premise of Fox’s latest foray into attempted relevance, The New Girl, starring Zooey Deschanel–that googly-eyed sack of saccharine in human form.
Everyone loves ripping on Deschanel lately, myself included. But I should make a confession. There was a time when I really enjoyed Deschanel’s baby blues, her seemingly endless collection of blouses, and her endearingly husky voice. In the early aughts, most of her appearances were confined to supporting roles that sported a droll or sarcastic edge. Remember the mysteriously morose older sister in Almost Famous, or the deadpan checkout girl in The Good Girl? Deschanel’s salty charm was still present as recently as 2006’s TERRIBLE Failure to Launch (don’t judge me…we’re all home and bored on a Friday night at some point). Even M. Ward, a totally respectable musician, saw something appealing in Zoooooooey and started She and Him with her (confusing, I know).
What the hell happened? My current working theory is that Deschanel may have actually worn so many sundresses and headbands that they’ve permanently altered her consciousness, reducing her to an overgrown child.
Scratch that, she’s an overgrown 13-year-old.
Deschanel has become the poster girl for what is sometimes called “the manic pixie dream girl,” or as I like to call it “the quirky girl.” The gist of this character trope is that there exists a woman–fully grown, always white–who still holds onto her sense of childlike innocence, wonder, and authenticity. The quirky girl always serves one of two functions in movies and TV:
1. to pair off with a “sensitive guy” who is so disconnected from himself he can’t see the value in life’s mysteries and so the quirky girl love interest helps awaken his sense of possibility, getting him more in touch with himself than he’s ever been. WHAT A GREAT PARASITIC RELATIONSHIP THAT SHOULD HAVE JUST BEEN HANDLED IN THERAPY
2. the quirky girl is so disgustingly unprepared for life, and yet still beautiful and weirdly charming, that she inspires a mysterious desire for care-taking in all who surround her, namely some guy (or guys, as is the case with The New Girl). THAT SOUNDS LIKE A CODEPENDENCY ISSUE THAT SHOULD BE WORKED OUT IN THERAPY
In order to BE the quirky girl, you have to differ from all the other insensitive, scary women who wouldn’t even glance at the poor guy who is so self-obsessed, I mean confused. You have to convey innocence, a lust for life, and for christ’s sake, you HAVE to have “indie” interests, which all seem to hearken back to a childhood spent in some nonexistent fairy land where everyone’s parents can vegetables and bake bread and let you scramble up and down trees and be as in your own head as you like. You put all those traits in a jar, shake them up, and what you get is just the sweetest, charmingly weird, adult child.
Here are the key elements you’ll need to be the quirky girl…
1. Hair accouterments like bows and headbands and barrettes that they sell at places like Claire’s Boutique (except most quirky girls live in cities and many large cities don’t have a Claire’s Boutique because C.B.s live in shopping malls and most cities, if they have a shopping mall, opt for more upscale shops like Ralph Lauren):
2. A LOT of sundresses:
That’s pretty much it. If you want to be the quirky girl, you just need to remember how your mother wanted you to dress when you were 5. Long hair and bangs are also a must.
But after all of this, Deschanel is just a person, you guys. Stop being such dicks! Gawd. She’s in the unfortunate position of being used by the ever-so-savvy-and-yet-somehow-always-hit-you-over-the-head marketing world. Here’s Zooey when she’s not on a photoshoot, or in a movie being styled like an Italian pastry:
This seems unrrelated, but bear with me. Last week I went to see the best show I’ve seen in at least ten years, maybe ever. Wild Flag. Wild Flag is a sort of 90s girl rock super group comprised of Carrie Brownstein, Mary Timony, Janet Weiss, and Rebecca Cole. It’s really flattening to even call them a “girl rock” super group, because when it comes down to it, they’re just a straight up super group who engages in 7 minute Zeppelin-style breakdowns in the middle of their already exciting songs.
So then it came to me. Quirky girls are the result of the proliferation, mainstream incorporation, and commodification of the “indie” aesthetic that the generation just above my own began in the 90s in the Pacific Northwest! OH MY GOD!
See, we’re all grown up now and presumably have money to spend (incorrect, but whatever), and love being nostalgic about ourselves, and so here we are. Here we are, going to see horse shit movies like 500 Days of Summer, which features a scene that makes me want to stab myself in the eye:
Oh yeah, The Smiths! Yeah, that’s super different. You love The Smiths? REALLY? Wow. I only know about 6.97 BILLION other people who love THE SMITHS YOU STUPID FUCKING MOVIE!
Except the marketing and entertainment industries, being as miss-the-point-because-they’re-sexist as ever, have gotten it wrong because they’re just recycling the same old tropes of bullshit domesticity and condescension, but in a package that’s meant to look like a nod to a subculture. So unlike real life quirky girls, the quirky girl developed and sold by the entertainment industry can’t actually have any skills or deep thoughts or attitude, because she’s just an empty prop. She’s still just June Cleaver, but with “weirder” interests and clothes that speak to the now 30 and 40-somethings that launched the DIY/indie movement twenty years ago. That’s also why there are no quirky girls of color. Because white dudes assume girls of color can’t be innocent (seriously, read that Racialicious article I linked to up top), or domestic, or care-taking because they’re too “strong” (read: aggressive).
The original manic pixie qurikydream girls…
So in conclusion, we can all blame 1990s Portland and Seattle for the eventual emergence of this infuriating persona. See? I can oversimplify, too.