Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and other Ridiculous Mental Health Tropes

CW: Manic Pixie Dream Girl, 13 Reasons Why, Rape, Suicide, Language

Now that we've established that bipolar disorder can cause you to be kind of a disgusting human being, and do some pretty disgusting things (more on that eventually, I've gotta ease myself in). I'd like to conquer the possibly well meaning, but usually disastrous trope of the Manic Pixie Dream girl. Often written by male writers who may or may not have been rejected by a beautiful but "crazy" girl at some point in their lives. I'm looking at you John Green. There's no way Margo Roth Spiegelman wasn't some sort of weird dream girl in his mind. 

"You can’t divorce Margo the person from Margo the body. You can’t see one without seeing the other. You looked at Margo’s eyes and you saw both their blueness and their Margo-ness. In the end, you could not say that Margo Roth Spiegelman was fat, or that she was skinny, any more than you can say that the Eiffel Tower is or is not lonely. Margo’s beauty was a kind of sealed vessel of perfection – uncracked and uncrackable."
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John Green, Paper Towns

That is not a description of a person, that is a description of an idea of a person, "uncracked and uncrackable". Usually by having a conversation with a person, and listening to them you can "crack" them. I also take issue with the use of the word cracked to describe trying to get to know a young woman, but that my friends is a feminist rant for another day. 

The boy is sad, he meets a girl, who's not like other girls, she's a little sad and super edgy, and just a little bit dangerous. She pushes him out of his comfort zone, and he falls for her. It is never about healing on the woman's part, only about lifting up her male counterpart. 

I can say almost the same exact thing about Natalie Portman's character in Garden State. She was only there so Zach Braff didn't off himself, but she was most definitely sick herself her personality written so one dimensional if not for the subtle acting choices that Portman made because she's a talented actress, she would have essentially been a glorified prop. But Braff is heralded as a genius for that film, because her character was there to save him.

Now these offenses are not nearly as bad as the worst example of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl that not only is irresponsible, but is straight up dangerous. There are many subtle ones that don't quite fit the mental health theme of these blogs, but this one does in a massive way. I've written about 13 Reasons Why before, and how dangerous I think it is. I watched it on Netflix, I was going to keep an open mind even though I remember the book being a little horrific, and I have never regretted watching anything as intensely as I did after watching this show. 

The show is about a girl, Hannah Baker, who kills herself and leaves 13 tapes to the people who she blames for her impending death. A concept that is just quirky enough that the thought sends shivers down my spine when you consider the subject matter. In the show there is not one mention of Hannah having mental health issues, they do not use the word depression, or bipolar, or anxiety or anything like that. Hannah Baker is a one dimensional character who's entire existence is set up so that Clay can realize he's actually a good guy who didn't really have a hand in her death. 

There are two rape scenes, without a content warning. (Allegedly they have changed that since the show first came on, but I'm never turning it on again so someone can correct me if I'm wrong). The rape scenes are graphic and played out so realistically I had to turn it off. Towards the end of the show there is a scene that starts with Hannah stealing razor blades from her parent's store, going into the bathroom, running the hot water, and violently slitting her wrists. The camera stays on her as she dies. Her mother runs in screaming. This happens in "real" time. It was done for shock value, the people who worked on the show said it was done for shock value. It was not essential to show something that triggering just to shock your audience. 

There's another character who self harms, and when asked about it she simply says "It's what I do instead of killing myself". I'm 100% sure they did not do the research or listen to any mental health professionals when it came to that one. 

I used to self harm, it was not what I did instead of killing myself, when I attempted suicide it had nothing to do with all of a sudden not having that outlet, because that was there before and after my suicide attempt. I was sick, I needed treatment. I got treatment, and now I work hard to keep myself afloat. 

I cannot begin to say how irresponsible the handling of this show was. The character of Hannah never got help, and when she did she was dismissed by a guidance counselor. There are probably tons of teenagers (which is who this show is aimed at) who would rather make the decision to end their lives because they don't think the people who are supposed to help them are willing to help them. The show blatantly says that people are not willing to help you (which is sometimes true, more on that later), and if you kill yourself and leave a detailed note, you will be remembered forever. That's bad writing. That's bad research. That's dangerous to your audience. Of course, they've been picked up for a second season, and it seems it will be dealing with a school shooting and another attempted suicide. 

Finally, to end on a bit of humor (I use that term lightly) , screenwriters, regular writers, people in and around my life, for fucks sake please stop going straight to "did you take your meds today?" as a response to someone acting a little messed up. THAT'S NOT HOW IT WORKS. See most psych medicine takes a while (usually about a month) to build up in your system, so if you skip one day you might get a little headache from withdrawal (anyone who says antidepressants don't have withdrawal symptoms is full of shit) but you're not going to go full on manic for skipping one day. In fact you could probably skip a week without any psychological symptoms.

*I would like to point out here that I'm not encouraging anyone to stop taking their meds, it is a bad idea to do without a doctor helping you*

All I ask is do some research before you write something you haven't experienced, all it takes is asking a friend, preferably multiple friends, with a mental illness (If you don't think you have any you do) what their experience is like. If they tell you to fuck off, then respect that, not everyone wants to go into detail about their life struggles. Or don't write it, I'm positive you've got some life experience that could be interesting. This goes for everything, listen to the people who the work or world is directly affecting, if a black person tells you a statue is racist and it makes them feel unsafe, the statue should come down. If you're at a gay bar and your "gay best friend" is trying to ditch you so they can get some, leave them alone they aren't your prop. And if a mentally ill person tells you to do your goddamn research before writing something potentially dangerous, do your research. It's. Not. That. Hard.

I guess if I had a too long didn't read for this it would be, people are not props, they are never one dimensional, and crazy is not a personality trait.