Trope Tuesday: Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Oh dear. I’m probably going to take some heat for this one, especially if it gets picked up by File 770.

What is a “manic pixie dream girl”? Tvtropes puts it this way:

An upbeat young woman whose love gives the brooding male hero a new lease on life.

Wikipedia puts it this way:

…the MPDG “exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writerdirectors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.” MPDGs are said to help their men without pursuing their own happiness, and such characters never grow up; thus, their men never grow up.

You know how the term “space opera” was originally a derogatory term for crappy science fiction? I’m going to go out on a lark, invoke tropes are tools, and argue that Wikipedia is wrong and there’s nothing inherently bad about this trope.

Anita Sarkeesian is not a huge fan of the manic pixie dream girl. In fact, it was the first trope she deconstructed way back 2011, before her scammy kickstarter. I’m not a huge fan of Anita Sarkeesian, but it’s worth rewatching her take on it:

In particular:

The manic pixie perpetuates the myth of women as caregivers at our very core—that we can go fix these lonely, sad men, so that they can go fix the world.

Here’s the thing, though: when you study the men who have fixed the world, you almost always find a strong, caregiving woman behind them. This is portrayed very well in The Darkest Hour, with Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine:

Granted, Clementine Churchill is no manic pixie, but she did provide critical support to her husband, and was one of the key influences that shaped him into the great man of history that he ultimately proved to be.

Here’s the thing: men need women, just as women need men. All the feminist eye-rolling in the world doesn’t make that untrue. And for men who are lonely, depressed, or overly introspective, a perky outgoing woman can really have a positive impact.

The key to doing this trope well is to make the MPDG a complete character in her own right. Critics rightly point out that something is wrong when she exists solely for the benefit of the male protagonist. That’s not a feature of this trope, though: that’s just bad writing in general.

The best example of a MPDG in my own work is probably Deirdre from Heart of the Nebula. The rest of this post is going to be full of spoilers, so if it’s on your TBR list, you should probably skip to the end now.

Deirdre is very much a character in her own right. She’s the ship’s historian of the Chiran Spirit, a generation ship that James liberates from pirates before going into cryosleep. In spite of her perky, cheerful demeanor, she has experienced deep pain in her life. She immediately latches onto James, but over time this transforms from an interest in a living historical figure to genuine attraction and love.

James and Deirdre round off each others’ rough edges. She helps him to recover his optimism and self-respect, while he helps her to understand herself better and decide what she truly wants. They both help each other to reconcile with difficult baggage from each of their pasts, and though they both go through a period of disillusionment, they ultimately come out stronger for it on the other side.

Here’s the thing, though: if Deirdre was anything but a manic pixie dream girl, she wouldn’t have been able to help James through his darkest hour. It’s her bouncy enthusiasm, clumsy excitement, and unfailing optimism that draws him out of his callused shell. Without those characteristics, the story—and her character—wouldn’t have worked.

In short, I believe that the manic pixie dream girl trope very much has a place, and isn’t inherently sexist or mysoginistic at all. It can be, if done poorly, but when done well it points to the reality that men need women just as women need men, and that’s actually a good thing, no matter what the feminists say.

The death of the Republic

This post is going to be political. Consider yourself warned.

I am not afraid of terrorists. I am not afraid that I, or anyone I love, will be caught up in a Paris-style terrorist attack. For one thing, most of the people love live in Shall Issue states with very few gun restrictions. Time and again, the second amendment has proven to be an effective line of defense against terrorists, mass shooters, and other deranged individuals who consider themselves above the law. Gun laws do not stop these people (surprise!), but a responsible armed populace does.

I am not afraid of a massive economic collapse, though I suspect that another one is imminent. I just looked at my mutual funds and realized that they have flatlined for about the last year—which is exactly what happened just before the collapse of 2008. The Chinese stock market collapse earlier this year is having repercussions across the world, but an economic collapse is something you can personally prepare for, and I believe very firmly in the principle “if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.”

I am not afraid of a massive societal collapse, of zombies roaming the landscape—either the literal undead zombie or the metaphorical people-as-animals type. I consider a collapse of this kind to be highly unlikely, because if there’s one thing the Great Recession taught me, it’s that there’s a very big difference between the collapse itself and people’s experience of it. In some parts of society, the last collapse was barely felt at all. In other areas of society (such as Detroit), the collapse has never ended. Rarely do all sectors of society collapse at the same time—and even if they do, it’s still something that you can prepare for.

I am not afraid of any of these things. However, I am terrified that the United States, like Rome of old, is about to witness the death of the Republic.

In his groundbreaking book The Next Hundred Years, George Friedman discussed this dilemma at length. He foresaw the 21st century as a fundamentally American century, with the Pax Americana defining the geopolitical landscape. Many of his predictions have been and are currently being vindicated, including the return of an aggressively expansionist Russia, the gradual collapse of Europe, the economic development of Mexico, and the Chinese economic slow-down.

Yet the tension between Republic and Empire was something that he could not resolve, except to say that it is imperative that we find a balance between the two. A Republic places moral constraints on the power of the state, tempering the forces of Empire. When the Republic is destroyed, the Empire ceases to be benevolent and becomes totalitarian.

So why do I bring this up now? Because the recent events in this country have left me profoundly disturbed.

useful idiotsIn October, House majority leader John Boehner (R) stepped down from office. Before he went, however, he and his cronies in the Senate and the House of Representatives rammed through a bill that effectively abolished the US debt limit until March 2017. Immediately after the bill was signed, the US debt jumped by more than $300 billion in a single day, and it has been rising precipitously ever since.

(As a side note, the debt-to-GDP ratio in the United States is now as bad as the PIGS countries in Europe—you know, the ones whose sovereign debt crisis precipitated the economic collapse in Europe, which has been FAR worse than our own collapse. That alone is enough to be frightening, but again, an economic collapse is something that I can prepare for. I’ve lived through one already, after all.)

In early November less than a week later, student protests broke out at the University of Missouri and other prestigious universities across the country, including Yale and Smith College. By now, I’m sure that you’re familiar with these events. The supposedly oppressed students at the heart of this movement are children of millionaires. The alleged acts of racism that worked the students into a frenzy were either completely falsenever verified, or not credible. The students who opposed the protest movement were aggressively bullied both before and after the protests broke out, and the students who joined the movement are now being segregated by race. The demands of the movement amount to nothing less than tyranny, trampling first amendment rights while pushing their Orwellian vision straight to the gates of the White House.

And what was Our Glorious Leader’s response? He praised them, natch.

In fact, he’s doing more than that: he’s BANKROLLING them. That’s right: the same administration that gave the NSA a mandate to spy on the entire US citizenry and established a legal basis for drone strike assassinations of US citizens is now bankrolling a movement of domestic civil unrest.

With no debt limit.

There’s a term for these students, and that term is USEFUL IDIOTS. According to Wikipedia, useful idiots are “propagandists for a cause whose goals they are not fully aware of, and who are used cynically by the leaders of the cause.” In other words, they are pawns for evil and conspiring men who use them to sieze power and control.

This is not a new thing. In the Cold War, the KGB devoted the vast majority of its resources not to espionage, but to subversion. In this manner, they infiltrated, destabilized, and ultimately siezed control of several third-world countries. The primary target of their subversion efforts was always the United States and her allies. Defectors such as Yuri Bezmenov repeatedly warned us of this threat.

We can see the subversion process in action through the development of Left-wing movements like modern feminism. If you can spare an hour and a half, I highly recommend that you watch this video where Youtuber Sargon of Akkad interviews Erin Pizzey, the founder of the women’s shelter movement. What began as a movement to genuinely help victims of domestic abuse was blatantly co-opted by Marxist elements and folded into the modern feminist movement as a front for raising money. Even though men are also victims of domestic abuse, there are almost no shelters for men because this would threaten the taxpayer gravy train that has been siphoned off by the feminists for years. And the scariest part? That the radical feminists ultimately won. Our modern society has been reshaped by them in so many negative ways that it’s hard for us in this generation to see the forest for the trees.

But as scary as third-wave Marxist Feminism can be, it’s not them that I’m afraid of. They are, after all, little more than useful idiots. What frightens me are the evil and conspiring men (and women) behind them.

Are the old Soviet subversion programs still active and in operation? Probably not. The modern FSB is a shadow of its former KGB self, as the numerous Russian intelligence failures in Ukraine have shown. For all its aggressive bluster, Putin’s Russia is weak.

Still, it’s worth pointing out that the Soviet Union was never completely dismantled. When we conquered Nazi Germany, we held the Nuremberg Trials to root out Nazism and exterminate it. We did no such thing in Russia. Many of the former Soviet elites are still in Russian government today, foremost among them Vladimir Putin himself. The institutions of the communist state were reorganized, their personnel shuffled around, but they were never completely abolished.

That said, I don’t think it’s the Russians who are directly pulling the strings. I think it’s far more likely that their socialist allies and sympathizers in the West (men such as Bernie Sanders, though I suspect he’s just another useful idiot) took over the subversion programs once the Soviet Union fell, and have been using them for their own ends ever since.

This is why I am so deeply opposed to “social justice.” It is such a vague and nebulous thing that anyone who calls for it cannot help but become a useful idiot. The one thing that all social justice warriors have in common is the belief that a more powerful government is necessary to fix all problems. Naturally, this plays straight into the hands of those evil and conspiring men.

Social justice has become something of a buzzword in recent years. It defined the 2015 Hugo Awards, which was a localized but still significant battle in the ongoing Culture Wars. That was how I was first introduced to SJWs and their repulsive identity politics.

But again, it’s not the SJWs that frighten me. They are perhaps the most useful of idiots, but they are still just useful idiots like the others. It’s the movers and the shakers behind the scenes that frighten me—the evil and conspiring men who see them as a means to accomplish their own ends.

And the thing that terrifies me most of all is that the target of these evil and conspiring men is the Republic itself, or in other words, the rights and liberties enshrined in the Constitution. When those are swept away, the Republic will be truly dead. And my greatest fear is that the day is fast approaching when the Constitution will hang by a thread, with precious few to uphold it.

I can prepare myself for an economic collapse. I’ve lived through one before. I can build my food storage, learn how to be more self-sufficient, take measures to defend myself, and prepare contingency plans in case of SHTF. I can insulate myself and the people I love from most disasters.

But what can I do if the Republic is overthrown?

Further thoughts on the drama in the SF&F community and a rescinding of some previous thoughts

About a year ago, there was a big discussion in the science fiction & fantasy community about sexual harassment and sci-fi conventions. As a result of that discussion, allegations were thrown out about a certain senior editor at Tor, rumors began to fly, and through what some might characterize as popular justice and others might characterize as an internet bullying campaign, the editor was fired.

That disturbed me, so after engaging in a rather heated discussion on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog about it, I wrote a blog post of my own, which I then took down (though not before it was picked up elsewhere) after some private email correspondences that were rather toxic. Even though I had an opinion, I decided that this wasn’t where I wanted to plant my flag, especially since it looked like I’d be hard-pressed to defend it.

Well, at the risk of taking some rightly earned flak, I want to bring back that post in order to give myself an opportunity to respond to it. My views and opinions have changed since then, and I don’t think I was right.

First of all, it’s come to my attention that this isn’t the first instance of high drama within the SF&F community. In fact, there have been so many inane kerfluffles and genuine spats over the years that for lifelong, hardcore fen, engaging in them is practically a sport. So now, I can see that my concerns about the community “tearing itself apart” were naive at best, and concern trolling at worst.

Second, through the efforts of writers like Jim C. Hines and Cora Buhlert, through following various discussions on Twitter, KBoards, and blogs like The Passive Voice, and through various conversations on-line and off-line with personal friends, I’ve come to realize that bigotry, sexism, and sexual harassment are much bigger problems within the SF&F community than I thought they were. The majority of voices now being raised are not trying to advance some nefarious PC agenda, but are simply pushing back against some very legitimate grievances. If we’re only hearing about those grievances now, it’s because they’ve been swept under the rug for too long.

Whether or not there is a faction in the SF&F community with an overt political agenda, that’s an entirely separate and disconnected issue from sexism, sexual harassment, and the stigmatization of minorities. Just because it’s not as visible to me as a white male author and fan doesn’t mean that there isn’t a major problem. If anything, I’m the least qualified person to make that judgment. The people who are complaining about these issues should be taken entirely at their word.

The science fiction & fantasy community as a whole is maturing and diversifying, and that’s a very good thing. It’s bringing in a rich influx of wildly imaginative stories, which strengthens the genre tremendously. Whatever your worldview, whatever your gender, whatever your preferred fandom, you should feel like there’s a place for you here if that’s what you want to read and write. Anything that makes people feel harassed or unsafe, stigmatized, or unwelcome is a much bigger threat to the genre than anything else.

As the SF&F community continues to mature and epublishing brings in a whole new generation of writers, there’s going to be a lot more drama as issues that have been swept under the rug for years are brought into public view. As this happens, I think it’s important to keep in mind what makes our genre strong: a rich variety of visionary and imaginative voices. The message should always be “there’s a place for you here,” not “you’re only welcome if you look and think like me.”

So yeah, I want to go on the public record and take back what I said in that previous post. There’s a much bigger issue here that should not be overshadowed, and it was wrong for me not to acknowledge it. I hope that no one feels that I’m disparaging of women, minorities, transgendered individuals, or any other group within fandom, because that’s not what I stand for. I may not agree with all of your views–in fact, I expect I’ll disagree with many of them–but that’s what makes the genre strong, and I don’t want anyone to feel like their voice is being silenced.

As for the other issues, I’m not quite so worried about the internet bullying aspect anymore because it’s clear that most of the pushback is not malicious, even if it can become quite vocal and heated at times. I don’t condone internet bullying at all, and I reserve the right to be critical where I believe the intent is malicious. At the same time, I don’t think there can be much credibility when gender-normative white male writers cast themselves as the victims.

If you felt demeaned or angered by what I said, either here on my blog or by my comments somewhere else, I’m sorry. My views on these issues are evolving, so I hope you’ll take that into account. And I hope that we can all keep an eye on what makes the community strong, which is a wide diversity of visionary and imaginative voices.

Thoughts on the recent drama in the SF&F community

NOTE: I’ve since changed my views and retracted many of the things I said in this blog post. You can find a link to the retraction here.

Oh, boy, has there been a lot of drama in the science fiction & fantasy community recently.  From the trouble with the SFWA bulletin to the revelation of accusations of serial sexual harassment by a senior editor at Tor, it seems like the whole community (or at least, the part that sees itself as part of a wider community) is up in arms.  And while a lot of the response has been balanced and civil, I’ve also seen some things that I find troubling.

For the benefit of the doubt, let me just say that I support the people who are coming forward with stories of harassment and abuse.  It’s clear that this is a problem, and that it needs to be addressed in a way that brings about real change.  Also, I agree that the community has a history of demeaning or undervaluing the women within it, making it a lot more difficult for female writers to earn the same level of respect as their male counterparts.  That, too, needs to change.

But guys … can’t we get along?  Can’t we come together and get back to what this community is really about–sharing and telling good, fun stories?

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not trying to minimize any of the problems causing this drama.  They need to be fixed, and it’s going to take time to do so.  But are they going to become the focus of everything we talk about, or are we going to turn back to the things that unite us, and pull together as a stronger and better community than we were to start out with?

Right now, I get the impression that the majority of members who are active in the SF&F community mean well and want it to be a welcoming space.  They may have their faults, but they’re working on them.  And most of their faults are not causing direct harm to others.

Then there’s a small but outspoken minority who wants change, wants it now, and wants it so badly that they see problems everywhere.  Many of them have legitimate concerns, and people from the less outspoken majority are coming out and confirming that.  But many of them are dangerously overzealous–and since we have in this community some of the most imaginative minds in the world, it doesn’t take much for people to start projecting onto people they disagree with, or reading things into comments that aren’t actually there, or seeing those who question or disagree as The Enemy.

I cannot control how others perceive me.  I cannot speak without risking that someone is going to misconstrue my intent and feel “silenced,” or “afraid,” or whatever.  I can reach out to people privately, though, so if you feel like I’m part of the problem, please contact me and let me know.

This whole thing reminds me of my time from ’03 to ’05 as a Mormon missionary.  Oh boy, was there drama.  Imagine a couple hundred sexually repressed, 19-21 year-old boys (and a couple dozen young women) in a rigidly structured environment, with tremendous emotional pressures and very little direct supervision.  There was drama, and I hated it.  The best times on my mission were when I never saw anyone but my companion (Mormon missionaries live and work together in pairs) and maybe the four or six other members of the district once a week or so.

But the way things are playing out right now, I wonder if the outspoken minority is so determined to reshape the SF&F community in their own image that they’re tearing it apart.  Orson Scott Card, for example, has been tarred and feathered multiple times and thrown out of the community on a rail.  And yet, Ender’s Game is still one of the best (and bestselling) science fiction books ever written.  Mike Resnick, for all his chauvinism, has written a lot of really good books and stories too.  Jim Frenkel, for all his creepiness, has been instrumental in bringing us great books from Tor.

Does this excuse their faults?  Of course not.  But guys, these authors and editors aren’t The Enemy–they’re part of the community just as much as you are.  And you deal with offenders within the community differently than you do with offenders who are not.

A lot of people are congratulating themselves and saying that we’re doing a good job rooting out these problems and dealing with them in an open and reasonable way.  And to an extent, I think that’s true. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all this drama, it’s that the SF&F community is a lot more fractious than I’d previously realized, and that the ties that bind us really aren’t that strong at all.  And that makes me wonder if it’s better just to forget the whole thing–forget the conventions, forget SFWA, forget the major blogs–and just do my own thing independently of everyone else.

And honestly, it would appear that a large number (perhaps even a majority) of SF&F writers are doing just that, especially the self-published ones who don’t really care about courting publishers or winning awards.  For these guys, it’s all about the readers–and isn’t that the way it should be?

Sorry, no Trope Tuesday (again)

Yeah, sorry, no Trope Tuesday this week.  Third week missed in a row!  Not so good.  Thing is, I’m really focused on finishing Star Wanderers: Reproach (Part VII) right now, with a self-imposed deadline of May 31st. I figure that’s more important, and I really don’t want to break my momentum.

I’ve been vacillating a lot about this project.  Sometimes, I think it’s halfway decent, perhaps even good.  Other times, I wonder how the @#$! I came to be trapped in this story and why I’m wasting the best years of my life writing this crap.  The other Star Wanderers stories are selling decently well, but this one is so shite that it’s bound to kill the series and why am I writing this why why WHY??? 

And then I get the chains back on my inner editor and drag him down to the dungeon, where I keep him on a strict diet of bread crusts and rotten cheese.  No wonder he hates me.

I know those trope posts are a popular feature around here, so I’ll get back on top of them once this project is finished (which WILL be this week!  It WILL!!)  In the meantime, if you’re looking for a trope fix, you should check out Anita Sarkeesian’s latest Feminist Frequency video.  She does an awesome job deconstructing feminist video game tropes, in a much more meticulous and thoughtful manner than I have ever achieved here:

Part of me wants her to take my own stories and analyze them for feminist tropes.  The other part shudders in abject horror at what she might possibly find.

Whoops, looks like the inner editor just got loose again.  Better go hang out on the KBoards until I’ve got him back in the dungeon.