Hollywood has created a standard for weird that encourages a “be yourself” attitude and, while that is positive in itself, it alienates people with actual social limitations, making them “too weird” for weird. This complex can be seen in many current TV shows and movies such as New Girl and Ugly Betty. I relate to these shows, but I’m also conflicted because I see that Hollywood weird is a safe, edited version of reality.
I’ve always thought of myself as a weird girl. I grew up in Hawaii and have had the same best friend since preschool. I was mildly obsessed with spelling, punctuation and math at a young age, and when introduced to our first family computer at age 9, I fell deeply in love. I took Jazz dance, listened to punk music, played World of Warcraft, and my family always had at least six cats. In the media, “the quirky girl likes nerdy things, is imperfect in appearance, socially awkward and not afraid to be a tomboy” (Alex). I’ve always found it very easy to align myself with these atypical characters. I relate to their personalities, I get their jokes and ultimately I like them; I think we’d be good friends in real life if we had the chance and there’s something intrinsically comforting about that.
My favorite example of this archetype is New Girl, starring Zooey Deschanel as Jessica Day (“simply adorkable”). Her character embodies every quirk I think I have, and even some others I want just because I like her so darn much. Unfortunately, Zooey Deschanel is also a perfect example of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) TV trope, something I don’t exactly relate to. The MPDG is an unrealistic, beautiful, quirky female character only there to open the eyes and give new meaning to the life of the brooding “stuffed-shirt” male character in whatever media. The TV Tropes webpage quotes New Girl itself as the first example:
“I brake for birds! I rock a lot of polka dots! I have touched glitter in the past 24 hours! I spent my entire day talking to children! And I find it fundamentally strange that you’re not a dessert person; that’s just weird and it freaks me out! And I’m sorry I don’t talk like Murphy Brown! And I hate your pantsuit. I wish it had ribbons on it or something to make it slightly cuter!” (MPDG).
This trope suggests to the viewer that “not being able to function socially makes someone attractive and interesting” (O’Brien). Movies like 500 Days of Summer, Benny and Joon and Garden State reinforce this idea, in turn having a negative effect on their audiences, urging them to strive towards this unrealistic goal. As a matter of fact, most weird and quirky characters fall under similar impractical standards.
In the last few years we’ve seen these weird, loveable lead characters surface and win over the hearts of viewers everywhere. These characters are supposed to be approachable and likeable to the female audience; they send the message, “It’s okay to be yourself,” but they all abide to the same Hollywood standards. She’s “a klutz, bubble-brained, socially awkward, a bookish loner or fond of spouting ridiculous things that makes no sense. This makes her awkward and thus relatable to awkward… but only in ways that will call on the laugh track. What she likes is meant to be obscure, but if it’s too obscure, no one will know what they’re referencing” (Alex). She’s not Hollywood gorgeous… until you take off the thick-rimmed glasses, braces and eccentric sense of style (Ugly Betty, for example).
Based on my analysis, I began to realize that the differentiating factor between weird and quirky is attractiveness. Perhaps the reason that I relate to these TV shows is because I consider myself attractive, and maybe for the opposite reason people like the author of Perils of the Quirky Girl think they’re shallow and contrived. I think a major problem in my argument is that, while I agree that weird girls in pop culture are limited by the Hollywood standard, I don’t know if I have a problem with that; and maybe I should, being a quirky girl myself. Or maybe I’m not actually that quirky. WHO AM I?!?!
In today’s world, it’s more important than anything to be different. Being weird means being unique and standing out, and that can be taken in both a positive and a negative fashion. Based on my references, you can see the Hollywood standard of weird is really safe, and doesn’t even touch on some of the real-life aspects of weirdness (IE: serious social anxiety, body issues, cognitive disorders, troubled pasts). While I enjoy and relate to these shows, I think an actual weird character would be welcomed. It would be refreshing to have writers stop being afraid of viewers actually perceiving one as unusual, and we can only hope they move in this direction!
Alex. Blog. 9 Mar 2014. <http://theafictionado.wordpress.com/2012/08/16/perils-of-the-quirky-girl/>.
MPDG. Web. 10 Mar 2014. <http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ManicPixieDreamGirl>.
O’Brien, Daniel. “4 Pieces of Relationship Advice Movies Need to Stop Giving.” Cracked. 21 Oct 2011. Web. 10 Mar 2014. <http://www.cracked.com/blog/4-pieces-relationship-advice-movies-need-to-stop-giving/>.