What are we going to do about all these fucking manic pixie dream girl bands?

What are we going to do about all these fucking manic pixie dream girl bands?

You guys, tho:

A few days ago, intrepid Des Moines music columnist Chad Taylor boldly and bravely put the Des Moines Music Coalition on blast for (what else?) their booking strategies w/r/t their three major festivals. He made a number of good points and put forward a broad set of constructive suggestions for ways to tweak and improve the way that the DMMC runs their events. The key take-away for me though was his call to action regarding the city’s over-saturation of manic pixie dream girl bands. At first I was skeptical about this, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how dire this situation is.

If we are really honest with ourselves, we have to admit that, over the past few years we’ve really glutted ourselves on these manic pixie dream girl bands. It started rather harmlessly as they were but a small portion of a more balanced musical diet, but those days of balance have long since passed. Now-a-days, I can hardly turn my head without bumping into half a dozen new manic pixie dream girl bands, I think.

Let’s back up for a second, because, while I’m sure the venerated Mr. Taylor is correct when he labels this manic pixie dream girl band infestation as one of many key problems facing our music community, I think it would be helpful for some of our less informed readers to define some identifying characteristics of manic pixie dream girl bands so that we can remain vigilant and resist their influence. Unfortunately, Mr. Taylor declined to cite any examples at all of manic pixie dream girl bands in his column, and so we must dig a little deeper.

We’ll start with the assumption that manic pixie dream girl bands necessarily represent a subcategory of the larger girl band genre, or at the very least, are primarily made up of or fronted by female musicians. Of the 18 bands and musicians that Mr. Taylor cites in his column, only one, Parlours, fits that criteria, but to my recollection they last performed in Des Moines in 2014. That can’t possibly be who he’s referring to because he makes it clear that it is not so much the prominence of individual manic pixie dream girl bands that poses the threat, but the fact that the DMMC chooses to book two and sometimes, god forbid, three such acts to perform at festivals such as 80-35 or Gross Domestic Product.

Last year, of the 18 musical acts selected to perform at GDP,  a staggering four of them — Peas & Carrot, Annalibera, Karen Meat, and Field Divsion — were fronted by female musicians, while this year, of the 15 acts, a whopping five of them — Odd Pets, Glitter Density, Nostromo, Vaj of Courage, and Courtney Krause — are fronted by or primarily made up of female musicians. Presumably, some of the bands here mentioned are the culprits we are looking for. But how can we tell which ones are manic pixie dream girl bands and which ones are simply regular bands that happen to be fronted by or primarily made up of female musicians?

After a random and unscientific perusal of bios from the bands listed above as well as an assortment of other local bands on Facebook and Bandcamp, I was regrettably unable to find one single local band that is a self-described manic pixie dream girl band. Not one. You can imagine my despair. It seems apparent now that these manic pixie dream girl bands are more dangerous than ever because, like body snatchers or Donald Trump supporters, they can hide in plain sight. You might be friends or neighbors with a manic pixie dream girl band and never once even suspect it.

I guess we’re going to have to dig really deep get to the heart of the matter. The term “manic pixie dream girl,” coined in 2007 by critic, Nathan Rabin, refers to “that bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that 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.” Its use has been highly controversial ever sense.

So much so that Rabin later retracted the term because, among other reasons, he believed that it had been inappropriately applied to female characters that, while free-spirited and/or flighty, are not one-dimensional or insufficiently realized by the writers and actors responsible for them. The gist of all this is basically that the phrase “manic pixie dream girl” refers to a fictional female character who so perfectly embodies certain idealized characteristics determined by her male creator that she cannot possible be real or even realistic.

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Zoe Kazan’s character from “Ruby Sparks”

This definition of manic pixie dream girl would seem to suggest that whomever uses the term to describe a band or a musician is necessarily replacing that band or musician’s actual real world characteristics with some idealized and unrealistic fictional characteristics. Oftentimes, these characteristics can be destructive, diminutive, and sexually degrading, all in the service of using that facile representation to further some internal or external goal on the part of the person using the term.

To suggest that bands that are fronted by or primarily made up of female musicians can or should be categorized under a term derived from a sexist embodiment of the male gaze is as ludicrous as a school administrator suggesting that young girls should be held responsible for the thoughts that their bodies and clothing choices inspire in the minds of their male teachers and peers. That can’t possibly be what Mr. Taylor is doing when he talks about manic pixie dream girl bands. There must be some other explanation.

And there probably is. But without a functional definition of what a manic pixie dream girl band actually is, I must take a larger look at the main thesis of Mr. Taylor’s article. He is essentially suggesting that the DMMC’s booking strategy lacks diversity. He cites examples of bands such as Max Jury and Holy White Hounds playing two DMMC festivals in the same year as well as acts such as Christopher The Conquered and The Maytags who have played 80/35 two or more years in a row. He even mentions talented local artists being allowed to perform with multiple different acts at DMMC festivals.

But in all this, Mr. Taylor is tragically underestimating the extent of DMMC’s diversity problems. Of the 80/35 Music Festival’s 18 headlining acts, only twelve of them have been fronted by or primarily made-up of white men, while, of the festival’s 90+ main stage acts over the last decade, as many as a dozen of them have been fronted by or primarily made up of women.

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Girl Talk headlining The 80/35 Music Festival in 2011

We may never know how many of these seemingly harmless female artists at festivals are in actuality manic pixie dream girl bands. We may never know how many defenseless festival goers have been unwittingly trapped at a DMMC festival and forced to sit through a festival line-up that, statistically, contained one potential manic pixie dream girl band for every four or five normal, non-manic pixie dream girl bands.

Most disappointingly, we may never find out what a manic pixie dream girl band even is, despite knowing there are already too many of them. We may never get the DMMC that we deserve, the DMMC that is willing to diversify its festivals the way the people are clamoring for, but at least in the meantime we’ve got the audacious Mr. Taylor to keep holding their feet to the fire.

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