Behind the Cover Art
Featured: Isabelle Molinari
At the end of what will almost certainly be remembered as one of the most turbulent twelve months in recent history, like the famous groundhog of movie legend, the arts world is slowly peeking its head out of its pseudo-hibernation. In-person concerts have been green-lit for this summer, Broadway is re-opening at the beginning of the fall, and amateur companies are cautiously optimistic in the planning of upcoming seasons. All in all, the global creative sphere is experiencing a rebirth of inestimable importance. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of jobs globally are slowly beginning to return, like flowers in springtime. And while there is a long way to go before the word ‘normal’ can be uttered with any seriousness, for the first time in months, the hope has returned.
Theatre and Streaming: where will we be post-pandemic?
Isy Platt discusses the future of theatrical streaming as audiences are allowed to return to the venues
Picture it. For the first time in months, maybe years, you are taking your seat in the auditorium of a packed, buzzing theatre, waiting for the lights to go down. It’s an experience that can’t quite be replicated - certainly not at home, on your sofa, watching a graphic countdown the seconds before the streaming of a filmed production from several years ago, long since it was live.
But when the pandemic is finally over, and as we begin to revert back into our old, familiar ways of life, will theatre streaming stay for good?
It would be overly simplistic to label streaming as a quick-fix solution to Covid restrictions which can be set aside when we can pile back inside theatres; streaming was, of course, a common practice in worldwide theatre pre-2020. In the UK, National Theatre Live, set up in 2009 by then NT Artistic Director Nicholas Hytner, aims to bring both West End, London and - increasingly - regional productions to wider audiences who would not otherwise have been able to access them, for economic or geographic reasons. The filming of their productions is tailored to ensure audiences watching live across the world, simultaneously with those in the auditorium, are able to experience as similar an experience as possible to that of the in-person theatre-goer.
So maybe the question shouldn’t be whether theatre streaming will stay or not, but instead whether it will experience an increase in popularity, and maybe even threaten live productions. If you had the choice of paying upwards of £40 for an unexceptionally-positioned seat at the National Theatre, or less than half for a cinema ticket for the same production, which would you go for?
When theatre is filmed for streaming, the production undergoes minor alterations, and is crafted to resemble a film, whether that be technically, artistically, or in terms of performance. Although filming seeks to disrupt actors’ performances as little as possible, having a dozen strategically-positioned cameras where there would usually be starry-eyed audience members surely affects how performers behave and respond, especially if they are themselves established in film and television. Acting for the screen is very different to acting for stage, and arguably where streaming encounters the most hiccups is the incompatibility of acting style and the framing of shots.
Film is – and has been for a long time – a more popular medium for entertainment than theatre. It is ‘safer’ than theatre, with one, final form that cannot be compromised by on-the-night mishaps. It has a greater universality, not to mention extensive financial backing. By making theatre more like film, it arguably serves to broaden its outreach – but does this compromise the very nature of theatre? A recent success story was the National Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet, starring The Crown’s Josh O’Connor. Threatened with cancellation by the pandemic, they made the bold decision to continue on with rehearsals and film their production over a few days. The end result could not have been more dissimilar to an NT Live production, making use of tight shots, cuts and editing impossible had it been captured live in front of an audience in real-time. Film creates an opportunity for directors to draw audience attention towards specific moments, actions or symbols that might be lost in an auditorium a thousand full. Equally, if people could easily access any number of previously filmed productions, they could choose what they wanted to watch, as they could on Netflix for example. They are no longer dictated by ‘What’s On’ at the theatre; if they wanted to watch 2014’s A Streetcar Named Desire or 2019’s All About Eve, they could, bypassing that familiar feeling for the theatregoer when they read about a fascinating-sounding show they’ve missed.
For me, streamed theatre doesn’t quite live up to the real thing. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its upsides – I did love Romeo and Juliet, and thanks to the Live at Home series I’ve been able to watch plays I had wished I’d seen at the time they were filmed. However, the immediacy and energy of live theatre is something I’ve missed most these past 18 months, and as wonderful as the free NT Live streams were, it made me painfully aware of how much I wanted the real thing, with the uniqueness of each and every night on stage. I’m incredibly fortunate that I’m able to go to the theatre, and that it is becoming increasingly easier for young people from all backgrounds to access it, where steep ticket prices would previously have been off-putting.
(Taking a moment to let everyone know that in London and many UK cities, theatres have reduced prices for under-25s, sometimes as little as the equivalent of two cups of coffee from *insert coffee chain of your choice*)
But – we can’t forget the importance of broadening access and exposure. It might not be perfect, but streaming can form a key part of reaching out to new theatre-goers. Yes, marrying theatre and film isn’t simple, but it can have its benefits. Theatre is a very unique form of artistic and political expression, and the greater its catchment, the better. Otherwise, the key will be whether post-Covid, filmed productions continue to pull the crowds in - or will people not be able to help but go back?
In Defense of the Baritone
Griffin Godsick laments the fall in popularity of an iconic vocal part
I’m going to issue you a challenge... Ready? Ok, open your preferred platform for music (Spotify, Youtube, Apple Music, TIDAL if it still exists), and shuffle any sort of Music of Today playlist. When a male singer makes an appearance, what does he sound like? Chances are, your ears were just hit with a stratospheric rocket of a belt or a floating falsetto comparable to a flute. But whatever happened to the buttery-smooth crooning that dominated the charts for over half of the 20th century? Where are the baritones of yesteryear, the Sinatras, the Elvises, the Bowies? Today we embark on an odyssey to uncover the fate of the fallen star known as the baritone voice.
For those of you who don’t identify as music aficionados, you already may be a bit lost. A baritone, according to the Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia, is ‘the voice or register between bass and tenor, the most common category of male voice’. The average baritone typically sings in a vocal range of around G4 to G2, with many extending higher or lower, and has a slightly heavier tonal quality than their upstairs tenor neighbors. Vocal parts can often be difficult to quantify, as there are not strict criteria that define where a voice falls. Just a few factors that are considered include range, color, heaviness, and tessitura (vocal comfort zone), and all of these combine to allow your overzealous high school choir teacher to arbitrarily designate you as a baritone, because as earlier noted, statistically, you probably are one. This begs the question then, if baritones are indeed so common, why have they become the recognized vocal minority in modern music?
To answer this, we have to travel back to the early-mid 20th century. By the post-World War II era, with the rise of radio and the widespread use of record players, music was more easily accessible and more widely consumed than ever before. Bing Crosby dominated the airwaves, popularizing the intimate baritone crooning style that would influence future baritones in the Rat Pack, all the way up to the present day with your mother’s favorite Christmas singer, Michael Buble. At the same time, musical theatre was becoming the artistic juggernaut that it is today during its ‘Golden Age’, where trailblazing composers such as Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin wrote shows with young romantic baritone lead roles. Gene Kelly and Fred Astair were household names, winning America’s heart with their dulcet tones and more-than-adequate dancing. Even in the opera world, with the actual term ‘baritone’ not commonly used until the mid-19th century, the concept of this vocal part was still somewhat of an exciting novelty. Through all of these different mediums, the popularity of the baritone voice communicated the cultural ideals of society at the time, namely the perceived masculinity and strength that accompany a lower-pitched voice.
However, these long-held values began to shift in the 1960’s, with the advent of counterculture and the revolt against societal norms. The brassy swing of big bands were supplanted with the hippy pop-infused tunes of The Beatles and Bob Dylan. This shift was also observed on Broadway, where Hair, the psychedelic rock extravaganza, shocked and thrilled audiences nightly, relegating dusty old traditional musicals like My Fair Lady (in my opinion far superior, but that’s beside the point) to collect cobwebs of irrelevancy. The youthful population, who were the dominant force in the purchasing of records and concert tickets, were tired of jazz and classic Broadway, as they were seen as ‘old people’ music, whereas rock and pop truly captured the zeitgeist of adolescent rebellion. With this influx of high-energy, guitar-dominated music, so too did the voices singing it begin to morph. No one would ever confuse the rich, effortless baritone of Nat King Cole with the nasally, almost comical tenor of Bob Dylan. This evident shift was in a large part due to the specific music being performed. With electric-guitar rock and pulsating pop, often the objective of the music is to bring the audience to their feet, easily achievable with soaring high notes above the cacophony of instruments. Very rarely do you hear an uptempo dance number sung by a gravelly baritone. In modern radio pop, the most popular male singers include falsetto-concentrated tenors such as Shawn Mendes and Harry Styles. On Broadway, the same shift has occurred, with pop-rock belters like Jeremy Jordan and Aaron Tveit attaining Teen Idol status to theatre kids everywhere. This is in no small part to the altered modern perceptions of idealized masculinity, where baby-faced boy-bands have dethroned the more mature, rugged baritones of the decades before. Even in opera, perhaps the least widely-known of these mediums and by far the least susceptible to being swept up in society’s shifting values of masculinity, the most ubiquitous figures are the members of “The Three Tenors” (I don’t think I need to explain what vocal part they fall under).
Now, I do have to make some key clarifications here. First, I would like to stress that I don’t, contrary to the tone of this article, detest tenors with the fire of a thousand suns. I simply am pointing out a seismic shift in the landscape of modern music and discussing the relevant causes and effects of said shift. Second, I am aware that there are exceptions to the changes that I am analyzing. That is to be expected, but just because you can think of one or two popular modern baritones does not invalidate the information in this article, because as I mention towards the beginning, vocal classifications are somewhat arbitrary to begin with. So if you disagree, and want to vehemently argue that David Bowie was a tenor, be my guest. Debates like these are what keep these artists relevant and admired, which is never a bad thing.
Anyway, back to the fun stuff. You may now be asking, ‘Alright, we get it, tenors are a big deal. But if there are so many baritones, where are they right now?’ There are many elderly father-figure or comedic relief roles in musical theatre that fall quite nicely in the typical baritone range. However, for those baritones not wanting to don a fake beard or fat suit, stretching the vocal range to attempt tenor roles has become common practice (I am incredibly guilty of this, and for the sake of vocal health, would categorically recommend against it). But it’s not all bad news. Baritones like Josh Groban have been able to carve out immensely successful careers by not attempting to imitate the popular music on the radio, but rather embracing their unique sound. There’s no time like the present for a baritone renaissance. After all, variety is the spice of life, and currently, the radio is sounding pretty plain.
“I’m Not A Boy, Not Yet A Woman”: Gender Roles In Musicals
Sarah Johnston breaks down the nuances of flipping gender in musical theatre roles
With so many shows and revivals dazzling us from the stages of Broadway and the West End, it’s no wonder that directors are looking for new ways to keep their pieces relevant to a modern audience. They change time periods, add new songs, or twist up the roles to give a new spin on the plotline. It’s not a new concept to gender-flip roles in shows – anyone who has done any school production ever knows that the gender of a character is more a suggestion than a strict rule and any girl who has done a nativity has probably worn a fake beard at least once – but it is one that I think can be done in the wrong way. There are some characters whose genders are essential to their makeup which simply should not be changed, and there are some who I feel need to be updated for the modern day.
Let’s start with the situations where a fixed gender is essential. Some characters need to be of a certain gender because it plays into their storyline: for instance any character who has pregnancy as part of their story needs to be biologically a female, like how a male Jenna in Waitress wouldn’t give the same impact. For many characters, it is the case that the character development they progress through in a show is related to their gender too. For instance, under no circumstances should any of the female queens in SIX ever be recast as men, as each of their stories historically links to their role in society and in royalty as a woman at the time. But equally as importantly, we need to make sure there is diverse emotional representation of characters for males too. Male characters which have an arc which promotes emotionally healthy responses to traumatic situations are very much essential. It comes down to balancing the ‘art reflects life, life reflects art’ seesaw. What we present on stage is what we expect from the real world, and thus if we can present it on a stage, we can open serious conversations about its impact on current society. Dear Evan Hansen is a great example; as much as I love the music, Evan should under no circumstances ever be played by a woman. The storyline provokes important conversations about mental health for men and about feeling comfortable with emotional vulnerability. Roles like this deserve the same rules of preservation as they play an important part in maintaining the message of the show.
On the flip side, there are of course some roles which may ultimately be better when cast in the opposite gender. Personally, I believe unless the role explicitly needs to be played by someone of a specific gender, e.g. for one of the reasons above, its casting should be a lot more neutral. Some roles I’d love to see flipped include the role of the SQUIP in Be More Chill as I think a female computer giving advice on girls personally makes a lot more sense, the genie in Aladdin, and any of the Heathers from Heathers. A lot of the time, it does come down to the director’s vision, but I think that opening more castings up as gender neutral roles could open more doors to diverse and differently impactful theatre.
At this point, it’s probably important to point out a key difference between gender flipping a role, and what is referred to as ‘cross-casting’. There are many roles where girls play boys or vice-versa. Personally, as a tall girl with a relatively low voice, I’ve played a lot of men in my time, but the important thing is that I was playing and presenting as a male character. Gender flipping a character involves making the character canonically a different gender, which means that all the other characters they interact with see them as that gender. Cross-casting is where an actor who presents as one gender plays a character of another – nothing about the gender of the character changes. Especially in musical theatre, where girls greatly outnumber boys usually, it is common to cross-cast and have girls take on male roles, but the important distinction is that they are playing men, not that the male character suddenly becomes female.
When it comes to casting a role in a different gender I think directors should look at the following system to determine whether the role is good to flip. The first, and probably most important, thing to consider is whether flipping the role fits in with the setting of the piece. For instance if you are staging Joseph, while you may end up casting girls in the roles of the brothers for ease, the brothers themselves should not become female. This is because much of the plot revolves around what the brothers do, which they only had the power to do in their time period because they were men. The setting of a show often strongly dictates what is possible for characters of different genders to do. Back in 1430 BC, women couldn’t own land or conduct business or travel alone, and Joseph’s sisters – who according to the bible did exist – notably don’t get a mention in the show because unfortunately they simply had no autonomy in that era to do anything which could advance or change the plot. As much as we want to make the past nicer in shows, not erasing struggle is hugely important and we need to be aware of the cultures utilized in shows and make sure they are respected as much as possible. This doesn’t just apply to the historical setting, but to cultural setting too.
The second thing to consider is if changing the gender of a character erases an important message from the show. For example in Legally Blonde, Elle needs to be played by a woman because the story is ultimately that of female empowerment and learning to put your own worth above what a man defines you as. The message of the show would be defeated if the role was played by a man. Equally in Kinky Boots, the plot revolves around Charlie overcoming his subconscious stereotypes around femininity and masculinity, which wouldn’t have nearly the same impact if played by a woman.
The third thing to take into account is if changing the character’s gender impacts the journey of other characters in the show. For instance, if you introduce a gender flip which then causes a relationship to become same-sex, how does that fit into the storyline. It is rare that changing such a big part of a character doesn’t have a knock-down effect, and it is crucial to not ignore any issues it causes to other characters in the show. If Sandy from Grease became a male character, would the bigger issue be teenage angst or would it be a same-sex relationship in America in the 60s?
I think gender flips can be a wonderful tool, and I would love to see more roles made gender neutral in the name of inclusivity, diversity, and of course creative license, but directors need to be careful when they choose to do this. A gender flip is a powerful creative device , but with power does come responsibility. It would be fantastic to see more female newsgirls flipping across the stage in Newsies, and more male best friends sorting out love on Greek islands in Mamma Mia, but care needs to always be taken that in making these changes something important isn’t lost along the way. The flexibility theatre offers is amazing, but it shouldn’t be simply taken for granted because it can all change at the flip of a switch (or a gender).
Poetry and the Love of what is Lost
Alice Robson delves into rhetoric surrounding the longing that comes with missing what is gone
I’m a very nostalgic person. I like clarity, I hate change, and I hate goodbyes. So of course saying goodbye to St Andrews after four years of studying, one of which was in a different country, and the final one being a very bizarre university experience, is going to be difficult. And yet something of the sadness in parting also allows us to look at the joy we experienced.
Leaving Mary Magdalene by D. Nurkse tells of the stages of a journey through hospital – the tests, machinery, isolation, and eventual leaving feeling as though you are an entirely different person from when you entered. It’s quite a long poem with eight sections, each tonally separate, and it takes the reader a moment to shift between the moods. The intimacy of the experience of being in hospital is told in first person, but I feel at a slight distance from the narrator, as though I’m intruding on a stream of consciousness I’m not meant to be listening to.
“They asked me to count my breaths and my memories of you.”
I love the juxtaposition of this line – the simple task of counting inhales and exhales in comparison to the ability to remember everything you know about a person. It is impossible and yet feels only just out of reach, an endless frustration we can never solve.
Leaving by Jesús Papoleto Meléndez is structured to make you work to read every word. Perhaps ‘a little too sincere’ as one boy once called a poem of mine he read. I enjoy it’s simplicity and literalism. Yes, the imagery could be criticised as a little too obvious, but the literal nature of it communicates the intensity of feelings of first love vividly.
Kissing Stieglitz Good-Bye by Gerald Steen explores saying goodbye to a person as a place, perhaps the most relevant to what some of us graduates are experiencing now. I so often associate places in St Andrews with people and experiences I’ve had. But St Andrews in itself is subjective to me; only I have lived in this town with these exact experiences for the last four years.
“Stieglitz was truly a city
in every sense of the word; he wore a library
across his chest; he had a church on his knees.”
The vastness of being human is captured here, as well as the literal nature of how we can remember and map out a city. The idea that we are each so unique and diverse as each city, that thousands of thoughts and feelings populate us without us knowing each individual one, is a gorgeous way of understanding each other, and ourselves. That’s what saddens me about leaving a place and having to say goodbye – the knowledge that I will no longer have the same influences around me which have made me into the person I am right in this present moment.
I’ve written a little poem – something brief – an amalgamation of thoughts I’ve had over the past few weeks as I’ve begun to say goodbye to people, and the St Andrews that I have loved and lived in for three years.
The mist clings
to the spire on its way up and
up and away
but not gone.
Embers glow and shift
falling onto the ground
below, hanging from the window
there is laughter.
The smell of incense and
sweat faded, all
that is seen was once
felt and has since passed.
Here, take this list
it tells of things
once hated and now
MARINA: Pop’s Revival with a Political Twist
Marilena Papalamprou the intersection between art and politics in a fascinating musician’s work
Even though music and politics share an undoubtable bond (one recalls, for instance, the protest songs of the 1970s and the rise of rock’n’roll in the 1950s), mainstream pop music in the 2010s could not have made such a claim. Apart from the occasional, frequently saturated, political message here and there, the majority of popular western artists produced either romantic or upbeat but vacant hits, aiming for immediate, but ephemeral, success. The music industry seemed desolate of thought-provoking hits. So, when Marina and the Diamonds entered the music scene in 2010, with her debut studio album titled The Family Jewels, Hollywood was introduced to a fresh version of the pop star archetype, one which was to influence the political tilt we see in many pop songs today.
Upon first listening to Marina’s music, one may not grasp the deeply political essence of her art. An exceptional synth-pop creator, with an impressive vocal range and an excellent control between her different vocal tones and textures, her music is highly quality pop at its finest. But due to the upbeat sound of many of her songs, it is easy to initially miss her provocative temperament. But even since her first album, still kind of unrefined, she did not hesitate to touch upon issues pop artists usually ignore. In “Hollywood” she writes “Hollywood infected your brain/ You wanted kissing in the rain/ Oh oh, I've been living in a movie scene/ Puking American dreams/ Oh oh, I'm obsessed with the mess that's America”, while in “Oh No!”: “If you are not very careful/ Your possessions will possess you/ TV taught me how to feel/ Now real life has no appeal”. It is a bold entrance into the mainstream music industry, especially if we compare her to 2010’s hit songs, like “Tik Tok” by Keisha and “Rude Boy” by Rihanna. Marina came in like a hurricane, and even though she did not make it into the charts (Kate Nicholson observes that she “has sat on the precarious fence between mainstream and underground pop: someone with that curious, 21st-century kind of fame where you can rack up tens of millions of streams without ever having a Top 10 single”), she has something many pop artists lack – timelessness.
With her second studio album titled Electra Heart, Marina created a persona who would, perhaps, better be suited to Lana Del Rey: a vain starlet, toxic, depressed, and sensual, her mind poisoned by the American dream, blonde wig and pink outfits included, who would do anything to achieve the Hollywood reverie, and who eventually overdoses on pills. Her most streamed single, “Primadonna”, is of this album, with more than 100 million views on YouTube, and is also excessively political: “And I'm sad to the core, core, core/ (Yeah) Every day is a chore, chore, chore/ (Wow) When you give, I want more, more, more/ I wanna be adored”, sings Marina’s alter ego, commenting once again on the vanity of Hollywood dreams. Perhaps the public did not grasp the sarcasm underlying Electra Heart, perhaps Marina was not able to deliver her persona effortlessly (she has said, after all, that Electra Heart felt like she was “being pushed into it”, that she had to alter herself a little bit too much), or perhaps the music industry was not at the time ready for political pop, but despite her numerous loyal fans and pop culture value, she had not reached the level of a mainstream icon just yet. Is this about to change with her 2021 album?
Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land is set to be released on the 11th of June. In November 2020 Marina (who is, since 2018, going by the stage name MARINA instead of Marina and the Diamonds, possibly indicating her finding herself and shifting towards a new artistic direction) released the first song of her new album, titled “Man’s World”. To date she has released two more, “Purge the Poison” and the title song “Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land”. She is gradually immersing her audience into her new creation, which promises to be straightforwardly and unapologetically political. While she has always touched upon profound subjects, to a large degree relating with Hollywood and pop culture, in these three songs almost every line is a political comment, an open provocation. In “Man’s World” her references to the hypocrisy of the showbiz reappear, but this time her words are much more caustic: “Marilyn's bungalow, it's number seven/ In the pink palace where men made her legend/ Owned by a sheik who killed thousands of gay men/ I guess that's why he bought the Campest Hotel in LA then”, while the refrain is indicative of the song’s environmental feminist character: “Mother nature's dying/ Nobody's keeping score/ I don't wanna live in a man's world anymore”. In “Purge the Poison”, where she speaks on behalf of Mother Nature, she adds more political commentary: “Need to purge the poison, show us our humanity/ All the bad and good, racism and misogyny/ Nothing's hidden anymore, capitalism made us poor/ God, forgive America for every single war”, and in “Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land”, once again speaking as a being one with the Earth and the universe surrounding us, she sings “You don't have to be like everybody else/ You don't have to fit into the norm/ You are not here to conform/ I am here to take a look inside myself/ Recognize that I could be the eye, the eye of the storm”. All the songs additionally have a nostalgic tint to them, for the music is classic Marina, reminiscent of Electra Heart and her 2015 album Froot, released while she still had her Diamonds. They are “girly” synth-pop at its finest – upbeat, eerie, melodic, introspective, and fun all at once. She reintroduces the glamorous pop sound which made her famous after Electra Heart, but with a sincere and unafraid political essence in it.
Marina is now 35 years old, and she has succeeded in something many pop artists unfortunately fail at – she has matured. Still in the intermediate between a pop icon and an underground artist, Marina has evolved musically, making her songs relevant both to her age and to the age we live in. She is no longer the 25-ish-year-old singing about depressing glamorous illusions, but a fiery, confident woman who openly expresses her opinion and has faith in her political knowledge and potential for impact. To put it simply, she has found her voice. In a way, Marina has always held a political stance, but I do not think mainstream media was ready for her. She was too “loud” for the 2010s, and she was also less musically polished. Her new creations feel perfected. Will 2021 bring political pop into the forefront and Marina into the mainstream? I hope the former happens, but for the latter I think maybe it will be better for her to remain with one leg into the alternative. Whatever this year holds in store for Marina in particular and the music industry in general one thing is for certain – we are in for an amazing new album!
I’m a Person, Not an Idea: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Trope In Film
She’s effortlessly chic, she’s a wild child, she’s a walking sex magnet, and best of all...she’s not real! The manic pixie dream girl trope, although only coined fifteen years ago, has been a staple in cinema for decades. Why has this trope continued despite the prevalence of intersectional feminism, and how does it factor into our daily lives? Catherine is here to answer these questions and more
It’s one of those awful mornings where the day does not rise with you, but rather pushes you off a cliff. Your alarm didn’t go off because you dreamt you set it instead of actually doing so, your hair was personally tangled by someone with an eternal vendetta against you and all your kin, and you can’t find that one top you planned on wearing.
You start wildly sifting through drawers like you’re panning for gold, throwing jumpers and tank tops and that one t-shirt you can’t bear to donate from 2015 all over the gulf that is now your floor. You have mustered up the will to wear a different outfit, but when you throw it on you think:
“Is this too much cleavage?” “Is this skirt too short?” “Will I get catcalled in this outfit?”
Essentially, “Have I accommodated my entire day to fall in line with the patriarchal violence ingrained in me since childbirth?”
It was in Margaret Atwood’s Bride Robber that she hauntingly wrote: “You are a woman with a man inside of you. You are your own voyeur.” The internalised male gaze is something that, if one has identified as a woman for a period of time, is deep within all of us. Like a sleeping cobra in a wicker basket, it’s when one is rattled that it strikes. How did I become both my own jailer and my own prisoner?
Besides being socialised from birth to fall within the culturally appropriate imagination of what being a “woman” or a “man” should be, it is in specific cinematic tropes that one can see the reinforcement of damaging patriarchal values. The “Barbie Blonde”, the “nerd turned supermodel when she removes her glasses”, and most controversial: the “manic pixie dream girl” are all tropes for actresses that seem to never leave the silver screen.
So, what is the “manic pixie dream girl” trope? Where was she born, where can you find her, and why is her function as a prop to raise the male protagonist so desirable to audiences to this day?
A Rose Would Smell Just as Sweet by Any Other Name
The term “manic pixie dream girl” was officially coined by film critic Nathan Rabbin in his 2007 AV Club article, “The Bataan Death March of Whimsy Case File #1: Elizabethtown”. In discussing Kirstin Dunst’s character, Claire Colburn, Rabbin describes her as a “Manic Pixie Dream Girl”, where she “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.”
Ultimately, a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG from now on) has no other function except to help improve the character of the male protagonist. Other articles have often listed such examples as Natalie Portman in Garden State (2004), where her character Sam helps Zach Braff process the death of his father while dressing eccentrically and working as a paralegal (which we never see). Zooey Deschanel in Yes Man! (2008) has also been sighted as a MPDG in the wild, where her character Allison charms Jim Carrey with her “quirkiness” and helps him see that being spontaneous is not such a terrible thing. Kirsten Dunst’s character Claire in the now cult-classic Elizabethtown acts as a guiding angel for Orlando Bloom’s character Drew as he deals with his father’s death and his depression.
More popular examples of what the elusive MPDG is, such as Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim versus The World (2010), Penny Lane in Almost Famous (2000), and Sarah Deever in Sweet November (2001) make the MPDG seem a recent,concocted trope of the millenium. However, many have cited the first MPDG to actually date much earlier, specifically noting Katharine Hepburn as Susan Vance in Bringing up Baby (1938). In this film, Hepburn plays a spontaneous heiress who teaches Cary Grant’s character, David Huxley, the serious and studious paleontologist, to live life to the fullest. On top of being a wild and rambunctious heiress, she takes Grant on a quest to find a place for her pet leopard, Baby, to live.
Combining examples of the MPDG in cinema, it seems like more films than not have used this trope as a crutch to not only move the plot along, but to redeem their sometimes poorly written or adapted male protagonists. Yet, what concerns me even more is the sheer amount of MPDG’s that are identifiable in films I’ve watched countless times. Julie Andrews’ Maria in The Sound of Music seemed so full of life and love to me, but now rewatching it I can’t help but notice that her character is emptier than I remember. Where is she from? What are her motives, her struggles? Is she only so fun loving and lively to contrast and therefore help Captain von Trapp see the errors of his parenting and process the death of his previous wife? All we know for sure is that she’s a “willow o wisp”, a “flibbertigibbet”, and a “clown”.
With more examples than anyone would like to count, one must ask: what unites these characters under the umbrella of the MPDG?
She’s not a Person, She’s a Prop
Just by looking through the examples I have provided, there are several unifiers that make up the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. First of all, she is always white and conventionally attractive. This may seem inconsistent considering the stereotype that the MPDG is dressed quirky, often sporting brightly dyed hair and eccentric layered clothing. However, just as the MPDG is used to create a fuller version of the male protagonist in the film, so is her clothing used to flesh out her character without actually giving her complete anonymity or complete substance.
What do we really know about Sam in Garden State (2004) besides the fact that she wears a medically prescribed helmet to work due to her epilepsy? What identifies Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim versus the World (2010) than her ever changing bright green, blue, and pink hair? The costuming and makeup of the MPDG is absolutely essential to identifying her, as she was created ultimately to be the opposite compliment to the male protagonist in need.
The MPDG, in being white, typically heteorsexual, and conventionally attractive, is more than anything, available. She’s created out of fantasy, she’s a dream come to life that can ultimately be controlled and manipulated because she is beyond the realm of real humanity. She is an idea, not a person. She’s desirable because she falls into the conventional standards of Western European beauty that dominate much of mainstream cinema, and yet she’s not “easy”. Instead, the male protagonist has to learn her ways of life to be with her, and then they can live happily ever after together.
Worst of all, she is innately a representation of the way in which women were taught to put each other down and step on each other to rise up the patriarchal ladder of “success” instead of raising each other up. She is for the male protagonist, with a presence as “quirky”, “eccentric”, and “wild” that drips with the infamous sentiment: “she’s not like other girls. She’s different.”
Tale of a Girl Who Wanted to be a Dream
Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the MPDG is that even though it is fun to watch, I myself wanted to be the Manic Pixie Dream Girl at some point in my life. And, I can bet, at one point many of us wanted to be her or wanted to be with her.
The MPDG has not been as common in cinema in the last ten years, specifically because of the way this trope has become easier to identify (as well I would argue, the rise of intersectional feminism and its prevalence in mainstream media). However, growing up in the heyday of the MPDG as a young girl in the early 2000’s, I longed to be like these characters. I wanted to be cool, desirable, indifferent, eccentric, fun, alive. I put other girls down for being mainstream, for wanting to wear makeup and dresses when we were thirteen. I walked around thinking if I did this, boys would look at me. And all along, it was the internalised male gaze I have to this day watching me try to become a dream, not a person.
Who was I if I could not be a man’s fantasy? The MPDG is a fun loving character to watch and perhaps to draw outfit inspiration from next time you’re shopping at your local charity shop for early 2000’s outfits, but this trope is ultimately harmful.
Girls should not be taught that they need to be hollow and moldable to be accepted. The heterosexual and patriarchal male gaze is not the ultimate judge, jury, and executioner of our character, our worth, our talents, and our self, and yet, we are instituatilionised that it is. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a lover, mother, teacher, dreamer, and actress. And, worst of all, she is alone. She stands in the eye of the storm and is not allowed to act out of her own desires or merits, but rather in assistance to the protagonist.
In trying to become a MPDG myself in adolescence, I realised that I was isolating myself from the people around me, all in an effort to be more desirable to them. The MPDG is removed from her own humanness, she is flawed but only in ways that make her sexier, more fun, and ultimately more desirable to the male protagonist.
I don’t know if the MPDG will ever fade away. But, the more that girls are institutionalised that their worth and character is beyond that of the patriarchy, the more that cinema will reflect this. I should not have to sit here and ask that female characters are written as human beings. But, here I am.
A person, not a dream.
This year has been an extraordinary challenge, but one that has made us more prepared to seize the opportunities ahead. The time spent as deputy editors of Calliope has been wonderful and exciting, getting to explore new parts of the arts world through new lenses. Performing has made a strong attempt to thrive while online, and has, in many ways, been incredibly successful. Artwork has continued to shine in online galleries and exhibits, as has photography. Similarly, the film industry has pursued the production of new and innovative works, even under unusually difficult conditions. The last year has not hindered our artistry, but rather made us more equipped and flexible, and helped us to create new spaces for creativity. Over the next year, we can only hope for Calliope to grow into the new spaces that exist. Taking over as Editors-In-Chief, we wish to expand on Griffin’s ideas, some of which never got the chance to implement, and some which we have developed together. He has been an amazing editor, keeping a paper that was still in its infancy moving forward when the whole world seemed to move backwards. We can’t wait for Calliope to flourish, to connect arts-minded people, and to provide a place for creative exploration. Cheers to a wonderful 1st year and to many more!
Your New Editors-In-Chief,
Ella Crowsley and Isabelle Molinari
During the summer of 2020, when the Covid pandemic was at its peak, the arts were more or less dead in the water. Concerts were cancelled, Broadway was shut down, and the air was heavy with an unprecedented pessimism. What could a student with no budget or resources do to try and continue the rich artistic tradition at his university?
The idea behind the concept was essentially, ‘With so many people missing the arts and creative outlets, I’m sure there will be no shortage of folks dying to write about them’. After a quick conversation with my family to make sure I wasn’t insane in undertaking such an endeavor, I sent out probing messages to some good friends and arts enthusiasts, trying to gauge interest. Within 24 hours, 85% of people that I had reached out to responded with an emphatic ‘YES!’. As the year progressed, some writers left our fold, only to be replaced with a larger, equally as talented group. Through all of the ups and down, the papers and job interviews, our writers and staff have been the model of professionalism and commitment. For this, and for all of their contributions throughout the year, I would like to wholeheartedly thank all of our writers. I of course also must make special mention of the three brilliant collaborators who rounded out our board. Samantha Chinomona as Head of Media and tech extraordinaire did the work of 10 people in half the time, and gave this publication its sleek, unforgettable aesthetic. Isabelle Molinari and Ella Crowsley as Deputy Editors provided fantastic editing skills with an always-reliable presence, and there is no one I would rather see lead this organization from its infancy onto even bigger and better things. I truly could not have accomplished any of this without you three. Thank you.
I cannot wait to see what began as an animated rant in a kitchen continue to be a thriving force in the St Andrews community, and I, for one, will be an avid reader next year and beyond.
Griffin Godsick, Founder and Former Editor-in-Chief