13 reasons why I hate Manic Pixie Dream Girls

I don’t know why, but there’s something special about a Netflix series that can get you to stay up till 4 in the morning. 13 reasons why did just that with the clever premise of a suicide explained through a series of tapes created by the person who committed suicide themselves. We have our main character, Clay, who is our typical suburban white introverted nerd, who for some reason is willing to disown his own nerd culture for the greener pastures of booze and second base. His object of desire is Hannah Baker, the girl who we find out commits suicide in the very beginning of the show. While typically I’d just roll my eyes and move onto rewatching Dave Chappelle’s comedy special for the 10th time, the hype surrounding the show made me curious to see how the show would depict some of the darker sides of high school bullying. And to be sure 13 reasons why does hit the mark for certain issues. The trauma represented by sexual assault and the disgusting victim shaming were harrowing in away they were supposed to be. But unfortunately, a pervasive question kept eating away at me. Who the fuck is Hannah Baker?

I know this might seem silly, but this is the hallmark issue with Manic Pixie Dream girls. We think we know these characters because we watch them go through so much shit, but end up realizing that the character we empathized so strongly with is just a cardboard cut-out. I challenge you to right now tell me 5 distinct attributes of Hannah Baker from the show. Go on. Do it. If you feel tempted to say impulsive or sarcastic, these are the very same traits of Summer from 500 days of summer or Clementine from Eternal Sunshine. It doesn’t take long into the show to realize that Hannah just exists for two reasons: to be loved by Clay and to be hated by everyone else. We get no sense of who she is as a character. What does she like? What doesn’t she like? What’s her favorite color, subject? What are her dreams? We know none of this. We think we know her because we share intimate moments with her, but in reality she’s a complete stranger to us.

One might argue that this is fine. The show writer is intentionally making the character prototypical so that people can project themselves onto the character, thus maximizing sympathy. But when dealing with issues as serious as suicide and sexual assault, realistic depiction is essential. The things that happened to Hannah Baker are real, but the person affected by those things simply isn’t. This feeds even more into the argument that the show inadvertently glorifies suicide. The show isn’t Hannah’s story, but the story of Hannah’s suicide and it needs to be the other way around. If we could have some tangible sense of who Hannah Baker was, then we could respect the show telling her story.

As writers we have an obligation to our characters, be it fictional or biographical. They speak to us like an older family member retelling their journey through life for the 5th time. When a Manic Pixie Girl speaks, the words are unintelligible to us. Which is a shame because their stories do exist. I can imagine their stories being written in the footnotes of the book, their dialogue scrolling down the oft forgotten ending credits and we are too oblivious to see them.