In the comments last time, I laid out what I considered to be the standard arc of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Basically it works like this:
- Build the the girl up as perfect (for sensitive artistic guys, I mean)
- Deconstruct that idea by showing her flaws (and this is the part where she breaks the sensitive artistic guy’s heart)
- Show how the flaws were actually part of what made her perfect
It turns out he wrote a blog post about it, which I read, but there’s not a lot of there there. First of all, the post doesn’t exactly jive with what the person in the comments seems to be saying (that the MPDG in Paper Towns is more of a classic MPDG. John Green seems to think instead that Paper Towns has more of a MetaMPDG, that he has o’erleaped the male gaze and is looking over his shoulder at it) and second of all: John Green’s idea of the main problem with MPDGs (that the narrators don’t properly conceive of their personhood*) is sort of fudamentally wrong-ish. But see how I can’t make any definitive statements about ANY of JG’s statements about his books? For one thing I'm afraid someone’s going to furnish a vlog that disproves me, but even then sometimes I can’t figure out if he’s deliberately vague or accidentally bland.
(*I think the idea that narrators NORMALLY conceive of people around them as real fully-formed humans with thoughts an desires is crazy. When does that EVER happen? And the knock against MPDGs is usually that male authors can’t understand women, and so THEY are the ones not properly grasping other-personhood, not their narrators.)
John Green the Web Personality is proving to be more trouble than he is worth. But is it possible to separate him from John Green the author?
“109 Days Before”
WARNING: This chapter is about basketball, and basketball players, and sports. Therefore I will be sparing you some of the details. Do not fear: none of this will be on the final exam. (I think some of the extra characters and quirky details are about building a realistic backdrop for our story, but who cares? All that is really necessary, in the end, is Alaska, Miles, and Chip sitting in a room with some chairs. WHERE WE’RE GOING, WE DON’T NEED TAKUMI! Of course, the other theory about this book is that it is a kind of copout memoir, and so John Green is compulsively adding this stuff in just because it happened to him. But I have been avoiding engaging with that theory because, uh, it makes me want to stop reading?)
Culver Creek plays basketball in the fall, because they’re like Division -1 or something, and so Miles et al go, despite Miles’s assurances to us that he hates sports of all kinds (Don’t worry nerdfighers! NO JOCKS ALLOWED!). Does Miles LIKE anything? Last words and Alaska’s tits. That’s about it. He shares with us his ignominious history as a t-ball player, but given the audience for this blog I assume we all have stories identical to his. I have them for most major sports!
And then there’s the aforementioned introduction of a few basketball players. There’s one named Hank (hmmmm) who “loves weed like Alaska loves sex.” Does Alaska really love sex? Is that something we have really learned? SHOW DON’T TELL, ALASKA. (Show Don’t Tell, in addition to being great last words, is also great literary nerd sexytalk. “Show don’t tell, baby. Yeah, show me more...”) Anyway, then there’s a mention of how Hank once built a bong with an air rifle, a pear, and a photograph, and I don’t mind telling you that if I were still in this book’s intended age group I would have NO IDEA what that meant.
The Culver Creek team is terrible, and they don’t have a team name (one of the regulations governing Division -1 schools) so The Colonel has dubbed them The Nothings. And there’s a joke about how their only win every season is against a school for the deaf and blind, which is one of those jokes you can literally ONLY think about for as long as it takes you to read it, otherwise it stops making sense/is no longer funny.
And then one of the Weekend Warriors comes to The Colonel and attempts a preemptive truce. They think he (The Colonel) ratted out Alaska’s old roommate, which is why they tried to murder our narrator, and this kid, Kevin or whatever (it literally doesn’t matter at all. Alternate title for this blog post: We Don’t Need To Talk About Kevin) thinks it should end there. Obviously our heroes have different ideas. And this ungainly fucking thing happens:
“It reminds me of when the Germans demanded that the U.S. surrender at the Battle Of The Bulge,” I said. “I guess I’d say to this truce offer what General McAuliffe said to that one: Nuts.”
OY. If it takes you this many words to make a clever reference, please just don’t. Not that it’s even very clever; it’s a very wordy Nazi comparison. Again: this is not an unrealistic line of dialogue for the kind of person Miles is (a person who tries too hard to be clever), but I sort of don’t want to be reminded what kind of person he is? Shut up, Miles. Just shut up and sit down for a while, please. The Colonel tells Kevin to name a US President, and promises to call off his coming prank war if Miles can’t name that President’s last words. So Kevin (who we are supposed to believe is kind of dumb?) summons Millard Fillmore and Chip (who is supposed to be very smart?) looks like he doesn't know who that even IS but of course Miles knows his last words.
A Few (Other) Words About Millard Fillmore
MILLARD FILLMORE! Interesting dude. Weird name, mostly because it evokes a duck in a tuxedo? Though maybe it won’t be as weird when Willard Mitt Romney gets elected. Fillmore’s name was actually his mother’s maiden name (Millard) and his father’s last name (duh), which I thought was weird until I remembered that my cousin is named according to the same formula. (Not a bad formula! I’d be Colby Little. My wife would be Webb Perkins.) His three-year presidency is not a well-remembered one--he took over when Zachary Taylor died--but there’s some interesting shit in there. For one thing, he never selected a Vice President to replace himself. And I have a lot to say about what that says about the Vice Presidency, especially during that time in U.S. History, but I will spare you FOR NOW.
One of the best weird stories from Fillmore’s presidency concerns a Venezuelan rogue named Narciso Lopez. Southern politicians had been trying for years to annex Cuba as one of their many attempts to expand slave-friendly territory (there was an even number of pro- and anti-slavery politicians in Congress, and ridiculous amounts of effort went in to preserving that stalemate for as long as possible), and in the 1850s Lopez led a group of proto-Confederate Americans into Spanish-controlled Cuba in an unauthorized, ill-planned attempt to take over. Twice (hahahaha). The first mission took place when Fillmore was still VP, in 1850. President Taylor rejected Lopez’s proposal, but Lopez went ahead with it* anyway (Lopez also unsuccessfully solicited help from Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee). Lopez had been banking on support from Cuban citizens when the fighting started (“We’ll be greeted as liberators!”), and when that didn’t happen he and his 600 men had to flee almost immediately. A year later, he attempted the exact same plan over again, still counting on local support which never came, and was captured and executed. Don’t you feel like this would be a hell of a role for Johnny Depp?
(*President Taylor : Coach Taylor :: Narciso Lopez : Buddy Garrity)
By then, Millard Fillmore (nickname: MF Doom) was in charge, and found himself caught between Southerners who were pissed that he didn’t back the expedition and Northerners who were pissed that he apologized to the Spanish government. If you think politics are really that different these days, just remember that. And this:
After his Presidency, Fillmore got involved with the detestable Know-Nothing Party, a political organization that organized itself around being anti-immigrant. At the time, the dirty immigrants that everyone claimed would rape our women and steal our jobs were...Catholics.* But the same xenophobic hatred people now direct toward Muslims and Mexicans was there. But even more hypocritical, I think. I mean, for a while the Know-Nothing party (at first they met in secret and were instructed to never share information about the group--it was a racist Fight Club, but the nickname stuck after they went public because THEY WERE IDIOTS) was officially called the Native American party. And you had to be OF BRITISH HERITAGE to be a member. THE MIND, IT BOGGLES.
(*As one Boston minister said, Catholicism was: "the ally of tyranny, the opponent of material prosperity, the foe of thrift, the enemy of the railroad, the caucus, and the school." THE ENEMY OF THE RAILROAD!)
One last Millard Fillmore story: The University of Oxford tried to give him an honorary degree, and he refused, saying that in the first place he wasn’t smart enough to earn a degree (this was after he’d been PRESIDENT) and that he couldn’t even read the Latin on the degree in the second place and that "no man should accept a degree he cannot read." WISE, IF DICKISH, WORDS.
And Fillmore’s last words, which Miles knows, were similarly dickish-in-an-admirable-way. He had a fever, and his doctor wasn't letting him eat. Finally he was allowed a spoonful of soup, and sarcastically remarked, "The nourishment is palatable."
Anyway, we were discussing basket-related sports.
The point of the basketball game is that The Colonel likes to be overbearingly obnoxious throughout, with the intention of getting kicked out of the gym before the final buzzer. He’s been booted from every game so far. OK, I can’t front: that is something that high school boys DEFINITELY think is funny. I’m sorry, but we do/did. I used to LOVE driving around with my friend Josh while he screamed things at pedestrians. As an adult, I feel like the penalty for that shit should be fucking death. But at fifteen it was hilarious.