July 28, 2013
In defense of Amy Pond and other impossible stories
I do not think that Amy Pond is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl that you think she is.
I’ve been seeing this column linked, quoted, and excerpted pretty much all over the internet in the past couple weeks. And I wish I were having as positive a reaction to it as, apparently, basically every other woman on the internet is. But I’m not.
I was never a manic pixie dream girl. Though it wasn’t for the lack of a couple of people’s trying to make me theirs. Who decided everything about who I was, tried to treat me like I was that person, and then were continually confused and disappointed when I wasn’t. In fact, that’s true of a lot of people in my life, in various contexts, and not just romantically.
It’s the kind of thing I can see happening to Amy a lot, too. Not just guys with romantic intent, but people, deciding based on her looks and demeanor what’s behind her eyes.
And then it isn’t.
And so not many people stay close.
It’s not that she’s vacant or empty—it’s that so much has happened to her that has no possibility of being put into words that anyone else would either understand or believe. That has no analog or describeability at all within what most people in her world know and accept as the boundaries of reality.
She’s tried. And look what happened for her trouble. Four psychiatrists; being told all her life that she was making it up, or delusional, that what she knows to be true couldn’t possibly be.
Believe me about the wear and tear that exerts on a person’s psyche. (And I didn’t even have a Time Lord fall out of the sky into my backyard in a police box after my entire family had been disappeared by a crack in the universe.)
(Um, not exactly, anyway.)
Is it any wonder she doesn’t let much of her interiority slip anymore?
I have always, always experienced Amy as the protagonist of that entire story arc of Doctor Who, not as a function of what she was to the Doctor. Far from being “somehow immortally fixed at the physical and mental age of nineteen-and-a-half,” she always struck me as much older and sadder than she was supposed to be, perhaps even by her writer. She was always the point-of-view character to me. We saw her, and the world from her perspective, first and last in that story.
And finally, it was a world that I recognized.
That doesn’t mean that the framing of the story, and Steven Moffat’s (and therefore the Doctor’s) treatment of her aren’t sometimes often inexcusably patronizing or sexist. Particularly the ways in which people try to protect her by hiding knowledge or information about herself from her, in an inadvertent continuation of the way she had her very existential integrity violated by the effects of the crack in her bedroom wall.
Lots of people try to take Amy away from herself, with good intent or bad—Moffat, and the Doctor, her aunt and her psychiatrists, the Silence and Madame Kovarian. But she ultimately chooses the framing of her story that gets told to her younger self. She ultimately makes the decisions that take her away from the Doctor. The fact that she is put at the mercy of forces much larger than herself, that people who care about her respond rather imperfectly, that she does the best she can—with a stunning degree of endurance and courage if you really stop to think about it—under deeply irrational and frightening circumstances…I am unclear on how that makes her “the ultimate in lazy sexist tropification.”
That is shit that happens to people.
This is the problem with proclaiming that “the girl who waited” is not a real person. She is. I have been the girl who waited. It’s not a part of my story that I’m particularly enamored with sometimes, but it is intrinsically part of my story. It’s not flattering, but it’s true, and not because that’s just the way some man wanted it. I’ve been the girl whose life didn’t make any sense. I’ve been the girl whose memories didn’t add up. I’ve felt like the impossible girl.
Those aren’t just the titles of stories that happened to other people because that’s what girls are supposed to be. Those are stories that happened to me.
I’ve been told so often, in so many ways, that I wasn’t a real person, that I couldn’t exist in the world.
And oh, look, here’s another woman, doing it again. (It is usually women.) I guess to some women, being real is only for some women. And not for those of us whose stories are too inconvenient.
Even Amy isn’t truly a girl I could be, in various ways; it’s just that elements of her story helped me work out a few important things about my own. I watched “The Pandorica Opens” and could literally feel aspects of how the universe was supposed to work, turning and clicking back into place for me. (Even as the episode made so little logical sense that in trying, unsuccessfully, to untangle its plausibility in my head one day, I completely spaced out on my subway ride to work and missed my stop.) I had a Facebook conversation with a friend one night about how, when you’ve spent most of your life deeply disoriented with no clear explanation as to why, to suddenly not be disoriented in that way anymore is its own kind of disorientation. It’s one of the most deeply weird things I’ve ever experienced, and that’s saying something, and I’ve never, not anywhere, seen that experience represented more adeptly than in Amy’s episodes of Doctor Who. (And I very much think of them as Amy’s episodes.)
You know how people sometimes write letters to their childhood selves? I could never do that. I didn’t know what I could possibly say to that little girl. No words would form around the things I wanted her to know. I just couldn’t, somehow, connect the world I know, and the world she lived in, and the things she did and didn’t understand at the time. The truth was just too much, too fractured and incomprehensible a thing to try to figure out how to lay on that girl. It felt like there was some kind of glitch in my timeline…in my own understanding of how I’d even gotten from there to here.
But when the Doctor closed Melody Malone’s book at the end of Amy’s story in “The Angels Take Manhattan,” I cried and cried for a long time without being able to say exactly why. And then I did understand, and then I did know what needed saying to that girl. And I could say it.
Amy means a lot to me precisely because I couldn’t ever be the story that other people wanted.
Neil Gaiman once wrote “…the shape of reality—the way I perceive the world—exists only because of Dr Who,” and while that would be an over-statement in my case, Amy’s story finally reflected to me a lot of the emotional shape of my own world, and some of the joints and hinges that have held it somewhat inexplicably together.