Zooey Deschanel can be charged with the crime of single-handedly creating and hyper-sexualizing the “quirky girl —” a breed of human who does not actually exist, but is rumored to be a distant cousin of the less savory, real-life “awkward girl.” Repercussions of this crime include romanticizing social incompetence, falsely associating vintage dresses and a throaty voice keen on covering pop hits from the 1960s with emotional depth, and a reinforcement of the idea that as long as a girl is pretty, it doesn’t matter if she is as vapid and irritating as a Justin Bieber song.
Her popularity and subsequent influence over pop culture reflects a startling trend in the values of the demographic that worships her: primarily teenagers and young adults.
It’s no secret that teenagers and young adults are very aesthetically driven. There’s a reason why we don’t all dress in shapeless burlap sacks and carry our books in plastic grocery bags. The way we present ourselves and the objects we surround ourselves with offer a reflection of our personality, and we value the individuality our personal aesthetic taste allow us to express.
Our national fixation with Zooey Deschanel, however, takes this natural tendency to appreciate self-expression to a dangerous new level.
Zooey’s recent increase in popularity is due largely to her role as Jess on her sitcom “New Girl.” Jess is quirky and “adorkable”; she sings constantly and charms all with her wide-eyed naivety. The series opens with Jess being cheated on by her long-term boyfriend and moving out of their apartment into a new apartment with all male roommates. Zooey plays Jess’s heartbreak off as almost a joke.
She tells her roommates she’s afraid she won’t be able to ask for her things back from him because she’ll be too distracted by his hair. His hair, which Jess finds beautiful, is apparently a more powerful force in her life than the fact that he broke her heart or the fact that she is missing a lot of her personal possessions.
She only confronts her ex-boyfriend once, but does so while wearing a large, comical hat because a Zooey character can’t leave a truly vulnerable moment uncoupled with a cutesy fashion statement.
Jess meows and coos her way through most of the episodes, batting her eyelashes over her deer-in-headlights eyes. She practices her sexy poses in the mirror and asks her male roommates if it’s acceptable to wear overalls on a first date. She is utterly helpless but so completely adorable the audience forgives her age-inappropriate lack of social understanding.
This sort of one-dimensional character sends a terrible message to girls and boys alike. Girls can infer that stupidity and lack of social graces is excusable so long as you’re gorgeous and giggly with a metric ton of brown curls cascading down your back. Boys become distracted by quirky tendencies and vintage dresses and falsely mistake offbeat aesthetic taste for a personality.
The scariest part of all this is that, according to all her equally famous and beautiful buddies, Zooey is apparently actually really smart. Why she chooses to mask that aspect of her personality by being a woman in her thirties who runs a website called “hellogiggles.com” and plays characters who have a lot in common with the eight year old I used to babysit is something that I don’t think I’ll ever understand. She has so much influence over such a large audience and she should use that influence to empower young women and encourage them to better themselves intellectually: a pursuit which doesn’t have to interfere with a knitting hobby or swing dancing classes or whatever quirky thing Zooey’s up to this week.
The way we present ourselves to the outside world is a reflection of the person that we are, but it isn’t who we are. Unlike a Zooey Deschanel character, real humans think about things, believe in things, and feel things.
We can’t truly look up to a person who isn’t a person at all but instead a collection of appealing objects unaccredited by intelligence or emotional competence.
The Zooey phenomenon has created a whole new breed of shallow, and we all need to tear our eyes off of the gorgeous face of that notorious baby-lady long enough to appreciate some multi-dimensional babes instead.
Sarah Moesta is a junior majoring in English and is the Daily Collegian’s Friday columnist. Email her at email@example.com