When asked about her adorability at the TCA, Deschanel replied, “I don’t know if I’m adorable.” But like “quirky,” the other term often used to describe her, it’s so clearly the foundation of her brand and has led to a number of endorsements, including TV commercials for the cotton industry. She also seems nicely self-aware about just how much of a demographic stereotype she is. Exhibit A: Deschanel likes to sew her own clothes. Exhibit B: She’s played the now-trendy ukulele for years, the instrument Ryan Gosling used to woo Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine. “Yeah,” says Deschanel, “I should have trademarked that.” Exhibit C: She made me a mix tape. Exhibit D: The day we first met, she was wearing flat saddle shoes because of an ankle injury she’d sustained while doing circus tumbling.
None of this is a secret. Deschanel openly broadcasts her nerdy-cool interests on Twitter, Tumblr, and the HelloGiggles site. The name “sounded like Hello Girls, and it made me laugh,” says Deschanel. The site started from a conversation between Deschanel and her friends Sophia Rossi, a producer, and Molly McAleer, a blogger and now writer for 2 Broke Girls, Whitney Cummings’s CBS sitcom about single waitresses in Williamsburg that also premieres this fall.* They all felt like there was no place on the web that reflected their tastes. Any woman who wants to contribute can. There’s just one requirement, says Deschanel: “Please don’t be mean about other people. Even if you’re really funny, I still don’t think it’s worth it. I have total respect for all of those other sites, but, yeah, snark is not our bag.”
Gibbard, who joined Twitter only after Deschanel persuaded him to (they tweet back and forth “I Heart @Gibbstack!!!”), says that Deschanel isn’t using her tweets or HelloGiggles as some clever way to shield the real Zooey from view. On the contrary: “I really don’t feel like there’s a lot of mystery about Zooey, you know what I mean?” he says. “I don’t mean that in the sense that she’s not a complex person. She is. But I feel that she has given the public and her fans a lot of who she is. And I think that’s part of her appeal. Who she is in private is a very similar person to the one you see in public.”
On June 4, Deschanel sent out the following tweet: “I wish everyone looked like a kitten.” It got retweeted “100+” times, and then was cited in a post that comedian Julie Klausner wrote, picked up by Jezebel.com, decrying the trend of grown women who play ukulele, like crafts, and tweet about kittens. Klausner’s gist was that women who act girlie are “in it for the peen” and shamelessly trying to “broadcast to men that we won’t bite their dicks off,” and that their behavior is making it harder for the rest of us to get taken seriously. “The larger issue is that it is a lot easier for men—or even guys or bros—to demean us if we’re girls,” she wrote. “It’s much harder to bring down a woman, or to call her a moron, when she’s not in pigtails.”
By e-mail, Klausner (who herself has a very retro, sixties-inspired aesthetic) clarified her thoughts; she’d gotten a bunch of push-back from Third Wave feminists. “I meant that piece to be more of a celebration of the bygone adult actresses of yore (Geena Davis! Jessica Lange! Anjelica Huston! Kathleen Turner!) than an attack on cupcake culture, as though there is anybody who loves cake more than I do.”
Whatever Klausner’s intentions, the post sparked discussions and a post by blogger Tami Winfrey Harris. In “Who Is the Black Zooey Deschanel?” she wrote, “Frankly, I find a thirtysomething woman with a website called HelloGiggles and a penchant for tweets about kittens a little off-putting, as I would a grown man with a website called Girls Have Cooties and a Twitter feed about Matchbox cars. But then we find creepy in a man the kind of childishness we fetishize in women. I also find it worth noting that the persona that Klausner writes about is bound by class and race … The wide-eyed, girlish, take-care-of-me characters that Deschanel inhabits on film are not open to many women of color, particularly black women … Even black girls are too often viewed as worldly women and not innocents.”
The Kitten Tweet Heard Round the World was, Deschanel says, totally in jest: “My friends and I were joking about what gets retweeted the most and I said, ‘I bet you anything, if I say, “I wish everyone had a kitten face,” it will get retweeted 100 times.’ ” But it’s funny how often Deschanel is at the center of such fraught discussions, and if New Girl is a success, they’re bound to continue. (Already, online commenters are questioning the believability of someone as pretty and appealing as Deschanel playing a character so unlucky in love. Um, welcome to television.) “I think as soon as you try putting women in any sort of category, that’s where it goes wrong, that women should be this and women should be that,” says Meriwether. “If you feel upset with how cute someone is, maybe you should go outside and run around a little. Get some air.” Deschanel agrees. “That people equate being girlie with being nonthreatening … I mean, I can’t think of a more blatant example of playing into exactly the thing that we’re trying to fight against. I can’t be girlie? I think the fact that people are associating being girlie with weakness, that needs to be examined. I don’t think that it undermines my power at all.”