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Friday, 3 August 2018

The Brilliance of 'Mean Girls'


I can't tell you how many times I've seen the film Mean Girls. It's one of those movies I can watch over and over again and never tire of; the more I watch it the more I love it. Recently I watched it and then watched it again two days later without getting fed up of it. But why is MG so brilliant? What makes it different to any other 'chick-flick'?

Truthfully, MG isn't just a 'chick-flick', it's a sociological/satirical comment on school life for young people in America, which can probably be applied universally in other countries. It uses the metaphor of comparing school life as a young person to the 'African Jungle.'

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Cady Heron is a friendly, intelligent and naive teenager who has been home-schooled by her parents for most of her life. They are research zoologists and spent most of their time in Africa.* When she moves to America after her mum gets offered a job there, Cady is very vulnerable to the cultural shock of high school life. She gets taken advantage of due to her naivety. She befriends Janis (one of my favourite characters) and Damien, before being spotted by The Plastics.

Although Janis and Damien are kind to her, they do exploit her by pushing her into hanging out with the Plastics due to Janis' hatred of Regina. In turn, Regina, Gretchen and Karen transform Cady from this down-to-earth independent young woman into a cardboard cut-out popular girl. MG shows how peer pressure can take over when one is young and doesn't 'know the ropes.' Cady's speech patterns and sense of fashion start to change when she becomes plastic.

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One of the best things about the movie, for me, is the character of Regina. Regina is nasty but she's also fascinating; she comes from a privileged spoilt home with parents who give her everything, but perhaps this is to compensate for their marriage breaking down. Regina's mum is kind, but their relationship isn't a normal mother-daughter relationship - there's no way on earth that I would talk to my mother the way Regina talks to her, telling her to 'fix her hair' or to 'please stop talking.' This lack of boundaries clearly gives Regina a feeling of being able to control whoever she wants, and being entitled to whatever she wants.

Gretchen and Karen aren't actually mean; Karen is sweet but unintelligent and Gretchen is self-absorbed and insecure. Both are beautiful and glamorous (I always thought Gretchen was the best looking) and come from wealth, which is probably why Regina has them in her little circle. Gretchen has a rich family and Karen is stupid therefore easy to manipulate.

Related imageI wondered why Regina allowed Cady into their group; I always assumed it was just by random chance or because Cady was 'the new girl' thus easy to control. However, according to some reading online, Regina got Cady into their group because Cady was pretty - a 'regulation hottie' as described by Janis - which could create competition between the Plastics for the attention of the popular guys. This shows when Cady develops a crush on Aaron; Regina gets back with Aaron to show 'who is in charge', not because she cares about him. When Aaron realises that Regina is really just a fake narcissistic bitch and that the charm is illusive, he breaks up with her. He falls for the real, authentic Cady, not the fake plastic girl she turned into.

Cady is also really smart; her mathematical genius makes her nuanced and interesting, which the Plastics overlook because being smart is 'nerdy', not 'cool.' In an early scene when Regina asks how many calories are in a bar, Cady works the maths out really quickly, but none of the other girls seem impressed or interested. If Cady was with people who appreciated her personality and brains, they would probably encourage her mathematical prowess and marvel at it.

MG exposes the truth about high school; it's run by a few popular kids who are sporty, glamorous and wealthy. This is how schools universally work. In my secondary school it wasn't glamour or wealth that equated to popularity, but sportiness and being the 'loudest' was what commanded attention. There is also a lot to be said for autonomy; one of the main reasons popular kids are always so strong is that they stick together. Even though most of them quarrell and secretly dislike each other, they know 'it's better to be in the Plastics hating life than not in at all, because being in the Plastics was like being famous.' 
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Popular kids know that if they stick together, they have the most power. 'Loner' kids like me who have close friends but don't follow the status quo can never be popular, because we don't want to conform to what a majority group thinks or believes. Even with my friends in school; I often went off and did my own things, mainly relating to the arts, or I preferred to study alone. Popularity works by everyone involved agreeing on several rules, and people making things work even when unhappy for the sake of maintaining group strength.

In a way, Cady could never really have been a true Plastic because she was too independent. She was neither a leader nor a follower; she just wanted to be her own person with friends who cared for her but didn't tell her how to live her life. Gretchen and initially Karen were followers; at the end of the movie we see Gretchen go and join another clique. Karen managed to develop her own sense of autonomy by being a weather reporter; it can be said that due to her low IQ but high EQ, Karen was less self aware and thus less self-conscious than Gretchen. People who are less intellectual don't overthink in the way that more intellectual people do, and because people of a lesser intellect tend to have higher emotional intelligence, they're able to empathise with people and be kinder to others without obsessing too much over trying to win their attention.

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Overall, MG is a wonderful movie with great characters and memorable dialogue. It depicts school life as it really is from the student's perspective, albeit exaggerating some parts for dramatic effect. The ending is hopeful, showing that what happened in school doesn't really matter and that we all grow up and become our true selves rather than trying to impress some clique.

*I'm going to assume this meant numerous African countries; Americans seem notorious for thinking Africa is a country, as portrayed in several US movies. I hope this is just a stereotype because it pisses me off how people can be that ignorant. I'm not suggesting all Americans are dumb, but pop culture doesn't help by portraying Americans as idiotic concerning matters outside their own country. That's pretty much the only thing that pisses me off about this otherwise wonderful film; it portrays Africa as being all jungles and Savannah, rather than noting that African countries do have normal fully-functioning societies and human civilizations as well. It pushes an idea of Africa = uncivilized black people, and America = civilized white people. Of course, the irony of this movie is that it shows the so-called 'civilized' setting of a high school in America is actually just as screwed up as a wild African jungle.

Links:

https://medium.com/@visakanv/an-analysis-of-power-in-mean-girls-a55c6dff0884

https://yacantsitwithus.weebly.com/motifs.html

http://filmanalysisandinterpretation.com/mean-girls-analysis/

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