Monday, September 1, 2014

"Mean Girls" in a Mean World

Movies and television are filled with teen stereotypes. Shows such as Pretty Little Liars and Teen Wolf seem to dominate the idea of teen life in popular culture although usually real life does not include werewolves. These shows present an idea of the perfect young person where high schoolers are independent and attractive, all dressing and acting the same. They give no sense of what high school life is actually like in today’s society. Although it is now ten years old, a movie that influenced teenage girls in particular and that has affected many young women’s ideas of teenage norms is Mean Girls. This movie not only gives insight into the accepted ideals of high school students but it was also written and produced by Tina Fey with appearances by Amy Poehler, two women who have become the modern face for females in comedy.

Although Mean Girls does not stray from accepted idea of the stereotypical teenager it unmasks these seemingly “plastic” people. Mean Girls ends in a way that may not be completely accurate but captures the inner desires and hopes of many teen girls in high school. In many ways the movie contradicts itself. For example, it presents strong characters that are refreshingly imperfect people and yet they are caricatures, such as the strong artsy feminist and the flamboyant gay man. It also presents the popular girls as the “plastics”. This group of three girls represents what most people perceive popular people to be; manipulative, cruel, petty, and stupid. The best example of this teen stereotyping is when Janis Ian, a friend of main character and new girl Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan), explains to Cady the layout of the cliques in the school cafeteria by drawing her a diagram. “You got your preps, JV jocks, Asian nerds, cool Asians, varsity jocks, unfriendly black hotties…” and the list continues and yet any actual high school student will tell you that these accepted stereotypes are not so simple.

Cady comes to Evanston Illinois from Africa, and she seems to represent the naive child who is corrupted by the superficiality of high school. As the movie progresses Cady becomes more and more fixated on this idea of popular and changes both her outward appearance and personality to impress her peers and crush, Aaron Samuels. This is something that quite often happens in society but at a much younger age. Children start to accept the idea of status and popularity much earlier, usually in grammar school. Cady begins to wear very flashy clothes and actually fakes stupidity in order to gain any sort of attention. The idea of the nerdy girl taking off her glasses and becoming popular is a cliché often perpetuated in young adult stories, most obviously in Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” music video, but Mean Girls completely contradicts this accepted truth and instead she loses the attractive guy because she is too superficial and not true to herself. Although this movie does have a happy resolution in which she realizes the faults of her ways and gets the guy, in the end the “plastics” split up and become part of separate cliques that accept them, and while this is a nice conclusion it is not something that would tend to happen in the real world. This is a great example of teen culture today and shows that the ideal high school is a place free of social hierarchy where you are accepted by your peers while being honest to yourself.

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