28 September 2014

I Am Not Trying to Make Fetch Happen I'm Just Writing About Mean Girls


And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They're quite aware of what they're going through.
-from Changes by David Bowie

Youngest daughter calls me Geezer or Geez for short. A beloved co-worker -- who is one of the coolest people on the planet -- asserts that anyone who can quote Mean Girls (2004) so extensively can't possibly be a geezer. It is a question for the great minds of our time to ponder and discuss. There can also be a rather lengthy discussion about why a person of my gender and advanced years is so familiar with the film. Well for one thing I like the damn movie and make no apologies for that. For another I use it in my teaching.

(You know you've got a great job when in the course of performing your duties you get to show Mean Girls.)

Mean Girls is funny, smart and rich with themes. Students from all over the world -- but especially those from Europe -- have either seen or heard of Mean Girls. Female students generally are excited to watch it, males not so much. But when I stop the film the males are just as likely as the females to beg to see more.  On Friday I showed a class the first half hour of it.  Then I put them in groups and assigned two topics for them to discuss related to the film. Those topics were: 1) Your first day at a new place 2) Feeling awkward 3) Making friends 4) Social groups 5) Life in high school 6) First romance 7) Pressure to fit in 8) Popular people. We then had a whole class discussion about each. These discussions could have taken up the rest of the class and a whole other period and maybe the weekend.

These are all universal themes that people from all over the world can relate to. Mean Girls is not a documentary about the high school experience but it's not far off either. Come to think of it could damn near could be a documentary. The massive girl fight in the hallways aside it's all perfectly plausible. Cliques in schools are rampant and it can even be argued that in some ways they make a mockery of integration (this is not to minimize the obvious benefits of integration). There are social levels at schools and they are not all based on upper and lower classmen. Students identify or are pegged as jocks, rah-rahs, nerds, druggies, geeks etc. and I do mean etc. etc.

Middle and high school has proven to be a living hell for many adolescents. Going through puberty, discovering sex and sexuality, figuring out who you are and what if anything you believe and facing academic and peer pressures are a mad brew that can mess with the most stable of young minds (wait, are there any stable young minds?). If you enter the scene while dealing with a difficult family situation and feel pressured to win acceptance to a prestigious university and are involved in extra curriculars such as sports, music or drama you are basically on a runaway train into the Grand Canyon. Its no wonder students celebrate high school graduation. They have survived life's cruel hazing process. Many leave high school with emotional scars that take years to heal or are permanent.  It is a testament to the human spirit that many of these same people leave high school with a plethora of happy memories.


Mean Girls is an adept telling of the high school experience. Cady (Lindsey Lohan) has the added burden of a new school and indeed being in a school for the first time after being home schooled in Africa. (Karen: If you're from Africa, why are you white? Gretchen: Oh my God, Karen, you can't just ask people why they're white.)

In working with young people for the last several eons I've developed a social theory which I call the geography of the human body. In his seminal work Guns, Germs and Steel the eminent geographer Jared Diamond expressed the importance of geography in determining the fate of societies and cultures. The same can be said of people. We are born with certain body types and physical features over which we have minimal control. The manner in which we respond to being naturally beautiful (like me!) or tall or large or skinny or short determines the type of life we have. I've noted over the years the different ways -- for example -- that young women respond to the way they are viewed for their physical appearance. Ultimately beauty comes from within no matter how you look. But still, dealing with how people perceive us based on sight alone can effect the way we sees ourselves.

Cady is a "regulation hottie" which gives her entree into the female social elites who at their midwestern are, unfortunately, mean girls. "Evil takes a human form in Regina George" who is their queen bee. But Cady's heart lies with others who are more her type and she falls in love with a boy who once dated Regina so she can't go out with him because "that's against the rules of feminism." Cady ultimately leads a double life which can arguably be the case for anyone in high school who is self aware. Hell when I was in high school I hung out with and was a card carrying member of jocks, hippies, intellectuals, political radicals and any other group that I identified with at the time. Half the time I didn't who the hell I was and the drugs I took didn't help. Cady has more heart than the mean girls and even excels at math. She is warned that joining the mathletes is "social suicide." There's another thing Mean Girls sheds a light on, how awkward it can be to be smart. To far too many young people brains aren't cool. Superficiality, following trends and not sticking out for anything other than athletic prowess or physical features are the way to get by.

In Mean Girls lessons are learned and seemingly by everyone, which is maybe the most unreal thing about the film. But it makes it a complete story. At the end we see junior plastics, the next generation of mean girls so the story will go on. This is a film that hasn't aged a day in ten years and I suspect it won't in 20. It's got the feeling of a classic to it.  Principally because it is eternally quotable ("I gave him everything! I was half a virgin when I met him.") its characters are not stick figures but fully drawn and its themes are universal. Plus its funny.

I've shown all our parts of Mean Girls many times and don't tire of it.  This is in great part because students respond to it so well and are so comfortable with and happy to discuss it. Even an old geezer like me enjoys discussing it.

And a final point to remember: "On Wednesdays we wear pink."

No comments: