Why Mean Girls (2004) is “So Fetch”

*Mean Girls is a 2004 film starring Lindsay Lohan as Cady Heron, a former home-schooled girl who enters high school with no friends. She is immediately adopted by the popular circle, otherwise known as “The Plastics.” Things go well for Cady until she develops a crush on someone who happens to be Regina George (Rachel McAdams), the group’s leader’s ex-boyfriend, which incites her to publicly humiliate Cady. This prompts Cady, with the help of some outcast friends, to enact revenge upon Regina with the goal of reversing her popular status.

Mean Girls Movie Poster

Mean Girls, the 2004 film written by Tina Fey and starring Lindsay Lohan, doesn’t remotely resemble a groundbreaking film. It incorporates various clichés and stereotypes that have continually infected the canon of high-school films. In many capacities, such films are so formulaic that one doesn’t necessarily need to see the film to be aware of what already will transpire by the film’s conclusion, which typically is about an outcast becoming part of the “it crowd,” deceiving the friends that truly care for them and ultimately persevering over such obstacles to offer the film’s more than obvious moral message and happy ending. Mean Girls is precisely such a film, yet within a ten-year period this film has transcended from being a mere summer film to assuming the status of a cult classic. I personally felt this film wasn’t worth my time until recently when I was met with responses such as, “It should be mandatory to watch for anyone under the age of 35″ or, that it is “…the zeitgeist of the early 2000s.” Upon further resistance on my part with viewing this film, I was finally informed that Mean Girls is “…the most quotable movie of our generation” [for us 90s kids who endured our adolescence in the 2000s]. Such statements directed at me, even going as far as to question my film-knowledge integrity, compelled me to finally view the film and gain an understanding as to why there is such fierce popularity with Mean Girls. To reiterate, Mean Girls is not a tremendously profound film, yet it has a huge following. Prior to viewing this film, I asked myself as to why this is so.

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When watching Mean Girls, one cannot help but sense there is a tendency to self-identify with the contents of the film. While the film is ludicrous and its plot is absurd, there is an odd believability to the film that other teen comedies have failed to convey in their narratives. Case in point: 1995’s Clueless, while fiercely popular and entertaining, was detached from relatability between viewers and characters on account of the characters’ financial status. 1998’s Can’t Hardly Wait relied too heavily on stock character-types to allow them to be multidimensional and relatable. The film catered individual characters for individual subgroups to relate to. 1999’s American Pie represented the high-school existence as prioritizing sex as the litany of all social occurrences, which minimized its female characters while also giving into obvious clichés for its male characters. While all three of these films supposedly outlined the high school experience, they in fact, were merely caricatures. Gary Simmons, author of Mirrors, Make-up and Meanings in ‘Mean Girls,’ describes this issue perfectly in the passage, “This genre sells teenagers to themselves, even though the films are made by adults who may or not be on the mark when it comes to knowing what goes on in the lives of teenagers – their conflicts, feelings, aspirations and their growing autonomy.”

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Mean Girls is the closest representation of the high school, not because it is entirely realistic, but because it has the capacity to self-identify. The film’s quotations and situations wouldn’t be validated to cult status unless there were a level of self-identification with them and the film. For instance, 1989’s Say Anything lacks any genuine filmmaking skills, yet the iconic image of John Cusack holding the stereo over his head and playing music below the window of the girl he loves is what everyone remembers and cherishes from that film. It is because viewers were able to self-identify with the concept of reaching out to someone they love and doing something seemingly crazy just for them to realize that their heart was readily available for their love to take. Mean Girls has a similar association by which its viewers not only self-identify with the separation of subgroups in high school, but they can also relate to the stereotypes that are founded in some truth yet embellished for the sake of comedy regarding the social make-up of the popular groups.

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The self-identification most may relate to is the determination to fit in, even if it means repressing one’s own strengths for the sake of popularity. In many contexts, in order to be relatable one must adapt to one’s given environment, which Mean Girls effectively uses Africa, where Lohan’s Cady Heron used to live, to encourage a sort of survival-of-the-fittest amongst the high school setting. Adapting with the mannerisms of the potential carnivores means survival opposed to linking oneself with a subgroup that would make them prey or, in the context of Mean Girls, be placed within Regina George’s (Rachel McAdams) “Burn Book.” The subgroups are shown to be clearly inferior, which gives the conversation between the “it crowd,” known within the film as the “plastics,” to have an exasperated form of dialogue between each other. Even though their diction is ridiculous, it is idolized since it comes from “the plastics,” which further emphasizes why audiences have taken such a liking to the quotable nature of the film. By quoting Mean Girls, the one speaking essentially becomes one of “the plastics,” embodies their sassiness by keeping the said quote alive while also providing an ode to the film that originated the quote. By association, one experiences notions of being popular by simply being aware of the quote, even if one isn’t aware of the context or where it originated from. “Boo, you whore” or “Is butter a carb?” are phrases that have been adopted and as long as one is able to quote it amongst a social setting accurately, they maintain a “plastic” status.

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Gary Simmons further elaborates in his article as to why Mean Girls is more readily accepted by audiences when he explained that, “Movies about teenagers is a lot of the time about a group of girls being mean to a girl outside of the group…But they never talk about the complexities of what’s in the group.” Mean Girls takes this traditional narrative style and flips it by having the outsider (Lohan) be immediately accepted by the “plastics,” a sort of project for them to accomplish. “I, like invented her. You know what I mean” Regina flippantly announces at one point of the film, establishing their initial intentions with Cady. By using the character as an outsider stepping in, the film provides a more intimate comprehension as to why such ill behavior is conceived by the “plastics,” which is, in fact, fueled by their own insecurity.

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The insecurities all of the “plastics” possess is apparent, but never is it more obvious in the character Gretchen Wieners (Lacey Chabert). The internalization of her feelings and creating the impression she lacks any vulnerability functions as a metaphor of the difficulties of projecting an image that is entirely false. She doesn’t truly know who she is because her understanding of the world is solely about boosting her so-called leader, even if it is at her own expense. Gretchen’s only attempt of standing on her own is her poor, but repeated, attempts to integrate the phrase “that is so fetch” as part of the popular canon, yet she is denied even that. She further functions as someone who has been so repeatedly stepped on that she has lost sight of how unpopular she actually is by blinding herself into believing she is popular by association. In comparison, the film’s central character, Cady, denies herself the reality that she is good at math out of fear of being perceived differently. While the film doesn’t necessary spell out why, the reason is apparent; it is not because the “plastics” would see her as a nerd, but rather they would be intimidated by her. The “plastics” are the popular crowd and intimidation is counter-productive to crafting the image of perfection. Even in today’s society, regardless of age, people craft themselves to the image they believe will get them accepted by the majority.

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I expected this film to be somewhat of a disaster to watch, but I actually enjoyed Mean Girls thoroughly. After seeing it, I can say Mean Girls “…is like the Barbie doll I never had.” While it is a typical high school comedy, there is something inherently different by the film’s presentation. A big contribution to the success of this film falls in the clever scriptwriting Tina Fey provided for the film and her own performance that helped control the mania of the film. The film needed an anchor and Fey contributed with such a necessity quite well. By having Fey function as the film’s moral compass, it allowed for her to directly challenged the notion of repression by the film’s conclusion when she poses the question to an auditorium of girls as to why they allow the trivial to dictate their actions. Support is more functional and the acceptance of flaws is not a deal-breaker with being able to associate with other. Through Fey’s character, the film encourages the subgroups to conjoin and not be ashamed of being talented. To a degree, the quotable nature of this film is indirectly linked to the film’s overall message. Anyone can quote this film regardless of the subgroup they are associated with, thus they can be comfortable with who they are and also be a “plastic” at the same time. By that rationale, Mean Girls encourages the acceptance of self, which is an admirable focal point for the film to take.

Daniel Sirignano, Film writer at Seroword

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