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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Maturing Moviegoer: Finding the Nice in Mean Girls

mug_fleschWatching Mean Girls for the first time on Saturday was a bittersweet experience. Sweet in that this movie is just that — a cotton candy pink slide through the humors of adolescence. Bitter in that, once more, I had to accept that I will not be marrying Tina Fey, the one true love of my life, in the near future. But I’m not here to fanboy. This film has resonated with young adults, females in particular, for reasons beyond the clever one-liners so many associate with the movie. It seems to have a deeper, albeit comically exaggerated, understanding of what it means to be influenced by others and how the individual reacts in response.

The story revolves around Cady Heron, a girl entering high school after an extensive life of home-schooling in Africa. She falls in with ‘The Plastics,’ a popular clique. Through Cady’s eyes, we see why The Plastics are called such — they exhibit a remarkable ability to be fake, even around one another. Holden Caulfield’s head would explode at the sight of them.

Despite the saccharine plasticity of this clique, Cady seems to develop an affinity toward them, something that she recognizes and inherently dislikes. Here, we see the importance of self-confidence.

There is an interesting dichotomy in American culture. On one hand, we value and respect individualism, which raises self-made men, rebels and autonomous individuals onto a high pedestal. But these individuals often find themselves stifled at an early stage in their lives. Why are they stifled? Because on the other hand, going against the group is often seen as something undesirable. Self-confidence is, in a sense, a defense mechanism to shield the individual from an unforgiving mainstream.

I am not recommending that one should become a contrarian. I know that type of person, and they would probably best belong in the Burn Book. I am recommending introspection. Taking the time to develop values and personal philosophies is a task crucial to coming of age. Why? Well, let’s look at the consequences of such introspection.

In my first column, I described how themes are expressed by stories. Similarly, personal values are expressed by actions and words. A failure to introspect would therefore result in default actions. This default is, you guessed it, the mainstream. Simply because it is easy to go with the flow.

I would find it highly unlikely that introspection causes a total reversal in your thoughts and actions. When we introspect, we paint on a canvas that’s already been primed and splattered. To totally deviate from this design would require a blank canvas. What would a blank canvas look like? How about Cady? She does have a down-to-earth feel initially, but her personality is easily swayed by The Plastics. Only after having to confront her inner change does she seem to relax and “be human,” as she says toward the end of the movie.

Developing self-confidence is a difficult process, especially when the people around you may be pulling you in the opposite direction. Eventually, it may tear people apart. One of the things I thought truly fantastic about Mean Girls was that The Plastics didn’t necessarily find their happy ending in one another, but they found it more naturally, in people and pursuits more akin to their personalities.

Ultimately, people find comfort in others when they find comfort in themselves. And considering that adolescence is universally considered to be one of the most uncomfortable times in a person’s life, it may help to pursue inner happiness.

I would being doing Mean Girls an injustice if I did not make further reference to the fact that this is a comedy. It’s the main selling point of the entire movie, showing us that this process of self-development in the context of others is funny, once you take a moment to step back.

Everyone reading this deserves a piece of Cady’s homecoming crown. So get out there, have fun, have some me time and continue to amuse yours truly in the process.

To let ELI FLESCH know that this column was quite fetch, you can reach him at ekflesch@ucdavis.edu or tweet him @eliflesch.

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