Writing by Erandhi Mendis // Illustration by Mar García
Between the ages of 9 and 10, I stumbled upon the glorious masterpiece that is a Total Girl magazine. It was a simpler time; High School Musical didn’t exist yet (what was the point in even getting up in the morning, I know) and my walls were covered in giant Delta Goodrem posters (I still love you Delta, sans posters).
Anyway, back to the magazine. As I was leafing through the Saddle Club quizzes and Lizzie McGuire gossip, I found a double page spread about a book called Queen Bees and Wannabees.
Written by Rosalind Wiseman, the self-help book about guiding your daughters through the tumultuous period of adolescence was a New York Times bestseller. The Total Girl article, although peppered with weird slang and obstructed by clip art, was a solid read about the realities of bullying. But the most memorable part of all this was a tiny purple text box that noted the book would be turned into a film by a certain someone whom I would grow to adore– Tina Fey.
Said film? You guessed it: Mean Girls.
Fast-forward 10 years later and even if I try really hard not to exaggerate I still don’t think I know of many people who haven’t seen/heard of Mean Girls (I’ve even watched it with my Grandma-– I think she fell asleep halfway through, but let’s ignore that).
So what was the point of the drawn-out anecdote and weird shout out to Total Girl? ‘Cause I needed to set the scene, yo. That, and I regularly think about Mean Girls. Here’s why.
We all watched Mean Girls; a lot of us loved it and now we’re all living in a world where every year on the once-seemingly-arbitrary date that is October 3rd, people all over the world go wild on social media with Mean Girls references. The film was punchy, honest, clever, and had impeccable timing in an era where movies about the high school experience struggled to live up to anything filmed in the 80s/90s. People remember Mean Girls. People laughed. People identified with it. I hear Mean Girls being quoted so regularly that I was genuinely shocked when I found out that it had been 10 years since its release.
But given that it HAS been 10 years since something so universal to our generation aired, it irks me that it has taken so long to look a little closer than just the perennially relevant jokes and endless streams of GIFs. The underlying theme of Mean Girls was to poke fun at the pointlessness of catty bullying that goes on in the film. It was shown in many forms, from schoolyard gossip and judging others to name-calling. Sure, it used humor to highlight all of this, but it also served to stress the harmful ramifications of such actions. You would think that something both so straightforward and comprehensively accessible in the western world would have had a crazy effect on the behaviour of teenagers. Or at least make people think twice. Maybe it did and I’m just not paying enough attention. But from where I’m standing, it is not unlikely for the same people that retweet/repost/reblog/regram (when did all of this happen???) jokes and screencaps from Mean Girls, to still engage in verbal, physical, emotional, or cyber bullying.
Before anyone freaks the hell out over me putting a 2004 film on a pedestal to fix the world’s bullying problems, that isn’t why I’m talking about it. I’m talking about it because Mean Girls— especially given it’s wide reach and commercial success– had potential. Potential to teach and to ingrain something in our minds. And as far as relevant, anti-bullying campaigns that actually speak to kids of our generation, a feature-length comedy is every school chaplain’s dream.
Because, everyone knows that Mean Girls is about bullying. We all KNOW this. Whether or not we pay any attention to that is a completely different story.
Now, I’m not saying that Mean Girls is a perfect film. I’ll be the first to say that there are moments where the message loses out against the possibility to garner laughter. There is no such thing as a perfect film. It is the recognition of this problematic pop-culture that drives conversation and subsequent change. Hannah Montana used to sing that “nobody’s perfect,” and you bet your sweet nibblets that she was darn right. Nothing is without a little tarnish. It’s what makes us human. We can’t wipe out bullying– but we might as well try to make it better.
If anything, Mean Girls hit a home run with this idea. We’re all mean. Even a little. Although cliché and heavily magnified, the bullying and stereotypes somehow felt supremely real. Everyone was making mistakes. The entire school was consumed in a seemingly infinite cycle of victim and bully. Everyone was judging each other, judging themselves and trying incredibly hard to “fit in”-– no matter the consequences.
My favourite part of the film-– aside from every scene with Amy Poehler because, obviously-– was at the Mathlete’s championship. You know, the whole “limit does not exist” scene. Right before that, Cady has this wonderful internal realization:
“Calling somebody else fat won’t make you any skinnier. Calling someone stupid doesn’t make you any smarter. And ruining Regina George’s life definitely didn’t make me any happier.”
Uncomplicated, honest and straight to the crux of the issue. This is the line that doesn’t get quoted nearly enough. This is the line that loses out in our memories to “that’s so fetch,” “she doesn’t even go here,” and “do you need some snacks? A condom?”-– the last one was a personal favourite if I’m being totally transparent. But Cady’s sudden understanding is always the line that reminds me of where the idea of Mean Girls stemmed from. And subsequently, takes me full circle back to my Total Girl days.
Mean Girls was this magical vehicle that sent a message to be kind to one another and how futile being unkind is. To be completely honest, I find it really sad that common sense alone can’t stop people from being purposefully awful to one-another. I understand that the issue runs much deeper, but it is disappointing that we are living in a world where bullying is considered to be “part of” going to school. It shouldn’t be. Clearly there isn’t a quick fix for something so deeply entrenched in the human psyche that it has made its way through to the workplace. And that sucks. But like every rubbish thing that still exists today, conversation and discussion does help. Even if it’s only the tiniest bit.
So go and be kind to each other. Be kind to yourselves. Maybe go and enjoy Mean Girls again. I can guarantee people will still be talking about it in another 10 years. Here’s hoping it’s not just the jokes that live on because the closing message is too important to live in the shadows forever.
And I don’t mean the all powerful message of “don’t be an awful human being or you’ll get hit by public transport.” The other message.
Definitely the other one.[share]