Words || Jodie Ramodien
Regina George, Betty Rizzo, Heather Chandler, Sharpay Evans, Blair Waldorf. These manipulative, resourceful, and passive-aggressive narcissists have been playing the quintessential high school villains in teen dramas since the genre first emerged. Acting as the perfect foil to the protagonist, these conniving characters often wield the veneer of their beauty, popularity, and saccharinely sweet kindness as a way of hiding their malicious intent, “Oh my God I love your bracelet where did you get it?”
Mean Girls most famously utilises this trope to create the diabolical blonde bombshell that is Regina George. In the long line of Alpha Bitches that have graced our screens, George is iconic for her ability to manipulate and control people. Wherein the male protagonist of a teen movie may find himself coming to physical blows with his rival, as Cady so accurately puts it “in Girl World, all the fighting had to be sneaky.” While it is shown that Cady is an intelligent character through her abilities in mathematics and her own propensity for manipulation, it’s Regina’s cleverness that makes her such a formidable adversary. She seemingly revels in the insular microcosm of high school in which she is the Queen Bee. A ruthlessness for power and a superficial form of prestige drive her. Unlike other incarnations of the Mean Girl which tend to show characters that are the unfortunate product of societal peer pressure, Regina dictates the hierarchy of popularity.
Another two cult classics that play with picking apart this trope are The Breakfast Club and Heathers. Each film reaches drastically different conclusions on the character cliché. The Breakfast Club, if you haven’t seen it already, is about a group of five teens who spend an afternoon together in detention. Each teen is accompanied by their own personal stereotype, there’s the Brain, the Athlete, the Basketcase, the Princess, and the Criminal. In this case the Princess is the Mean Girl. Though not necessarily as malicious as a character like Regina George, Claire, The Princess, has all the same trappings of this character archetype. She’s popular, wealthy, pretty, and by default molds herself into the stereotype everyone expects her to be. “The school would shut down if you didn’t show up,” mocks her love interest Bender. Though kind to the rest of the detention group outside of school hours, when Brian, the Brain of the group, asks her what will happen when they return to school on Monday, Claire reverts to her cliquey, diminutive way of thinking. “If Brian came up to you in the hall on Monday what would you do?” Claire challenges the popular jock Andrew, “Picture that you’re there with all the sports guys, I know exactly what you’d do. You’d say hi to him and when he left you’d cut him all up so your friends wouldn’t think that you really liked him.” Claire, like Cady in Mean Girls, is an example of a Mean Girl created by a weakness and leniency toward social pressure.
“Fuck me gently with a chainsaw, do I look like Mother Teresa?” are the famous words from Heather Chandler in Heathers. This black comedy riddled with homicides, guns, and sexual violence, takes the trope of the Mean Girl to its ultimate extreme. Wherein The Breakfast Club takes a somewhat sympathetic view of Claire and the pressures of popularity, Heathers shows its apex Mean Girl to be just as vapid, selfish, and cruel, as she presents herself to be. What you see it what you get. *Spoilers ahead* In the wake of Heather’s murder and fabricated suicide, her classmates begin to assume there was something more to the Mean Girl than they initially thought. The words written by Heather’s killer J.D. are eaten up, “I die knowing that no one knew the real me.” Without knowing the reality of Heather’s death the community begin to write their own narrative of who she was, giving her a depth in death that she didn’t have in life. They glorify her, a priest announcing at her funeral, “I blame not Heather but rather a society that tells its youth that the answers can be found in the MTV video games.” Heather’s choices then become reduced to being the byproduct of a flawed society rather than being what they actually are, the decisions and actions of an individual.
Whether created by society or ruling it, the Mean Girl remains intrinsic to the teen movie genre.