Do you remember where you were the first time you saw Mean Girls?
I, personally, was twelve years old at a slumber party with two of my closest middle school pals. We scampered up to VideoLand to pick out a movie, snatched the portable DVD player for the night and, once the parents were safely retired for the evening, we popped in Mean Girls. The rest, they say, is history.
Back then, Mean Girls was a sparkling picture of what was to come for us, mere middle school geeks–Cady’s naïve perspective on high school politics was not much different from ours. We were given hope that even a ginger-haired, bright-eyed, befreckled child star could blossom into a total bombshell. We imagined a high school world ruled by a platinum-blonde princess where you survived by making some snarky quips, a world where there were some real conflicts and where nobody could really be trusted, but everything would work itself out just in time for Spring Fling.
While our imaginings weren’t entirely wrong, they weren’t exactly right, either. The “mean girls” of my high school, try though they might, were never as terrifying as the Plastics, and no, my seventeen-year-old figure never looked anything like Lindsay Lohan’s bodacious bod. My shaggy-haired paramours to this day never look quite as sexy as Aaron Samuels with their hair pushed back. And there were never any big blowups like the Burn Book and its aftermath. Sure, people said mean things and feelings were hurt, but it was never enough to make the principal question why he left the South Side and force us to sort out our issues lady-to-lady.
So, what does Mean Girls mean now, ten years out from its theatrical release?
There’s no denying that the movie made a major cultural impact on the generation that grew up watching it, if not just with its immense quotability. Try saying “four for you” in public without being answered with a chorus of “Glenn Coco”. Rarely is there an October 3rd that goes by without some mention of Aaron asking Cady what day it is, and anyone caught wearing pink on a Wednesday is subject to scrutiny. I always say there’s a Mean Girls quote for every occasion, and if you doubt me, then you can’t sit with us.
Aside from being devilishly funny and memorable, Mean Girls also taught us some pretty important social lessons and gave us a lens with which to compare and examine our interactions with our peers. Tina Fey, who wrote the screenplay and made an on-screen turn as wise math teacher Ms. Norbury, said of the movie: “Young girls watch it like a reality show. It’s much too close to their real experiences so they are not exactly guffawing.” When facing torment from a real-life crew of Plastics, it’s harder to find humor in Mean Girls’s high-school hijinks. It’s just too real.
But there’s something positive to be said about identifying with denizens of North Shore High. The characters of Mean Girls are highly flawed, some more than others, yet they all manage to acknowledge their issues, find their place and make for some kind of happy ending. Whether you’re a Janice or a Gretchen, a Cady or even a Kevin Gnapoor, Math Enthusiast/Bad-Ass M.C., Mean Girls’s valuable lesson stays the same. By avoiding judgment and being open and honest with your peers, a place that was once a shark tank can be safe to float.
Our generation is one that grew up with Mean Girls. In the ten years since its release, it’s gone from an idealized vision of the future to a mirror that we could see ourselves in to a funny memory. As a wise man once said, “It’s good to be young, but let’s not kid ourselves; it’s better to pass on through those years and come out the other side with our hearts still beating, having stared down demons, come back breathing.”
We made it to the other side of the high school jungle, and now we can look back on stories of adolescent turmoil like Mean Girls and laugh. Can you believe that in 10 years, “fetch” never happened? I don’t think the inventor of Toaster Strudel would be pleased to hear about this.