MOTW: The "Mean Girls" Guide to High School

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures
September 16th, 2013

MOTW: The "Mean Girls" Guide to High School

"Mean Girls" was set up as a traditional story of revenge and redemption. A new girl, Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan, "Freaky Friday") arrives at school only to fall in with the cool kids, which isn't hard given her beautiful hair, her developed curves, and the fact she's completely unprepared for the games that popular kids often play with everyone else.

"Mean Girls" really does have truths in common with the way high schools in the United States operate. It was based in part on a non-fiction book entitled "Queen Bees and Wannabes" written by Rosalind Wiseman. However, it also reminds viewers of a lighter, sillier version of "Heathers" and other similar films that have explored these late-childhood dynamics between girls.

Characters are built up around the archetypes in Wiseman's guide. There's the queen bee in Regina George (Rachel McAdams, "The Notebook"), her clueless, but extremely attractive friend, Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried, "Lovelace"), who will do whatever she's told, and Gretchen Wieners (Lacey Chabert, "Ghosts of Girlfriends Past"), less popular, and more eager for her best friends to fall flat on their faces. Her character is always trying to get ahead while Regina George is always assured of staying right where she is. The queen bee knows she's the head of the totem pole and uses new girls such as Cady to keep her well-planted position. Little does she know that the formerly homeschooled hottie has some tricks of her own.

Viewers who've ever been through a get together involving teen girls will recognize that "Mean Girls" goes a long way in readying young women for the harassment they may face in high school hallways. For instance, the following scene synopses provide an especially good look at the life of real teenage drama queens:

Boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, and crushes are off-limits.

At one point in the movie, Cady shows an interest in a football player in her class. Regina coyly inquires about them, and then she lets drop what should've been a nuclear blast; he's her ex-boyfriend. Unfortunately the new girl isn't just new; she's unaware of high school social etiquette, which mandates that boyfriends, exes, and potential crushes are simply off limits. It's this ignorance that starts a war between her and what could've been her new long-lasting friends.

This is one of those issues that regularly trips girls up in real life. Jealousy among teen girls can't be overrated. If there's one lesson teen girls should learn, it's that guys are only safe socially when they're unwanted.

People who gossip to you will gossip about you.

Poor, unsuspecting Karen learns this lesson the hard way while on a secret three-way call with Regina and Cady. The queen bee unknowingly calls her a nasty name while she's on the line. The result is one friend turning on another and seeking revenge, exactly what our heroine was hoping for.

Though it's seen as a victory in the movie, many girls have suffered the same fate as Regina. Goading someone into gossiping about a friend is a common way girls manipulate one another. Unfortunately, many are slow to see that no one in the situation can be trusted.

Popularity isn't permanent.

Often kids are divided into groups by adults who don't remember how fluid those definitions can be. Popularity changes on a consistent basis. It's rare for one girl to remain the queen bee throughout her entire school experience. It's common for someone who was once very popular to take a serious nosedive and wind up ostracized by the whole student population. Those changes take root easily and can be very difficult to turn around.

One of the first people Cady meets at her new high school is an outcast named Janis (Lizzy Caplan, "True Blood"). She's one of the freaks with few friends and secretly plots with Cady to put Regina's reign to an end. Not so surprisingly, the audience discovers at the end of the film that she and Regina were once best friends. She was crimping her style in junior high, unfortunately, and got relegated to misfit status.

Some mistakes are serious.

Tina Fey had a major hand in the development of "Mean Girls" and filled an important role in the movie as the girls' math teacher, Ms. Norbury. As teen girls do, they make up nasty stories about their authority figures. Unfortunately, their stories about Ms. Norbury's drug and sexual antics throw the administration into an uproar. Suddenly, it's not just a game of gossip anymore but of a woman's life and career being destroyed.

Young girls make these kinds of mistakes too. They tell lies they think no one will take seriously. They say things they don't think anyone will really believe. They create problems for innocent people like Tina Fey's character in the film. It's good to see an example of what should be done when stories go too far.