Recently, the Australian clothing chain, Cotton On, took a lot of heat for their line of Mean Girls-inspired wear. The controversy? Parents complained that the t-shirts, bags, and clutches, all sporting the 2004 movie’s notable quotable “You Can’t Sit With Us” promoted bullying.
Yes, you can absolutely argue that these are helicopter parents being overprotective and paranoid about a jokey, cheeky movie reference. I’m sure this is what all the Aussie girls whose moms have confiscated their bags and shirts are doing right now. But I’m wondering if these parents don’t kind of have a point. For all the work that Tina Fey did in her whip-smart, razor-sharp script to expose the unacceptable bullying that goes on in “Girl World,” I wonder if this movie doesn’t also come with the unintended side effect of glamorizing the very mean girls it was trying to take down.
I still remember going to see Mean Girls when it came out in theaters. I was a senior in high school at the time, and when my friends and I grabbed seats, I saw our high school’s equivalent of “The Plastics” sitting a few rows ahead. In fact, the theater was filled with girls who could absolutely have subbed in for Regina George, Gretchen Wieners, Karen Smith, and post-Mean Girl transformation Cady Heron. On their way out, as these girls passed me by, tossing around their big hair filled with secrets, I wondered if this movie had affected, or possibly even changed them. Or if it had just reinforced for these girls the perks of being a mean girl. Because let’s be real, in this film, a Plastic is a glamorous-pants thing to be.
Yes, the group gets their comeuppance, yes they eventually break up and are reabsorbed into new cliques, the script of this movie works diligently to teach us that we have to “….stop calling each other sluts and whores because it just makes it okay for guys to call you sluts and whores.” But is that the lesson we all took away from Mean Girls? If we really got the memo to ditch sluts and whores from our vocabularies, then why do people still reference Regina George’s “Boo, you whore” quote so much that it landed in the Urban Dictionary? When we quote these mean girls (“On Wednesday we wear pink!” “Get in loser, we’re going shopping!” “I’m sorry that people are so jealous of me, but I can’t help it that I’m so popular!”) or the things that other characters say about the Plastics (“She’s fabulous, but she’s evil!” “One time she punched me in the face, it was awesome!) are we really being critical of the state of modern mean girldom or are we celebrating in how fun these girls make being a Plastic seem?
I think one of the most effective things about “Mean Girls” (in addition to the spot-on script and casting perfection) is how we totally get why Cady becomes a mean girl. Being a Plastic is presented as such an attractive option. We don’t think Cady is stupid or crazy or heartless for falling in with these girls. We get how strong this group’s pull is. It’s so strong we’re still feeling it a decade later. Ten years after the film’s release, we’re seeing an Internet sea of Plastics-inspired gifs (see above), products, and memorabilia, and we’re eating it up. I just think it’s worth taking a good, long, hard, look at our cultural Mean Girls mania. Are we celebrating the eventual comeuppance of these queen bees or are we just celebrating their cruelty?