Here’s something I did for my course, it’s about the Myth of Cliques, as seen in Mean Girls, in the needlessly overcomplicated style of Roland Barthes.
It’s not particularly interesting, I’m just too lazy to write anything new. I also added in pictures to make it all pretty like.
THE MYTH OF CLIQUES
In Marx all history is the history of class conflict, in Hollywood it is the history of classroom conflict. There are warring tribes, feudal divisions, neat gatherings of generalities, assemblies of archetypes: here the Jocks, there the Plastics, in the corner the Goths and Emos; outside we see the Creatives and Free Radicals, out of sight the Nerds and Know-It-Alls. This is the school, its conflagrations and communes a sight well-known. A symbol for youth, state and that Bourgeios favourite: ‘finding onseself’, seeing where best the ‘individual’ might slip seamlessly into society like everyone else.
We see here in ‘Mean Girls’ and countless imitations the Spectacle of the School, a character enters a cafeteria and in just a few glances determines the social nature of swathes of students – the Jocks with tell-tale varsity jackets and boorish aggression; the Goths clad in their own uniform of black and acts of apparent apathy; the Plastics girlish and fashionable, little more than walking barbies. Here they weave for the receiver the complex web of social structures systemised by stereotyped signifiers and simplified notions of separateness. All this is passed off as the image of a ‘typical’ school, fashioning an image of education reciprocated by countless mediums in countless forms – selling to the audience the product of normality, asking them to which group do they conform, which preset product would they like to be. In the world of Mean Girls there is nothing but these groups and the dutiful protagonist outsider, whom we shall refer to later; the school itself is little more than a conglomerate of these conflicting castes, the ultimate signification of these signs.
This is a perception that has come to dominate common ideas of the School and the social society of adolescents, it invites teen viewers to ‘belong’ to one of them and, consequently, find one in reality to ‘belong’ to; it shapes their entire conception of social states around these pre-determined groupings: it says to them that you will always be part of this one group and never part of that other. It tells them that that is the normal order of things, that that is how the world is shaped. Saussure opines that language is based on difference; Mean Girls says that people are too.
Placed in a store of learning these create a ‘nature’ and ‘tradition’: of course the Jock is burly and brutish, every muscle and every athletic achievement a sign of his nature, every attack on another social species an ordered instinct. This is an educational ecology established, a self-sufficient ecosystem based on these class differences. It is at once animalistic yet undeniably human in its presentation of the School Ecosystem, injecting naturalness into its presentation; Mean Girls itself depicts them as wild animals ready to attack, to the adolescent this social edginess and discomfort, coupled with the animalistic emotions, resonates with them. They sense their belonging in a world that is little more than a rough assemblage of caricatured signifiers enforced by tacit tautology.
Key to these social structures and this teenage taxonomy is the identification of the individual; through a series of signifiers they come to unconsciously signify a cog in this educational feudalism, automatically assigned to a group, predetermined by preset sets of social semiotics. Each clique taking its own place within the wider signification of the school, occupying their natural positions like a stage show, all an individual strand of a wider ideology of ingrained identification. But it is always careful to never truly investigate the nature of them, it leaves them as surface objects, easily defined. The myth avoids deep truths about its subject as they only lead to deep questions; when it presents little of them you have little to question. Such is the case in Mean Girls and its ilk; even Glee, a supposed challenger to such conventions never really questions what it really means to be a Jock or a Nerd, it merely points to them and says ‘That’.
And what is it that presents this fact, this image? Why, the seperateness of the author, of the protagonist, of the ‘artist’ and, consequently, of the receiver. He wanders through the crowds and points to the absurdity of it; he rationalises it. It becomes a truth, a statement of fact; his seperateness normalising and inoculating hand in hand with that wily old fox, relatability; it makes it all obvious: of course there are Nerds and Creatives and of course there are conflicts of these classes, it is how it has always been. It shrouds itself in its own obviousness. It alerts us to the ridiculousness of the idea then convinces us of its reality. It turns its star, Lindsay Lohan, into a prophet of the teenager and naturally she represents an aspired aesthetic; after all how can one fail to heed what beautiful people say? Especially those most impressionable among us, the teenagers.
They have chosen their target for this myth well, an adult may view it and see it as ridiculous, but to a teenager it is justified because it comes from people who claim to be like them. One need only look at her now to see how Miss.Lohan is little more than a false idol to them.
However it is not merely in Mean Girls that this idea is transmitted, one need only flick through their TV to see the ubiquity of it, it has entered that hallowed hall of myth making: cliché. It is derided for its obviousness, perhaps the purest sign of the prevalence and power of this particular myth. It has infiltrated popular consciousness to the point that it has become a truth unto itself. In Mean Girls they learn to reconcile their differences, and accept them, even at the end subtly enforcing them. They don’t throw off the shackles of the myth, they embrace them, and they tell you to too.