When I saw Mean Girls roughly 7 years ago (bless my mother’s soul, I didn’t get to watch anything PG-13 until I was *actually* 13) I actually didn’t regard it as a ‘first look’ into high school.
No, I projected it onto an institution even more messed up: the world of 7th grade girls.
It’s been years now, and I’m not going to throw anyone under the bus that much— yet to this day, I still wonder how characters, whether portrayed in movies or in historical contexts, are regarded by their real-life or modern-day counterparts.
These people tend to display projected fundamental attribution error when examining fictional settings such as Cady’s – the examiners (i.e. real-life mean girls) assume that the examinees (i.e. Regina George, Gretchen Wieners, Karen Smith, etc.) are just terrible human beings, their behavior driven by internal rather than external factors that have no similar bearing on the examiners’ own personalities! They simultaneously fail (or refuse?) to acknowledge their own, similar shortcomings. It’s not even quite hypocrisy — because sometimes, they legitimately may not realize they’re doing it.
Consider one girl who everyone back then saw as a stone-cold vixen, Dora* — she got a kick out of figuratively telling people “you can’t sit with us,” mandating a clique that constantly revolved around her and spreading rumors about anyone who liked the same boys she did. But one day when we were talking about Mean Girls, she was like, “Yeah. Some people I know are b*tches, like that Regina George girl.”
Uhmmmm, EXCUSE ME? my 7th grade self thought. Outwardly, I just chuckled awkwardly and squashed down my thoughts, spineless little minion I was, instead of marveling at the outright irony.
DORA, aka Queen of Everything Miserable About Middle School Politics, thought she was the one being personally victimized? In an age where she posted exclusive friend lists on her AIM Away Message (oh boy those were the days) and made a point to exclude you from chain-mail forwards (“PrEss SeND twICE if u ❤ Your Crush 2 kiSS! U 2Nite!?”), Dora always made a point to bitch about how terrible the Regina George’s of the world were.
At the time, before she turned it on me, I thought that maybe there were people out there who she did see as the Regina’s of her own story, while she was the Cady. Maybe inside, she was blind to how badly she affected others because she felt way too insecure about herself. And Cady, the token insecure girl of the story, was the most identifiably insecure girl.
But regardless – it ain’t grool. How could someone literally be in so much denial while they were being so hateful, especially when there was an in-your-face example right in front of them? Why wouldn’t Mean Girls have served as more of a mirror? Sure Cady was also less than cool to some of the people she knew, from Ms. Norbury to her parents to Janis Ian and Damian. But she wasn’t so sunk in her own delusional self-image to over-victimize herself, and she also refused to fully stoop to Regina’s level of pettiness. So assuming you’re the good guy here? Not so cool.
Fast forward to today: as I continue my journalism studies, I wonder how people rationalize doing terrible things that compare to other, similar universally terrible acts. In Mean Girls, Regina’s the antagonist — no one wants to admit they are like her. But when people come close to being the antagonist of a story, do they view themselves as such?
When modern-day, genocide-inducing dictators hear about how horrible the Holocaust was, does every single one of them openly accept that their actions may resemble those of most-hated-man-in-history’s Hitler’s? If they care about their approval ratings, they’ll deny it.
But how could they still somehow say “But my reason is more justifiable and will do less damage/is for the greater good? Do they refuse to acknowledge how similar they’re becoming to something openly detested, or ironically, what they may detest?
When the government shut-down almost wrecked the economy, did the guilty parties vehemently deny that they almost solely perpetuated the next Great Depression, something they’d always wanted to avoid?
I’ve always wondered how these examiners’ consciences come into play when it comes to these terrible acts. There has to be some line they aren’t quite willing to cross, reflected in the most terrible of historical events. They say, “I’m not that bad. I’m not that fake.” etc.
But that’s cowardly — if you’re going to be terrible, own it.
As Janis Ian once said when calling out Cady’s bullshit: “At least me and Regina George know we’re mean! You try to act all innocent!”
So let’s bring it back to myself: what was even less grool, back in 2008, than Dora’s delusions was my own self-denial. At a time when Cady was the hero of my small, 13-year-old world, I identified with her.
But I never got to the heroic end, where she breaks that tiara and talks about how everyone’s beautiful etc.
I did let myself get trapped in popularity and eventual self-loathing, which was similar to Cady’s predicament. I alienated the “true friends” that were there for me (even if they weren’t as cool as Janis Ian and Damian) with little to no remorse. But I didn’t end up standing up for myself.
Yet when I think back at that story, I don’t always mentally slap myself for being a Gretchen back then instead of a Cady. I still think I’m the hero of that story, guy acquired or not. I was still the victim that eventually came out on top, well-liked and all.
So basically, at the end of the day, I also thought “oh no, but I’m different,” when really – I’m not. I aspired to be more than just a wannabe Cady. I aspired to do the right thing. But what I couldn’t quite accomplish was actually being there.
So what am I now? I don’t know. What is everyone else? I don’t know.
I’m going into an industry where the truth matters, though. I need to learn to check myself before I check others, even if people around me won’t; hypocrisy can’t be had.
I hope that at the very least, I don’t delude myself into thinking I’m not an antagonist, sometimes. I don’t assume I’m better than I am.
Cause that’s just a little too Plastic.
*name unrealistically changed to protect um no one except the skeletons hiding in my pre-pubescent closet sorry