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‘Mean Girls’ Is Not a Comedy. It’s Mythology. | TIME.com


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Chris Wilson calls it:

Saturday marks the 10-year anniversary of the world premiere of Mean Girls at Hollywood’s Cinerama Dome. Decennials are often an opportunity for sober reflection, and in that spirit, I would like to suggest that the Lindsay Lohan vehicle has been with us far longer than a decade. The film is widely considered to be a comedy or even a “teen movie,” but in fact, it is neither. Mean Girls is American mythology. Let us examine the evidence.

In broad terms, Tina Fey’s first film adheres to the critical superstructure known as the “monomyth,” as described by 20th-century mythologist Joseph Campbell:

A hero [Lohan's Cady Heron] ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder ["Girl World"]: fabulous forces ["the Plastics"] are there encountered and a decisive victory is won [Regina George and Aaron Samuels break up]: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons [popularity] on his fellow man [Gretchen Weiners and Karen Smith].

There is no question that Cady views this new world as both mystical and possessing of separate natural laws. “Having lunch with the Plastics,” she says in voice over, “was like leaving the actual world and entering ‘Girl World.’ And ‘Girl World’ had a lot of rules.”

As with James Joyce’s UlyssesMean Girls imposes a mythological structure on the mundane concerns of its hero. The particular myth from which Mean Girls draws its inspiration is not so well telegraphed, though Fey leaves us several clear signposts.

Like the original Ulysses, Cady is recently returned from her own series of adventures in Africa, where her parents worked as research zoologists. It is this prior “region of supernatural wonder” that offers the basis for the mythological reading of the film. While the notion of the African continent as a place of magic is a dated, rather offensive trope, the film firmly establishes this impression among the students at North Shore High School. To them, Africa is a monolithic place about which they know almost nothing. In their first encounter, Karen inquires of Cady: “So, if you’re from Africa, why are you white?” Shortly thereafter, Regina warns Aaron that Cady plans to “do some kind of African voodoo” on a used Kleenex of his to make him like her—in fact, the very boon that Cady will come to bestow under the monomyth mode.

Fetch has happened?! Mind blown:

Carl Jung viewed myths as a portal into the “world of the archetype,” as the critic Stephen F. Walker phrases it, which compensates for the “imbalanced aspects of the individual conscious mind.” Mean Girls opens with a classic Jungianarchetypal event: Separation from the parents. The film’s enduring popularity is owed in part to its satisfying the core aspect of a traditional myth: It is a story that offers us a way to navigate the “psychological dangers” of the world, to again quote from Campbell. The spectacular popularity of BuzzFeed’s “Which ‘Mean Girls’ Character Are You?” quiz is sufficient evidence that the film possesses a diversity of valid archetypes to which we might anchor ourselves.

The film satisfies several other aspects of valid mythopoeia: It has an internally consistent set of rules (“We only wear our hair in a ponytail once a week”), its own neologisms (groolfetch, mathlete), and a battery of lines that are so easily repurposed that even the White House has gotten in on the fun. This is the essential aspect of the film that separates it from a movie that is merely popular. One who refers to “making fetch happen” is not merely quoting from a beloved movie. He or she is invoking a mythological story (that of trying, in vain, to pass off an invented motif as genuine), in the same manner that one might invoke Sisyphus to describe a never-ending labor. The great irony here, of course, is that Mean Girls is itself an invented mythology passing into the realm of folklore. Fetch, in other words, has happened.

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