When we reminisce about our high school days, particularly for young girls, would most of us agree that pleasant memories about our social arrangements are elusive? Considering the existence of the social hierarchies in the high school culture, were we ever truly happy about our social engagement? Or was it always a rigorous and tedious competition to rise above that hegemonic social hierarchy with the use of materialism, physical figure, social status, etc.? Considering the movie Mean Girls, the high school hierarchy is vividly manifested. From the ascending social cliques to the boy drama, the hierarchy of social groups is the mobile that gives permission to these teenagers to embody particular representations. Specifically in “girl world,” as the protagonist Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) distinguishes it from the “actual world,” the film provides an outline of the “rules of feminism.”
After being homeschooled in Africa for several years, Cady Heron’s parents finally decide that she needs to get “socialized” so they move to Evanston, Illinois to attend North Shore High. Prior to the moving, Cady paid little attention to her looks, boys, social standing, and opinion of other people. Her primary priority was school. However, when she attends the public high school, Cady personality is completely affected by her social surroundings. Janis and Damien become Cady’s first set of friends, and they provide Cady with a map of the different social cliques within the high school. The stereotypic social groups consist of “freshman, JV jocks, Asian nerds, cool Asians, unfriendly black hotties, Varsity jocks, girls who eat their feelings, girls who don’t eat anything, desperate wannabies, burnouts, sexually active banned geeks, and The Plastics.” Above all the cliques, “The Plastics” are revered by everyone because of their high socioeconomic status. The hegemonic culture of “The Plastics” provide the “rules of feminism” for all other groups below them.
The phenomenon of social groups along the hierarchy ties accordingly to the notion of “high and low culture” that Q.D. Leavis and Matthew Arnold have theorized (Barker 40). The Plastics, who are the rich and popular girls in school constitute the “culture from above” whereas all the other cultures who are presumed as “wannabies” make up the “culture from below.” It almost as if this “culture from above” takes God’s place in setting up the moralities and rules for everyone to follow. Metaphorically speaking, you could contemplate that “the plastics” are in some way the primary “religion” of the North Shore High culture. In reality however, the film implies that the public high school setting is “an institutionalized and class-based hierarchy” (Barker 46) where the Plastics have the power to make “judgements of quality,” and what is worthy and unworthy of the popular culture.
Today, the postmodern teen magazines, along with many other media sources, provide “guides” that attempt to equip girls with the necessary tools to conquer and dominate the social hierarchy. Websites such as “All You Can Read,” reveal the top teen magazines that provide teens (mainly females) with the “tools” necessary that are needed to survive the hegemony of the high school hierarchy. These “tools” come in the form of unhealthy dietary products, eating disorders, material “beauty” products, and many other materialistic features. Other guides such as “How to Guides,” postulate methods on contemporary trends, fashion styles, self-esteem issues, popular culture (Hollywood), and of course boy topics. These guides are given to teens that take the messages and embody them through self-representation. In doing so, they engage in a narrow social hierarchy that outcastes those who are not representing “the culture from above.”
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. 3rd ed. Sage Publications Ltd. Los Angeles. 2008. Print.
“Top 10 Teen Magazines.” AllYouCanRead.com – The World’s Largest Online Newsstand – 28,000 Newspapers and Magazines from 200 Countries. Wed. 22 Aug. 2011 <http://www.allyoucanread.com/top-10-teen-magazines/>.