A Media-Centered Perspective: Mean Girls
Mean Girls is a film released in theatres on April 30th, 2004 by Paramount Pictures. It was written by Tina Fey from Saturday Night Live. This comedy is about 15-year-old Cady Heron moving from the lands of Africa to Illinois, United States, where she attends high school alongside various personalities combining to form the student body. Through the progression of the film, Cady’s first friends Damian and Janis, notice the ‘Plastics’ are showing interest in Cady and soon to their surprise, embrace her into their clique. Cady’s easily influenced personality combined with the ‘Plastics’ manipulative characteristics cause a lot of conflict to occur both at school and in their private lives. The key ironic feature of this film is the fact that Cady Heron, a good girl, puts on an act of being a bad girl in order to join the ‘Plastics’ but ultimately they turn her into a ‘Plastic’ in the process. Therefore, through the evaluation of the media-centered perspective, media logic, the social learning theory, the parasocial relationship theory and the cultivation theory, it is evident that the film Mean Girls does not depict what “not to do”, but reinforces acting in a negative manner and illustrating it as being normal.
The effect media logic has on society has clearly increased a great deal, as demonstrated by the film Mean Girls. David Altheide and Robert Snow (1979) believe that viewers take medium and social uses for granted, which results in us getting blinded to its effects on our perception of normal, good, desirable, etc. Media logic has always been present; however, with the increase in technology and accessibility to mass media, it has increased in effectiveness on individuals. An instance in which Mean Girls or any other form of medium has changed the way we live is the fact that we have become immune to multitasking by engaging in some form of mass media alongside undertaking an activity. Whether it is watching a movie while making dinner or listening to music while vacuuming the house, we are constantly exposed by various mediums, reinforcing the effects of Mean Girls through a media logic perspective.
Furthermore, the commodifications incorporated into the film definitely play a large role in the social trends during the time period of the film’s release date. With reference to this film, there may not have been as many direct advertisements evident but the film did start trends amongst teenagers. It gave rise to the velour track suits, increased the number of girls applying red colour dye to their hair- inspired by Lindsay Lohan and unfortunately in some extreme cases, made the use of the ‘Burn Book’ seem acceptable. The ‘Burn Book’ in the film is a book owned by the ‘Plastics’ and contains harsh comments and accusations towards individuals in the student body. Although this book is depicted in a comical manner, it seems as though the viewers take what was meant to be a good lesson as another way to talk negatively about the people they are not fond of. Therefore, media logic definitely is a key feature which helps shape our ideas about what we perceive as being normal, good, desirable, and more.
The social learning theory, first discovered by Albert Bandura in 1977, discusses how we learn to behave and believe based on observations, imitations, and modeling. He argues that most human behaviours are learned from observing others rather than from an individual’s own actions. After observing the film Mean Girls, I agree with Bandura’s theory. Almost all of the students attending the same school as the ‘Plastics’ have the strong desire to either be friends with or even be acknowledged by them. Cady, as well as her female peers, imitated the ‘Plastics’ to be noticed by them. For instance, at one point Cady and her two different friends, Damian and Janis, try to embarrass Regina by cutting two holes into her top to expose her bra while she was changing for gym class. Although Cady, Damian, and Janice assumed that it would upset Regina, her carefree attitude resulted to her walking out of the change room in confidence and basically creating a new trend. Social learning, as demonstrated by all the school girls imitating Regina occurs once the four conditions are met. Firstly, everyone simply responded by paying even more attention to her. Secondly, they remembered the actions or the characteristics of Regina they have previously noted her doing. Next, they think of whether they’re able to replicate her behaviour, keeping in mind their attempt at popularity and being a member of the desirable clique. Finally, they learn to make decisions about their behaviours based on the consequences they are aware of through observing others’ enactments. Thus, the social learning theory reinforces the notion that I, as well as other teenage girls, learn from the actions of others, as demonstrated through the film Mean Girls.
The parasocial relationship theory was initially introduced by Donald Horton and Richard Wohl in 1956. It describes a one-sided relationship where one party is very informed about everything regarding the other party and does not work vice-versa. For instance, after watching the film Mean Girls, I can say that I, as well as other teenage girls, have compared and contrasted characters such as Cady and Regina to individuals we know of in our actual lives. The feeling of closeness and the ability to talk about the actor or actress as if we know them personally is referred to as a bond of intimacy. Moreover, realism is defined by how believable the characters portray themselves to be and how well the audience can relate to them. Personally speaking, I feel that once I find a sense of connection with a piece of mass media, in this case a movie character, the entire experience becomes that much more engaging and entertaining. Furthermore, the notion of the parasocial relationship theory is evident within the movie itself as well. This is illustrated by the student body members knowing a lot of information about the popular ‘Plastics’ while they were oblivious to any other individuals around them.
The depiction of what the everyday real world is like through continuous reinforcement of a certain belief or behaviour through television is known as the cultivation theory. This theory was suggested by George Gerbner and Larry Gross in 1976 and continues to support the idea that television reinforces normal beliefs and behaviours rather than counteracting towards them. I feel that the depictions of desirable and undesirable roles in this movie are portrayed in a sense that they affect the targeted viewers, which are teenage girls in a very poor manner. The ‘Plastics’ contain their popularity throughout the movie regardless of whether they experience good or unfortunate events, reinforcing that they are desirable characters. On the other hand, Damian, Cady’s homosexual friend does in fact become accepted into the student body as a gay individual but remains as a loser or outcast and never enters the popular clique. This instance is also evident if referring to any other types of individuals within the student body other than the ‘Plastics’ themselves and this reinforces the notion that being different will never get you into the popular crowd. With that being said, the effects Mean Girls and other mass media has on audiences depends on how much the individual is exposed to the medium; an increase in exposure to television will influence an individual greater than those who watch a limited amount of television. Moreover, the characters playing the various roles also follow physical stereotypes reinforcing individuals to look a certain way. To be more specific, Regina George, leader of the ‘Plastics’ was tall, had blond hair, a large chest, and always dressed the best; portrayed the image of a Barbie. This proves the notion that through cultivation, we as society members are exposed to only one form of normal. As illustrated in Mean Girls, the ‘Plastics’ were the desirable, normal characters while the rest were continuously considered outsiders and not cool.
In conclusion, Mean Girls is a popular movie that is relatable to by all teenage girls. Although it may have tried to bring teenagers to understand that everyone is the same and popularity is not as important as it seems, I believe that it reinforced this notion. Media logic is much more prominent in shaping our morals and effecting our actions than in previous years, but unfortunately, I as well as several other individuals are blind to its drastic impact and give into its control.
Hartnoll, Paul. “Mean Girls.” The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). IMDb, 30 Apr. 2004. Web. 15 Mar. 2012. <http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0377092/