From Personal to Possesive: “The Breakfast Club” versus “Mean Girls”

AMST 201 American Mass & Pop Culture ~ State University of New York at Fredonia

Topic: Discuss Mean Girls as American tropes specific to its time and era.

Don’t get me wrong here. Being the 22-year-old Generational that I am, I will admittedly say that I love Mean Girls as much as the next guy. I mean literally, it’s  Lindsay Lohan in her prime, and I love that just as much as the next guy…

But that is besides the point. What I want to discuss is the significant flip-flopping of the tropes that once created the classical American high-school melodrama, going from The Breakfast Club to Mean Girls of which I feel are the two films that epitomizes this sub-genre of American film.

Upon my first viewing of The Breakfast Club and my prior and vast experiences of viewing Mean Girls, it seems to me that the culture of the genre, the stars of the show, the perceived High School populace has become a much more shallow and materialistic culture.

Now that is going a little far… Molly Ringwald was labeled a “prude” or a “tease” being the “Princess” of her environment. But these archetypes have existed for some time now. Simply put, “The Brain”, “The Athlete”, “The Basket-Case”, “The Princess”, and “The Criminal” almost fit the same exact narrative painted by Mean Girls. Just change the terminology around a bit, and you have “The New Kid”, “The Jock”, “The Outcast”, “The Queen Bee”, and “The Gay Kid”. They’re different labels that apply to the same narrative.

What it is that I am arguing, is that these tropes, archetypes, whatever you want to call them. Have become increasingly shallow, as so has the culture. Mean Girls, as beloved a story as it may be, is well-crafted result of what we refer to as a “slippery slope”. The cause of which I do not want to get into (capitalism, social trends, generational), it doesn’t matter at the moment. What does matter, is the comparison between point A and point B (THB to Mean Girls) and observing that there is a noticeable decline in the character of the films.

The Breakfast Club, I feel promoted individualism, communication and critical thinking. It promoted its relationships in an intimate, and more personal way. It promoted reaching out of your comfort zone, which ever comfort zone that may be, and reaching out to people perceived to be different that yourself. When the film digs into the personal lives of these kids eventually they form a union through better understanding of themselves and one another.

That’s a good story, and its very touching. It’s “touching” exploring these kids labeled the way they are, and then coming to find that they are indeed more than that particular label. It’s quite touching…

Mean Girls portrays high school teens as the most savage, and vicious beings on the face of the Earth. Katie (Lohan) literally looks into the High School cafeteria, and envisions a jungle! The story, is based around a revenge plot, by which the know-all-end-all is being with a cute boy, who really just showcases his hot bod and charming smile throughout the movie.

Not the introspective “Who do you think you are?” narrative that spurred the genre is it?

I mean, for the love of God, the “Mean Girls”, Regina George and her crew were called “The Plastics”.

Say I wiped the slate clean, and had to base my entire perception of American Youth around 1 movie. Can you see the difference with the perceived nature of teenagers from Point A to Point B? It’s astounding. If I based my entire perception of Americans on Mean Girls, I would think that they’re horrible fucking people. Materialistic, inconsiderate, plastic beings.

There is depth within The Breakfast Club, Mean Girls is all surface area.

So what tropes have changed? I’m not so sure if they’ve changed per se, but comparatively speaking, a lot of the good tropes have been covered up. On the surface, the kids of The Breakfast we’re no better than The Plastics in Mean Girls. The depth is just gone – absent in Mean Girls…

However, throughout the nearly 20 year span, I believe one trope has sustained itself – and that is that these kids have no idea of who they really are. Insecurities and misdirected anger are present within both film, and those elements stem from that truth. High School youth’s are not sure of themselves, so it creates a jungle-like society. They broke those barriers down in The Breakfast Club. And Mean Girls, beloved as it is, I believe did not even attempt to do so. Not only that, but they shined a negative light on our youth culture, and forgot to turn it off.

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One thought on “From Personal to Possesive: “The Breakfast Club” versus “Mean Girls”

  1. Sometimes it might be a matter of perspective. I really can’t abide The Breakfast Club, or much of John Hughes in general, precisely because of his shallow teen categories and narrow definitions of rebellion. Plus which, last time I watched it, Bender seemed way less of an antiheroic rebel and way more of a mean jackass. I got especially tired of his constant negging on Molly Ringwald’s character, not to mention the homophobia. At least Mean Girl is maybe a bit more analytical or ironic about its tropes and stereotypes.

    In any case, this is well-written, as usual, but doesn’t connect in any clear way with class reading or discussion. Which would have been better.

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