Sunday, May 16, 2010

Gender Construction in Mean Girls

At first glance, Mean Girls, is a shallow film about high school girls and their drama. However, with a closer watching, armed with some knowledge, the viewer can see an entirely new storyline emerge. Regina George, a pretty and popular blonde, constantly has to portray her peers’ idea of the “perfection” that she is. Regina George is, in fact, completely controlled by her own need to act as, or perform, the so-called “perfect” woman. The 2004 film, Mean Girls, is an example of how strict gender performances police same sex desire and reinforce heteronormativity.

Regina George is what the entire student body would call “perfection”. In the clip below, it can be seen just how many students look up to Regina. In the last few seconds of the clip, an unattractive female student says, “One time, she [Regina] punched me in the face. It was awesome” (Mean Girls). Regina George is what most of the student body looks to as the ideal woman—men love her and woman want to be her.

With this ideal woman, however, comes great responsibility. Regina George is not naturally this wonderful. That is, “the building blocks of gender are socially constructed statuses,” (Lorber 55)—not naturally bestowed traits. By this assumption, Regina George is constantly being forced to “perform” her gender in order for other people to admire her. Her main goal is to attract the necessary male counterpart; however, her seeming perfection catches the eyes of more than just men. Regina performs the societal heteronormative to perfection. Yes, Regina was born with society’s idea of beauty. She was once again blessed when she was born into an affluent family. However, she was not born a “woman” by the standards of modern American society (as depicted in this film).

If Regina George was not born woman, then what is she? The evidence in the film seems to suggest that she is over compensating for her natural lesbian tendencies. As the most beautiful woman on campus, she is expected to date the most handsome man on campus. Theorist Adrienne Rich believes that man’s power over a woman dictates her sexuality—and only the women strong enough to escape the expectations are truly free. Rich defines a lesbian experience as a “woman-identified experience, not simply the fact that a woman has had or consciously desired genital sexual experience with another woman” (305). With this definition, the relationship of Regina and her fellow “Plastics,” or best friends, becomes much more clear. Regina George, while constantly bombarded by the societal norms, feels the need to identify with peers of her own gender. While her character never seems to show any lesbian tendencies toward her peers, she does nothing to reject those advances. The most queer relationships in the film are between the Plastics. These select girls follow Regina, their queen bee, religiously. The Plastics are neither as pretty nor as popular as Regina, but are still fit to be seen near her. Regina treats them as second-class citizens (and the rest of the school is unfit for any treatment). It is with the Plastics, but Gretchen Weiners in particular, that the most complicated and fascinating relationships in the movie become much more clear.

Gretchen Weiners, Regina’s best friend, is the exemplary form of queer. Judith Butler states that, “the professionalization of gayness requires a certain performance and production of a ‘self’ which is the constituted effect of a discourse that claims to ‘represent’ that self as a prior truth” (358). If this same theory applies being “professionally” straight, gender is constantly a performance. In Gretchen Weiners’ case, however, the performance is very lost. Gretchen, while wanting to remain the second most beautiful and popular girl in school, must act, as Regina George wants her to. The more that Gretchen acts, strangely, the easier it is to see her true intentions. Gretchen Weiners, while trying her hardest to confine to societal norms, is a lesbian. More specifically, Gretchen is in love with Regina George. Gretchen must suppress these feelings throughout the film, which, in turn, oppresses her natural desires. “Consciousness of oppression is not only a reaction to (fight against) oppression. It is also the whole conceptual reevaluation of the social world, its whole reorganization with new concepts, from the point of view of oppression” (Wittig 18). Gretchen becomes aware of her feelings for Regina about mid-way through the film, when she realizes that Cady Heron has taken her throne as second-in-command. Gretchen’s mental breakdown and realization occur in the following clip:

Gretchen Weiners further proves her lesbianism by her accusation of Janice Ian. In the “burn book,” a book in which the Plastics write insults about inferior classmates, Gretchen wrote “Janice Ian—Dyke!” (Mean Girls). People who feel they are alone will constantly try to identify with others who they feel may be in the same situation. Gretchen decided to choose an unpopular girl and accuse her of being a lesbian, in order to make herself feel more comfortable with her sexuality.

Gretchen is overcompensating by trying to display what she believes is heteronormative, or normal behavior for heterosexuals. Her action has several motives, but the most apparent being the need to identify with another. Another possible motive is that Gretchen Weiners has spent too much energy trying to perform in the manner that she feels is normative and she needs a way to release her true desires. This could be a desire toward Janice Ian, or just an indirect way of gaining Regina’s acceptance.

This idea brings film into its main point (from a queer theory analyst’s point of view). Gretchen Weiners, while beautiful, rich, and popular, does not feel comfortable with who she is as a woman or sexually. Constantly trying to perform her gender role in a modern American society has not only been difficult, but also taxing. Gretchen hits a point in the film when she can no longer perform; from that point on, Gretchen’s lesbianism is much more apparent. From her jealousy of Cady, to her accusations toward fellow students, Gretchen proves that conforming to a strict gender performance attributes to a same-sex desire—not a heteronormative lifestyle.

Works Cited
Butler, Judith. “Imitation and Gender Insubordination”. The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Ed. Henry, Aina, and Halperin. New York: Routledge, 1993. Pp. 354-71. Print.
Lorber, Judith. “’Night to his Day’: Social Construction of Gender”. The Inequality Reader: Contemporary and Foundational Readings in Race, Class, and Gender. Ed. Grusky and Szelényi. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 2007. Pp. 53-68. Print.
Mean Girls. Perf. Lindsey Lohan, Rachel McAdams, and Tina Fey. Paramount Pictures, 2004. DVD.
Rich, Adrienne. “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”. The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Ed. Henry, Aina, and Halperin. New York: Routledge, 1993. Pp. 304-12. Print.
Wittig, Monique. “One is not Born a Woman”. The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Ed. Henry, Aina, and Halperin. New York: Routledge, 1993. Pp. 9-20. Print


If Modernism was about identity, authority, and the rejection of the Enlightenment way of thinking, what exactly is Postmodernism? Lyotard would say that is the rejection of objective truth, the grand narrative, and science (509). In other words, the individual must think independently--and nobody else matters. In actuality, the individual can rethink anything and rewrite the traditions of what was the norm.
An example of this would be the Gorillaz 2001 music video, "Clint Eastwood." Besides the fact that the music's lyrics make no sense (which, in itself, could be part of the Postmodern condition), the video strays from the traditional music video format. The video shows cartoons as band members (which, after the making of this video, the band adopted as their actual personas for concerts) and shows an entirely animated video. Enjoy the postmodern taste of Gorrilaz.

Works Cited

Lyotard, Jean-François. "The Postmodern Condition". Literary Theory: an Anthology Ed. Rivkin and Ryan. Blackwell Publishing: Massachusetts 2000. Pp 509-12.

Class Presentation Reflection

Our class presentation on Postmodernism/Poststructuralism went very well. While I was worried that things would not work out, due to a certain group member being flakey, the presentation turned out better than expected. My contribution to the presentation was the idea for the postmodern drawing exercise (drawing the birth of venus on construction paper with chalk) and I also talked about Derrida. My favorite part of the entire presentation was actually our powerpoint. Brittany did a great job making the powerpoint and it turned out gorgeous, complete with postmodern artwork in the background. Overall, I was very happy with how the presentation went.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Marxism in Glengary Glenross

In the corporate world, workers are expendable. Workers are average people, working the minimum in order to make the minimum. Their bosses, or the bourgeoisie, rely on the workers in order to make them the money that they define themselves by. Alec Baldwin's character says "I made $970 thousand dollars last year. That's who I am, and you are nothing." He defines himself by his money, and looks down on the working class because of their sheer lack of money. Ironically, their lack of money is defined by the job which is controlled by the bourgeoisie. The people with money control who has the money.
Marx states that labor is a commodity, which is much like any other commodity. Labor is worth no more or less than sugar, or any other traded item. Labor, while expendable, is a necessity for the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie's only job is to give the laborers hope that one day they can better themselves because of their job. Baldwin's character says "the money's out there, go pick it up and it's yours," which puts a false hope into the laborer's mind. They think that they, one day, can also strike it rich. However, as long as a worker remains in the corporate world, he will never make it to the top of the chain. Ironically, Baldwin's character also says "the rich get richer, that's the law of the land," which is the only full truth the he says in his entire monologue. By inspiring the workers to work harder, the workers benefit by keeping their dead-end job. Baldwin will benefit by making even more money.
All in all, the working world is a tough and depressing place. The workers are in a never-ending cycle of trying to better themselves and their families, yet getting trapped by greedy corporate capitalists who are only interested in making themselves more money.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hamlet á la Freud

Sure, Mel Gibson's Hamlet might be a little cheesy. But let's try to sum this up. Hamlet's father is dead, but instead of Hamlet's mother going to Hamlet in her time of need, she decides to marry Hamlet's uncle. Freud would argue that it is a son's nature to want his mother sexually during the infant stage. The infant, however, comes to a realization that the mother will love the father, and the need is usually suppressed. Hamlet seems to revert back to this infantile stage after his father dies. Hamlet is upset that his mother would choose somebody who is not him to be her husband. Hamlet's mother, however, does not understand why Hamlet is in so upset. In reality, Hamlet is reacting completely normally to the situation (by Freud's standards). Hamlet idolized his father, yet desired his mother. When that balance that Hamlet established as a child became interrupted, Hamlet's subconscious desire for his mother is reignited, causing him to be incredibly jealous of his uncle, and to want his mother. Fast forward through all this theory, and Hamlet ends up kissing his mother (in Mel Gibson's Hamlet, not necessarily in Shakespeare's intended version).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Word Picture

2 small dogs lay in a large pile of laundry. The smaller of the two dogs exposes to the other dog that she is indeed a vampire. Instead of fighting the natural instinct to avoid the vampire-dog, the dog submits and allows the vampire-dog to bite her neck and drink her blood. Because of this mistake, both dogs are now vampire-dogs and must feed on other dogs in order to stay alive.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Santa Clara Vanguard and the Sublime

"What is the sublime?" one might ask after seeing the title of this post and the video. Longinus has many pages in which he describes the sublime and what it means, but it always seems to leave some room for interpretation. Longinus says: "For by some innate power the true sublime uplifts our soulds; we are filled with a proud exaltation and a sense of vaunting joy, just as though we had ourselves produced what we had heard" (120). This video is exactly that for me.
Many people do not think of marching band as anything but a half-time performance where people are meant to get up and grab some hot dogs instead of watching. Unfortunately, not many people have the opportunity to be truly exposed and immersed into the art that is marching band. This video, the 2004 Santa Clara Vanguard performance of "Scheherezade" is an example of a prime performance. Scheherezade is a symphony written by Rimsky-Korsakov in 1888. While usually performed in a concert setting, Vanguard chose to take a different approach by a marching and playing the symphony in a non traditional setting. Here is an example of the traditional form of Scheherezade:

While both videos contain the same symphony, one truly speaks the sublime for me. Watching the band move with the music--accentuating the high moments and the low moments-- I feel the exact feeling that Longinus talks about in his paper. Something is much less "sublime" in the second video. Yes, the music is beautiful. But the lack of movement and strong brass notes seems to make a lot less sublimity.
Longinus also says that something that is truly sublime can have several readings or listenings and always keep the same magic each time. Scheherezade is one of those performances for me. 10, 50, or 1000 listenings of this video, and I will always be excited by every moment in it.
However, Longinus also says that the sublime is supposed to be something somewhat universal, which I don't believe that the Scheherezade video is. Most people are not exposed to marching band, nor do they follow the professional marching band competitions. Scheherezade is not universal, unfortunately, but I do believe it represents my sublime.

Works Cited

Longinus, Cassius. “On the Sublime.” Classical Literary Criticism. Ed. Penelope Murray, T.S. Dorsch. London: Penguin, 2004