Tag Archive for Tina Fey

Tackling the Teen Movie:
How the messages in Mean Girls go beyond “On Wednesdays, we wear pink!”

Usually when I start a new show or look for a new movie, I try to gauge whether or not it’s going to frustrate me too much.

There are some movie tropes that I absolutely adore despite how problematic they might be—for instance, the makeover montage, the mean girl’s comeuppance, the pining best friend, and the musical number (thanks Ferris Bueller and Easy A!).

But there are a few things that end up being deal breakers for me.

If there’s a diverse cast, queer characters, or even just a cast that’s made up mostly of women, I’ll look into it. However, I can’t stand it when all the women hate each other or are competing for This One Guy who’s actually not that attractive when it comes right down to it.

Has anyone seen John Tucker Must Die and understood why he was that sought after?

Has anyone seen John Tucker Must Die and understood why he was that sought after?

Or when two female leads are both drop dead gorgeous, but one of them isn’t blond and has glasses so she’s the one that’s presented as undesirable or even ugly.

“Designated Ugly Fat Friend” where?

“Designated Ugly Fat Friend” where?

As a writer and an English major, I literally cannot stop myself from analyzing the media that I consume and support, and the more I do so, the more I realize that it’s something we all should be doing.

To start with, Mean Girls is a great example of a film that offers a fascinating commentary on the struggles of young women as they grow up and learn to navigate the world, specifically in regards to dieting, diversity, and solidarity.

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Mean Girls established itself as a cultural fixture not long after it was released in 2004. So much so that it’s rare for me to meet anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, and I can still quote almost the entire movie with the same tone and inflection that the original actors used.

It’s easy to tell that the script was written by Tina Fey, who also plays a significant role in the film, as the biting wit and humor mirrors the very real issues that women—teenage girls in particular, mostly demonstrated through the main character of Cady (played by Lindsey Lohan)—face when trying to navigate the path to adulthood. Romance, friendships, school, work, beauty, body image, and self-respect are all addressed in different parts of the film, and while they’re not always addressed perfectly, Mean Girls has a lot of really important messages to communicate.

One of those important messages is about dieting…

Despite being considered one of the most beautiful girls in her high school, the character of Regina George (played by Rachel McAdams) complains throughout the film about how she needs to lose a few pounds and keeps trying crash diets like juice cleanses, all-carb diets, or “weight loss nutrition bars.” She is so obsessed with losing weight that one of the first times we hear about Cady’s interest in math is when Regina is worried about the caloric content of her food.

While it’s played off as a joke, this behavior and the references to “girls who eat their feelings” and “girls who don’t eat anything” mirror the terrifying behavioral patterns that young women fall into while trying to achieve American beauty standards. The connection between eating disorders and dieting, while not stated outright, is made abundantly clear.

Additionally, after Regina says, “I really want to lose three pounds,” she pauses expectantly for her friends to tell her—in what sounds like a rehearsed, ritualistic response—“Oh my god what are you talking about? You’re so skinny.”

But why is this comment necessary? What is so bad about not being skinny? Skinny doesn’t mean healthy, and healthy doesn’t mean skinny either.

Of course, Regina’s skinny body—and the skinny bodies of almost all the main characters—send a message about which characters  have worth, about characters are valid. Most of the time, movies that are marketed towards young, American, and usually female audiences have a thin lead actor and a cast full of similarly skinny actors. The movies and television shows that follow this pattern all send the message that the only stories worth telling are about skinny people.

Janis (Cady’s best friend played by Lizzy Caplan) also identifies this conception of a thin female body as a “hot” body—with “hot” in quotation marks—as she maintains that Regina has a “technically good physique.”

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It’s striking to see the way that Janis writes hot with quotation marks. It seems that in doing so she recognizes the way that hotness is constructed rather than inherent and that Regina’s shape and size have a lot to do with this concept of hotness.

In recognizing this pattern, the girls in the film are able to exploit it for their own agendas. During Janis and Cady’s plan to sabotage Regina, they give her nutrition bars meant to put more weight on her and recommend that she eat all kinds of food that could do the same.

It’s honestly really depressing how much Regina’s weight gain affects her. It’s difficult to tell that she’s gained weight just by looking at her (and maybe that’s the point), but the other characters make sure that the audience is in on the joke when they laugh at Regina after she puts on a few pounds.

That’s always how it happens, isn’t it? Other people feel the need to comment on your weight in real life, and this truth is demonstrated in the film as the others make jokes both behind her back and to her face.

At one point, she even tries on a dress that she’d put on hold only to find it no longer fits. While this scene is mostly there for laughs, the moment is actually heartbreaking. There are few things more discouraging than going shopping and finding that the clothes you thought would fit don’t anymore. This is the moment in Mean Girls when the comedy becomes all too real.

 

Another important message in Mean Girls is about diversity…

The majority of the cast is female, and the fact that this is something that we need to celebrate is a little bit sad. But stories like these are essential: stories about women, by women, and for women, stories that acknowledge the limitations that popular culture and the powers-that-be place upon us. These stories can expose and criticize these limitations by pointing out how gender roles and stereotypes consistently devalue women and their contributions to the world around them.

The movie also features a few people of color, such as the principal, some of the boys on the Mathletes team, and others in more minor roles.

Furthermore, women of all body types are featured in the film as well. Tall girls, short girls, skinny girls, chubby girls, and even a girl in a wheelchair. Some of them even look like they’re actual high schoolers instead of just hot twenty-something actors.

In these ways, Mean Girls does an excellent job of being inclusive and showing a more accurate picture of the world we live in than most teen movies.

However, one thing that’s always bothered me about this movie is the treatment of queer characters.

Damien (played by Daniel Franzese) is very obviously a gay man, but most of the time it seems as though he’s played off as a joke. And he doesn’t get the typical teen movie happy ending—a romantic partner—which sets him apart from the other main characters: Janis who ends up with a boyfriend and Cady who finally wins over Aaron Samuels by being herself.

Additionally, the rumor that Regina started about Janis that sparked Janis’s resentment back in middle school was that Janis was a lesbian. Not only did Janis vehemently deny that accusation in the past and not want to mention it to her new friend Cady in the present, but it’s also implied that she was severely hurt by the rumor as well as being ridiculed and isolated because of it.

And in the end, it’s all treated like a big joke that Regina made, brushing off the major impact of the rumor and ignoring the harmful message that it sent.

Sure, Damien is allowed to be the token gay character—albeit a flat one without his own storyline—but the thought that a straight person like Janis is called a lesbian is laughable, even unthinkable. The implication is that there is no worse insult than calling someone gay who isn’t.

This movie came out years ago, so I suppose that this kind of homophobia is a smaller problem in the grand scheme of things, but it’s important to note that there’s definitely room for improvement.

 

Finally Mean Girls says something important about solidarity…

In a somewhat cheesy speech toward the end of the movie—even the principal tells Cady that a speech isn’t necessary—Cady reinforces why girls fighting amongst each other is the worst thing we can do. During the speech she makes sure to compliment the girls who aren’t considered pretty by “Plastic” standards, girls who are chubby or disabled or isolated, and in the same speech she equates all the girls with each other, no matter how pretty or popular people think that they are. Cady says:

“I mean, I think everybody looks great tonight. Look at Jessica Lopez! That dress is amazing, and Emma Gerber that hairdo must have taken hours and you look really pretty. So why is everybody stressing over this thing? I mean it’s just plastic, it’s really just [she breaks the crown and starts passing it out]. A piece for Gretchen Wieners, a partial Spring Fling Queen. A piece for Janis Ian, and a piece for Regina George. She fractured her spine and she still looks like a rockstar, and some for everybody else.”

The breaking of the crown represents Cady’s final denial of an unattainable ideal. Talk about a powerful moment. She’s literally taking a symbol of feminine power, breaking it down, and distributing the power to all the women around her, empowering and uniting all the girls who now share ownership of the crown.

Mean Girls might seem like typical teenage comedy, but it’s really important to emphasize messages of female solidarity, and Cady’s speech does just that. The “divide and conquer” approach is a legitimate strategy to weaken a group of people since they can’t organize and challenge authority or an opponent if they’re fighting among themselves. Women share common struggles, so why shouldn’t these same struggles bring us together instead of allowing petty competitiveness to keep us apart?

tina fey sluts and whores

Say what you want about Tina Fey, but this teen movie has become iconic for quite a few excellent reasons… it’s quotable, it’s hilarious, it’s relatable, and, most importantly, it speaks to issues central to being a woman. I cannot stress how refreshing it is to see an articulation of the struggles that women go through and have them treated as relevant difficulties, even in a lighthearted manner. No, it’s not a perfect film, but it’s just as important to celebrate what is working as it is to be critical of what’s not working.

 

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—Molly Couch

The best moments at this year’s Golden Globes
… a.k.a. Take that, mani-cam!

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The Golden Globes were last Sunday night, and though there were a few disappointments, it was mostly a great night for women (a fact one NY Post reporter actually had the hutzpah to complain about).

 

THE HIGHLIGHTS

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On the red carpet, one of the stars of Mad Men summed up how we all feel about the head-to-toe scrutiny of women when Elisabeth Moss flipped off their ridiculous E! mani-cam. Thank you, Elizabeth, for doing what we all want to do on the red carpet. Lord knows how many times I’ve flipped off the mani-cam and the glam-o-strator and the 360 degree room and whatever other bullshit they come up with to reduce women to their looks. And, wow, was it fun to see Giuliana Rancic freak out like that.

 

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During the ceremony, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler KILLED it with an outrageously funny opening “monologue” and other hilarious bits throughout the evening including a great rejoinder to the inherent sexism of “Miss Golden Globe” by pretending Fey had an illegitmate son who was the night’s “Mr. Golden Globe.”

They didn’t shy away from women’s body issues either, explaining that “For The Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey lost forty pounds. Or what actresses call being in a movie” and encouraging the men to “kick off your shoes, try on the ladies’, and see how awful they are.”

 

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Men who date younger women got BURNED when Tina and Amy introduce Gravity as “the story of how George Clooney would rather float away and die than spend one more minute with a woman his age.”

 

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Philomena Lee stood up for solidarity among women, saying that the movie based on her life is “not just about me; it is about all the women who have still not gotten justice.”

 

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Emma Thompson showed us what it means to be a strong woman in Hollywood when she came out to present an award carrying her high heels in one hand and a martini in another. “That red you see is my blood,” Thompson said as she held up her shoes, eventually chucking them behind her.

 

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Several winners called attention to how much their mothers helped them, including Amy Adams and Matthew McConaughey.

 

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Amy Poehler won best actress in a television comedy for playing feminist Leslie Knope on Parks & Rec! As one of my friends said, I don’t know who to love more—Amy Poehler or Leslie Knope—because both are such wonderful role models for women.

 

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Amy Poehler made out with Bono after her name was called, finally getting revenge for what Adrian Brody did to Halle Berry at the 2002 Oscars.

 

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Diane Keaton continued to challenge gender roles 37 years after she first did it in Annie Hall by wearing a men’s suit to accept the honorary Globe for Woody Allen.

 

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Melissa McCarthy presented an award, and no one made any jokes about her body. It’s the small things, isn’t it?

 

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Jimmy Fallon and Melissa McCarthy had phenomenal chemistry, making me believe they could star in a rom com together about a skinny dude and a bigger woman. Come on, Hollywood, make it happen!

 

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Robin Wright ran to the stage in her giant heels, proving that women can do anything, and despite what Meryl Streep’s character said in August: Osage County, Wright canoodled with fiance Ben Foster, showing that women really DO get better with age.

 

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Okay, I admit this one isn’t related to gender or body issues, but I also loved it when, in a moment of rare Hollywood camraderie, the cast/crew of 12 Years a Slave helped director Steve McQueen remember who to thank when he won Best Dramatic Motion Picture.

 

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THE DISAPPOINTMENTS

In addition to all the normal annoyance on the Red Carpet (including the aforementioned mani-cam, glam-o-strator, and 360-degree camera), a new tradition was introduced in which entertainment reporters repeatedly asked celebrities how much their jewels were worth, highlighting how out of touch Americans are with the state of the world.

Parks & Rec, one of the smartest television shows about a strong woman EVER, lost the Golden Globe for Best Television Comedy to Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Really, Hollywood Foreign Press? Really????!!!!!!

Diane Keaton made us cringe by reducing the female actresses in Woody Allen’s film to “Woody’s Women” and then desecrating A GIRL SCOUTS’ SONG ABOUT FEMALE FRIENDSHIP by singing it in tribute to Allen.

And possibly most important of all, the Hollywood Foreign Press ignored all of the amazing movies made by women this year. In fact, not one woman was nominated for Best Director or Best Screenplay even though 2013 brought us excellent films written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, Lake Bell, Greta Gerwig, Sarah Polley, Sofia Coppola, Julie Delpy, and many more.

The Golden Globes embrace Lena Dunham and simultaneously change our notion of what it means to be a Hollywood actress

If you live in a cave (or avoid Twitter, Facebook, and the internet in general), you might not know that the Golden Globes were this past Sunday night. During the show, I noticed two really important things—one of which I want to talk about tonight.

The most important thing I noticed during the Golden Globes is that it was a huge night for women, especially regular women who refuse to pretend to be something they’re not.

1) Tina Fey and Amy Poehler KILLED as the co-hosts of the ceremony, doing a better job than Ricky Gervais, Jon Stewart, or David Letterman combined and proving that women really are funny despite what sexists like Christopher Hitchens and Adam Carolla have wrongly claimed in the past (or what Jay Leno implied Sunday with his backhanded compliments on the red carpet). If you didn’t see their opening monologue, you really owe it to yourself to do so.

2) Jodie Foster came out of the closet—again (was no one listening the first time?)—and said she refuses to put her life on display reality-show style, insisting that privacy and happiness are just as important as being a movie star.

3) But the most groundbreaking moment of the night was when Lena Dunham of HBO’s Girls won the Golden Globe for best performance by an actress in a comedy or musical television series. Her win was especially significant to me—and to I Will Not Diet—because it signals a clear shift in our expectations for women in Hollywood.

This is because Dunham does not look like a leading actress—she’s short and average looking and has bad posture. She has a nose that’s bigger than the noses of most women in Hollywood, and she has medium brown, wavy hair. In other words, she’s the kind of woman you see everywhere—in every office, in every classroom, in many homes.

But even more important than Dunham’s looks is her body. Because Lena Dunham has a very real body.

No, she’s not fat (even though Howard Stern, desperate to hold onto his biggest-woman-hater-alive title, called her a “little fat chick”), but she’s not Hollywood skinny either. In fact, the most notable thing about her body is how incredibly average it is. She has slightly meaty thighs, arms with a bit of flesh on them, and a belly with just a little bit of fat.

In other words, she’s perfectly normal.

So when the Hollywood Foreign Press gave Dunham that round gold statue, they also sent a very important message to the rest of the women in the world—It’s okay to look normal, they said. Your work is more important than how you look. Give us your best work, and we will love you.

And that, my friends, is a huge change in the world of Hollywood. HUGE.

And I am incredibly happy it finally happened.

During her acceptance speech, Dunham said, “This award is for every woman who ever felt like there wasn’t a space for her,” and she couldn’t be more right about that.

Project Runway decides to live inside the bubble: Spoiler alert!

SPOILER ALERT! ***If you have not seen the season finale of Project Runway, do not continue reading! ***

I just finished watching the Project Runway season finale, and I find myself feeling more than a little disappointed in the show’s outcome and generally disgusted with the human tendency toward superficiality.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not one of those people who blames reality show producers for manipulating the outcome of events (I’m talking to you, Tom and Lorenzo), but I do believe manipulation occurred. I just don’t believe it was conscious manipulation.

And that’s because I believe the judges—and possibly the producers—were unconsciously manipulated by the winner’s looks.

If you don’t watch the show, I should mention that the woman, Anya Ayoung-Chee, who won Project Runway tonight is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. (She’s the one in the pink dress above.) Her smile is infectious, her hair voluminous, and her body flawless. She is quite simply radiant. She’s so beautiful in fact that she’s a former beauty queen. Adding to hear mystique is the fact that she’s even had a sex tape released on the internet.

And from week one of this season on Project Runway, the judges have been fawning all over her, like a pack of nerds trying to get a peak at Molly Ringwald’s underwear.

In fact, they are so taken with Anya that whenever she is in danger of losing, they come to her rescue.

A few weeks ago, when Anya was in danger of being sent home, the designers were miraculously allowed to create a second look to complement their first, giving Anya the opportunity to save a sinking ship.

Then last week during the final elimination, Anya showed the worst looks on the runway, and the judges changed the rules–deciding not to eliminate anyone and sending them all to the finale.

And then finally, tonight, after weeks of Anya facing “designer’s block” and showing some awful looks in the previous episode, Project Runway pulled another fast one and decided to—for what I believe was the first time ever—give all of the designers an extra $500 to buy more material. Having just been destroyed by the judges on the runway, Anya knew she had to act fast, and she whipped out a half-dozen of her signature looks–long, flowing caftans in beachy prints. In other words, the kind of garments even the most inexperienced designer could sew (and Anya has claimed from day one that she’s only known how to sew for four months). The fact that she could whip them out in two days when all of the designers had been given weeks to put a collection together ought to tell you that letting Anya win tonight was about as unsportsmanlike as passing out trophies to losers.

So why did Project Runway cut Anya so many breaks? Quite simply, because she looks so good. At one point, when another contestant lost a challenge to Anya, he said something to the effect of “Did she win because of her talent or her beauty?” And as soon as he said it, I knew he was right to imply Anya had become the judges’ favorite because they felt happy every time she smiled her pretty face at them. I also knew in that moment Anya would probably win the contest.

When I was young, I was painfully insecure and felt certain no one would ever find me attractive. Now that I’m older and wiser, I know that’s not true. I know that, like most people, I have my attributes.

But back then I also believed that the best “man” always won, and that people were too smart to be blinded by beauty. But wisdom and experience have taught me that in reality that’s often not the case. As a writer, I had once hoped that my writing would be the only criteria by which I would be evaluated, but I’ve stood next to enough hot young writers to know that my stories will always compete with others’ good looks.

On 30 Rock, Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon breaks up with a gorgeous ignoramus played by Jon Hamm because she says he lives in a “bubble” created by his beauty. She tells him that he isn’t as talented or smart or successful as he thinks he is, and that people just tell him he’s those things because he’s so good looking. Hamm’s character considers her theory briefly, but then decides he’d rather stay in the bubble than face the reality outside of it.

Age has forced me to admit that Lemon is right—some people really do live in a beauty bubble, protected by their gleaming teeth and button noses.

Anya Ayoung-Chee is one of those people. Brad Pitt is one of those people. Sarah Palin is one of those people.

No matter how much I hate to admit it, sometimes I want to be one of those people.

Throw the TV out with the bath water

Do you ever feel like as soon as you start doing everything right—exercising regularly, eating well, getting enough sleep, etc.—they spring something else on you that you need to do in order to be healthy? Because I feel that way all the time.

And now, on top of everything else, they’re saying that TV will kill you. Maybe not right away. But eventually. According to an article published yesterday in The Daily Telegraph, researchers in Australia found that “For every hour of television watched after age 25, lifespan fell by 22 minutes.”

Twenty-two minutes less life for every hour of TV watched? That just doesn’t seem right.

But it’s not that watching TV by itself will kill you. It’s what you do while you watch TV and before or after you watch TV that’s the problem: “As a rule, the more time we spend watching TV, the more time we spend eating mindlessly in front of the TV, and the less time we spend being physically active,” said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of MedicineKatz. “More eating and less physical activity, in turn, mean greater risk for obesity, and the chronic diseases it tends to anticipate, notably diabetes, heart disease and cancer.”*

So the people who tend to watch TV all day long are the same people who overeat and don’t exercise? Tell me something I didn’t know.

I guess I’m just feeling a little bit angry right now. I don’t watch a ton of TV, but I do have a few shows I love to catch—30 Rock, The Office, Parks and Rec, Mad Men, Louie, Project Runway, and The Daily Show. Lucky for me, some of these are on during the summer and others during the school year, so I never get too much TV at any given time. But if this study is correct, every time I watch one of these shows, I’m losing eleven to twenty-two minutes of my life.

I guess I should just throw my 50-inch plasma out the window right now and do some more situps while I’m at it. I’ve already given up smoked meats and high-fructose corn syrup and processed foods and non-organic dairy or meat. I already work out almost every single day of my life. What are they going to ask me to give up next? Having sex and singing in the car?

TV was one of the few indulgences I had left that I didn’t feel bad about, especially since I’m not one of those people who vegges out in front of the TV for hours. Sometimes I even exercise while the TV is on! But now they want to take my Tina Fey and Jon Hamm away from me too.

It just doesn’t seem fair.

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