The enduring pop culture legacy of ‘Mean Girls’
(Credit: Netflix)


The enduring pop culture legacy of ‘Mean Girls’

In the pantheon of high school comedies, few films have left as enduring a mark on popular culture as the 2004 cult classic Mean Girls. Brimming with irreverent hilarity and astute social observations, this Bildungsroman gem remains as relevant today as it did upon its release, almost akin to a well-preserved time capsule of its era.

If you want to go down nostalgia lane, you can head over to Netflix, even if you have already seen the film a bajillion times. And Mean Girls is a film that warrants multiple viewings even 19 years after its release!

Directed by Mark Waters and written by Tina Fey, the film deftly navigates the treacherous waters of teenage social hierarchies and girl-on-girl aggression fueled by society and pop culture at that time with razor-sharp wit and charm. And it all happens amid a soft pink aesthetic, which has its own feminist discourse that evolved through the second and third waves of feminism.

From hating being associated with ‘girly pinks’, Millennial women have come full circle, embracing it once again after the resounding reclamation of the colour that has made the resurgence of its most prominent pop culture proponent possible in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie.

Beyond its critical and commercial success, Mean Girls has achieved a remarkable status as a pop culture touchstone, spawning catchphrases and memes, and even influencing social behaviour. Not everything about the film has aged gracefully, but that is perfectly alright. Mean Girls, like many other 90s and 00s fiction, is simultaneously a product of its time and timeless in its appeal.

The pop culture relevance of Mean Girls

At its core, Mean Girls explores the darker underbelly of high school dynamics. Through the eyes of our protagonist Cady Heron (played by Lindsay Lohan), a previously homeschooled student navigating her first forays into public school life, the film unveils the intricacies of cliques and the lengths some will go to secure their positions within them. The Plastics, an exclusive trio of girls led by the iconic Regina George (portrayed brilliantly by Rachel McAdams the same year she also played the iconic Allie Hamilton in The Notebook), epitomises the self-absorbed, manipulative, and, well, mean girls that haunt many a school’s hallways. Their infamous Burn Book, a scrapbook filled with salacious rumours and insults, becomes the catalyst for chaos and a reflection of the toxic culture that fuels their popularity.

Tina Fey’s screenplay, based on Rosalind Wiseman’s non-fiction book Queen Bees and Wannabes, cleverly infuses the narrative with incisive quips, banter, and sharp social commentary. The film doesn’t merely present a typical high school comedy; it dismantles the very structures perpetuating these toxic behaviours that make high school a living hell for many.

Mean Girls brilliantly satirised the absurdity of the popularity race, revealing the insecurities that plague even those who seem to have it all. In a lot of ways, Mean Girls is effectively a cautionary tale.

One of the reasons Mean Girls remains so potent in popular culture is its dialogue, whipsmart and performed with just the right beat by the cast that included Lacey Chabert, Amanda Seyfried (in her film debut), Lizzy Caplan, Jonathan Bennett, Daniel Franzese, Neil Flynn, Tim Meadows, Ana Gasteyer, and Amy Poehler as the cool mom, in addition to Lohan and Fey. 

Beyond its emotional resonance, Mean Girls is a treasure trove of memorable lines and cultural references. From “You can’t sit with us” to “On Wednesdays, we wear pink,” these sentiments can be found at random corners of social media. And who can forget Gretchen Wieners’ desperate attempts to make fetch happen? The film’s impact on internet culture is undeniable even 19 years later.

As a product of its time, Mean Girls encapsulates the cultural zeitgeist of the early 2000s. The fashion choices, from low-rise jeans and mini skirts to emo haircuts and counter-culture teen angst, the film’s portrayal of high school life in a pre-social media era is one for the history lessons. The newer generations can tap into it if they ever need to know how their elders survived high school before tech took over.