The Evolution of Mean Girls in American Media


From our early childhood days and our first exposure to television and movies, we have seen the presence of mean girls and the power they had in every high school. Of musical high school at Joy at Gossip Girlmean girls were everywhere and their influence and reign was undeniable.

Disney’s Mean Girls

They were first portrayed as the girls who wanted what the protagonist had, be it romantic interest or talent, the antagonists main source of hatred was jealousy. We’ve seen it in many Disney movies, such as musical high school and camp rock. We’ve also seen this trope in teen movies such as mean girls.

This was a common trope as many of these films were set in high school and/or involved teenage girls who suffered the wrath of these girls in their daily lives. While the common denominator was there, however, many of these movies strayed from the norm and opted to do something different for the ending. In some cases, the mean girl became friends with the main character. In others, the mean girl won the “prize” in the end but still wasn’t satisfied. Although the most common trope is the mean girl losing significantly at the end while the protagonist basks in her glory.

This ending was perhaps the most satisfying for the audience, given that we were guided to the nice girl. Children’s and teen films attracted the “normal” crowd, those who weren’t popular at school, and some who were even bullied by mean girls. These types of movies appealed to this group of people by portraying a happy and successful life for the protagonist, despite the constant spitting of hate and animosity from mean girls. They showed that it was possible for the “underdogs” and even the “loners” in the film to find happiness in their lives if they overcome the obstacles society throws at them.

A New Bad Girl: The Protagonist

Although they’ve been portrayed as the villains in many forms of media that we love, we can see the evolution of mean girls going from villains to protagonists and even victims. Our childhood TV shows and movies would portray mean girls as school bullies, those who wished to sabotage and destroy the protagonist. Sharpay repeatedly tried to disrupt Troy and Gabriella’s relationship, Regina and her minions constantly bullied Cady and anyone else at their high school.

However, the show Gossip Girl took a new approach. He always portrayed the mean girls as the despicable, hateful group that owns the school and bullies anyone they deem inferior to them, but this time they’re not the villains – they’re the protagonist.

The show centers on wealthy kids at a private school in Manhattan, New York. It’s easy to see that they’re the “popular band” with money and esteem, especially female lead Blaire.

However, we are shown the world through their eyes, from their family issues to drama between friends to romantic dilemmas. This makes them the protagonist, and while audiences are aware of their malevolent tendencies, we can’t help but cheer them on. Gossip Girl took the mean girls from villain to victim as we watched their lives unfold and the reasons behind their malevolent personalities.

By placing the mean girls at the center of the story, anyone who wronged or disobeyed them was the new villain. In the show, many “normal” people try to go against the reign of Blaire and his minions, but they are quickly put down by the queen. As an audience, we should empathize with the little guy, the one stuck in this private school full of cruel students and unusual punishments. However, the show is written in a way that empowers and even glorifies mean girls. We are often forced to support Blaire when she sabotages a gala or disrupts a fashion show to get revenge on her friend.

This new phenomenon has also opened the eyes of many who have dissected the old portrayal of the mean girl we were exposed to as children. This led to a common conclusion among Gen Z and even Gen Y who watched High School Musical as children: Sharpay Evans was never the villain, she was the victim. Throughout all three films, Sharpay is always seen sabotaging their relationship or exuding jealousy of Troy and Gabriella’s theatrical exploits, but people have concluded that she’s worked her whole life to be the star of the theater, so it’s just for her to be mad.

Two students with little or no theatrical experience joined the club and stole the show, leaving it in the dust. The hatred she displayed was a response to her dream collapsing before her eyes, people have found. This conclusion brings us to another question: are mean girls really mean girls? Or are their actions a response to the hardships life throws at them? Does that make him a victim?

The glamorization of mean girls

By centering the mean and popular girls and vilifying anyone who challenges them, it’s safe to say that the series normalizes and even glorifies their meanness. Is it dangerous and problematic for viewers? Gossip Girl portrays dirty, rich kids as the protagonists who commit brutal acts and face minimal consequences. While this trope has been common in many forms of teen media in the past, this show is the first example of a show where mean girls are still seen as mean girls, but that doesn’t necessarily make them the “wicked”. Instead of creating more relatable characters that audiences can see themselves in, the show produced a group of people whose wealth and influence were unattainable to the average person, allowing vicarious living through the “popular” students. . A similar approach was made by the creators of the Spanish show Elitewhich also follows a popular group of students and their messy high school lives.

Just last month, Gossip Girl was revived with a reboot consisting of a more diverse cast and greater social awareness. As the show attempts to portray wealthy students but moves away from the stereotypes that come with them, many people have criticized the idea. The argument is that people look Gossip Girl to escape their own lives, but a group of wealthy college students who still recognize the socio-economic privileges they possess seem deaf and unattractive. The conclusion can be drawn only if the original Gossip Girl moderately neglects the wealth gap, excluding Dan, the audience enjoys living in the ideal world of super-rich kids.

The future of mean girls

If we base the future portrayal of mean girls on modern shows such as Gossip Girl (2021) and Elite, we can expect more shows where popular pretty girls are the protagonists and central characters. Instead of being portrayed as the villain, they’ll be included in the main group and we’ll see the world through their eyes and better understand what issues made them evil. Somehow, the media shifts from being naughty about mean girls to justifying their actions.

This may elicit a lot of resentment from those who have suffered their outrage in real life, but this trope has already been successfully performed in the media and will most likely be done again. Gossip Girl (2007) and Elite are hugely popular and beloved shows, so it’s not hard to conclude that audiences are tired of the annoying nice character who always wins. They like change, they like drama, they like revenge, and they like cruelty.


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