Monday, June 1, 2015

What is the Formula for Female? (This is not a math question)

I'm a documentary geek. I love them. One that I watched recently, thanks to Netflix, titled Beyond Clueless is dedicated to analyzing the enduring appeal of teen movies.

I didn't think that the commentary was mid-blowing or ground breaking, but I did enjoy all the clips from over 200 'teen' movies.

It is very successful in highlighting the formulaic approach that movie makers take when creating a film that is intended to appeal to adolescents.

The trope that frustrates me the most in this genre is the need to have a female character who is molded into a teenage goddess. Sometimes it's a male love interest who molds her, a la She's All That or 10 Things I Hate About You, but more often it's another female who decides that she can, must, be made better.

Of course, the male love interest is given a Nabokovian spin in What a Girl Wants, in which American teen Daphne goes in search of her British father, only to discover that he is running for election to the House of Commons to eventually become Prime Minister. To please her father and his social circle, she abandons her Bohemian style and adopts the upper-class sophisticated look, and conducts herself with manners and modesty.
Think of all the movies in which some poor naieve girl is taken under the wing of a socially superior Ms:
Clueless (1995)
Never Been Kissed (1999)
Save the Last Dance (2001)
Mean Girls (2004)
Legally Blonde somewhat reverses this expectation. Elle Woods is seemingly perfect with her blonde hair, designer wardrobe, and sorority girl status, and she even has a 4.0 GPA.  Unfortunately, her love interest unceremoniously dumps her before leaving for Harvard Law, stating that he needs to "marry a Jackie, not a Marilyn." So Elle trades in her Malibu Barbie dresses and Belair Princess persona to become a serious law student.
It's interesting that in order to try and win back her man, she must subvert her sexuality rather than display it. This is translated on film during a Halloween party, where Elle comes dressed as a Playboy bunny, only to discover that nobody else is in costumes.
The female sexuality is always center stage in this transformation: it's being subverted (for her own good, obviously), or it's being flaunted as an indicator of her value, or it's being used as a pawn in someone else's game:
In Save the Last Dance, Sara is invited by Chenille  to go to a club in the city. She shows up wearing a preppy, conservative outfit ("It's from the Gap"). She is already out of place because of her clothing choice, but her innocence is contrasted even more sharply when she discovers that her friend has an infant son, proof that she is sexually experienced. In order to blend in better with her urban setting, Sara takes lessons in dance moves and attitude from her love interest Derek. The dance moves are a far cry from the prim and structured ballet lessons she has taken for most of her life, and she is insecure in moving her body in these new ways. She asks Derek during a lesson "How's my butt?" to he replies "It's nice." They enter into a romance, taboo and frought with social conflict because of their different skin colors.
Tai becomes obsessed with fitting in and snubs Travis, the skater guy she likes.
She also points out how Cher is sexually immature when she candidly says "You're a virgin who can't drive."
Laney ends up at the prom with Dean Sampson, and he boasts that he is succeeding in seducing Laney and has rented a hotel room with intention of having sex with her.
Mia ditches her friends Lily and Michael when Josh Bryant invites her to a beach party. He uses Mia to get his fifteen minutes of fame by publicly kissing her, while Lana tricks her into changing in a tent, pulling it away as the paparazzi arrive, giving them a scandalous shot of her in a towel.
. Because Josie is posing as a highschool student, she is not able to pursue her real love interest Sam, her English teacher. She attends the prom with Guy, not because she loves him but because he's popular and her new friends approve of him.
And even though Elle has attempted to subvert her sexuality in hopes to winning back Warner, it still creates a problem for her when her professor makes a sexual advance towards her, baiting her with a prestigious internship at her firm. She rejects him, but is disappointed that her law school makeover was a failure because of her "blonde hair and big boobs."
There's always a moment of realization that although the 'after' might look better than the 'before' that it has come at the expense of her soul, if only temporarily. In the quest for acceptance, each girl represses her true personality and distances herself from the people and things that represent it:
slacker skater boys
Ultimately though, she is enlightened in a climactic moment of self realization.
She doesn't have to choose one persona or the other, she can incorporate the best parts of both for a new and improved future.
 It doesn't matter what color her hair is, how much lip gloss she wears, or how popular the guy she likes is; the key to happiness is self-acceptance.
She should not strive to change, but to grow.
Even if you're not a Shakespeare scholar, you can still take a cue from Hamlet:
"To thine own self, be true."
Oh yeah.   . .

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