July 13, 2007

Clueless rewind

Just saw this movie for the first time in 8-10 years, and though I remember liking it when it came out, I like it even more now.

You see how picky I am about my shoes, and they only go on my feet.

That's the protagonist Cher explaining why she's still a virgin at age 16. It's the kind of thing you'd expect would alienate a lot of the teenage guys watching the movie, but I don't recall feeling a huge disappointment upon discovering that her character didn't put out (not that I recall cheering either). Not putting out is only a disqualifying liability in the eyes of the schmucks who get laid easily in high school; everyone but the top 1% of the male audience would have been satisfied just to date Alicia Silverstone, even if it meant signing a "no sex" contract.

I don't know what effect Cher's virginity had on the female viewers, but it is a relief to see a strong female lead who isn't either a slut, a bitch, an obnoxious gender warrior, or some combination thereof. And although superficially superficial, she shows a concern for the well-being of others and enjoys helping others, according to her talents (mostly at matchmaking). Her altruism is an enduring trait that will actually accomplish something on the small scale it's applied to. Contrast this with the transient poses of phoney-baloney "I care" celebrities:

Josh: We might get Marky Mark to plant a celebrity tree.
Cher: Oh how fabulous. Getting Marky Mark to take time from his busy pants-dropping schedule to plant trees.

The movie was a huge hit among adolescents, which is fortunate because White popular culture in 1995 was transitioning from grunge to skanky girl bands and solo singers. Hopefully Clueless served somewhat to convince girls that being a virgin didn't keep them from being cool, before the full onslaught of skankiness hit in the late '90s.

So okay, I don't want to be a traitor to my generation and all, but I don't get how guys dress today. I mean, come on, it looks like they just fell out of bed and put on some baggy pants and take their greasy hair - ew - and cover it up with a backwards cap and like, we're expected to swoon? I don't think so!

She doesn't let the previous phase of White popular culture get off so easily either. Grunge didn't focus on identity politics or sexual liberation, which were making a huge resurgence in the early '90s, and I think grunge worked out nicely to the extent that it diffused or co-opted what could have easily become another late '60s all over again. It's true that grunge artists and their followers were self-absorbed slackers, but I'll take that as the lesser of two evils. (And because it wasn't so revolutionary, I think it's more likely that grungies have grown out of that phase in comparison to hippies.) Unfortunately, though, slovenliness was not confined just to Beavis and Butthead wannabes, but was in full force as well in the early gangsta rap phenomenon, and in the later "sporty look" that made it cool to look like you just came from the gym (itself recycled from the '80s).

It's a sign of a diseased culture when girls tolerate guys who make zero effort to impress them, and the quasi-hippies of the early '90s really were the White version of slobs from the ghetto who felt like "keepin' it real" by not holding down a job / working for The Man. It's amazing to see that most guys, even in affluent metro areas, still refuse to put much effort into their personal appearance. Any large metro area has places like Filene's Basement, Century 21 (only in New York), among others, that offer suitable attire at affordable prices. So it won't do to say that it's too expensive to dress nicely.

I remember before I started to put any effort into how I look, and I was probably not the only one to think that an overly casual style was intended to show my disdain for conformity, snobbishness, and so on. Four years later, I now realize that that was all a load of horseshit. The current trend of uber-casualness is just as rigid in demanding conformity as Wall Street banks must be of their employees -- it says, "Wear anything more formal than a polo shirt or an untucked, striped shirt, and we'll snicker at you until you relent." And forget wearing a tie! At my tutoring center, most of the compliments I've gotten have been about my ties, blazers, glasses, and the occasional patterned dress shirt (not striped). Granted, this is coming from teenagers, but it just goes to show that girls wish that guys would dress better.

Finally, only someone with the most unjustifiably inflated view of himself would shout to everyone else, "I'm too cool to have to impress you!" Well, you'll excuse me if I don't take your word for it and instead look up your name in any list of eminent artists, scientists, or whatever you are. Typically these are brats sponging off of their trust fund rather than doing anything useful -- y'know, aside from upping the hip factor of some blighted nabe in Brooklyn with their store that offers custom, ironic shoe-creations. Like, maybe they remove the canvas uppers from your Chuck Taylors and replace them with flexible metal sheets cut from an A-Team lunchbox. What would the world do without them?!

Again, I'm not trying to be too harsh on slobs, since I was one too. Some of them could clean up well if they bothered. What gets under my skin is their disdain for doing well in anything outside of their narrow pet interests. This goes for one's living space as well: the losers profiled in this NYT article have no right to act like they're above maintaining a nice apartment or house. We rightly excuse a lot of this behavior when the person is a genius, since it might stifle their creativity -- or not, but why take the risk when it's just one person? Still, it cheapens that word to apply it to someone who is merely "pretty good at their occupation." Once you're awarded the Nobel Prize, then you can dress like a slob if you choose. Until then, grow up.

In retrospect, that's part of what makes Clueless so refreshing: it deflated a lot of the self-absorption of those perpetually adolescent Boomers (who were roughly 40-45 when it came out), while not coming off as fussy and prissy. Indeed, it was one of the defining cool movies of the time, starring two stunningly beautiful girls (and a third who would later become a knockout), so it was impossible to try to deride its moral message and yet appear young ("still got it") at the same time. I was relieved that Cher didn't end up with a scumbag, even though that wasn't true to reality in 1995 -- but it's meant as advice for how girls like Cher ought to act, not how they really do act. And this isn't one of those "fighting against gravity" scenarios, since male-female power dynamics change pretty noticeably over short time scales. In sum, this more prescriptive movie would make a fine complement to more realistic and jaded movies like Heathers or Mean Girls in order to guide young guys and girls to where they need to go.


  1. I note for the record how difficult it was to find a picture of Stacey Dash that was safe-for-work...

  2. At my tutoring center, most of the compliments I've gotten have been about my ties, blazers, glasses, and the occasional patterned dress shirt (not striped). Granted, this is coming from teenagers, but it just goes to show that girls wish that guys would dress better.

    Let me ax you one question. How many women who were impressed by your attire have you nailed? :)


  3. "Reality Bites" - the anti-"Clueless"

    (GC: I think Agnostic's students in the tutoring center are underage)

  4. PA is right that my kids are underage, but that's only one reason why I wouldn't sleep with them.

    The other is that it would make it impossible to fulfill my duties as a teacher if sexual intimacy were brought into the mix. Sometimes you need to give your students a good kick in the ass, and that can sound too harsh if they expect the person to be their lover. And often you can't focus just on a paticular individual, zipping around to check on your various students -- not what someone wants their boyfriend to do.

    One of my Spanish students in Barcelona came onto me very strongly when the teachers & students all went out for a night on the town to celebrate the teachers getting certified. She was 21 and I was 23.

    But that day I'd been offered a job to teach her level of English for the next month at the same school, and there were only two classes for that level. So, there was a 50-50 chance that I was going to be her teacher for another month, and that was too risky, so I didn't reciprocate her advances, even though I thought she was good-looking.

    It turned out that she wasn't in my class after all, but it was the right thing to do. I'll take plenty of risks when the outcome could only affect me, but not when someone else is involved.

    Had she revealed how she felt when it was certain we wouldn't be student & teacher, then I probably would've ended up dating her.

  5. All I remember about the movie was the weird semi-incestuous step-brother-step-sister relationship.

  6. "I was relieved that Cher didn't end up with a scumbag, even though that wasn't true to reality in 1995"

    This is quite an exaggeration - girls like Cher that emerge from the hothouse of upper middle-class families did not typically wind up with scumbags - they largely dated non-alarming boys who were much like themselves.

  7. I'm not sure if you knew this, but Clueless uses Jane Austen's Emma as a template. Obviously, it's not a one-for-one remake, but it's closer than West Side Story is to Romeo and Juliet.

    Which basically goes to show that classics are classics for a reason— the core story resonates even two centuries on.

    I like Clueless too. Good stuff.

  8. Just watched this movie for the first time this weekend and it definitely brought your blog to mind. It isn't really that old (the characters all have cell phones), but it absolutely could not be made today, and if it was it would cause an epic limpout, first and foremost for having a female lead who isn't slutty ("sex-positive"), bitchy ("STRONK") or some kind of militant ideologue. It even has the gall to put a positive spin on women who care more about relationships and clothes than academics, heretically implying that women are capable of being fulfilled and happy without becoming STEM nerds or UFC fighters or Navy SEALs or whatever other retarded shit they're supposedly "taking over" these days.

    Yet that's what's so fun about the movie; whereas modern movies always portray ditzy girls as objects of pity or ridicule, Cher and co. are enormously likable, friendly, and funny. Alicia Silverstone sells all the little mannerisms -- pouting, flirting, giggling ("Project!"), over-enunciating -- adorably. She's kind of manipulative, but in a charming, naturally feminine way, miles distant from a helicopter-parented Millennial narcissist trying to get their exam grade bumped due to microaggressions and triggering. She's a virgin but isn't frigid or bitchy towards boys, and is actually willing to work hard for attention when one catches her interest. Most importantly, she has genuinely good relationships with her friends and family and shows an authentic desire to make other people happy.

    A movie like this today would end with the female lead graduating as valedictorian or getting into Harvard or some other striver goal (IIRC Mean Girls ends with Lindsay Lohan winning a math competition), whereas Clueless is all about getting everyone paired up with who they're "supposed" to be with, almost as though relationships are a big, important part of human happiness totally distinct from striving and resume-building. What a breath of fresh air.

  9. A related "only on this blog" post about the disappearance of ditzes:


  10. A terrific recent ditz performance: Greta Gerwig in the no-budget horror-comedy "Baghead." I don't know if it's your speed, but she definitely does a charming, appealing turn where the bubbliness doesn't demean the character

  11. Crazy/Beautiful (2001) has a good take on the ditz trope. The director squeezed a great performance out of Dunst, whose range typically struck me in the past as being quite limited. Dunst's ditzyness takes a turn for open promiscuity and substance abuse, but as this behavior seen through the eyes of a hard-working second-generation Mexican-American who is trying hard to keep his nose clean, it is depicted as selfish and as having consequences with friends and family. It's also revealed to be the result of extreme family trauma rather than a normal rite of passage. Dunst's "salvation" comes in the form of stable monogamy with a pillar of traditional values of hard work and sacrifice. (Admittedly the film is a bit "cucky" in this respect, since the tamer of Dunst's shrew is a Latino high school athlete; but, hey, it's a 2001 film set in California).


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