What is it about “Mean Girls” that makes it the most quotable, gif-able, and mash-up-able movie for the Internet age? We called up David Hayes, Tumblr’s Head of Canvas and Entertainment Evangelist, to get his take on the enduring power of “Mean Girls.”
Why do you think Mean Girls has become the language of the Internet?
I think what differentiates [“Mean Girls”] on Tumblr is precisely [that even though] we have so many fandoms, [and] whether its “Hunger Games” or “Harry Potter” or “Les Mis,” those other fandoms attach themselves to “Mean Girls.” [They’re] using the quotes, the gifs, the lines and the content to extend their fandom.
How does that work?
In the top 10 Mean Girls blogs on Tumblr, there’s a bizarre number that are mashed with other fandoms. “Mean Girls of Panem,” “Mean Girls of Capitol Hill,” “Where Harry Potter and Mean Girls collide,” “Les Mean Girls.” I think that when we talk about remix culture and the Internet in general, the degree to which you go viral and become popular kind of depends on the extent to which your content can become remixed. And it’s pretty fascinating, the way all these dominant, mega-fandoms, have basically taken all the “Mean Girls” content and layered “Hunger Games” or “Harry Potter” on top of that to create this double-fandom. That, to me, is why “Mean Girls” has grown so much. There’s a “Mean Girls” fandom within itself, but part of the reason its grown so quickly and become so dominant on Tumblr [is] it’s like this umbrella. It’s this way all these fandoms relate to each other.
“Mean Girls” also seems to be a middle point on an “excellent teen movie” spectrum between the very sweet, self-consciously girly “Clueless” and the murder-mayhem satire that is “Heathers.” It’s the most accessible of the three.
[I’ve seen] mashed content that shows “The Breakfast Club” transitioning into “Clueless” transitioning into “Mean Girls.” How soft and tender and light “Clueless” appears when you stick it next to “Mean Girls”! “Mean Girls” is so much more honest about what the high school experience is really like. And the generation that came of age when “Mean Girls” was released is the generation that has the reins of the Internet now. Just by chance, “Mean Girls” had the best timing. I think a lot of it had to do with the timing as the Internet grew up. And, to date, no high school movie has come along to trump “Mean Girls” or dethrone it.
Do you think part of this resurgence is the fact that the generation that was in high school in 2004 has enough distance from high school to find these jokes funny and not painful?
I totally bond with that and sympathize with it. It becomes a lot funnier and less hurtful in retrospect. I think in high school, unless you were lucky enough to be extremely popular, high school is the ultimate equalizer… It is unique how high school softens over time, the hurt, and it’s unique for these current teenagers.
Bo, stop trying to make fetch happen. pic.twitter.com/Ez6hWGFpFc
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) August 13, 2013
Can you point to a moment when you realized “Mean Girls” on the Internet was a uniquely huge phenomenon? Was it when the White House tweeted about Bo and “trying to make fetch happen”?
For me, the truth of that, [the President] has this social media team who understands that “Mean Girls” is the ultimate bridge or connector. It’ll rocket into the stratosphere. Social media strategists didn’t exist 10 years ago either. I find really fascinating that as far as when you look at a catalogue of ways you can release things on the internet and make sure they’re popular, “Mean Girls” has to be the top 10. It’s like adding a cute animal. It’s a bridge to help you guarantee success. Anytime the President is talking that in depth and subtly about a piece of pop culture, I can’t think of a more watershed moment that was bigger than that, that eclipsed that.
What does “Mean Girls” have going for it that other iconic teen movies are missing? Is it the most quotable of them all?
As ridiculous as it sounds, “Mean Girls” is both funnier and far more honest [than “Clueless”]. There’s a lot of viciousness in there, and it’s masked as a joke and you laugh, but it’s just straight out of high school. I don’t think anyone watches “Clueless” and thinks, “I can totally relate to that experience of high school”… “Mean Girls” became, in some ways, more powerful and influential over the way people spoke. It hits closer to home. The idea of a Burn Book with people getting made fun of for the most ridiculous crap – the hot dog, being overweight – all the teen issues, that’s not in “Clueless” at all, it’s not in “Can’t Hardly Wait,” it’s not in “Heathers.” Those are all genre films that are amped up, to a degree, in one direction or another. Whereas “Mean Girls,” to me, is a bizarre reflection of reality… On that note, I think we can guarantee that “Mean Girls” will be popular forever.
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