An Open Letter to | Teen Ink

An Open Letter to

October 8, 2018
By lovelyheartache BRONZE, Hinsdale, Illinois
lovelyheartache BRONZE, Hinsdale, Illinois
4 articles 2 photos 2 comments

Favorite Quote:
“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”
― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Dear movie and tv writers,

I am so sick of all the shows and movies and novels painting high school bullies as the stereotypical jock and mean girl. Sure, the jock trope has finally been so overused that it’s mostly gone out of style, but the mean girl trope is still alive and well. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate me some Heathers-esque entertainment, but even in books and movies trying to break the mold and spread a different kind of message, the mean girl trope is continuously overused. Writers focus so much on other aspects of the narrative that you'll completely overlook the fact that HIGH SCHOOL ISN’T LIKE THAT. Sure, a few differences from real life wouldn’t change much, and sometimes a break from reality is very much needed, but somehow, when the movie or show attempts to straddle the line between relatable and unrealistic, it doesn’t hit the mark.

I’ll go on Netflix to search for the next breakout teen movie, and find a narrative so compelling that I can’t help but be drawn in. The main character is non-cliche, the story is original, and the plot is fun and interesting. At least, it seems so at first. Yeah, some parts may be exaggerated or dramatic, but overall, the movie seems like a pretty solid watch. Then I get to the “mean girls”. When every other part of the movie is so relatable and the main character is so uniquely developed, the introduction of this type of villain, frankly, just seems a little cheap- like you creators couldn’t pull anything out of your a**es other than the stereotypical “mean girl”.

Of course, these stereotypes may actually be the lives of certain people in the audience, and I genuinely apologize to anyone who sees their own bullies incarnated in entertainment. But somehow, I really don’t believe that the majority of people watching can relate to someone getting bullied by a “mean girl” or a jock. These days, bullying is slightly more discreet than those caricatures, but may be a thousand times more hurtful. Social media, FOMO, gen z, and many other factors have contributed to a new wave of discluding others, psychological torture, and manipulation that is 21st century bullying. It's hard to describe and you have to experience it for yourself to truly understand what it's like in high school these days. Still, the way you portray high school in your shows and movies leads me to say again: HIGH SCHOOL ISN"T LIKE THAT.

Furthermore, the mere continuation of this trope is completely misogynistic. The idea that the female villain of the story is a vapid, self serving, shallow maniac who only seeks to damage others' reputations is never believable (or fun to watch) when all the other characters are so wonderfully developed in comparison. Sure, movies like Heathers or Mean Girls (whose purposes, may I add, is to actually satirize the trope of “mean girls”) are absolutely fascinating to watch and beloved by many, but those movies were made in order to exaggerate this phenomenon and make fun of it, not narrate it.

Simply put, movies these days just can’t seem to successfully straddle the line between satirical and honest/relatable, and for good reason: it’s impossible. You can’t make a teen show or movie both original and relatable to viewers while continuing to use the trope of “mean girls”. You can’t create change in a genre by straying back to old tropes. You can’t inspire progress and people while contradicting yourself in your own work.

Either stay away from that line or cross it. This is a case where there is no happy medium, and you can’t play to the strengths of both types of entertainment. Satire and exaggeration belong in a totally different category than indie teen. In the end, it all comes down to relatability. I know I sound like a broken record, but I repeat: HIGH SCHOOL ISN’T LIKE THAT. I don’t know how or when someone decided that the way high school was in the 80s was the way it would always be, but they made a huge mistake.

As our world changes, so must the art we make and the entertainment we produce.


An extremely concerned watcher of increasingly bad entertainment

The author's comments:

I wrote this open letter at home one day after watching five minutes of the movie Sierra Burgess is a Loser. I then edited it for my AP Lang class and used it for an open letter project. I was still really proud of it so I thought I'd submit it to TeenInk.

I want to add that my problem with that movie extended far beyond just the use of this trope, but what struck me most was how the "mean girls" trope was used so much, not only in this movie, but also in almost every other teen movie. Many movies use it well, and I am not saying there's anything wrong with movies that have used the trope in the past. But movies like Sierra Burgess have such a different tone (indie, not mainstream, unconforming) than movies like Mean Girls (mainstream, popular, iconic), and that is why they shouldn't use the same trope in the same way.

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