Pop Culture Debate: Did ‘Clueless’ or ‘Mean Girls’ Have a Bigger Impact on Vocabulary?


Tonight is the first of the 2012 Vice Presidential Debates between Vice President Joe Biden and the Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Paul Ryan. The country will watch on — and learn things — as the two share their positions on domestic issues. While Biden and Ryan answer important questions about health care, reproductive rights, and the state of the economy, we at Hollywood.com are staging debates of our own. Today, we decided to tackle the Sophie’s Choice of Teen Comedies: Clueless v. Mean Girls. Which film has influenced our vocabulary more? Writers Shaunna Murphy and Leanne Aguilera square off on this vital issue.


Opening Argument from Shaunna Murphy:

Though Mean Girls is a spectacular film that taught me the importance of wearing pink on Wednesdays, its influence on the public vernacular was not nearly as profound as that of one of its ’90s counterparts, Clueless. I mean, as if “fetch” ever reached the cultural ubiquity of Betties and Baldwins. Valley Girl and Heathers may have preceded Clueless in heavy usage of “Valley-Speak,” but Clueless took its popularity to a whole new level — by the mid-’90s, everyone in my Jersey elementary school was saying “as if” and using upspeak like they lived in your native Southern California, Leanne. (Come to think of it, maybe that’s why you don’t understand Clueless’ importance — because everyone around you just talked like that to begin with. Ugh. What-ever.) Anyway, before I start buggin, I present to you some evidence:

Clueless had a dramatic impact on popular culture,” said Neil Lumbard, a staff writer at DVDTalk.com “From the young cast of up-and-coming stars, fashion (which made an especially noticeable impact on youth of the time), and the many words that became common usage: Whatever and As If being towards the top (though without actually even scratching on the surface of the film’s witty and referential script).” Wisegeek.com agrees: “The film popularized a number of expressions that speakers now consider to be common, including the ubiquitous “Whatever!” With its continuing use amongst teenagers and adults alike, the phrase defies fad status and instead cements its place in American vernacular.” That’s, like, Shakespearean level of cultural influence, right there.

In fact, Clueless was so popular that it inspired a 1996 spin-off series of the same name. But the film’s influence wasn’t all positive — especially if you live in the Valley. Lead character Cher Horowitz’s profound distaste for the other side of the hill has lived on for decades, with several of my Los Angeles friends (many of whom were teens at the time of its release) still quoting the film whenever a move to, say, Studio City is brought up.

Also, Clueless introduced the world to one of the best movie-insults of all time: “You’re a virgin who can’t drive.” BAM. Outtie.


Opening Argument from Leanne Aguilera: 

There is no denying that Clueless is classic and, yes, soon after the movie was released, girls were rushing out to buy knee-high socks, plaid skirts, and doing their best to try and pull off a tank top over a tee shirt. (Alas, it’s nearly impossible unless you’re Cher Horowitz.) Shaunna, that is so flattering that you and all of your little Shore-goers were running around saying “like” and “whatever” in hopes of becoming more like my California friends and me. However, when I was passing notes in school — using my Clueless-inspired fuzzy pen — my friends and I were writing about things like “word vomit,” how cool it would be to have Mrs. George as a mom, and our fears surrounding Coach Karr’s warning: “Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant, and die.” Clueless may have paved the way for a much-needed fashion revolution, but Mean Girlswas, and still is, the voice of our generation.

“In a wasteland of dumb movies about teenagers, Mean Girls is a smart and funny one,“ praises Roger Ebert, one of the world’s most distinguished movie critics. Of course, this movie’s level of “funny” is a direct result from film’s script. Need I remind you who wrote the dialogue for this 2004 masterpiece? The one and only Tina Fey. (Cue the applause please!) Mark Lee of LC Radar says it best, “Mean Girls might stand forever as Tina Fey’s greatest achievement, though it’s hard to say for sure because that woman can do no wrong.” Preach! Lee continues, “[Mean Girls] honestly says a lot about the culture and interactions of high school girls. There was a message under those army pants and flip-flops. And it doesn’t hurt that it has some of the funniest lines in teen-film history.”

Quoting Mean Girls is skill — an art form if you will — that many have spent countless girls’ night to perfect. True, the amateur quoter will use Cher’s “as if’” or “outtie” in a conversation sporadically, but this blatant use of line-dropping will automatically, reveal the source of your unoriginal thought. Mean Girls, however, has weaved its way so deep into our society’s vernacular that it has now become a friendly little quiz to see just how flawlessly the lines can be tucked into a rapid dialogue. There’s no denying that every time someone says, “Is this seat taken?” an immediate counter is “You can’t sit with us!” Or when a friend says she wants to do “something fun,” your initial suggestion is to go to Taco Bell. And, of course, the ultimate compliment can be derived from saying that girl has “two Fendi purses and a silver Lexus.”

As for your claim regarding one of the best movie-insults of all time, I believe these three words say it best: “Boo, you whore.”

Rebuttal from Shaunna Murphy: 

See that’s the thing Leanne — of course, for you and I, quoting Mean Girls is an “art form” — the reason being, it came out when you and I were both teens. It’s one of the defining films of our high school years (along with Bring it Onand the like), and we’ll treasure Tina’s precious one-liners forever.

But 20 years from now, teens aren’t going to think of Mean Girls as a film with a strong cultural identity, like Clueless. I mean, Clueless affected the way a nation of kids spoke. They weren’t just quoting lines from the movie, they were raising their sentences and mimicking characters from that movie — characters who, for most people, lived lightyears away (Beverly Hills). Clueless defined California-cool in the mid-’90s, and people STILL associate upspeak with Cher Horowitz. That’s pretty damned impressive.

Look, I’m not denying that Mean Girls will go down in film history as a great high school movie — it’s up there in the lexicon with Fast Times, Heathers, Bring it On, Dazed and Confused, etc., etc. And its message was far more inspiring than Clueless‘ (if Clueless even had a message). But it didn’t change the way people spoke — it only gave them more funny things to say.

Rebuttal from Leanne Aguilera: 

Well said Shaunna. Clueless, without a doubt, mainstreamed the Heathers-inspired “valley-girl” way of talking. As a current resident of Beverly Hills, I cannot begin to tell you how many times a day I hear, “Like… ummm. Can I get like a tall non-fat, iced vanilla latte…?” It’s nauseating for me to hear people trail off the ends of their sentences, but yes, it still happens. And I’m sure that Cluelesshad a large influence on how these 90210 residents, and other “wannabes” in the nation, currently stylize their sentences.

However, the topic of this debate is “Which film has had the biggest impact on teen vocabulary?” Vocabulary. Last time I checked, vocabulary is defined as a collection of words or phrases, not the style in which these words are pronounced. Hence bringing me back to my previous point: Mean Girls as a whole has embedded its quotes deeper into our everyday conversations than Clueless has. Everyone knows know exactly how many candygrams the incredible Glenn Coco received, but off the top of your head, do you know how many tardies Travis Birkenstock earned?

And before you try to remind me that Clueless came out first, thus making it more well-known and/or superior due to seniority, I present to you this comparison: Everyone was Ooh-ing and Aah-ing when the Sony Walkman first came out, saying that it would would go down in history as a classic, a game-changer, something that would always be remembered. But then Apple introduced the iPod.

Closing Remarks from Shaunna Murphy:

Rolling With the Homies. As if. Whatever. Betties and Baldwins. Postal. Monet. Surfing the crimson wave. Though Mean Girls is fresher for us twentysomethings than Clueless — so quotes like “fetch” are currently more popular than the phrases listed above — I maintain that none of the dialogue in Mean Girls will stand the test of time, as Clueless has. Clueless was a defining cultural moment that introduced words, phrases, and, yes, a whole new manner of speaking to an entire nation. Mean Girls was just a really fun movie that pop-culture-philes (mostly female) will fondly remember long past its due date (largely because of Lohan’s tragic fall from grace). Ten years from now let’s quote some Mean Girlsto teenagers and see what happens, eh? I’m picturing a lot of eye-rolls and blank stares.

Closing Remarks from Leanne Aguilera: 

She doesn’t even go here!

Who do you think won this debate: Clueless or Mean Girls? Which movie do you continuously quote? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below!

[Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures]

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