Friday, December 19, 2014

A Lesson on Gossip from Mean Girls

In high school, most people experienced some level of drama. All those raging hormones especially among the girls are bound to flare up in endless cat fights. However, as the song "High School Never Ends" by Bowling for Soup points out, the drama does not end, it just opens up onto a wider scale and becomes more adult, so to speak. Because of this, the movie Mean Girls has a lesson for everyone, not just girls or women. Mean Girls is about gossip among girls in high school, but it causes you to think about the gossip in your life.
I first saw this film in theaters with my dad. I hadn't heard much about it but my dad wanted to take me because all the grad students my dad was working with at UC Berkeley had recommended it. This was before I knew anything about Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. We both enjoyed it very much. Cady Heron played by Lindsay Lohan is transplanted from growing up in South Africa to a typical American high school in the Midwest. Being so pretty and exotic, she is instantly picked up by the Plastics whose queen bee is Regina George played by Rachel McAdams. What starts out as a mission to bring down the reigning group, Cady realizes how broken her new friends actually are.
The main issue Mean Girls deals with is gossip. You know the saying "Devil makes work for idle hands?" The same can be said for idle tongues too. Cady constantly feels uncomfortable around the plastics because of the awful things they constantly say about people. They even have a burn book with photos and insults about everyone in school. Even when Cady participates by saying nice things, Cady quickly learns that that too can become gossip.
At one point, I felt very sorry for Regina. Her mother, played by the brilliant Amy Poehler, cares very little what her daughters do. It seems as though the only way Regina knows how to deal with the hurt is to put others down to feel better about her own miserable life. When offered a chance for redemption, however, she blatantly refuses and clearly not out of ignorance, simply pride.
I had a horrible time in middle school because of gossip. No one wanted to be my friend because I would defend the targets of gossip rather than participate. I then was also the target of gossip even among the boys who I would often catch snickering at me. I was not so much hurt by the things people said, but I was hurt by the simple isolation of not being a part of the group and just being a target for no reason, really. In Mean Girls, everyone at Cady's high school feels that same rejection. The Plastics are the fuel, but everybody gossips. In Cady's attempt to infiltrate the Plastics, she finds herself turning into them. Despite her dislike of the burn book, in a very powerful scene she writes something about a teacher that is completely false and places the teacher under a police investigation. Left unchecked, gossip spreads like weeds and spirals out of control. When in a rage, it is easy to make targets out of innocent bystanders rather than take responsibility for our actions or foster a spirit of understanding.
I decided on this film and this topic because it's such a sneaky and seemingly innocent sin. It's a wolf disguised as all kinds of herbivore skins. This film was recently put on Netflix stream, so on a quiet evening to myself, I decided to watch it again. As entertaining a film it is to watch, I had a gut wrenching experience because I could see evil parts of myself in the actions of many of those teenagers. While I don't keep a burn book, it is so easy to complain about people we don't like, to say things about people who hurt us, and make comments about people who are a little odd. When we do those things, we strip away their God-given dignity. There was one scene in particular that really struck me and shows a brilliant feat of editing. Cady's math teacher, played by the hilarious Tina Fey, has a talk with her because she's not doing well even though she is brilliant at math. She expresses concern but Cady brushes her off. The next cut, Cady is in Regina's room complaining to the plastics not about the situation, but about Ms. Norbury. I froze in my seat. How many times have I done that? How many times have I complained about teachers because I didn't like the lesson or I didn't do well on an exam? How many Sunday's have I given myself the right to complain about a priest's homily or the way he said Mass? Everyone gossips to some degree. Even when we don't think the person hears us, they are still hurt by the invisible knives we throw at them. It also hurts us. Rather than speaking loving words, we foster evil in our heart. Each word of gossip fuels that evil.
If you want a lesson on gossip and the potential consequences, Mean Girls is the perfect movie. With social media making bullying even more rampant than when the film was first released, it's important for us to model how to talk to others IRL and online to our children. If they hear us gossiping about our neighbors, what are we to say to them when we find out they gossip about their classmates? The best way to fight any sin is prayer. Sometimes it may feel like the best thing to rant about someone on Facebook, even if you don't write their name. People who know the situation can see and the person you complain about may become hurt. The best way to combat the evil gossip in our heart is prayer. Start with praying for people you don't like and tend to gossip about. Pray for yourself so that you no  longer gossip. Most importantly, just don't talk unless you have something good to say. Next time you hear a good piece of gossip, pray for the person who told you and pray for the person who is being gossiped about. (They both probably need it!) Time with friends is better spent in joy rather than ugly chatter.

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