Clueless Movie Analysis (Brave New World Dystopia)Posted: September 14, 2011
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How delighted would be all the kings, czars, and fuhrers of the past…to know that censorship is not a necessity when all political discourses takes the form of a jest?
-Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death
Overview –Clueless is an interesting social experiment. The producers deliberately set out to make new trends for teenagers, even releasing a Clueless-inspired line of Barbie dolls, and these efforts were wildly successfully. But, at the same time, the film is a satire on the very people it was marketed to. It depicts a Huxleyian (as opposed to Orwellian) dystopia. We do not have to fear Big Brother as much as we have to fear the golden fetters of Clueless, the myth of human progress through material goods which drives us to laugh and dance all the way to slavery.
Cher and Tai – Cher is one big walking and talking advertisement. In fact, the very first line in the movie is: “You’re probably going, ‘Is this like a Noxema commercial or what?’” The young aristocrats drive around in expensive cars, go shopping, and worry about how they are going to manipulate the people around them to their own ends. Friendships are generally based on understanding “what it’s like to have people be jealous of us,” but Cher’s friendship with Tai has a different motive: changing her to validate her own existence. In fact, Tai is even more removed from reality than Cher. She is proud of her sexual conquests at fifteen years old, and is already into hard drugs. In fact, at the end of the movie she rejects much of Cher’s world and chooses instead to be with a lazy, mildly-retarded drug addict. This is the American microcosm; we’re supposed to be proud and feel touched by this choice because she’s being “true to herself.”
Toward the end Cher seeks to redeem her meaningless existence through charity (reflecting her aristocratic position in society), but in the end, it’s still all about herself. She cannot escape her narcissism as everything becomes a reflection of her. In fact, she’s so idealistic that her ideal man is a gay guy.
When the masses first saw the aristocracy up close with the advent of photography and the paparazzi, they were revolted at their conspicuous consumption and the sharp contrast with their own grueling factory life. But now that we’ve been tamed, we seek to emulate them. Thus, though we can see that Cher is in fact an immature, materialistic, and often bitchy teenage girl, she’s widely admired for her glamor. However, the joke is on us all as we all become slaves to material pleasures.
Josh – Like Josh, you may be thinking “I’m smarter than this. Just because an actor wants me to buy something does not mean I will.” But that’s the most insidious part of the system, and the meaning of the character Josh (to me). There’s another advertising niche that plays on this kind of self-congratulation—extremely expensive universities, post-modern newspapers, granola, glossy hardback copies of Nietzsche, and beanie manufacturers. Josh is simply conforming to another prepackaged, commercial mold.
Debate Class and Authority – Our politics, religion, news, athletics, education, and commerce have been transformed into congenial adjuncts of show business largely without protest or even much popular notice. – Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman
The scenes in the debate class are some of the most interesting and revealing in the film. Cher obviously is ignorant when she compares giving Haitian refugees shelter with her millionaire father’s birthday party, but why should she not view this as the proper way to debate? She has learned jury manipulation from her father, and from the media she has observed the way that American politics is not much more than a play on emotion and crowd sentiment, versus practical debate. It’s hard to imagine, say, Lincoln spitting out a speech of Cher’s caliber, but it’s not difficult to imagine George W. Bush speaking as she does.
Further, the educational system is obviously failing when the students file their nails, listen to CDs and check their pagers during her speech, but in the end she’s enthusiastically applauded for her vapidness. Meanwhile, while her teacher will not give her an unfair grade, he does not offer any constructive criticism. With this societal feedback, what other lesson could she extract from the experience other than the world is being unfair to her and she must manipulate her miserable teacher for justice? We also later see her manipulations rewarded.
Their family lives do not seem to offer any solid role models either. Christian is from a broken home, Cher’s mother died while getting one of many plastic surgeries, and “Daddy” refers to his own parents as “brain-dead low lives” suggesting that he himself comes from an emotionally empty background. Josh’s home life consists of a fourth step-father who constantly criticizes him, and dinner at the Horowitz’s consists of everybody jumping to answer their cell phones. And let’s not forget Cher and Josh were once step-brother and step-sister, possibly suggesting a perversion of family life as well.
What I’m getting is that these teenagers are being thrust into an adult world, but their frivolous education and hobbies have failed to teach them to make mature decisions. As we saw earlier, Tai has been thrust into a world of sex and drugs, Dionne and her boyfriend act out an adult fantasy in their relationship, Cher childishly imitates her father’s legal jargon by asking her debate teacher, “do you recall the dates of these alleged tardies?” and, most humorously, Christian is imitating the Rat Pack by speaking and dressing like a forty-year old man from another era. Indeed, they are all playacting.
Society and Soma – Their escape (or is it?) from this world is consumerism. In Brave New World, Huxley depicts a society that should no longer have to fear anything, or worry about their basic needs being met, and yet, depression is a problem only able to be solved by the drug soma. Indeed, Brave New World was inspired by the rampant consumerism and lax morals in American society.
The problem is that it becomes an addiction. Whenever Cher gets depressed, she goes to the mall. When Cher is robbed in the Los Angeles ghetto, her biggest concern is that her designer dress will be ruined. When she’s at a party and a guy spills a drink on her shoes, she melts down like a Frenchman storming the Bastille. Her addiction to material goods must continually be fed or else her mental state goes awry. In other words, we pay a hefty price for the snake oil dreams that manufacturers and the media have dreamed up for us.
Conclusion – Don’t get me wrong, I find Clueless to be a hilarious movie, and I enjoyed watching it, but I find the aftertaste to be far more bitter than sweet.