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Magazine October 2011

The Life of a Socialite

Is there really such a thing as

Teen Theme
Theorists Clue You in on the Truth of a Teenage Girl

Teenage Ethics?

The Life of an Everyday Girl

her, a high school student in Beverly Hills, must

back to the community would be to adopt a tragically unhip new girl at school, Tai Frasier. Cher and Dionne give Tai a makeover and initiate her into their circle of popularity. Cher also tries to extinguish the strong mutual attraction between Tai and Travis, an amiable skateboarding slacker, and to steer her toward Elton, a rich snob. Her second matchmaking scheme backfires when Elton rejects Tai and makes a play on Cher. Matters worsen when Chers protg works a bit too well and Tais popularity begins to surpass Chers, especially after Tais near death experience at the mall that helped boost her popularity at school. Other classmates, including Dionne and Chers longtime rival, classmate Amber, soon gravitate toward Tai, and Cher finds herself demoted in the high school social rankings.

survive the trials of a fifteen-year-old girls adolescent life. Cher and her best friend Dionne, both named after great singers of the past that now do infomercials, are pampered upper-class girls who believe it is their duty that they must clue others in. Cher has risen to the top of the high school social scene and is self-assured in her insular, fashion obsessed world. She lives in a Beverly Hills mansion with her father, a ferocious litigator; her mother has long since died, having succumbed to complications while undergoing liposuction.

However there are people that find much fault with Cher, Josh Lucas, her socially conscious ex-stepbrother who visits during a break from college, continually without malice teases Cher. She refers to him as having granola breath and mocks his scruffy idealism, while he teases her for being selfish, vain, and superficial, and says that her only direction in life is toward the mall. Cher, a good natured girl but at a superficial level, has an innate urge to help those less fortunate. Her charity work conceives of matchmaking two lonely, nerdy, hard-grading teachers, Mr. Hall and Miss Geist. She achieves her original intent- to make them relax their grading standards so she can renegotiate a bad report card. But, when she sees their new found happiness she realizes she likes doing good deeds. Cher now decides that the ultimate way she can give

Meanwhile, Cher has a couple of romantic mishaps with boys at school. The first involves Elton; the next concerns Christian, a handsome classmate with great fashion sense who turns out to be gay. Cher naively and repeatedly fails to recognize Christians homosexual tendencies, and tries unsuccessfully to seduce him while they are alone one night watching Spartacus. The next day, Dionnes boyfriend, Murray is roaring with laughter which makes Chers mistake clear to her at last. So much for Cher sending herself chocolates and showing some extra skin to grab Christians attention! Events for Cher reach a crisis after she fails her drivers test and cant renegotiate her results. When Cher goes home, crushed, Tai confides to her that she is interested in her exstepbrother Josh and wants Cher to help her get him. Cher says she doesnt think Josh is right for her, and they quarrel. Cher, left all alone, begins to think she has created a monster in her own image.

Are Teens Ethical?

ecause Clueless is told from the perspective of a

Not only do the cliques of students seem to exist in a utopian society without conflicts, the various students actually support each others endeavors. When Travis is revealed to have the most unexcused tardies in Mr. Halls homeroom, the class erupts with applause. They do not do this to humiliate Travis but rather to support his clownish behavior. Even though he is a slacker and a poor student, his friends and acquaintances admire him.

well-to-do, popular Californian girl, the depiction of teenage culture is somewhat skewed. Cher Horowitz and her friends aspire to be to be thought of as high class, and so, they attempt to maintain an aura of maturity with everything they do. As their new friend Tai Fraiser points out on her first day at school, You guys talk just like grownups! However, this desire to be treated as adults clashes with their inexperience and ignorance in the world around them. As a result, when things do not go their way, they easily slip back into childish behaviors such as whining and pouting. The entire student body is set up like a caste system where everyone has a specific group and sticks to it. Cher, being one of the popular girls, sees no reason for the groups to mix and hijacks Tais person to add to her own group, despite the clear signs that she would fit better with the underachieving drug-users and skateboarders. Although this system is in place and Cher repeatedly tries to push the burnout Travis Birkenstock away from Tai, no one is intentionally antagonistic towards one another. The student groups are able to co-exist peacefully in outside functions and no one is seen bullying another student. The only mean girl is a friend of Chers named Amber, who often exchanges insults with the heroine, yet is not seen as an enemy. They still sit together at lunch and hang out together on the weekends.

The relationship between the students and teachers is also presented as very supportive. The students complain about their poor grades, but they do not feel the teachers are out to get them. Even when they disrupt class with silly antics and poorly-researched debates, Mr. Hall finds the students to be quite enjoyable and never comes off as mean. He is strict and gives them warnings and punishments, but everyone is aware of the rules of the classroom and treat everyone with respect. Overall, the teenagers in this movie are basically miniature adults. They hold intelligent conversations and the whole high school is seen as a perfect microcosm. Seeing as how this story was based on Jane Austens Emma, which focused on upper-class Victorian adults, the mannerisms and culture of the olden times have been transposed on to the modern youth. Jokes are references are made to the shallowness of the characters, but in the end, everyone is trying to do the right thing and, even more importantly, fit in at school.

Teen Themes
Theme 1: Social Status

lmost everything Cher does is to maintain her

status with her peers. The entire movie is told from her point of view as the most popular person in her high school. Her social status is how Cher identifies herself. In order to maintain her social status, Cher obsesses over her appearance. She spends a lot of money buying clothes from expensive Beverly Hills boutiques and shopping malls. She spends a lot of time grooming herself. Deutsch and Theodorou (2010)state that the physical displays of identity through clothing, hairstyles, and accessories are assurances of recognition of not only ones individual identity but also of ones place in the larger peer group (p.231). Her extensive wardrobe allows her to buy her way to the top of the social ladder at school and maintain high status within her peer group. She is able to maintain friendships with girls like her because of what Elkind has called the imaginary audience (Schwartz et al., 2008, p. 441). As far as physical appearance goes, they all share the same value systemphysical appearance is of primary importance.

Cher sees herself as the savior of those who are lonely or wardrobe-challenged. Such is the case with the new girl, Tai, whom Cher adopts as her makeover project. Such makeovers are Chers main thrill in lifeit gives her a sense of control in a world of chaos. Control is something Cher wants and needs to have. Cher dyes Tais hair, revamps her wardrobe, makes her exercise, and tells her they need to work on her vocabulary and her accent. Makeovers allow Cher to not only make sense of her world on her terms but also create others who are like her. This strengthens her sense of identity. Throughout most of the movie, Cher exemplifies what Erikson considers the identity aspect of the Identity versus Role Confusion stage of adolescent development (Snowman & McCown, 2012).

Chers need for control extends into romance. She has a need to control potential romantic couples: Tai and Elton, Miss Geist and Mr. Hall, and Tai and Travis. She attempts to refocus Tais feelings for Travis, someone no respectable girl will go out with, because Travis is not part of her social structure. Travis presence in her peer group would cause her status to decrease in her mind. She then attempts to connect Tai with one of the most popular boys in the school, Elton. This is a more respectable pair in Chers mind because Elton is already a worthy member of

her peer group. Chers motivation to pair up Miss Geist and Mr. Hall is actually an attempt to have some control over her grades. However, the romantic pairing between the two teachers results in an increase in everyones grades, thereby increasing Chers social status. Since her social status is very closely tied to her identity, it is devastating to Cher when her status is trumped by Tai after a dangerous incident at the mall. She realizes the fickle nature of people who are supposed to be her friends and begins to lose confidence in herself. It is at this point that Josh, Chers ex-stepbrother, calls her a brat after insulting the housekeeper, Lucy, by insinuating Lucy is Mexican (Lucy is from El Salvador). Disturbed by the loss of her social status and the insult by Josh, she attempts to take her driving test which she fails. A drivers license is a rite of passage for every teenager. Not being able to drive her Jeep will also seriously cause a decline in her social ranking. Pondering the recent events in her life Cher is experiencing an identity crisis of sort, or the Role Confusion aspect of Eriksons Identity versus Role Confusion stage of adolescent development (Snowman & McCown, 2012). Cher realizes that she is in love with Josh even though he does not meet her typical standards that someone of her stature she should be with. She also comes to appreciate the positive aspects of her friends personalities and Miss Geists efforts to get students involved in social justice and environmental issues. Cher realizes she is the one who needs the makeover. This epiphany causes Cher to use her popularity for a good cause and enlists her social group for the Pismo Beach Relief Efforts. Through the theme of social status, Chers character experiences a complete revolution. She starts as the strong, confident teenager (Identity), questions her role in her small high school world in Beverly Hills (Role Confusion), and returns to the strong, socially-conscious leader of the Pismo Beach efforts (Identity) by the end of the movie. Where she once identified herself simply as the most popular person in her high school with an expensive wardrobe, she became the most popular person who accepted responsibility for something greater than herself.

Theme 2: Morality The first person point-of-view technique of the movie is meant to emphasize Chers egocentrism. Her egocentrism leads to her egoismher code of morals and ethics is based on her self-interests.

The role of Josh provides what Deion calls a postadolescent ideali*st+ perspective throughout the movie against Chers self-serving moral and ethical code. Where Cher only seems to show an interest in Beevis and Butthead, Josh admonishes her: In some parts of the universe, maybe not in Contempo Casual, but in some parts of the world its considered cool to know whats going on in the world. In Joshs mind, they each have a responsibility to be aware of the world, something larger than themselves. In Chers mind, this means breaking for animals after she gets her license and giving many expensive Italian outfits to [her much older housekeeper], Lucy. She compares allowing oppressed Haitians into the United States with allowing people who did not RSVP into a party. Cher cannot even begin to conceive of anything that extends beyond her world of privilege.

Chers world is her social world at her high school. Her ethics are based on her role and status as the most popular person. For Cher, it is perfectly acceptable to spark up a doobie and get laced at parties but quite another to be fried all day. The fact that marijuana is illegal is of no consequence to Cher because it is something that is socially acceptable to enhance her image. However, she draws the line at being high at school. That is not to say that she accepts responsibility for her learning as a student. Quite the contraryshe is so lacking in responsibility over her academics that she takes to negotiating (which includes lying) for higher grades. When she fails to convince her Debate teacher, Mr. Hall of her scholastic aptitude she engages in a scheme to pair her World History teacher, Miss Geist with Mr. Hall. As Josh points out to her, it is a situation which Ill bet serves your interests more than theirs. She does not consider the possible damage it can do her two teachers emotionally if it backfires. Her illegal activity is not limited to the occasional joint. She frequently drives without a license. As she drives her friend to school, she drives through a stop sign. When her friend points out her error, she says, I totally paused. The belief that one is invulnerable to harm is what Elkind calls the personal fable. Consequences such as the risk to her safety and the safety of others are never a consideration. When her father receives a second notice for three outstanding parking tickets he confronts her in anger. Her response reveals a serious lack of knowledge about the law: I dont remember receiving a first notice. This is another situation where she fails to accept responsibility for her actions. Her ethical code does not allow her to behave in a way that inconveniences her or does not serve her best interests.

All of her immoral, unethical, or illegal behaviors are reflective of what Kohlberg called Stage 2 of Preconventional Morality: an action is judged to be right is it is instrumental in satisfying ones own needs (Snowman & McCown, 2012, p. 59). When Cher returns home after failing her driving test, she is able to anticipate Joshs reaction: I dont want to hear how it is a big responsibility and you cant BS your way through it. Her ability to sense what his reaction might be is acknowledgment of her faults. She talks to her father about a boy she likes, a do-gooder type and what she can do to capture his attention. Cher begins to assess her moral and ethical compass against Joshs and she realizes all my after-school activities arent good enough. This realization inspires her to become the Pismo Beach Relief Effort captain. Cher has again evolved through another phase of adolescent development.

The theme of morality provides another opportunity for Cher to demonstrate growth. She starts as a character with a warped sense of morals and ethics. Through her own actions and inactions she is able to realize the consequences of her attitudes and behaviors. Through that realization she is able to transform herself into a more aware and responsible person.

Theories of a Teen
This film offers many opportunities to examine the maturation process of teenagers. It is hard to focus on just a few but, after consideration of the most compelling cases the work Piaget's cognitive development, Elkind's Adolescent Egocentrism, Erikson's theory of Personality Development, and Marcia's theory of Identity Status stood out as most interesting. The following examines how these works identify the journey of childhood into adolescence and beyond. Piaget's work regarding the stages of cognitive development uncovers how thinking evolves for infants through young adults. The formal operation stage is estimated to emerge in children aged 12 through adulthood. As they mature, the ability to,engage in mental trial and error by thinking up hypotheses and testing them in their heads is attained(Snowman, p. 41). Until this point, children seem incapable of forming a hypothesis, mentally sorting out solutions, and systematically testing the most promising leads(Snowman, p.42).

didn't Mr. Hall understand that being cute, popular, and sly was enough to be graded on a curve. Cher devises a plan for a love connection between the lonely instructors, thus improving their personal lives in turn improving their mood at school. This improved mood resulted in more lenient grading by the new lovebirdsshowing Cher's ability to theoretically problem solve, mentally test hypotheses and determining a plan of action. Not to say that Cher's scheme was particularly complex but, it did show a level of deductive reasoning and planning.

Cher's display shows she reached formal operation stage with her extensive scheme to bring together Miss. Giest and Mr. Hall. She is sly and is out to solve Mr. Hall's, a bachelor, perpetual bad mood. With his cranky demeanor, he is not quick to hand out unearned grades to Cher. This did not sit well with her. She declares that, she felt impotent and out of control, which I really hate(Clueless) Of course, she needed to solve the glaring problem of her low grades,

David Elkind describes Adolescent Egocentrism as, the failure to differentiate between the cognitive concerns of others and those of self(Elkind, p.1025). Honestly, this theory would have most parents of teenagers responding with an sarcastic, Really, I never noticed?. Teenagers are notorious for their selfish and self-centered behaviors, exactly when their parents are expecting them to abandon those ways. Elkind goes further to use the theory of Adolescent Egocentrism to explain a teenager's strong connection with their peers, leaving them willing take part in conduct that is against their beliefs and best interest (Elkind, 1968, p. 154). Cher is seen initially as the epitome of self-centeredness, especially by Josh, the stereotypical world-saving college student. For example her father comments that he would like to see Cher have some direction, Cher quips back, I have direction Josh interjects, yeah, to the mall(Herkling, 1995). Cher is focused on paving the path of least resistance, placing herself first, and

it is a theme that is really too boring to explore . More interesting is Clueless' portrayal of the unstoppable force of peer pressure.

The film highlights the ups and downs of teenage peer association. But, nothing is more center to the film than the consumerism necessary to maintain status and keep a spot in Cher's click. It is this very consumerism that Deutsch and Theodoru believe assist teenagers to, claim a sense of individual identity that also links them to a group identity, thereby balancing their needs for individuation of self (from both adults and nonin-group peers) and connection to others (in-group peers)(Deutsch & Theodoru, p. 231). In the process, this need to shop, supports Elkind's theory of Adolescent Egocentrism allowing a teenager to not only to establish self but, to connect with their peers. Cher, Dionne and the newly indoctrinated, Tai are slaves to high fashion and to their own eyes for fashion detail, constantly evaluating and critiquing the dress of their classmates, girls and boys alike. When Tai had arrived looking rough around the edges, Cher on a high from making her Giest/Hall love connection was looking at Tai as another project. Dionne, however, was concerned about their reputations, how they would be seen by their peers, if Tai was tagging along.

Almost every decision they make concerns their reputation and how they will be perceived by their peers. Their identities are completely defined by their collectively chic clothes, accessories, hair, and make-up. Popularity and peer relationships hinge on the girl's mall domination and completely define them as teens. It is this type of singleminded concern that is defined by Elkind and reaffirmed by Deutsch and Theodorou. Erik Erikson expanded his theories past the work of his mentor Anna Freud and her father Sigmund Freud to include eight stages of a child's personality development. In contrast to Freud, Erikson believed that children are a product of their surroundings, learning different values and goals with different nurturing and guidance(Erikson Institute, 2011). In stage 5, identity vs. confusion, Erikson believes children are developing a sense of self. During this stage, children nurtured with encouragement and reinforcement will emerge with a concrete sense of self gaining independence and control. Secondarily, those who do not succeed in gaining an understanding of self will remain insecure and confused about themselves.

It is clear that our heroine Cher comes into her own at the end of the film. She emerges with a new sense self as she realizes that her previous behaviors were not helping anyone. She recognizes that there is more to her world and Josh, her ex-stepbrother's disapproving sarcasm could be closer to reality than she considered. She decided she need a,complete makeover except, this time, I makeover my soul(Herkling, 1995). It seems that there is more to life that shopping and outfits. As a test of her new priorities, She uses her popularity to help her help others. She is encouraged by Josh and her father with their guidance and encouragement. She loses her insecurity and the intense burden of confusion she felt about her place in the world, her love life, and her real passion. Cher emerges with a new identity and a strong sense of self as characterized in Erikson's stage 5.

James Marcia's theory of Identity Status uses Erikson's observations as a starting point to explore a child's development of identity. He formed a theory based on four statuses that describe that journey. The third status, Moratorium, identifies adolescents currently in a crisis, exploring various commitments and ready to make choices, but has not made a commitment to these choices, generally uncertain. The last status, Identity Achievement, shows adolescents that have gone through a identity crisis and have made a commitment to a sense of identity (i.e. certain role or value) that he or she has chosen. Marcia's work tries to explain the stages teenagers and even adults experience in trying carve out their role in life.

Like the changes explored with Cher, above, many of the characters chronicled in the film are struggling through the process of finding themselves, their true identity. Travis is not different. However, his journey is disclosed completely on screen, allowing him to be a perfect model Marcia's theory of Identity. Travis exemplifies Moratorium and Identity Achievement through his movement onscreen from stoner on the edge to 12 stepping skateboard champion. We first see him rambling off topic and making a halfhearted attempt to commit suicide, after getting his report card, in Mr. Hall's classroom. His dress and speech immediately pin him as the class pot-head. He then shows up making an acceptance speech after being notified that he had the most tardies, 38, in the class. Travis is seen on multiple occasions offering pot and even smoking at a party. He is treated as a second class citizen by Cher often trying to stop the natural connection between Travis and Tai. Eventually Tai caught on to the clique's attitude and openly gave Travis the brush off. During his multiple embarrassing public moments, you see Travis' half smile and hurt in his eyes when he is chided by the popular chicks. Travis attempts to escape the identity crisis of Moratorium and made a change to the Identity Achievement status by seeking out a new role. He divulges to Cher he is trying to change, clean up his act, and gain the clarity to really work on his skating. Travis even gets the girl at the end. Throughout the film, he transforms his identity and we see a well-adjusted, content teenager emerge. It is certainly an example of Marcia's statuses Moratorium and Identity Achievement.

The Depiction of Teen Truth

her and her friends are an accurate and false

depiction of true adolescents, which begs the question of whether the media emulates real life or does real life emulate what the media portrays. As we see in Clueless, Cher is a selfish daughter of a wealthy lawyer who takes on projects in other people to reform them to be more like her, mostly for self gratification. Teens are naturally selfish creatures, but are often unknowingly so. Cher finds her true self in volunteering and helping other people, which is a trait many teens also encompass.

Although there are many similarities between the lives and relationships of the teens in Clueless and those of a typical high school, there are differences as well. Most teens do not have access to high limit credit cards and the luxuries afforded to Cher and her friends. Clueless is a spoof or a parody, embellished to bring out the best and not so great attributes that teens possess. Although Clueless is accurate in the general depiction of teens and their relationships, the lifestyle illustrated is definitely overstated.

The relationships evolve much like those of real life teens. Cher, like many girls her age, is careful about her reputation with boys, although she is more worried about the age and social standing of those she dates rather than the physical intimacy portion of the relationship, although she does fantasize about who will be her first sexual experience. She watches Dionne and Murray evolve from puppy love to having a deeper understanding of each other and sharing the deep bond of first love. Cher also learns that sometimes your best friend can be the best boyfriend, much like young adults and teens find in the real world.

Works Cited
Deutsch, N.L. & Theodorou, E. (2010). Aspiring, consuming, becoming: Youth identity in a culture of consumption. Youth and Society (42)2, 229-254. doi: 10.1177/0044118x09351279. Elkind D. (Dec., 1967). Egocentrism in Adolescence. Child Development. Vol. 38(No. 4), pp. 1025-1034. Retrieved from URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1127100 Erikson Institute. (2011). About Erikson. Retrieved from http://www.erikson.edu/default/aboutei/history/erikerikson.aspx

Rudin, S. (Producer), & Heckerling, A. (Director). (1995). Clueless [Motion Picture]. United States: Paramount Pictures. Schwartz, P.D., Maynard, A.M., & Uzelac, S.M. (2008). Adolescent Egocentrism: A Contemporary view. Adolescence (43)171, 441-448. Retrieved from: Snowman, J. & McCown, R. (2012). Psychology applied to teaching. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Publishing. All images retrieved from www.google.com and www.hotflick.net

Magazine Staff
Summarizer: Ethnographer: Theme Generator: Theorist: Organizer: Maral Melkonian John Hamilton Elizabeth Lintz Jennifer Cochran Harris Carey DeBeaux