The Mean Girls musical movie is out and, despite the online discourse and cries of "wokewashing", it would be wrong to call it controversial. The film, which is based on the Broadway musical version of the original 2004 teen comedy, has started conversations, sure, and no, not everybody likes it – but it fundamentally lacks any of the bite or wit required to be truly divisive. It is a diluted, lukewarm version of the seminal, spiky 00s teen comedy, and it is an insult to Gen Z to assume they'd be impressed by it.
The film follows nearly the exact same storyline – many lines and quips are carbon copies of the originals, so as to secure those reliable I-get-that-reference laughs from the audience – and aside from the musical element, which is grating enough, very little is added to the 2024 iteration.
But a lot is taken away. Where the Plastics of old would call their fellow high school students sluts, these newly minted Plastics settle for "cow". Zzzzing! While the 2004 characters were sleeping with their teachers, these are explaining how dumbing oneself down for a man's attention is "evil".
Many would lay the blame for this watered down new Mean Girls at Gen Z's door. We're too sensitive, too woke. We're mercilessly puritanical, primed and ready to cancel at will. But this is not who Gen Z are. This is what Boomers and Millennials think Gen Z are.
If you take a look at the majority of content made for Generation Z in recent years, you will find a barrage of pastel-coloured, cookie cutter, overly sincere pacifiers, usually courtesy of Netflix. Love Simon; To All The Boys I've Loved Before; The Edge of Seventeen – they're sickly sweet and go down like Calpol. And they may get views, but they're not generation-defining like Mean Girls was for millennials, or Fast Times at Ridgemont High was for Gen X. They're narrative landfill.
This is the thing older generations get wrong about Gen Z. We're not all PC snowflakes, but older generations are sure trying to turn us into them by patronising us, but giving us no support to tell our own stories, or asking us what we're actually interested in or what our lives are like.
We are just as debauched and depraved as any other generation – if anything more so, thanks to the massive pool of shared intelligence and mutual insanity that is social media – we don't need to be pandered to.
Of the few screen offerings that have got it right, there's recent British hit and current TikTok obsession Saltburn, which features semen-guzzling and grave-f***ing, among other acts that would typically be considered beyond the pale for Gen Z audiences, and Euphoria, an 18-rated HBO show led by a teen drug addict and her transgender off-and-on again girlfriend.
In the very first episode of Euphoria, said girlfriend, Jules, endures rough sex at the hands of her fellow student's father, who is also secretly filming her. Another student is a victim of revenge porn, which she then claims she posted to gain some social clout.
The main character is high on her dead father's cancer medication the entire time. Don't tell me Gen Z don't like f***ed up things, because Gen Z love f***ed up things. Just look at the adoring fancams of Barry Keoghan's manipulative, murdering Saltburn character if you need to know how much Gen Z love f***ed up things.
Because this is how Gen Z actually see their lives. Maybe sans the murder, but with just as much of the drama: to teenagers, their lives and interpersonal relationships are just as electrifying as those in Skins, Gossip Girl or Euphoria, and they want to be taken seriously. Cheap recreations like Mean Girls (2024) feel condescending and overly PG, as plastic as its so-called queen bees.
Yes, Gen Zs might be a little quick to call things out, but their values aren't as prim and priggish as older generations presume. We can be ultra-critical, but we're also fickle: if something is aesthetic and enjoyable enough, we can appreciate it as art, we don't take it as offensive.
Woke is not a way of life for Gen Z, it is something we joke about – saying "because of woke" sarcastically is literally the Twitter and TikTok punchline du jour – while upholding a better social standard than we were raised into. Some morals are uncompromising, but some are very much not. If there's any risk of Gen Z becoming the chastising, prudish negs that we're painted as being, its as a result of the lack of nuance and immorality we're allowed in our media. Let us think!
This is what Mean Girls gets so wrong. If Euphoria et al are anything to go by, they could have kept the teacher-shagging, name-calling and manipulation. Or better yet, made something original. Thanks to our extremely online nature, Gen Z is perhaps the most discerning generation yet, and nothing puts us off more than inauthenticity. Or badly dressed teenagers that look they came straight out of a Shein factory.