Look. I almost said no when they said we’d be dissecting Mean Girls, because nobody I ever knew thought it was queer enough for a queer film club. Ever. Sure it had its queer aspects and sure it was quotable as heck. And sure every generation of twink since has idolised that toxic, teen girl mentality. But was that enough? Despite my misgivings I decided to roll with it because… well, who else is inviting me to nerd out about queer media?
The last time I had this opportunity was in Film Movements class, where my absolute bae of a teacher David (call me) matched me in knowledge about queer representation in film. I don’t know as much as I’d like, of course, but at least David and I could stand together against that one white girl who decided ‘there’s nothing inherently queer about Hairspray‘.
So. Talking Mean Girls with Lysa from The Russo Test and Phoebe from Here We Queer. Actually an enjoyable night. Not only was there free cider, but the audience got involved and had some very cool things to contribute to the conversation. My only lament was being one of only two people in a crowd of thirty to have seen it when it came out. But more about that later. We had a good discussion about Damien, of course — played by Daniel Franzese, who would later go on to play that beautiful boy Eddie in Looking (it was cancelled because y’all didn’t watch it and I want y’all to feel ashamed of yourselves). Applying The Russo Test to him, however, brought him down to a tissue.
For those who don’t know the Russo test, let me… steal from Lysa’s blog so i don’t have to do the work.
The Russo Test was invented by queer film buff and co-founder of GLAAD, Vito Russo. It exists to bring light to how queer and genderqueer characters are represented on screen. To pass the Russo Test:
1. The film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender.
2. That character must not be solely or predominantly defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity. I.E. they are made up of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight characters from one another.
3. The LGBTQ character must be tied into the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect. Meaning they are not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authenticity, or (perhaps most commonly) set up a punchline. The character should “matter.”
With this in mind, we smashed Damien down to a 2 on the Kinsey Scale (what Lysa was using as a grading system). Rule one is in, but rules two and three fell flat like an ambitious queen in oversized heels. The first thing we discover about Damien is that he’s ‘too gay to function’. And while (in my opinion) he’s the only character in Mean Girls who belongs anywhere he exists, he is, essentially, irrelevant to the plot.
What part of the movie relies on him? None.
One character I wanted to talk about and didn’t was Cady’s mum. Specifically the actress who played her, Ana Gasteyer. She has a few obscure queer titles under her belt, such as Reefer Madness (2005) with Alan Cummings and Geography Club (2013), as well as a web series called Hudson Valley Ballers (2015). She’s also a proud bisexual woman, so… get on that.
Now someone asked the panel why they’d never heard of The Russo Test before, and I had to answer honestly that it’s not something we use in cinema criticism. Which is mostly true. But as I clarified with Lysa later, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely irrelevant. Her and I went more in depth in private on how it can be used to highlight issues with movies like Moonlight and Alex Strangelove, but I might leave that discussion for another blog post (PM if you’re desperate).
I want to finish with a hilaaarious comment made by a young, unidentified woman who sent me for another pint of cider. it’s actually kinda funny. It’s been fifteen years since Mean Girls hit the screen, and most of the crowd would have been three to six at the time. To them… Mean Girls is considered a classic. And apparently, so am I:
Me: (on Grindr) ‘Someone said “I appreciate the historical context you brought” and I almost smacked her down. Never, Catherine!’
Rat Boy: ‘haha Oh my god. The shade in that comment! Christ. It’s kind of funny though.’
Me: ‘I know. They weren’t even being malicious.’
Rat Boy: ‘I think that really makes it. Bless her heart!’
And that’s a wrap!
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