Why the Limit to Mean Girls Does Not Exist

As a result, while the characters of Mean Girls are richly sculpted—that is another aspect of the film's genius—the universe it creates is sufficiently broad to lend itself to projection and metaphor. The film has a Joseph Campbell-like sensibility to it, with character types and story lines that are almost, aaaaalmost, universal. Almost, you could say, mythic. 

Compare that to the other films in Mean Girls’ class. They may also have the air of "morality tale" about them; their universes, however, tend to be much less empathetic, and much more self-contained. They create worlds that are distinctive both aesthetically and morally. Ferris Bueller Day Off's aspirational existentialism. Clueless's aspirational Austenianism. Heathers’ murdery satire. Juno's aggressive quirk. Sixteen Candles’ earnest ennui. Mean Girls’ fellow-travelers are generally movies that, like all high school movies, Have Something to Say about high school, about the assorted vagaries and victories of being youthful but no longer young. They say that through the unique, highly branded universes they establish. They offer, in that sense, cosmology as much as comedy.

That's why their hair is so big; it’s full of secrets.

But back to Buzzfeed. Because to the extent that Mean Girls is a kind of koan in the guise of a feature film—in its empty-fullness, in its full-emptiness—it is a movie that seems, in retrospect, almost genetically constructed for the remix culture in which it happened to launch itself. Recent oral histories of the movie have made a point of noting that its producers, at first, worried that the film—which co-stars, along with Fey, Amy Poehler, Tim Meadows, and Ana Gastayer—might be too reminiscent of other Saturday Night Live-driven films. But its SNL DNA, it turns out, served Mean Girls. Each scene has the feel of a sketch.

This makes Mean Girls uniquely suited to a culture that thrives on combinatorial creativity. The Buzzfeed theory of sharing holds that people share things that they can impose themselves on, and inject themselves into. By atomizing the tropes of the high school film—by focusing on its experience at the elemental level—Mean Girls primed itself, and its fans, for precisely that kind of sharing.

In web design, we talk about APIs, or Application Programming Interfaces. APIs allow data to be pulled from an online source in a structured way, allowing developers to make use of information gathered by services like Facebook and Twitter for their own creative projects. As The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal explained it: “What an API does, in essence, is make it easy for the information a service contains to be integrated with the wider Internet.” Mean Girls is in many ways a cultural version of an API. The elements it contains—the data it offers—encourage sharing. They encourage remixing. The film didn't make "fetch" happen. It left that to its fans.

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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