Fake Boys and Mean Girls: Comedies of Social Acceptance in the 17th Century and Now
Wake up, have a cup of coffee, and put on some makeup before walking out the door for the first time in twelve hours. The day ends with a phone call from a loved one as the makeup comes off and the sweatpants go on before sleeping in preparation to repeat this whole scenario. The question is not about going to work or going to sleep, but it is why do people feel the need to cake their face in makeup and pretend to have certain feelings just to please others on a day to day basis? According to experts in this area of study, it is quite simple. There are several theories including the social identity theory, the self-discrimination theory, and the regulatory focus theory. In a play by George Etheredge, The Man of Mode, several of his characters appear to wear a type of mask. Sir Fopling and Young Belair both try to come across as liking one kind of lifestyle when they truly despise it. This idea runs almost parallel to the main character from Mean Girls. Cady is asked to be someone she is not and says yes which leads her to put on a kind of mask for nearly the whole film. All of these characters serve as perfect examples of why people choose to use fake identity structure in their daily lives. In addition, these roles prove that it is not necessary for people to imitate something they are not, whether it be a lover or a snobby high school girl.
All Cady wants is to fit in, but she tries to fit in with a group, the plastics, who have little common interests with her. Similarly, Sir Fopling Flutter feels the need to fit in with Dorimant and his friends in Man of Mode. The Social Identity Theory explains that people identity with those with similar qualities (Lesa, Lease, Kwon, 154). When Cady meets the ‘plastics,’ she finds that they think she is pretty just like they are. However, the girls automatically try to make Cady even more like them so she fits in better. Regina indirectly demands each one of these characters to imitate someone they are not. The person they are expected to act and look like is Regina herself. In this movie, the similar quality that the four girls share is their ability to attract other human beings with the way they dress and the makeup they wear to look pretty. Clearly, what makes this clique stick together is not emotional strength. It is merely that the four of think they are socially superior to everyone else in their high school society. In the movie this represents that the girls are not being themselves, but trying to be Regina. Cady especially works her way up to this level throughout the film until she is able to rediscover herself at the end of it. The Social Identity Theory also explains this phenomenon. Within social groups, the members use favoritism to make a statement for their group. This means that the members pick a favorite and try to imitate them to the best of their ability (Lesa, Lease, Kwon, 154). In Mean Girls, the “favorite” is Regina. After Cady becomes part of the plastics she channels this favoritism and begins to act like Regina. Close to the end of the film, one of her friends, Janice, insults Cady for being “just like Regina.” The Social Identity Theory shows that part of the reason Cady stopped acting like herself was because of the favoritism her clique showed towards Regina.
The Social Identity Theory can be used to explain why Sir Fopling’s feels the need to be more like Dorimant and to fit into his group of friends. Throughout the entire play, Flutter is constantly trying to impress Dorimant because he is jealous of the way his position in society. Dorimant is a very fashionable person who is respected by the majority of characters in the play. Because Dorimant and Flutter have some mutual friends, the social identity theory can help explain why Flutter constantly obsesses over his appearance. Similar to what the plastics do with Regina in Mean Girls, Flutter constantly tries to impress these people on the same level Dorimant is able to. Towards the end of the play, Sir Fopling goes so far as to try and embarrass Dorimant. However, in this process he merely just embarrasses himself. Furthermore, it is the same group of people that he is trying to impress that continue to edge him on through the embarrassment process. Unlike in Mean Girls, the forceful acts that Dorimant, Mrs. Loveit and the others put Flutter through reveals his true self. Sir Fopling starts referring to Dorimant by his real name, not the fake name, Courtage, Dorimant wanted to be called at a party (IV, iv). Ironically, Fopling takes a literal mask off when he comes to this party, but he also takes off his mask of fashion and high stature. Throughout the whole scene, Fopling does not try and stop impressing Dorimant even though it is hurting his reputation. The Social Identity Theory explains that this is due to the fact that in social groups, a favorite is chosen and the others constantly try to impress them (Lesa, Lease, Kwon, 154). In this case Dorimant is the favorite and Sir Fopling tries to impress him with his conformity to the ideas of the others.
Cady, Regina, and the other “mean girls” all act the way they do because of different aspects of the self. These include the ideal, ought, and actual self. The way these aspects interact with each other and shape the ideals of a person make up the self-discrepancy theory (Chuan, Huang, Zhao 466). The attributes that someone believes someone else has make up the actual self while the ideal self are all of the traits that someone wants to possess. The ought self consists of the attributes that individual feels they have the responsibility to have (Chuan, Huang, Zhao 466). Regina feels like she has to be skinny, beautiful, and the queen bee of their high school. Her friends also help build this part of Regina’s self by putting the responsibility of choosing activities and who sits with them at lunch on her. Regina’s ideal self is built from her own mind. She wants to be skinnier and is constantly is trying to impress men. Through her expressions of these ideals, Cady, Gretchen, and Karen make this their ideal self as well. However, they will never be able to fulfill this because of the actual self. They all have “the fulfilled ought self” (Chuan, Huang, Zhao 467) which consists of the characteristics they are responsible for and actually possess. For example, throughout the entire middle section of the movie, all four of the girls are the pretty, mean girls the population expects them to be. However, Cady’s actual self also consists of the sweet girl she was before she moved to the United States. This prevents her from ever fulfilling the ideal self she hopes to be. These aspects help to explain why the plastics always look up to Regina; because she respresents their ideal self.
The self-discrepancy theory is also prevalent in Dorimant’s character in The Man of Mode. In this play, Dorimant represents the ideal self in a similar way Regina did in Mean Girls. Everyone, especially Sir Fopling looks up to him because of his amazing sense of fashion. Similarly, Harriet is the girl in this play who is looked up to by the others. Her ideal self consists of being with Dorimant and having the characteristics he desires to see in a woman. However, Harriet’s ought self consists of trying to hide her feelings for Dorimant in order to test him to see if he may like her too. Additionally, she must act like she loves Young Bellair to impress her elders while she really does not want this. To try and hide the feelings she has for Dorimant, Harriet creates her actual self which is just The Regulatory Focus Theory helps explain why people conform to certain groups and imitate others in society. Flutter and the ‘plastics’ imitate who they look up to for social strength and fashion sense. In Mean Girls specifically, the plastics imitate Regina due to prevention focused regulation. This part of the theory explains that the fear of being not included scares people into conforming to a certain way of life (Chuan, Huang, and Zhao 467). In the movie, Gretchen, Karen, and Cady all envy Regina. This is because of her looks, fashion sense, and her ability to scare others into doing whatever she wants. This is how Regina keeps the other girls so close to her. “On Wednesdays we wear pink” is a perfect example of one of the ways Regina controls the other girls. If they do not wear pink on Wednesdays, they are not allowed to sit at the lunch table with the others. This frightens the girls because they know Regina will lose respect for them, and maybe never talk to them again if they do not conform to her way of life. Additionally, it would ruin their reputation. The plastics have such a high reputation in their high school because of Regina George. Even the majority if the school population envies Regina because of the passive threats she makes towards people.
A second part of the Regulatory focus theory which explains promotion based regulation is obvious in Etheredge’s play. Promotion based regulation comes from people conforming to and imitating others due to the desire for happiness and pleasure (Chuan, Huang, and Zhao 467). In The Man of Mode, Sir Fopling does not look up to Dorimant because he feels threatened by him like the plastics do in Mean Girls. In contrast, he looks to Dorimant’s character as an idol because he thinks Dorimant is a good person. This is important to the play as a whole and proves that Sir Fopling is indeed trying to imitate Dorimant to a certain extent. Throughout the play, Flutter constantly does what Dorimant thinks he should do, but it is not always because Dorimant does it in a forceful manner. But, because Sir Fopling wants to be like Dorimant for the purpose of enjoyment, the regulatory focus theory proves that pleasure and happiness are the true reasons why Sir Fopling tries so hard to conform to Dorimant’s ideas. Characters like Cady, Gretchen, Karen, and Sir Fopling all try to imitate who they make their ideal self, Regina and Dorimant, for many reasons.
Overall, it can be said that the characters in these two narratives act as they do because they feel obligated to either please themselves or somebody else. The Social Identity Theory and the Regulatory Focus Theory both explain that people feel that they must conform in order to fit in. It does not matter if it is because people feel like they should be around others with similar qualities or because they are trying to fulfil some emotional draw. Additionally, it is the ideal self that really pushes these characters into their masks. For these characters it is a mask of makeup, clothing, and actions. For this reason, they are all similar. But it is their actual selves that set them apart from everyone else and keep them safe from complete conformity.
Works Cited Etherege, George. The Man of Mode. Ed. John Barnard. ed. N.p.: Bloomsbury, 2007. Print. Hoffman, Lesa, Michele Lease, and Kyongboon Kwon. “The Impact of Clique Membership on Children’s Social Behavior and Status Nominations.” Social Development 21.1 (2012): 150-169. Web. 12 Nov. 2015. Hu, Chuan, Jiao Huang, and Li Zhao. “Achieving Self-Congruency?” Computers in Human Behavior (2015) Web. 13 Nov. 2015. Mean Girls. Dir. Mark Waters. Paramount Pictures, 2004. Netflix. Welsh, Alexander. “State-of-the-Art Impersonations for Comedy and Everyday.” Social Research 75.4 (2008): 1059-1084. Web. 8 Nov. 2015.
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