Mean Girls is an American treasure. It became one of the defining movies of a generation, and quoting it has become such a pastime that even if you haven't seen it, you probably know that the response to the call of "Four for you, Glen Coco" is "You go, Glen Coco!" So when it was announced that it was coming to Broadway and Tina would be writing the book, how could we not be ecstatic?
Don't misunderstand, this is not a hit piece on Mean Girls. It was my personal favorite show of the 2016-2017 season, I went while in previews and already have a ticket to see it again next month. But, I find that if you ask yourself who really are the mean girls, and who are the heroes, you might not find the answer you thought you would.
Common lore states the Plastics are the villains, Cady is the anti-hero, and Janis and Damian are the heroes. It makes sense, feminist anthem I'd Rather Be Me is sung by Janis, and as the narrators throughout the versions of A Cautionary Tale, the show presents them to be the non-biased third parties who can tell the story.
But here's a theory I'd like to present: The Plastics, Janis, and Damian are all villains and Cady and Mrs. Norbury are the heroes.
The key thing we need to remember is that Cady doesn't understand how social structures of humans, particularly teenage girls, work. She understands how the social structures of lions work, but any of us who went to high school and learned to tell the tale can probably tell you that teenagers are much more complex.
You see Cady's naivety again and again throughout the show, in initially not wanting to spy on the Plastics at all to not wanting to break Gretchen. And when she senses she's doing something not quite right, it's Janis who pushes her to do it. It's Janis who tells Cady that her and Damian are her only friends, and makes her think that they care about her.
But they don't. Just listen to the cast album, specifically Revenge Party. Listen closely to Janis's lines at the beginning and then Regina's lines about halfway through. Take note of how they pronounce Cady's name. Regina pronounces it like "Katie"- the way it's actually pronounced. And yet Janis, despite having been corrected the first time, still calls her "Caddie". All you need to do to find the problem with that is open a collection of fairytales- it is so important to call something by it's actual name. To intentionally and repeatedly demean Cady by refusing to call her by her name, Janis is being just as manipulative and possibly meaner than Regina is.
When Cady finally finds herself at the end of the show, she's a mathlete. This is something she showed interest in from the beginning, but was pushed away from by both the Plastics and Janis and Damian. Mrs. Norbury is the only one who thinks she should become a mathelete the whole time and at the end when she needs extra credit, Mrs. Norbury is the one who opens the door by pushing her into the mathletes- and you can tell she's happier and more at peace than she has been the whole show, because finally no one is pressuring her to be something she isn't.
Now, Janis could still qualify as at least an anti-hero if she took responsibility for what she did. In I'd Rather Be Me, not only does she refuse to accept the blame, she pushes all the blame on Cady for screwing her over by becoming Plastic, even though all along Cady was just trying to do what Janis wanted her to. Even at the spring fling when Damian asks her about it, she says she hasn't talked to Cady because then she'd have to admit she was in the wrong.
Cady is the only one who does any self-reflection or admits she did wrong. She takes full responsibility for the Burn Book, letting her co-conspirators off the hook. At the end, she also brings everyone together by breaking and sharing the crown- something I think it's difficult to see any other character doing, and she does it in her Mathletes jacket because the only character who pushed her to actually be true to herself and do what would make her happy consistently throughout the entire show is Mrs. Norbury.