Netflix’s Moxie and the End of the Popular Girl
Once upon a time in teen America, you had to be white, slim, and pretty to be popular. You had to be sexually desirable. You had to dress well. The boys had to want you; the girls had to want to be you. It certainly helped if you came from a well-off family, although there was a certain allure to being gorgeous and from the wrong side of the tracks. Maybe you were “easier.” A little more desperate. Either way, you had to make reasonably good grades and do the things popular girls did: cheerleading, volleyball, attending raging house parties and pious church youth groups in equal measure.
Once upon a time in Hollywood, things were the same. Teen movies have long centered around the trials and tribulations of the popular girl. The glowing sun, around which all other planets revolved. She was a ringleader, fierce, sharp, as bad as she was good. She was Summer Wheatley from Napoleon Dynamite. Betty Rizzo from Grease. Regina George from Mean Girls. We love her, we hate her, we can’t get enough of her. Or maybe we can.
Recently, I watched Amy Poehler’s Netflix movie, Moxie, a dramedy about modern-day riot grrls and feminism. Yes, it’s a flawed movie, particularly at the end, and it earned the mixed reviews to match. Still, it was an enjoyable enough way to spend another evening in lockdown, and one thing stuck with me: in the world of Moxie, the popular girl didn’t exist. At least, not as we once knew her. She was there, sure, the pretty blonde cheerleader. But she wasn’t herself. She wasn’t mean, and she wasn’t strutting around hatching evil plans or spreading vicious rumors or attempting to steal anyone’s boyfriend. No one was trying to be her or dress like her or get in her good graces. She was just there, just another girl in a school full of girls.
The popular girl is a part of American mythology, as vital as any other god in our pantheon. George Washington and his cherry tree. Rosa Parks and her bus seat. The little ditty about Jack and Diane, two American kids doin’ the best they can.
And the truth is, like many American women, the popular girls of my youth still live rent-free in my head. There have been moments — spectacular parties…