Clueless by Design

Clueless Reunion

My dual review of Heathers and Mean Girls elicited multiple requests for me to give my take on Clueless.

I'd somehow managed to avoid seeing Clueless all these years. But pleasing my readers is job one, so last night I watched the movie for the first time.

Now, I pointed out before how Heathers and Mean Girls are the quintessential high school movies of generations X and the Millennials, respectively. I also mentioned, based mostly on the release date, that Clueless would be the defining high school film of Gen Y.

Having finally seen Clueless, it's uncanny how spot-on that description was. The cultural--especially the generational--touchstones are so plentiful here that I can skip the plot analysis and do a thorough review from a purely generational perspective.

For those who haven't read my generational breakdown which includes generations that the media and pop culture have memory holed, Generation Y is between Gen X and the Millennials. It's a transitional generation like the Silent Generation and Generation Jones.

Some people accuse me of making up an ad hoc generational cohort to fit a preexisting theory, but they forget that Gen Y used to be talked about in the news media and popular entertainment all the time.

But then the Millennials came along, and Boomers decided they made much better punching bags than the previous two generations. Thus, Ys were ex post facto folded into Gen X and the Millennial Generation.

Due to coming of age in a transitional period and suffering the deliberate blurring of their generational identity with the cohorts on either side, Generation Y can be hard to pick out from the Xer and Millennial crowd. That is, until you know what to look for.

There are real and definite qualities that distinguish Ys, but these behaviors and attitudes are arbitrarily assigned to Ge X or the Millennials depending on the--usually Boomer--commentator's immediate rhetorical needs.

Let's take a look at some defining Gen Y traits.

  • Born 1979-1989.
  • Have personal memories of the Cold War.
  • One foot in the pre-internet world and the other in the internet-dominant world.
  • Grew up being told that majority-minority America was inevitable but enjoyed a relatively high trust childhood environment.
  • As the Boomers' younger children, were sheltered and bribed for their affection instead of being manipulated and neglected like their elder Gen X siblings.
  • The divorce and latchkey kid epidemics that started with Gen X were in full swing during Gen Y's formative years. Many Ys came from broken homes and perceived it as normal.
  • To compensate, Ys were raised in a fool's paradise of cartoons, plastic toys, video games, and suburban enclaves. They grew up on the Truman Show.
  • American culture still had a vestige of vaguely Christian morality when Gen Y came of age. Many Ys were even taken to church regularly as kids but fell away when encouraged to, "Decide what's true for yourself!"
  • Raised with the unquestioned expectation that they would all go to college. Yes, Xers got the, "You wanna flip burgers all your life?" speech, but in 1969 it was still assumed that some people weren't cut out for college. To Ys, college was a normal life stage that just happened, like losing your teeth or dying.
  • Grew up during peak racial harmony. No memory of 60s and 70s unrest, and saw the 90s riots as aberrations.
  • Education focused almost exclusively on rote memorization and regurgitation of ephemeral facts instead of practical skills. The "good at tests" generation.
  • The first guinea pigs of Leftist social engineering back before the process was perfected. Escaped the Millennials' full on indoctrination but picked up some residual utopianism.
To drive the differences home, let's compare and contrast Xers', Ys', and Millennials' generational vices.

Generation X: pretentious, cynical, and nihilistic

Generation Y: hapless, tractable, and naive to a fault

Millennials: self-absorbed, needy, and entitled.

Now that the picture's a bit clearer, let's dive into Clueless and see why it's the definitive Gen Y high school movie.

Silverstone - Cher

After a brief opening montage, we're introduced to our main protagonist, Cher, played by Alicia Silverstone. Right away, she hits all the Gen Y high notes.

You know the old, "Bob is such a perfect example of _____, that if he didn't exist, we'd have to invent him," quip? Cher comes off as writer/director Amy Heckerling trying to invent the epitome of Generation Y.

The movie was released in 1995 and takes place over the course of a school year. That means the story either happens between fall 94 and spring 95 or fall 95 and spring 96. Cher's age is stated as 15 at the start of the film, meaning she was born in 1979 or 1980. Either way, she's early Gen Y.

Cher's dad is a widower and multiple divorcee. Cher appears to be his only natural child out of all those unions. She has grown up with a succession of stepmoms and at least one stepbrother, though it's strongly suggested she has other stepsiblings. Broken home: check.

As a corporate lawyer who's made his fortune by parasitically latching onto the system, Cher's dad is always busy with work. He tries to compensate by furnishing Cher with every material luxury, including a lavish room in their palatial home, a seemingly limitless line of credit, a cell phone.

Interesting side note: Cell phones feature more prominently in Clueless than in Mean Girls, which was made a decade later. Remember that in 95, having a cell phone was as much a mark of affluence for a high school kid as having a sports car.

Speaking of emerging technology, Cher dips her toes int he digital world by using a desktop-based foreshadowing of a fashion app to select her outfit each morning. She then takes Polaroid selfies to make sure the ensemble is to her liking.

If there's anything more Gen Y than a Polaroid selfie, I haven't found it. I don't want to find it.

Cher's best friend Dionne is black. She never brings up her friend's race because it's simply not important. The two girls act, talk, and live almost identically. Dionne perfectly represents the peak blank slate/colorblind era that Clueless chronicles. You could recast that character with Reese Witherspoon or Michelle Rodriguez without having to rewrite the part at all.

This colorblindness pops up again in a speech Cher makes in her debate class. The topic is whether or not the US should admit Haitian refugees. I was floored when I saw this scene because the same disastrously naive outlook behind the immigration policies that have destroyed America is on full display.

In her argument, Cher likens illegal immigrants to dinner party guests who show up to her father's mansion without RSVPing. She glibly argues that all the government has to do is rearrange some chairs, and the party can go on as before.

We could pick this ridiculous argument apart by pointing out that the dinner guests were invited or even hypothetically ask Cher how many Haitian immigrants she'll be housing at her mansion. But that's not the main point of this post.

The point is that Cher, like most of Gen Y, has grown up so insulated from the real world that she accepts her own facile argument uncritically. If she thinks of Haiti at all, she assumes it's populated with clones of Dionne who just have less fashionable shoes.

The blank slate isn't the only Leftist canard the movie openly broadcasts. Plenty of screen time is given over to PSAs for feminism and environmentalism, for example. What's fascinating isn't so much the wall-to-wall Leftist messaging. It's that the movie embraces the earlier, utopian strain of Leftism.

The Gen Y kids are urged to recycle, use PC jargon, and cheerlead for the loss of their national sovereignty under the pretext of achieving some universal moral good. And they lack the frame of reference to realize they're being duped.

If nothing else, Clueless is a stunning time capsule from the not-so-distant past when the Left still pretended to care about human betterment in general. Their real agenda is present in a subtle, nascent form, most clearly in the character of an implausibly Caucasian mugger.

It's not that Cher is willingly vicious. Unlike her nearest analogue from Mean Girls Regina George--Cady is too atypical a Millennial for an apt comparison--Cher is driven by a genuine desire to do good. But her conscience is so malformed and uninformed that she misses the mark.

Just as Mean Girls' main character is a poor match for Cher as a moral agent, Heathers' protagonist Veronica is not her movie's primary moral catalyst. In that instance, it's more insightful to contrast Cher with Heathers deuteragonist J.D.

Here again, a fundamental difference between Gen X and Gen Y is highlighted. J.D.'s Boomer father has exposed him to the evils and injustices of the world. Cher's Boomer dad has sheltered her from the world.

Having knowledge but lacking a firm moral foundation, J.D. despairs and seeks to burn it all down, including himself. Lacking both knowledge and a firm moral foundation, Cher drifts on the deceptively placid sea of pop culture, oblivious to the tsunami surging below.

Cher clearly isn't Gen X, but you might object that she's just a low tech Millennial. After all, isn't she terminally self-absorbed?

Taken at face value, the short answer is yes. Both Cher and Regina are selfish characters. But there's a world of difference in the underlying reasons for their egoism and even more so in their reactions to being called out.

Regina is self-absorbed because she's been raised to see herself as the center of the universe and the sole arbiter of morality. When her selfishness is pointed out to her, she takes it as an attack on her identity. She experiences deep cognitive dissonance and responds by lashing out at her accuser.

Cher is self-absorbed because she lives in a gilded cage where her every whim is catered to. Her dad built the cage to protect her, but to his credit he did instill in her a mercenary system of ethics that provides at least some moral foundation. Cher acknowledges a moral standard outside herself.

This dynamic plays out when Josh, Cher's more worldly Gen X stepbrother, states that self-interest motivates 90% of her decisions. Cher is initially shocked, but she actually engages in some self-examination and resolves to perform at least one selfless act.

Of course, being Gen Y, she's incompetent, and her project blows up in her face. But at least she embarks on an honest search for the true and the good. It's the epistemic bubble she lives in, diligently maintained by her elders, that keeps her from finding the truth.

What ails Cher and the rest of her generation is the illusory vision of the world they've been imprisoned in since birth. They've spent their lives in a mirage of an oasis eating sand.

It will take a plot device from another 90s movie--made not by a Boomer, but by two members of the also transitional Generation Jones--to cure Gen Y's cluelessness.


  1. How tied to is gen y. I mean, I've experienced and seen a lot of failure in my life and others. Is it a trait? By what means can it be overcome if it is?

    I dont mean this as despair, just something you pointed out "being Gen Y, she's incompetent, and her project blows up in her face"

    1. Sorry, "tied to failure"

      It shocked mr so much I couldn't say it.

    2. Failure is a common theme in everyone's life. It just means you're still breathing.

      Those movie montages did a huge disservice by making people think that 5 minutes of effort and practice make you good at something. And if you don't learn effortlessly like the movie characters, you should give up entirely.

    3. No, but he associated the two. That's my point. Failure and gen y

    4. The association isn't failure and Gen Y. It's incompetence and Gen Y.

      Ys are the gaslighted generation. Boomers taught them a false vision of the world but failed to teach them practical skills. As a result, Ys tend to have difficulty dealing with the real world and often have a "mugged by reality" experience--which happens to Cher in a literal sense.

      As for dealing with these deficiencies, Heian-kyo Dreams has a solid point. Failure is normal. Ys tend to fear failure and get easily discouraged because they were taught to avoid conflict instead of facing it.

      Like all bad habits, overcoming counterproductive Gen Y behavior patterns takes work. Luckily, the internet makes it easier. Don't know how to cook a meal, balance a checkbook, or change a tire? A world of knowledge is just a click away.

      TL; DR: It's a technical problem that admits of technical solutions.

  2. Hmm, I wonder what the GenZ definitive movie will be. Could that even be made? I think it might be too blasphemous for the ruling elite and would never be made.

    I can only imagine the script saying "and then Sally becomes the unfortunate victim of the punchout game" and the producers throwing the whole script in the trash.

    1. You're probably right. Even if Gen Z didn't scare the hell out of our ruling elite, Hollywood has descended too far into hate whitey territory to even allow a scene-for-scene remake of Mean Girls.

      One thing that stands out in all of these movies is how the cast always looks like a Huffpo staff photo.

  3. D.J's dad: "It's pissing out. Grab your umbrella, son."
    Veronica's dad: "Oh, honey, it'll only piss on you for a short time and then all will be roses. Take your umbrella, sweetie."

    The parents in Mean Girls: "There's no piss out. All is well. PC beliefs make the best umbrella."

    Cher in Clueless: "Daddy, why do you dress me in a rain slicker all. the. time?"

    Although I have to give Clueless props for Daddy's line of, "Where's the rest of [her dress]?"

    1. Mel is pretty based. The line you quoted, and his, "I've got a .45 and a shovel, and you won't be missed," threat to Christian redeem him.

  4. It was not just the matrix, but also Fight Club.

    Is that a hollywood first? A book about gay degeneracy gets subverted for semi good.

    1. And they both came out the same year. It's like someone on the inside had a pang of conscience and tried to warn us.

    2. You can't stop resonance from being successful.

  5. Clueless also features the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, one of the last times you will ever see a current musical trend show up in a then-current movie. It's very clearly early to mid 90s.

    This movie is one of the last gasps of pop culture before it ate itself.

    For the sake of Gen Y I hope there is a light at the end of this tunnel (besides the afterlife, I mean) because we need that solid ground under our feet and I worry about myself and my peers making it through quite a bit.

    1. Like I said above, Gen Y's problem is mainly technical. Ys have shown they can be rehabilitated if given the proper knowledge. See Roosh for example.

      Millennials, on the other hand, are institutionalized like Brooks from Shawshank Redemption. They are 100% economically, emotionally, and conceptually dependent on the Boomers.

      We've known for a while that Gen X and Gen Y will be passed over for national leadership positions. As much as Boomers complain about Millennials, they're their handpicked successors because of their dependency.

      Everybody thinks that the dollar losing its reserve currency status or America losing the next big war will bring about the collapse. My money's on Millennials inheriting the levers of power and having no idea what to do when the Boomers are gone.

    2. Fear of failure is a very big problem. I've stumbled over it many times but I do know people who won't do things (even simple ones) to help fix their situation because they just can't imagine success.

      It's probably for the best that we won't be in charge.

  6. As someone born in '85, I appreciate your generation categorizations. To your list, I would add another differentiator between Gen Y and Millennials:

    Gen Y was old enough to remember and really experience the 1990's. When I tell younger Millennials that I think the late 1990's were decadent and debauched, they view it as sacrilege; in their minds, that decade was a misty Golden Age. Hence the "omg totes 90s" listacles and nostalgia pieces.

    If you were old enough to remember your mom running in to turn off the news when they started discussing lewd details of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, you might be 90's teenager who thought that decade kinda sucked.

    1. The last few years of the '90s were no good. I'm surprised how many people like them, but looking back it is hard to see it as anything but a disappointment after the 80s and the first part of the decade.

    2. Razörfist has spoken eloquently on this topic.

    3. As a GenXer, the Clinton debacle completely jaded me against having any enthusiasm for politics or politicians.

      First, an old guy got a blowjob from a young woman. Second, his wife didn't leave him. Third, Congress wasted months reading erotic fan fiction about it. Fourth, the news repeated said erotic fan fiction, because journalist integrity.

      None of it was appropriate for the younger kids watching the news.

      Looking back, the 80s were awesome, the 90s started out ok and went downhill rapidly. Then the 00s were weird, but still recoverable. Now the 10s make we wish for the degeneracy of an old man getting young lady head. She was legal and born a woman, after all.

    4. A jaded Xer? Be still, my heart! ;)

      You're on the mark, re: the Lewinsky scandal. I remember the polls from that time showing that young adults didn't consider blowjobs to be sex. It was the first time I got that sinking feeling--a daily occurrence now--that the West was sliding toward the abyss.

    5. "When I tell younger Millennials that I think the late 1990's were decadent and debauched, they view it as sacrilege"

      Well yeah, but everyone who was there knows you were right. Holy crap. Even Current Year makes the 90's look debauched.

  7. Keep in mind that nothing about the plot itself can be pinned to generational cohorts, only the details surrounding it. The movie is a transparent reworking of Emma by Jane Austen and the plot follows that novel point for point.

    Which maybe is worth an interesting tangent or so all it's own; in spite of the obvious generational cohort differences, at the same time, at a broader level, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    1. Amy Heckerling was very good at showing the attitudes of teenagers at the time of her films. Clueless was very apt for its time and would be oddly controversial if released today.

      None of her movies could be made now without social media meltdowns ripping her apart.

    2. Yep. That's why I skipped the plot discussion.

      One difference between Emma and Clueless, just to chart the 90s moral decline, is that Knightly is Emma's sister's brother-in-law, whereas Josh is Cher's stepbrother.

    3. Inspired by your comment, I cross-referenced Emma with Strauss & Howe's Four Turnings and my adjusted generational progression. Something interesting emerged.

      Now, Strauss & Howe make the mistake of dividing Gen Y between Gen X and the Millennials because they arbitrarily stick with the definition of a generation as a span of 20 years. I maintain that the rapid acceleration toward societal collapse following the Boomers requires shortening the following generations, in terms of formative experience and general outlook, to 10 years.

      Correcting for this acceleration, Gen Y is an Artist generation. I quote Strauss & Howe in support:

      "Artist (Adaptive) generations enter childhood after an Unraveling, during a Crisis, a time when great dangers cut down social and political complexity in favor of public consensus, aggressive institutions, and an ethic of personal sacrifice. Artists grow up overprotected by adults preoccupied with the Crisis, come of age as the socialized and conformist young adults of a post-Crisis world, break out as process-oriented midlife leaders during an Awakening, and age into thoughtful post-Awakening elders"

      Sound familiar?

      Based on Emma's publication date and the character's stated age at the beginning of the novel, Emma herself belongs to the Compromise Generation, another Artist (Adaptive) cohort.

    4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strauss%E2%80%93Howe_generational_theory

      I can't deny Gen Y as Artists, and the Nomad (Reactive) description of GenX is spot on:

      "Nomad (Reactive) generations enter childhood during an Awakening, a time of social ideals and spiritual agendas, when young adults are passionately attacking the established institutional order. Nomads grow up as under-protected children during this Awakening, come of age as alienated, post-Awakening young adults, become pragmatic midlife leaders during a Crisis, and age into resilient post-Crisis elders."

      The real, you-and-me generations are out of order. Reality is: Prophet (Idealist, Boomer), Nomad (Reactive, GenX), Artist (Adaptive, GenY), Hero (Civic, Millennials) and then ??? for Zoomers. Another Nomad generation is a good bet, especially for the shrinking and hated heritage Americans.

      Strauss and Howe say the order is: Prophet (Idealist), Nomad (Reactive), Hero (Civic), Artist (Adaptive).

    5. You're on the right track. Strauss & Howe's classifications of all gen's after the Boomers are off.

      See today's post for my take on where they went wrong and an alternate take on Gen X's real archetype.

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  9. Your analysis was spot-on, and your definitions of each generation were also on-the-nose. An entertaining read.

    As a Gen-Y person myself, I feel we were set up for the most heartache by what's happening today.

    We were afraid of college, work life, and even learning to drive a car because we grew up in lala land and were taught no practical skills. We knew college, then a life of hard work, awaited us. We knew the businesses that were around to support mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa were closing down (and we didn't know why), so our footing was understandably unsure.

    We got a taste of the good old days, but we also had to adapt to sweeping new technologies that transformed our world, and we were along for the ride whether we liked it or not.

    We feel sadness in our hearts when we see the rampant accusations of racism going around. We remember growing up at a time when the races got along just fine, only to be told 30 years later that, too bad, we're racists anyway.

    We grew up in a reasonable facsimile of 1950s America where we were proud of our country, only to see these new generations burn our flag and proclaim our country 'evil' because of things that happened three-to-four generations before Gen-Yers were even born, things that our generation thought were left behind for good.

    We were shown what 'could've been' for America, and it was good.

    Since the Boomers failed to defend their own country, I guess it's up to Gen-Y. But many of us are still naive, incompetent, afraid of failure, and we will likely never be the majority.

    But we're also the most hungry for the red pill, and the most profoundly affected by it. Our world was destroyed. We saw our values corrode away and want to know why. Once we've taken that red pill (plus a few black for good measure) only to see that it's been taken away on purpose, our only hope is to overcome our technical deficiencies and fight back. Hopefully, with help from Gen Z, we will win.

    1. Thank you for your trenchant firsthand testimonial.

      "we will likely never be the majority"

      Because the Boomers murdered half of Gens X and Y in the womb.

    2. Another reason we of later generations have to reject their vile universalism in favour of family. Those who remain will be the peoples who turned their back on evil and actually had children, and each of us gets to choose- eventually, yes we do - whether we will be part of that remnant.

    3. A major red pill for me--perhaps the most crucial--was realizing that the basic building block of civilization is not the individual. It's the family.

  10. Amen. That epiphany was part of my final abandonment of Libertarianism late in college.