What’s Your Damage? Thoughts on Heathers

One score and ten years ago our fathers brought forth the antidote to the monotony of vapid teen movies: Heathers. The 1988 cult classic stars Winona Ryder and Christian Slater as a high school couple who want to end the evil reign of the popular girls (all named Heather), by any means necessary. Beloved by Gen Z and Gen X alike, the film set a baseline for every high school movie that’s followed (look at the lineup in Mean Girls, it reeks of Heathers Chandler, Duke, and McNamara). It is a one-of-a-kind classic of teenage cinema, one that could never be lived up to.

Of course, in the year of our Lord 2018, no nostalgic property can remain remake-less. Therefore, there are some new Heathers in town. And they’ve had quite the makeover.

Standing in the middle of the “caf” in Paramount’s trailer for Heathers (2018) is a plus-sized Heather Chandler, with an African- American Heather McNamara and a gender – queer Heather Duke, flanking her on either side of her big faux fur pink coat. In front of them stands a meek blonde girl, bracing herself for the worst:

“If it isn’t Veronica Sawyer. How Banana Republic.”

“It’s ironic, Heather.”

“We aren’t doing irony anymore, keep up.”

This was (of course) controversial. A skinny white girl being bullied by marginalized groups. What world do we live in? Many have argued that this group would never be the one on top and that by putting them there, the show is reinforcing dangerous precedents of perceiving minorities as evil or inherently bad. But, the show’s creator seems to think otherwise. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, showrunner Jason Micallef explained:

“The reason I changed the Heather’s surface identities is I think today [the characterization] rings true. Today, all different types of people are more aspirational. People that wouldn’t have necessarily been considered the most popular kids in school in 1988 could very well be – and probably most likely are – the more popular kids today.”

It very well may be true that somewhere the cool kids are diverse. But it isn’t true at my (admittedly very white) high school, or any of the high schools I know. What Micallef (and other adults) seem to misunderstand is that what is cool online does not always translate to what is cool in reality. In fact, it often doesn’t. While plus-size models like Ashley Graham and Iskra Lawrence are getting millions of likes in an hour, plus-sized girls are not getting the same approval from their peers.  There is no popular mean girl I’ve ever seen who was more than a size six.

Heathers (2018) is an Instagram picture, the original image unrecognizable from the time it spent in Facetune and Visco. Adult writers are trying to market to the teen audience, but fail to do it in ways that actually appeal. They’re re-purposing Heathers to comment on millennial culture, but teens liked Heathers because it felt real to them. When a teacher in the trailer asks if “fat kids can be popular”, they’re really asking.

I already have issues with Heathers (2018): there appear to be some tonal issues, the wardrobe is Disney Channel overdone, and we should all pour one out for the tragic bowl-cut they gave Heather McNamara. But will I watch it when it premieres in March? Of course. As much as we can theorize now, the merits or problems of the show will be much more obvious when we all see it. So expect a review from me when the time comes.


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