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Mean Girl Moments Timeline

July 16, 2008

By Joanne Weintraub, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Jul. 16–Although paleoanthropologists will undoubtedly find evidence someday that mean girls are as old as girlhood itself, the MG — unlike her mother, the stereotypical shrew — is a relative newcomer to literature, film and other media.

As literary critic Jessa Crispin notes, before the 20th century, what girls said or did to one another was of little interest to anyone but the girls themselves. When they were portrayed at all — think of Shakespeare’s young Juliet or Louisa May Alcott’s spunky but sweet-natured heroines — these little women tended to be remarkably free of snobbery, envy, malice or other notable MG sins.

This held true with remarkably few exceptions until the youthquake of the late 1960s. Even such a memorably awful young lady as the homicidal Rhoda Penmark in the 1954 William March novel “The Bad Seed,” which spawned a 1956 movie with Patty McCormack, was more monster than meanie.

But in these more candid — and, yes, catty — times, MGs reign as the honeys you love to hate. Here’s a brief look at several generations of them on the page, the screen and the tube:

1934: Bratty rich girl Joy Smythe (Jane Withers) makes life sheer heck for tempest-tossed tot Shirley Blake (Shirley Temple) in “Bright Eyes.”

1937: Wisconsin’s Laura Ingalls Wilder introduces preening prairie princess Nellie Oleson — reportedly a composite of several girls Wilder knew, though with worse manners than any one of them — in “On the Banks of Plum Creek.”

1974: Alison Arngrim brings Nellie to vividly annoying life on NBC’s “Little House on the Prairie”; the eponymous heroine of Stephen King’s “Carrie” is terrorized in the shower by a pack of howling nasties.

1976: Sissy Spacek raises hell in the “Carrie” movie, inspiring real-life MGs everywhere to consider the potential consequences of their actions.

1982: Jami Gertz debuts as cuter-than-thou Muffy Tepperman, nemesis of nerd heroines Patty Greene (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Jennifer DeNuccio (Tracy Nelson) on CBS’ “Square Pegs.”

1989: Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder) dares to challenge the gruesome threesome of the title (Shannen Doherty, Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker) in “Heathers.”

1995: Icky Amber (Elisa Donovan) disses sunny Cher (Alicia Silverstone) in “Clueless,” loosely based on Jane Austen’s “Emma”; cheerleaders cruelly razz geeky Dawn Wiener (Heather Matarazzo) in “Welcome to the Dollhouse.”

2000: Snooty, spoiled Paris Geller (Liza Weil) debuts on the WB’s “Gilmore Girls”; Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall) takes on the world’s most obnoxious bat mitzvah girl in the “Sex and the City” episode “Hot Child in the City” on HBO.

2002: Cecily von Ziegesar creates Audrey Hepburn wannabe and wealthy control freak Blair Waldorf in “Gossip Girl,” first of a series of wildly popular young-adult novels.

2004: Titular teens torture former clique member Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) — who gets the last laugh, as any girl created by Tina Fey should — in “Mean Girls.”

2007: Leighton Meester appears as Blair in the CW’s “Gossip Girl,” based on von Ziegesar’s books.

2008: Lindsay Lohan guest-stars as terminally unpleasant Kimberly, past and present tormentor of plucky Betty Suarez (America Ferrera), in the “Ugly Betty” episode “Jump” on ABC.

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