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    Clueless: Social Class and Harriet Smith Essay

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    Emma/Clueless • Amy Heckerling’s teenpic comedy Clueless resonates the ideas, values and cultural assumptions evident in Jane Austen’s Emma • Through the transformation of Austen’s text, several elements have been transformed and contemporised in the Heckerling’s Clueless ? Make-over/transformation ? Role of women in patriarchal society ‘struggles of social classes: the mobility and fluidity of the class structure ‘societal commentary ? Love and marriage (matchmaking, flirtation) The most important element of both Emma and Clueless is the “make-over”/transformation of Harriet Smith (Emma) and Tai (Clueless) • Both Emma and Cher desire to create a being in their own image • Harriet Smith and Tai are both of a low socio-economic status and are lacking in cultural knowledge and intelligence • The main difference between them shows an element of the transformation of Emma in to a modern day film: this is the fact that Harriet’s downfall is her lack of cultural knowledge, social status due to her lack of family ties and low intelligence.

    However, in Clueless, it is Tai’s poor fashion sense which, in Cher’s view, makes her “adorably clueless” • The archetypal concept of transformation alludes to several stories in modern day society and history. These include, the “Pretty Woman”/”Cinderella” myth – which constitutes the personal transformation via the symbolic acquisition of a newly constructed self. In the ideas of the “Frankenstein” myth, Cher’s statement “I’ve created a monster! ” alludes to the failure on Cher’s part in Tai’s transformation. In Emma, the role of women in a patriarchal society is addressed in the relationship of Emma Woodhouse and her father – this is mirrored in a contemporary manner in Clueless • In Emma & Clueless, both our heroines (Emma Woodhouse and Cher Horowitz) are presided over by a commanding patriarch: in Emma – the ailing Mr Woodhouse, in Clueless the ruthless lawyer, Mel Horowitz • Both heroine’s fathers are, whilst constantly appearing to assert their authority, are easily swayed by their daughters. • The element of class struggles and the mobility and fluidity of the class structure is addressed in both Emma and Clueless In both texts, this element is most evident in the conclusion of each texts – the final chapters of Emma and the wedding scene in Clueless • Each text shows a “pairing off” of the main characters which are appropriate to each individuals intelligence, cultural knowledge and socio-economic standing • That is: the wealthy and intelligent Mr Knightley marries Emma – of the same social and financial status, and who possesses similar intelligence and cultural knowledge – – similarly in Clueless, our heroine Cher is coupled with Josh – both are intelligent, witty and of the same socio-economic status In Emma, the lower class Harriet Smith marries Mr Robert Martin – of the same mild intelligence and the same, albeit lower, socio-economic status than the other couples of the book. This coupling is mirrored in Clueless with the “pairing” of Tai (the modern day Harriet Smith) and Travis (the modern Robert Martin) • However, in Clueless, the equivalent character of Frank Churchill – Christian – has been transformed into a homosexual male character. His appearance in the film was a breakthrough at the time (an openly gay upper class male with no qualms of his sexuality).

    Whilst Christian is accepted by his peers, he is absent from the final scene suggesting that homosexuality was, and remains to be, a controversial topic • This issue of Christian in Clueless as an openly gay male is played down and the focus placed on the evidence of class fluidity. That is, even though the couplings are within each characters’ social standing, the apparently lower class couple (Tai and Travis) are still accepted into the popular clique.

    This is not the case in Emma, where there is a severing of ties between Harriet Smith and Emma after Harriet marries Robert Martin – thus showing the change in the ideals of class mobility. • Through the transformation process, Heckerling has ensured that her flim comments of many issues in society – much as Austen endeavoured to do in her novels • However, with the transformation process, the manners in which these comments are made have changed. In Emma, Austen uses mainly authorial intrusions and commentary to comment on her society.

    In Clueless, Heckerling uses pastiche in her commentary on society • Pastiche is the deliberate reference or allusion to an object/text/symbol etc for academic or artistic value: this is shown at many points of the film: ? Dionne: rough winds do shake the darlin buds of May, but they eternal love shall never fade. Phat! Did you write that? Cher: duh, it’s like, a famous quote! D: from where? C: Cliff’s notes ? The quote is, of course, from a famous Shakespearean sonnet however Cher believes it to be from the popular study guide Cliff’s Notes This deliberate misplacement of cultural knowledge is called cultural catachresis. Through this, Heckerling comments on the lack of value for high cultural knowledge in a generation grounded in materialism and commercialism ‘similarly, this is evident in the scene where Josh and Heather are arguing and Cher demonstrates this cultural catachresis again: • Heather: it’s like Hamlet said ‘to thine own self be true’ Cher: uh Hamlet didn’t say that.

    Heather: uh, I think I remember Hamlet correctly Cher: well I think I remember Mel Gibson correctly and he didn’t say that, that Polonius guy did. ? Cher is correct, however the reason it is humorous to an audience is because she knows the quote only due to its relation to a famous actor, Mel Gibson. • The issue of Love and Marriage in both texts is addressed in the ideas of matchmaking – a practice undertaken by both heroines: in both Emma and Clueless, our heroines have a ‘penchant for matchmaking’ The primary incident where matchmaking is evident in each text is the attempted coupling of Harriet Smith and Mr Elton in Emma, which is mirrored in the attempted coupling of Tai, the “adorably clueless” transfer student, and Elton – the most popular boy at school • Each attempted coupling is similar in that they are attempts by our heroin to match a pair from different social classes – in both Highbury society and the modern day Beverly Hills, this attempt is scorned upon as individuals are expected to marry, or date, only into their own social class Furthermore, in both texts, the Elton/Mr Elton character appears to show a liking for the Harriet Smith/Tai character thus furthering the concept of love and marriage in each society • However, both heroines have mistaken this apparent affection for Harriet Smith/Tai character – it is actually aimed at themselves • When each Mr Elton/Elton character discovers the attempt to match them with a woman of a lower class they are outraged: In Emma, Mr Elton proclaims “I need not so totally despair of an equal alliance as to be addressing myself to Miss Smith! ” In a similar fashion, Elton indignantly tells Cher “don’t you know who my father is?! ”

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