Clueless: Social Class and Harriet Smith

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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....
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