Book Review, Buildungsroman, Cassie Phillips, Daniel Clowes, Feminism, Film, film review, Gender Expectations, Ghost World, Girls, graphic novel, Millenial, Scralett Johansen, teen angst, teenage girls, Women Friendships
If you look under the “About” Section of White Tower Musings, and the rather pompous “About” section is rather long, you’ll find an email address I created hoping that someone besides me would be interested in actually writing for my site. At first many people expressed interest but life and school and work and trying to ignore eventually came in the way. I would often hope that somebody somewhere would actually take advantage of the address, but checking every day (I am that pathetic) there would always be the same two add emails from Google. So life went on, I started Infinite Jest, got a new puppy, auditioned for a job I didn’t get, and then around a week ago I checked the address and found someone had written to me back in May.
Cassie Phillips contacted me, told me she was a fan of the site and would be interested in writing for White Tower Musings. Given the fact I do all but crawl on my hands and knees begging people to write for me the fact that someone was actually interested was a delightful shock, but I said yes immediately and she responded in kind by writing a fascinating article. Here it is for your fine enjoyment:
Ghost World, The Millennial Growth Spurt
Daniel Clowes “Ghost World” is the epitome of teen angst at its prime, and in particular, the viewpoint of female teen angst, something TV producers and readers the world over have been salivating over the past ten years (“Twilight,” “The Hunger Games,” I’d dare even say “Fifty Shades of Grey”).
Right out of high school and lacking all direction, the protagonist Enid and her faithful sidekick Rebecca encapsulate the two dichotomies of prepubescent reality: the perfect one and the rebel. While this pairing has nothing to do with Millennials in particular, since examples in film crop up everywhere from the original 1961 “Parent Trap” to “Two Broke Girls” leads Max & Caroline, I would say their tumultuous relationship is something we’ve seen appear on “Girls” frequently enough that the stereotype can still be used to define the fringe age between pubescence and adulthood.
While we’ve got both the graphic novel and the movie to dissect, I’d claim that screen adaptation is a little more indicative of the millennial mindset than the graphic novel’s more traditional sense of coming of age, because for all the hoopla that the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is dead, I’d make the claim that it didn’t start with Kirsten Dunst in “Elizabethtown,” but with Enid (and a fair share of Rebecca), before it culminated in Zooey Deschanel’s “New Girl” form.
The main obsession of “Ghost World,” both graphic novel and film, are its main characters Enid and Rebecca. They’re naive, and they have no perspective on their horribleness, terrorizing people, talking badly about them, and generally passing judgment on all who happen to walk in their paths. With the lack of maturity that powers them through their conversation and daily activities, we are invited into the world of children becoming adults by latching onto what they think is mature: endless criticism of the outside world as well as themselves.
Rebecca: “Oh face it, you just hate every single guy on the face of the earth.”
Enid: “That’s not true. I just hate all of these extroverted, obnoxious, pseudo-Bohemian losers.”
We can see this as a relatively normal theme, popping up in everything from “Malcolm in the Middle” to “Rugrats” with Angelika’s insistence on calling everyone “stupid babies.” For one, Enid has a notorious potty mouth. Rebecca mirrors this to fit in, but we get the sense that Enid is the cause for it. And with Enid’s bad behavior comes the idea that she is just a miserable person hoping to get out, be someone new, and get a chance to meet new people. From Enid and Rebecca’s frequenting old school diners or prank calling personal ads (have Match.com and Tinder eradicated this pastime?), we get a sense that Enid’s quirkiness sets her apart but also ultimately ostracizes her, because unlike the Manic Pixie Dream Girl of Deschanel’s presentation, Enid doesn’t exist to further the plot of any male in the storyline. Instead, her quirkiness is much more similar to Lena Dunham’s Hannah.
A definition of a modern Millennial, Hannah from “Girls” can be (opinionatedly) broken down into someone who never has her shit together, is concerned about the appearance of having friends, and is also concerned with social norms and meeting those standards while still being somewhat outside of them because she’ll never be “normal.” For Enid, all of these characteristics ring true as well.
Enid has the opportunity to go to art school in the movie, which she ultimately botches because her piece is “too controversial.” It’s actually an old ad stolen from Steve Buscemi’s character’s former workplace, involving Enid in plagiarism as well as racist undertones. She’s desperate for men to view her the same way that they look at Rebecca. And her relationship with Rebecca is important to her, but there is an underlying antagonism between the two.
We first meet Enid and Rebecca as they are talking with one another while the TV is on; Enid is verbally abusing the comedian on the television and Rebecca: “Boo, what a loser…you always go out with guys like that who have the same fake shtick,” while Rebecca continues to watch TV and listen to Enid talk. This first scene sets up the entire course of the relationship; Enid’s open rejection of anything popular is contrasted by Rebecca’s normalness. However, both are connected to one another by their feelings of unrest as to what lies in the future. But where Rebecca ultimately fails Enid is when she gets a boyfriend Josh (a love interest of both Enid and Rebecca) and by being someone who fits into society effortlessly. This is similar to the relationship Hannah and Marnie, Hannah’s best friend, have throughout “Girls.” While Hannah is awkward, anxiety prone and a strange dresser on occasion (this doesn’t even tip the iceberg with the show’s nudity), Marnie is put together, organized and is a great friend. In the case of “Ghost World” and “Girls,” the audience learns by contrast how to identify a Millennial.
But in the movie, the relationship of Enid and Rebecca is most tested through the introduction of a new character: Seymour, played by Steve Buscemi. Seymour is dorky, old and desperate for a human connection, and when Enid and Rebecca find his personal ad in the paper looking for a lost love interest and missed connection, they pose as the woman he was seeking in a prank call.
While the man is little more than a mention in the graphic novel, the movie creates an entire character who pulls Enid’s attention away from Rebecca, and also away from the love triangle that exists between Enid, Josh and Rebecca in the graphic novel. In the movie, Seymour represents a quick satisfaction for Enid’s loneliness and desperation for someone who is even more of a loser than she is. By Seymour being her quick love interest, it draws Enid away from the Josh and Rebecca jealousy, but it also draws her away from Rebecca and further into her own little world. Adam, Hannah’s boyfriend, does the same thing; his rowdiness pulls Hannah away from the relationships she has with her girlfriends. From the Millennial angle, these romantic relationships don’t empower the women, they ostracize further, reinforcing the feeling of “otherness.”
Dunham on many occasion has illustrated the satirical nature of “Girls,” and the same could be said of “Ghost World.” But that doesn’t negate the ironclad characteristics of a generation’s stereotypes that have come to be defined by Dunham’s writing, and her themes come up often enough in “Ghost World” to draw these comparisons. When it comes to Millennial laziness, the graphic novel illustrated how both Enid and Rebecca only have dreams that extend as far as living together in their own apartment and getting a job. It is made clear at a graduation party by one of their classmates that he “should have figured you two wouldn’t go to college,” but the graphic novel makes a point to remind us that the girl’s experiences are important to their own empowerment.
By using curse words, constantly putting one another under verbal attack and questioning each other’s opinions, a surface interpretation would put their relationship as some sort of prepubescent rivalry that means nothing. However, as the story unfolds, this rivalry establishes the two girls into the people that they will become and isn’t without weight: Enid as an intrepid “other” who pursues life outside of the town she’s from, and Rebecca as the conventional one, existing, “beautifully,” behind a glass pane in the town. Again, Hannah and Marnie come to mind.
What is important throughout the graphic novel and the movie is the approach of the two girls on the modern view of feminism. Acting as an apparent depiction of the dual nature of women’s role in society, the graphic novel and movie are equally clear and representative of the two girl’s perspective roles. Enid’s apparent lack of conventional femininity is starkly contrasted by Rebecca’s apparent normalcy in both her appearance and situation, and both characters are envious of one another. While Rebecca is depicted as a blonde “wasp” by Enid—“You’re a skinny blonde wasp, that’s what every guy wants”—Enid’s haircut, glasses, figure and apparent overcompensation for lack of attention from males through intimidation and intelligence, pose her as a rebel. This rebellion is very much a huge part of the feminist movement, as well as the LGBTQ movements; that gender should not define us as people.
The movie ends with Rebecca sitting on the bus, with Enid meeting her after talking with Seymour, and they have a moment of honesty that reveals that their friendship isn’t superficial, but the graphic novel ends with a little less sentimentality (there’s Hollywood for you).
As an older Enid spies her friend in through the window of a coffee shop at the end of the graphic novel, saying “You’ve grown into a very beautiful young woman,” we see that the graphic novel has created a situation where we only get Enid’s perspective on adulthood, unnoticed by her old friend. This is a deliberate attempt by Clowes to encapsulate the true meaninglessness of conforming to a societal view of adulthood. Either way, you’re screwed. Either way, you’re invisible, which is something Hannah can relate to.
The text presents that a true path to being a good adult is unclear in Enid and Rebecca’s state of adolescents, and the movie moves to confirm this further by presenting Seymour, a character outside of Enid and Rebecca’s age group, who is equally ghosted by the pressures and lack of fulfillment with adulthood, ultimately expressing the idea that a view into the adult world is a view into nothingness. For Millennials the world over, this grim outlook on the present may not offer any cuddly reinforcement that people claim we need, but it gives Lena Dunham plenty more material to shock.
About the Author:
Cassie Phillips is a digital nomad who splits her time between writing for Culture Coverage and Secure Thoughts and reading her way through the stacks at Barnes and Noble. Whether it’s written or watchable, great storytelling is her weakness, and she’s out to share the written (and spoken) word with the world.
(Jammer) I’ve also included links to a few of Cassie’s other essays if you’re at all interested in reading more of her work.