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Juno and Female Memes

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Listening to the non-stop one-liners and biting world-weary observations that come from the main character in Juno may have caused a crisis of coolness among some audience members. This 21st century antiheroine has given some people the disconcerting feeling of not "getting" her, accusing screenwriter Diablo Cody (the pen name of Brook Busey-Hunt) of having drawn Juno (played by the talented Ellen Page) as a goofy and untouchable character.

This young woman — "avant-garde posturing mixed with a post-punk naïve spirit" –  has certainly proven to grate on a lot of people's nerves, through her odd screen persona. For some cinephiles this is new proof of marketing-savvy mass entrancement, a deceitful "feel good" story that tricks us into believing in happiness ever after.

I think the film can alternatively be seen as the origin of a new female meme, a redefinition of "Peter Pan's Never Land" as "Eternal Pun and Negative Land". Ellen Page delivers another challenging performance after her previous turn as Hayley Stark in Hard Candy (2005), where she wore a red hooded sweatshirt — a reference to Little Red Riding Hood, one of the classic female memes.

Juno's voice introduces us to a world of teenage climes (and climaxes), unceremoniously shedding the typical image of the "klutzy" all-American doll, as Diablo Cody criticizes the Hollywood studios responsible for the sexist movie market who want to push this shallow feminine imagery on their audiences over and over. Obviously the treatment of Juno is never the usual sex symbol disguised in the prototypical girl next door cut-out who is invariably obsessed over a more important male lead character in the story. Instead, in Jason Reitman's film it's just the opposite — the central feminine character is a slacker type girl, who doesn't dress in sexy outfits or giggle in the classroom with the popular girls' clique. Juno often appears isolated, uncontrolled in her verbal puns, disheveled, and frequently pissed off, a postmodern "rebel without a cause" in grunge fashion.

Twisted and extreme slang has also become a point of displeasure for some movie-goers. I can't help but quote here what is perhaps the most polemical one: "honest to blog." As I am another scribe in the blogosphere, I think it's probably going to be the most used in our popular collective speech for a while. There are tons of more far-fetched expressions, but this one is noteworthy for being directly associated with the blogging/MySpace/Facebook generation.

Our conversations are full of clichés, of comprised, referential expressions that we pull out time and again without realising we've borrowed them from the TV and other sources of popular culture. Still, we cringe (or pretend to cringe) when we hear a big chunk of them come from the mouths of fictional characters; we feel mirrored in their banality and then these regurgitated catch phrases embarrass us. Or it's possible we get to fall in love with some of these characters only when we forget our/their limitations.

Professor Nicholas Emler is author of The Costs and Causes of Low Self-worth, which quantifies the cost of low self-esteem: "… relatively low self-esteem is a risk factor for suicide, suicide attempts, depression, teenage pregnancy and victimisation by bullies." 
Emler also wrote Adolescence and Delinquency: The Collective Management of Reputation about psychology's reaction to deviance, attributing it to flaws or deficits in the individual's psychological make-up. "Cultural stereotypes, cinema and advertising all play their part in shaping our opinion on beauty. While in one group the majority can agree on what they find attractive, it's difficult to say why one person stands out," Emler writes.

And why does a girl like Juno stand out? Why would we consider her beautiful? Why would we fall in love with her? That will happen in the moment we translate the script to our own recondite fantasies. A script is always an experiment — in this case the gigantic success of Juno at the box office is a sign of a connection mainly with the American public, perhaps due to their unconscious desire to resuscitate the old postcard of the American dream (although ironically the film was shot in Canada), the Capra-esque happy ending without retorting to a pinkified, Hollywoodized denouement. Jeff Tweedy (of the rock band Wilco) has said, "I think America has existed as a myth."

About Kendrac

I'm an Aragonese/Catalonian freelance writer, poetress and film critic. My favourite genre is independent cinema. My real name is Elena Gonzalvo.
  • Marcia L. Neil

    How to be different — go south, young man, as if he must, and homestead a new life in the scrub-brush of the Deep South. A sort of cinder-block hero, perhaps with intent to rescue the teen mom and his/her progeny?

  • kendra

    Is Deep South quirky enough?

  • Dave C

    I think a lot of people are missing the point of Juno. It is not a dramedy, or a deep character study; it is a straight comedy. It has an emotional center like a lot of comedies but it is a comedy. Juno tells jokes and uses bizarre turns of phrases to make the audience laugh, not convey deep meaning. The movie has a happy ending because the movie is fun; it is not a dark comedy.

    That said Juno is still the best picture of the year.

  • Sarah L

    The third act of the movie is too dramatized and emotional for a typical comedy. I liked the review, the characters in “Juno” had a deepness under their witty jokes surface.

  • kendra

    Thank you, Sarah L! I think “Juno” was conceived as a coming-age story, so although it’s formally a comedy it contains important elements of drama, imo.

    Dave C, I agree it’s not a dark comedy, but I think the ending is only happy to an extent.

  • Marcia L. Neil

    It’s not a comedy, although the main character knows how to joke — the movie portrays some independent young woman being gradually taken under control in ways that are already advertised.

  • miranduhh

    this movie is amazing..