Mean Girls: A Story of Machiavellianism

In my Psychology 120 class on media and developmental psychology, we watched and discussed the movie Mean Girls.  Now, you may think mean girls have nothing to do with Political Science 101, but Regina George should be able to convince you otherwise.

Mean Girls details the Machiavellian nature of girl world, and at North Shore High School, Regina George is the “prince,” or rather, “Queen Bee” of this world.  (Click here for the trailer!)  But would she live up to Machiavelli’s standards?

    In Machiavelli’s The Prince, he notes: “never attempt to win by force what can be won with deception.”  Regina George exemplifies this guidance almost perfectly; she is a master of deceit and duplicity.  In the previously linked trailer, Regina shows her deceptive tactics in “talking” to a boy, Aaron Samuels, for Cady.  Not only does Regina deceive others like this for personal gain, but when one of “The Plastics” sees an ex-boyfriend with another girl, Regina calls the girl’s mom, pretending to be a receptionist from a pregnancy clinic, with the “results of her daughter’s test.”  The girl immediately receives a call from her mom, forcing her to leave and eliminating any threat to The Plastics and what they want.  In exploiting these tactics of deceit, Regina also masters Machiavelli’s suggestion of exercising immoral action when necessary for the preservation of power.  In The Prince, he states, “hence it is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong, and to make use of it or not according to necessity.”

Now all of these lies and tricks could leave someone facing a lot of angry people, right?  Well it seems that Regina has also mastered another key element of being in control, according to Machiavelli: “a prince should guard himself, above all things, against being despised and hated.”  As seen in this clip, Regina is anything but hated.  She is revered among the students of North Shore High School.

Machiavelli does warn against being loved and not feared, however.  Albeit, I believe fear is a proponent of the attention and power Regina commands.  The aforementioned trickery she uses to get what she wants is not something that anyone in the school wants to go up against, not even her closest “Plastic” allies.  When narrating Gretchen’s troubles with Regina, fellow “Plastic” member Cady says, “the meaner Regina was to her [Gretchen], the more Gretchen tried to win Regina back. She knew it was better to be in the plastics, hating life, than to not be in at all.”  Machiavelli would approve of this type of influence Regina maintains.

However, Regina does present weaknesses that Machiavelli would critique as well.  The most critical downfall of Regina is something that Machiavelli warns princes about: trusting advice from your closest allies.  In The Prince, he cautions that advice should be taken carefully and only when asked for by a prince.  When Cady, a fellow Plastic member, offers advice to try and sabotage Regina, Regina relatively unquestioningly takes the advice.  She eats protein bars that Cady recommends for weight loss, not knowing anything about them.  A couple weeks later, Regina can’t fit into her prom dress and claims to only be able to wear sweat pants, deeming her unfit to sit with the Plastics at the lunch table.  Regina, in naively accepting advice from her council, fails to apply one of Machiavelli’s key tips for a successful dictatorship.

Despite this Machiavellian shortcoming, Regina generally exhibits many ways in which she is fit for Queen Bee.  In Mean Girls, she is deceptive in proportion, admired, feared, and morally questionable when necessary.  I guess all it takes is a little Machiavellianism to have to ask everyone:

-Regina George

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4 thoughts on “Mean Girls: A Story of Machiavellianism

  1. As Mean Girls is one of my favorite movies, this post really appealed to me. Your comparison of Regina George to Machiavelli is spot on. Regina walks the perfect line between instilling fear in the other high school girls while also making them envy and love her. Cady had a more difficult time doing this, as she ended up crossing the line into too much fear and not enough love.

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  2. I thought you had some great insights on how Regina George and the movie as a whole relates to Machiavelli’s ideas about what makes a good ruler. However, Cady ends up sort of overthrowing Regina by using deception and trickery. Does this make her also a good “prince,” in the eyes of Machiavelli? He does mention that an overthrow should be done all at once, but Cady seems to drag it out by slowly making Regina less and less loved and legitimate, in the eyes of The Plastics.

    Also, I wonder if cliques in the real world are actually like this. Machiavelli’s theory is just that, a theory, and Mean Girls, although relatable, is fiction. This post makes me wonder if there are actually girls, or people in general, who go to the deceitful lengths of some of these characters to have a certain social standing or popularity. Your post did a wonderful job of making me think about some things I wouldn’t have otherwise; great job!

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  3. Even as a guy, I have to admit that I love Mean Girls, so I thought this post was spot on. I’ve never thought about that movie in a real analytical way before, but you proved that Regina really is a great Machiavellian example, and I would definitely agree with that. I would also say that Cady and Janis Ian also exhibit some very Machiavellian behavior, because of all their deception. I also liked how you linked this to another one of your classes.

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  4. I watched Mean Girls before and really like the way you linked it to Machiavelli. I think the connections are really apt! It makes me wonder though, can everyone be Machiavellian or are some just more predisposed to be Machiavellian? People like Regina George have certain personalities and belief systems that make them very distinct individuals who are able to dominate in society. Moreover many of these traits are determined by genes, upbringing and early childhood influences. Personally it is very hard for me to adopt Machiavellian ideology even with The Prince as a guidebook of tips. Maybe Machiavelli wrote this more to describe the nature, thinking and character of a strong ruler rather than as a manual for people to become one.

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