How has Amy Herckerling used her film Clueless to say something new about Jane Austen’s novel, Emma? One of the first things that came to mind was the use of an accepting community. While in Emma, it was common to disdain others who were different to you (this is displayed in Emma’s dislike for Jane Fairfax); in Clueless it is a different case. Cher’s best friend, Dionne, and her boyfriend could be seen as representatives of darker skinned people. Would it not have made a difference if every character was white, as found in Emma?
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Additionally, sexuality is addressed in the film; but again not disapproved. In Emma’s era, sexuality was practically unheard of or swept under the carpet; as opposed to the modern portrayal of Frank Churchill, known as Christian. He is later identified to be homosexual, and the characters surrounding think nothing less of Christian, Cher’s simple response is to dismiss him as a love interest and presently consider him to come in handy when shopping. For the Clueless community, there is no aversion to homosexuality that is occasionally found in our society and implausible in Emma’s.
This greatly contrasts with its novel predecessor, as characters in Emma are all very similar in all attributes. Sexuality and race are either neglected or considered unimportant. Clueless even gives voice to drugs and, more sexuality among teenagers. Emma Woodhouse’s neighbourhood could be thought of as perfect, while Cher’s life has its blemishes.
The film also has a lot to say about stereotypes. Though Cher may embody the typical blonde but shallow with the body with the body of a model –apologies to all the blondes in the room, I’ve got nothing against you –she is still a loveable character who develops some depth toward the conclusion of the film. Other stereotypes include Murray, who is your average popular guy; dressing in high fashion much like his female counterparts.
Christian presents the supposed ‘normal’ image of a gay guy. He indulges in art, singers, and shopping. Christian also portrays a real socialite type, and could also be seen as on equal grounds of popularity with Cher. Travis provides the typical skater and drug addict character, while also being the ‘nice guy’ who sees and likes Tai for who she is.
Stereotypes associated with characters are not as prevalent in Emma, though Miss Bates could identify with the popular girls who are also shallow and talkative. The characters in the novel generally centre on identical values, such as socializing, wealth and marriage. However, tropes are used in accordance to the era.
By depicting stereotypes in Beverly Hills, this could be a direct address by Heckerling referring to the tropes associated with the state. In that particular location, it is believed that shopping, parties and wealth keep it running. You have to admit that shopping, parties and opulent wealth are common characteristics; for example, ‘The Beverly Hillbillies’, ‘Beverly Hills Chihuahua’ and ‘Down and Out in Beverly Hills’.
Cher’s character is the vessel through which Heckerling has communicated a dependence on materialism. Albeit, the values presented in Emma’s community do not convey much depth, but Cher and her friends are heavily influenced by retail therapy and their appearance. This may be reflected in Austen’s novel, as nothing much other than dinner parties occur in Emma; but Clueless appeals to adolescents with similar ideals.
Indirectly, Heckerling has expressed that even historic texts such as Emma, can be transformed to provide contemporary context for today’s audiences. Through appealing to the modern public with the use of pop culture film, the story of Emma has reached many more hearts than it would have if it had stayed in its novel form. Heckerling has illustrated to Clueless’ viewers that Jane Austen’s novels have not sunken with her time, and her messages still apply years later.
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