Girls Just Wanna Have Fun? Our love of the fallen prom queen

What do Roman gladiators and women in contemporary society have in common? Death in public. Our voyeuristic streak has recently been on a jag of watching women, armed with the privileges of youth and beauty, squander their promise away like prodigal daughters, finding themselves S.O.L. as they face their past in order to move forward. Humiliation chic is big in entertainment these days. The fallen high school quarterback trope is worn into the ground. We’re feasting on the “what happened to the hot, bitchy, girl” narrative.

On the small screen, Amanda Vaughn and Reagan Brinkley, from GCB and Up All Night, respectively are suffering the fools of arrested development. Amanda, a recent widow of a ponzi scheming Wall Streeter has moved back in with her mother to start over. Working at a cleavage heavy sports bar, she battles a group of Stepford Wives Amanda once ruled over with an iron fist. Exhausting premise. Up All Night‘s Reagan (we love you, Christina Applegate) is an accidental mother yearning for her nights of irresponsible antics and inappropriate hairspray. A baby, a hangover, and an Oprah-like bff, brings reality into harsh focus. Playtime is over, but where and when did it go?

In YOUNG ADULT, we love to hate Mavis Gary (Charlie Theron, who may come to own this genre). A stunted, spoiled, drunk, mean girl, with a nervous tick, who leaves home for the big city of Minneapolis (PURPLE RAIN?). Hell bent on destroying everyone’s happiness for the fleeting sake of her own, Mavis tries to seduce her ex away from his wife and newborn. Why? Because she has always behaved terribly, getting far on being beautiful, sexy, and a party girl. That she’s a talented fiction writer that can afford Marc Jacobs is secondary. It only amplifies her beauty, never trumps it. And you would think rejection, a public breakdown, and intimate love making with a gimp, would shake some sense into her. But one pep talk from an old acolyte and she’s back on top, driving off in a Mini Cooper damaged after a night of boozing. Lesson, sort of learned.

Today’s men have been stripped of the social pressures associated with older ideas of how a Man should behave (ciao, video game console). The languor is almost guilt free, which leaves women to pick up the slack domestically. How’s that cool? At first glance it’s as if we’re bent on subjugating women with embarrassment and cheap jokes. But the craftier element at play is that we’re exploring her subjectivity in the public consciousness. Watching them shed their social skin in the harsh sunlight of American entertainment, suffering fools, hints that it’ time women tune in, drop out, take the hit on the chin, and relish in the freedom of losing. The beauty of America is its propensity for a second act. It may be just what they need to articulate what it means to be a woman in the 21st Century. Hangover be damned! It’s not always pretty, but it’s doing wonders for the box office and Nielsen ratings.