The Appeal of Stories

So, in the interest of full disclosure, I want to preface this post by saying that I saw Clueless for the first time this past summer, and I was totally blown away. So, reading Much Ado About Nothing and watching Emma now before revisiting Clueless has me, well, still blown away by Clueless. It is at the same time perfectly 90s while currently relevant, distant from my perspective yet totally relatable, and devastatingly witty while emotionally satisfying. I felt this way after watching it for the first time, and I could not understand what it was about Clueless that appealed to me so much. But, after studying Much Ado and Emma, I get it. We like stories because they make sense to us. In the sea of chaos and mystery that is real life, stories are like a warm blanket telling us that everything can be okay.

You could argue that it’s all just entertainment, but why are we entertained? Sure, sometimes it’s because of fast cars and furious explosions, but usually, it’s because we see something in the play, television show, movie, or book that means something in the context of our own lives. We have a Beatrice and Benedick in our lives, or a Tai, or a Mr. Elton. Or maybe we’re one of those characters! And these stories mean so much to us because they tend to work out in the end. That tells us that our lives, too, can work out in the end. Even when the stories don’t have a ‘happy ending,’ they typically have some message that life goes on, even without a ‘happy ending.’

The stories are endless. Clueless is based on Emma, which is based on Much Ado About Nothing, which is likely based on another, older story as well. This is why we can always find something that relates to our lives. Maybe Much Ado About Nothing and Emma  didn’t click for you, because of the time period and outdated language and norms. But Clueless feels worlds closer, because it’s set in an era with which you are familiar, with language and norms that still exist in our modern world. But even if Clueless was still too distant, maybe you could set an adaptation of Clueless  at a small liberal arts college. All of the characters and scenarios could just as easily play out in our lives here at the University of Richmond as they do in Messina, Highbury, or Beverly Hills.

5 comments

  1. This was my first time ever watching clueless, although I had heard so much about it — but nothing about it being an adaptation of Emma, an adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. I think your comment about Clueless feeling closer because of the era, language, and norms, is spot on! I really enjoyed this adaptation and being able to see the relationship between Much Ado About Nothing, Emma, and Clueless! Plus this gave me some good ideas of how to adapt our adaptation of Much Ado to a high school scene!

  2. I think I enjoyed Clueless so much because the language was familiar, but not quite modern. I think if Cher were placed in 2020, her privilege would be less charming and more grating. The story telling and language are perfectly placed to feel familiar and nostalgic without feeling out of step with the current conversations about class and privilege.

  3. I really enjoyed your point that some aspects of plot/play are ultimately intended to entertain us. It is interesting, looking from Much Ado About Nothing, to Emma, and then to a modern Clueless, how we can alter match-making/love/drama to be relevant today. Clueless seems like the result of that, truly summing up stories that most have us have experienced first-hand.

  4. Clueless is timeless. It’s one of those movies you will always remember, even if you only remember the “as if” or the plaid yellow skirt/blazer set. I agree with your comment that we like stories that make sense to us. If I’m genuinely confused by a movie, I turn it off and pick a new one. With Clueless, Emma and Much Ado however, I think they make each other make more sense. I never thought Clueless would be a comparable adaptation of Shakespeare, but now I see the resemblance everywhere.

  5. I like the comment you make about all the stories being endless and relating to our life. There is a common saying that life imitates art, but I truly believe it is the other way around. These stories and sentiments seem to be centuries old, but seeing certain characteristics emphasized and exaggerated in plays, productions, and films make these themes more identifiable in our lives.

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