Spice World, #MeToo, and Me.
It’s Y2k. I’ve just graduated middle school and the hallowed halls of Tamalpais High call to me. I deeply want to be cool and to fit in. I’m also fourteen. These things rarely intersect. My friend Paris suggests to me, as summer wanes and our arrival in high school draws on apace, that we walk over to the video store and rent one of our favorite films: Spice World.
It’s a risky move.
The walk requires journeying down a busy thoroughfare where anyone could see us. Further, certainly our classmates rent videos from time to time. But we rent the Spice World VHS, with the bright orange sticker cautioning us that if we are to be kind citizens of this blue marble, we will not neglect to rewind it. We begin our walk home, feeling that we have gotten away with something until, from the McDonald’s patio, a little girl musters all the power of her diaphragm and calls out, “DADDY, LOOK! THEY HAVE THE SPICE GIRLS!”
I don’t want to say that child is the reason why I wasn’t invited to parties in high school, buuuuut.
If there’s anything that tween girls know, it’s that stuff that tween girls like is uncool. The Spice Girls were the epitome of cool when I was in fifth grade, and the epitome of uncool by eighth. This, my friends, is a goddamn tragedy. It’s as if Spice World taught us nothing. What should it have taught us, you ask?
Well, here’s a big one: Men are trash.
Long before Weinstein and #MeToo, the Spice Girls were teaching young girls worldwide that men are a giant bummer. Literally every dude in the movie is hot garbage, right down to a kid in a coma who wakes up at the idea of seeing boobs. No wonder millennial women are done taking men's crap. The Spice Girls taught us guys are only useful insofar as we can order them up like pizzas and then send them on their way. It's a Bechdel Test obliterating movie made by women about the nonsense dudes put them through, and it's actually pretty friggin’ clever. Of course anything made for teen girls is lame so everyone pretends to hate it. Just like guys “hate” boy bands but know every single word of “I Want It That Way.”
The big reveal at the end of the movie is that we’re actually watching an elaborate movie pitch, and the entire premise has been how stupid it would be to make a movie about the Spice Girls. As such, what comes across as a lack of self-awareness throughout the movie is reversed. They know that no one wants them to succeed. They know that no one takes them seriously. They know people are trying to make as much money off them as they can for as long as they can, and that they’ll be tossed aside when the zeitgeist shifts. The entertainment industry inevitably tears down those it built up, especially women. What Spice World teaches us is that the only people who are gonna be there for you after the man gets you down are women.
At times they are explicit about the struggles of negotiating a man’s world as a woman. For example, Ginger Spice talks about not wanting to be threatening to a man's masculinity, but that men don’t know what to do with them as strong women. Inevitably, she says, the man gets freaked out and leaves. While to this day we still have pop culture figures shying away from outright calling themselves feminists, 1998 Geri Halliwell name checks feminism and its ideas throughout the movie. And while it’s a barrier to dating, she shows no interest in making herself an easier partner for fragile masculinity.
I don’t want to solely focus on the men are trash angle, though, without really honing in on what was most important: Women. This movie isn't really about men. It’s about women taking care of each other. It’s about women being allowed to be any kind of human they want to be.
Perhaps one of the most meaningful and underrated moments of girl power in the movie is the scene in which the girls find themselves at a photoshoot where a young and greasy Dominic West tries to mold them into his image of sexiness. The band quickly tires of the charade, and begin to suggest alternate identities for themselves: Bricklayer Spice, Trainspotting Spice, “Sporty, But I’m Actually Interested In Other Things Spice.” Thus begins a montage in which they continue the photoshoot dressed as other famous figures, like Jackie Kennedy, Elvis, Wonder Woman, Twiggy, and so on. They then take on each other’s personas before complaining about the constricting nature of the costumes, and thereby, the caricatures they’re made to fit into. The moral of the story here is that you can be any kind of woman you damn well please – or you can NOT be a woman – and that you are free to change your mind at any time.
In Spice World, there are no love interests. In fact, their collective best friend Nicola becomes a single mother and the band swears to be the village that helps her raise the child. There is no indication that men are necessary for the pursuit of your dreams or your happiness, or that what men think should have any bearing on how you see yourself. Dudes are doing everything in their power to manipulate, possess, and destroy the Spice Girls, and yet they refuse to let any of it happen to them. When they don’t like what’s happening, they leave. They make their own path. They jump a double decker bus over the London Bridge like they’re in a Jan de Bont movie.
Honestly, (and sorry Prequel, Sequel, Remake guys), I just don't need people in my life who don't understand the brilliance of Spice World. Fight me.