Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Tracking the evolution of the “smart girl” trope in pop culture

Illustration for article titled Tracking the evolution of the “smart girl” trope in pop culture
Screenshot: The Take (YouTube)

The “smart girl” trope has been woven into the pop-culture lexicon for decades, from Zelda in The Many Loves Of Dobie Gillis to BoJack Horsemans Diane Nguyen. Oftentimes, this brainy character is a brunette (like Harry Potters Hermione or Crazy Ex-Girlfriends Rebecca Bunch) whose school smarts don’t necessarily translate to popular social standing. This week The Take released an intriguing video essay that dissects this particular character type in its (her) entirety.

The Take notes that the brainy beauty had a bit of a boom in the late ’80s/early ’90s, thanks to characters like Saved By The Bells Jessie Spano, Growing Pains’ Carol Seaver, Beverly Hills, 90210s Andrea Zuckerman, and The Simpsons’ Lisa Simpson. While the appearance of this character often saw the brainy girl hang out with the popular kids, she was frequently overshadowed by the pretty, cool girl—like Saved By The Bell’s Kelly Kapowski and 90210’s Kelly Taylor… basically, lots of Kellys. Some, like Freaks And GeeksLindsey and Mean GirlsCady, attempted to shun their smarts in favor of becoming a cool girl themselves, but their intellect won out.

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The Take notes that things may be looking up for the smart girl: The familiar character is no longer predominantly white (like Meg Murray in the new film adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time, for example), and occasionally balances popular activities like cheerleading alongside her brainier activities (like Riverdales Betty Cooper). After decades of clichés, The Take posits that this trope hopefully has now expanded into a variety of versions of the smart girl, who can be beautiful and brainy (no longer either/or). As the smart girl rightly becomes a role model, she then becomes an inspiration to other kids who will also, as The Take puts it, eventually “leave the classroom and use her talents to enhance the world.”

Send Great Job, Internet tips to gji@theonion.com

Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.

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