Study Guide

Mean Girls Janis Ian and Damian (Lizzy Caplan and Daniel Franzese)

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Janis Ian and Damian (Lizzy Caplan and Daniel Franzese)

Janis and Damian are the two best friends a sixteen-year-old transplant from Africa could ever want. We know that's a pretty specific niche, but we're standing by it.

This pair of "art freaks" are outsiders just like Cady is when she starts at North Shore, and they quickly recognize one of their own and scoop her up. Acid-tongued Janis gives Cady the lowdown on the social hierarchy at North Shore, and even gifts her with a handy illustrated map of the cafeteria, a veritable minefield of cliques:

JANIS: Here. This map is gonna be your guide to North Shore. Now, where you sit is crucial because you got everybody there. You got your freshmen, ROTC guys, preps, JV jocks, Asian nerds, cool Asians, varsity jocks, unfriendly black hotties, girls who eat their feelings, girls who don't' eat anything, desperate wannabes, burnouts, sexually active band geeks, the greatest people you'll ever meet, and the worst. Beware of The Plastics.

We don't know about you, but we would've loved that kind of insider info on our first day of high school. Cady isn't intimidated by Janis's hard candy shell, and she immediately proves to Cady what Damian already knows: she's a solid friend.

Janis Don't Play That

Janis is filled to the choppy-haired brim with angst, which is fitting since her character is named after singer-songwriter Janis Ian, whose most famous song, 1975's "At Seventeen," is all about the anguish of being a teenage girl in a culture that prizes girls like The Plastics and slights, or just straight-up ignores, the Janises.

She may be wise beyond her years, but Janis isn't above trying to get her revenge on Regina, who, after it's teased through much of the movie, we find out used to be Janis's BFF until she started a rumor that Janis was a lesbian and in love with her.

And that was the end of that friendship.

Ultimately, we learn that Janis isn't a lesbian. She is Lebanese, however, which adds a hilarious punny layer (Lebanese sounds quite a bit like lesbian) to Regina's cruelty. The fact that The Plastics have no accountability for their actions (like starting rumors), and are beloved in spite of them, drives Janis crazy.

That's why, when Cady turns to the dark side, too, Janis is so disappointed. Check out the confrontation that goes down when Janis and Damian roll up outside Cady's house party—the one she threw instead of going to Janis's art show, and that she didn't invite Janis and Damian to:

JANIS: God! See, at least me and Regina George know we're mean. You try to act like you're so innocent. Like, "Oh, I used to live in Africa with all the little birdies and the little monkeys." […] See, that is the thing with you Plastics. You think that everybody is in love with you, when actually, everybody hates you. Like Aaron Samuels, for example. He broke up with Regina and guess what: He still doesn't want you. So why are you still messing with Regina, Cady? I'll tell you why. Because you are a mean girl! You're a b****!

The truth hurts, and Janis isn't afraid of dropping truth bombs left and right. She is afraid of losing another friend, though. Her words cut deep, in part because she's scared, in part because she's angry, and in part because her tongue has been sharpened by years of teenage torment. Her quick wit and bold appearance are how she survives high school, and uninvited "compliments" like these:

HUGE GUY: Nice wig, Janis. What's it made of?

JANIS: Your mom's chest hair!

It's a safe assumption that Janis is subjected to bon mots like this all the time. That's why her walls are up, and why they aren't coming down anytime soon. If Janis keeps her social distance, she can't get hurt again like she did by Regina, or like Cady threatens to do.

Too Rad to Function

The only person in Janis's inner circle is Damian. He's just as quick-witted as she is, and, as an openly gay high school junior (and openly gay in 2004, to boot), it's a safe assumption that Damian's been similarly harassed.

As a result, he and Janis have their finger on the pulse of North Shore's social order. Here's how they describe The Plastics, for example:

DAMIAN: They're teen royalty. If North Shore was US Weekly, they would always be on the cover.

JANIS: That one there, that's Karen Smith. She is one of the dumbest girls you will ever meet. Damian sat next to her in English last year.

DAMIAN: She asked me how to spell "orange."

JANIS: And that little one? That's Gretchen Wieners.

DAMIAN: She's totally rich because her dad invented Toaster Strudel.

JANIS: Gretchen Wieners knows everybody's business. She knows everything about everyone.

DAMIAN: That's why her hair is so big. It's full of secrets.

JANIS: And evil takes a human form in Regina George. Don't be fooled, because she may seem like your typical selfish, back-stabbing, slut-faced ho-bag, but in reality, she is so much more than that.

DAMIAN: She's the queen bee, the star. Those other two are just her little workers.

Knowledge is power, and Janis and Damian are able to endure North Shore because they know everything about everybody, including themselves. That's part of what makes Damian in particular such a crisp character. As actor Daniel Franzese, who played Damian, wrote in his own 2014 coming out letter:

This was a natural and true representation of a gay teenager—a character we laughed with instead of at. (Source)

Damian and Janis's ability to remain true to themselves, and each other, is their secret weapon for surviving the kill-or-be-killed situation at North Shore.

Or, to put it another way, Gretchen's hair may be so big because it's full of secrets, but Janis and Damian's friendship is huge because it's full of authenticity, humor, and smarts.

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