Former Summer Heights High exchange student Ja’mie King is your typical reality show star. She’s bossy, manipulative and judgmental. She is beyond disrespectful to her mother, hateful to her younger sister and insufferable to those outside her clique. Even so, she is school captain, the hub of her social wheel, and she sponsors dozens of African children in need. Ja’mie is the queen bee mean girl, but she still bears the burden of the insecurities of any teenage girl in Western culture. She is obsessed with body image, public image and just generally not being thought of as a weirdo. She is also, in actuality, a 39-year-old man.
Australian writer-performer Chris Lilley is just stuffed with people. He introduced the world to a goodly portion of them, including Ja’mie King, in his debut mockumentary series We Can Be Heroes: Finding the Australian of the Year. Ja’mie, who sponsors some 80 children in Africa, was among the nominees. Ja’mie was later one of the subjects featured in Lilley’s followup series Summer Heights High, a public school Ja’mie attended for one term as part of an inter-school exchange program. Now the sole subject of her own series, we get to see the “real” Ja’mie King: Private School Girl in all her delicious, entitled glory.
The HBO-ABC co-production could be viewed as a sort of “before” picture of HBO’s Girls. Whereas Lena Dunham and co. are working to forge an identity apart from their middle class upbringing, Ja’mie King not only embraces her wealthy background, she flaunts it proudly. However, like Dunham’s Hannah Horvath, Ja’mie (who changed her name from Jamie in Year Seven) will likely be in for a very rude awakening once she gets out into the real world.
This may be one of the points Lilley is trying to make with his spot-on characterization of the self-important, egomaniacal Ja’mie. Certainly parents want the best for their children, or at least for their children to have it better than when they were kids themselves. However, there is a fine line between “wanting the best” and “spoiling rotten” – an approach to parenting not restricted to the 1%, if Honey Boo Boo is any indication. So, while the character of Ja’mie King is fictional, her behaviour and sense of entitlement are not. You only have to watch an hour of Bravo to see that.
By any responsible measure, Ja’mie is a horrible person whose so-called charity work is clearly more about her own public image than actually wanting to help anyone. On the other hand, someone of Ja’mie’s standing, even at a young age, would be expected to perform charitable acts regardless of her private motivation for doing so. She would also be expected to be a leader, a trend setter, and a role model. That’s a lot of pressure for anyone – especially a teenage girl – to have to deal with. Is it any wonder that girls like Ja’mie are so demanding of their parents to provide the tools they need to maintain that status? And just what are these “tools” today’s girls need to keep their heads above the raging social waters?
Here in the First World, they are wearing the “right” clothes, which means a lot of shopping at trendy stores. Doing well academically, which means a good computer/laptop/tablet. Having a large social circle (the more popular its members, the better), meaning lots of extra-curricular activites that may require special gear/clothing. And maintaining a wide visible social media presence which necessitates a mobile phone, preferably with unlimited data.
Which is perhaps the other point Chris Lilley is making with Ja’mie King: Private School Girl. Though it seems evident that he is having a fabulous time just playing the character (and let’s face it: the man is supremely gifted as an actor), he is also subtling bringing to light, what Jake Flanagan describes in his article for The Atlantic as, “the gauntlet of ludicrously high expectations society demands [girls] run through”. Culturally, we put so much pressure on our daughters to be perfect (i.e. “worthy”) – all the time, at everything. At the same time we’re telling them through advertising and other ubiquitous imagery how very far from perfect they are. The result is girls like Ja’mie who, regardless of wealth, are a walking disparity of supreme entitlement and crippling self-hatred.
Make no mistake, Ja’mie is a loathesome human being. She is homophobic, racist, classist, condescending and just plain not very nice. She is also a product of her upbringing, her environment and her culture; and that’s what Chris Lilley seems to want us to take note of.
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