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Spot the difference: how Bad Moms borrows its emotional climax – and everything else – from Mean Girls

It won’t reach the sanctified pop culture status of Mean Girls, but the influence of Tina Fey’s film is obvious, over 12 years on.

“I’m not, like, a regular mom. I’m a cool mom.” Amy Poehler’s turn as an overly-permissive, desperate to be liked mother in Mean Girls is one of those culture moments burned into our brains. Her role was brief, but threatened to upstage the film’s younger cast. A few years ago, it emerged that a film based on Queen Bee Moms and King Pin Dads, (the sequel to the book Mean Girls was based on, Queen Bees and Wannabes) was in the works, called Mean Moms. And now we have Bad Moms.

In the words of Alison Herman at the Ringer, Bad Moms is the summer’s latest “Wokebuster”: a “lightly feminist” blockbuster that is “theoretically about social progress and dismantling gender norms”, but in practice reinforces the same premises it claims to challenge. It follows a group of three women, Amy, Kiki and Carla, as they realise that they can never meet societal expectations of “good” motherhood, and decide to embrace being bad mothers. (If Amy is meant to be a representation of a bad mother, it fails abysmally – instead Mila Kunis, an archetypal Cool Girl herself, actually plays a Cool Mom like Poehler’s, driving her kids to school in a sports car, feeding them fast food lunches, absorbing piles of nachos and excessive amounts of alcohol, while staying perfectly skinny and fucking the hottest dad at school).

If Mean Girls’ tepid message was, “You all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores”; then Bad Moms’s is, “In this day and age it’s impossible to be a good mom.”

Of course, the villain of the piece, and the embodiment of all the gendered bullshit women are subjected to, is still a woman. In Mean Girls it was Regina George. In Bad Moms it’s Parent-Teacher Association president and self-proclaimed perfect mother Gwendolyn James. Even the name, ludicrously, sounds like an imitation: let’s take a slightly obscure, regal-sounding name and pair it with a common male first name. Ah, perfect. (Later in the film, Gwendolyn even pulls up to the girls in her posh car, yelling “Hey, bitches, get in!” – the parallels are obvious.)

If the enemy of the piece is hypocritical patriarchal expectations (the people yelling “slut!” and “whore!” at all teenage girls or “bad mom!” at all mothers), both films choose sisterhood, honesty and vulnerability as the solution. We all remember the “All junior girls report to the gymnasium! Immediately!” scene from Mean Girls:

The girls take part in a workshop – supposedly in order to own the mean things people have said about them, disregard them as ridiculous, admit their own human failings, and learn not to judge people in return.

So, too, do the women of Bad Moms gather in a school auditorium and confess their sins. After Amy delivers a speech in support of her run for PTA president urging the parents not to judge themselves for their quirks, a barrage of mothers spill their secrets in order to reject the expectations of perfections thrust upon them by the PTA and beyond. “I can’t tell my twins apart!” says one. Another: “I like my nanny more than my husband!” Every one of these mothers has felt personally victimised by Gwendolyn James. “I don’t even have kids!” one finally yells into an awkward silence. The scenes match right down to the “she doesn’t even go here” punchline in Mean Girls.

Bad Moms is watchable, mostly funny for the ridiculous slow-mo scenes of raucous behaviour from three great comic actors. It won’t reach the sanctified pop culture status of Mean Girls, but the influence of Tina Fey’s film is obvious, over 12 years on.

Anna Leszkiewicz is the New Statesman's deputy culture editor.

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Why do politicians keep making podcasts?

Nick Clegg is the latest to take to the internet airwaves.

“Rage is the opposite of reason. Discuss!”, Nick Clegg declares jauntily at the start of the first episode of his new podcast, Anger Management. The former Lib Dem leader and deputy prime minister can now be heard on the internet airwaves fortnightly, grilling guests about what he calls “the politics of anger”. Since his show is introduced by a montage of angry politicians shouting, it’s guaranteed to raise the listener’s blood pressure before the host even starts talking.

Clegg is just the latest in a long run of politicians to try their hand at podcasting. Perhaps the most notable example in the UK is the former Labour leader Ed Miliband, whose Reasons to be Cheerful show made in partnership with the former Absolute Radio DJ Geoff Lloyd hit number two in the iTunes podcast chart when it debuted in September 2017 and was recently nominated for a 2018 British Podcast Award. Jacob Rees-Mogg, too, has a fortnightly podcast called the Moggcast, which launched in January 2018 and is hosted by Conservative Home. Where once a politician might do a phone-in show on LBC or guest host The Jeremy Vine Show  on BBC Radio 2 to show how in touch and relatable they are (as in Call Clegg, which aired on LBC from 2013 to 2015, or Ed Milibands lunch time death metal scream), they can now go it alone.

In his column in the i newspaper introducing the podcast, Clegg puts his finger on exactly why it is that politicians find podcasting so attractive: it’s all about control. “I have grown to abhor the tired and tested confrontational interview format,” he writes. On his podcast, “there is no wish to pounce on a slip of the tongue or endure a soundbite being hammered home”. There’s a freedom to this kind of on-demand internet audio, which can be delivered directly to an audience without having to get past the traditional gatekeepers of broadcasting. There’s no need to put up with John Humphrys or work with the BBC’s requirement for political balance. The politician, usually on the receiving end of whatever the interviewer wants to throw at them, is in charge.

Given this, it’s unfortunate that in his first episode Nick Clegg falls foul of his own edicts. His first guest is former Ukip leader Nigel Farage (coincidentally also the host of a podcast called Farage Against the Machine). It’s a slightly odd choice of guest to launch the show — made, no doubt, to generate controversy and a higher iTunes chart position — and it doesn’t exactly show Clegg’s broadcasting skills in a good light.

In a recorded disclaimer that plays before the interview, the former Lib Dem leader and vocal Remainer tries to pre-empt criticism that he’s giving a platform to someone with pretty unpalatable views. He explains that the first half of the 47-minute episode is meant to be about Farage’s “life, not really me cross-questioning him”, and that to hear them “locking horns more on the issues of the day” listeners must wait until the latter part of the show.

This approach results in Clegg letting Farage get away with a number of fact-light statements early on, and then later adopting the Humphrys-style tactic of repeatedly interrupting Farage before he can finish a point. As an interview style, it’s the worst of both worlds — neither spacious enough to allow the guest to explain their thinking fully, nor robust enough to provide an effective rebuttal. Hosting a podcast is a deceptively hard thing to do. It would take someone substantially more skilled behind the microphone than Clegg to completely reinvent the one-on-one discussion format in a single episode.

The lure of podcasting for politicians is in the way listeners react to the medium. The entire burgeoning podcast advert market is founded on research that points to a strong sense of intimacy between podcast host and audience — it’s a level of loyalty and engagement that surpasses many other forms of media. In politics, that can be harnessed for electoral gain: for instance, Hillary Clinton had a podcast called With Her that ran during her 2016 presidential campaign.

The trouble is that politicians aren’t necessarily that good at making podcasts. They’re not journalists, and they don’t often have a good nose for what makes a strong show for the listener, or take the advice of those who do. For those still in office (or, like Clegg, still wanting to participate in politics despite losing his seat), there are other pressures that can prevent them being completely honest on air. As Amanda Hess pointed out in the New York Times in 2017, the best episodes of Clinton’s podcast were made after she lost the election, when she moved out of campaign mode and just tried to process what had happened like everyone else.

The rise of the podcasting politician is the result of a few different factors: an increased dominance of personality in politics; the tendency for us all to gravitate towards our own “filter bubbles” of reassuring content; and an ever-more polarised media climate. For my money, the best show to come out of this trend so far is Ed Miliband’s. He leans in to the “geeky” stereotype that haunted him for his entire career and, guided by veteran broadcaster Geoff Lloyd, is seeking to make something that looks beyond the political bubble.

Podcasts are at their best when they serve a particular niche interest group: there’s clearly a community of people who enjoy listening to Jacob Rees-Mogg intoning bleakly about obscure areas of policy, and best of luck to them. Politicians should realise that it is not a form that works when you try to appeal to everyone. Otherwise, like Nick Clegg, they will end up telling Nigel Farage that he’s “very good at the high horse stuff about how the EU is ghastly” in a strained tone of voice.

Caroline Crampton is head of podcasts at the New Statesman. She writes a newsletter about podcasts.