As a story of high-school girls, it was the antithesis of another iconic teen movie from a few years previously, 1995’s Clueless, which better reflected the country’s shiny capitalist ideals with its privileged, assertive protagonist Cher Horowitz. Interestingly, though, as the Ghost World script was passed around different studios, Clueless star Alicia Silverstone was among the actresses considered for the role of Enid in a bid to make it more accessible. It would take Zwigoff and Clowes, who co-wrote the script, nearly five years to get their authentic version of the film made.
“Unfortunately, most people who are successful in Hollywood or any other business are not oddballs at all,” Zwigoff said in a 2001 interview withSalon. “They don’t get the type of characters we have in the film: the misfits and the alienated.”
For Birch, Ghost World offered an opportunity to show the real frustrations of her generation first-hand. Enid comes under scrutiny for not contributing to the world that she so readily despises. Her well-meaning father (Bob Balaban) tries to set her up with a computer sales job; she’s fired from the concessions stand at a giant multiplex after a day. Even her relationship with Rebecca begins to fracture when Enid won’t commit to their original plans of moving in together. Yet at each point she’s portrayed with empathy and integrity.
“I really related to [Enid], she was saying a lot of things that I wanted to say,” she says. “It was a counterpoint to some of the other scripts that I was reading, which were just those standard teen comedies where the girls wore midriff shirts and long blonde hair. That was very normalised at the time, and I just had no connection to it.”
The history of the teen ‘misfit’
Of course, the teen ‘misfit’ , ‘outsider’, or ‘rebel’ – the young person who rejects or is shut out from the society around them – has been a stock type in the expansive teen-movie canon for at least the past 70 years. The character really came of age in the post-war era of the 1950s, which brought with it vast social change and a fresh wave of moral panic around the rise of the affluent and liberated teenager, who strayed from the path that their parents had laid down for them, and was feared by older generations for doing so.
It was this moral panic that led to game-changing youth film The Wild One (1953) being banned in the UK for 14 years. The film starred Marlon Brando as a louche and misunderstood gang leader in California, and stoked concerns for its alleged promotion of gang violence and juvenile delinquency, which, it was thought, could influence a malleable teenage audience into committing crime themselves.