Clueless Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Class (Motif)

Signifiers of class and immense wealth are an ongoing motif in the film. When we meet Cher, she has a comically large number of outfits. Similarly, she drives a fancy Jeep, but does not yet have her license. When Cher shows Tai around the school and points out where everyone sits, it is obvious there are a lot of social divisions based on class. Indeed, Tai doesn't get any social recognition until she has a makeover that implies a good sense of fashion and wealth.

Fashion (Motif)

Fashion is an ongoing motif in the film. Cher disparages Amber for wearing an outfit that she wore. Throughout, Cher obsesses over outfits; she pulls apart her wardrobe when she is having a boy over. Similarly, when she is preparing for her driving test she goes into panic because she cannot find a certain item of clothing. Cher wears designer fashion throughout, and engages in retail therapy in moments of doubt. Fashion is the organizing principle of Cher's life, and becomes a motivic device in the film.

Tai's Makeover (Allegory)

Like so many rags-to-riches stories, Tai Frasier's makeover—indeed, her entire social narrative—acts as an allegory for upward class mobility. This allegory hearkens back to Jane Austen's novel Emma, on which the film is based. In Austen's social satires, characters often go through transformations in order to impress members of the upper classes. While Tai is a crass and awkward stoner upon arriving at the high school, she is able to transform into a popular girl simply by taking the red dye out of her hair and wearing fashionable clothes. Thus, we see the superficiality of social politics, and the performance of class in the affluent community of Beverly Hills. Anyone can be popular, if they have the right clothes and the right friends.

Christian's Interests (Motif)

While Cher interprets Christian's interest in art, fine clothes, and identification with Tony Curtis as signs of his refinement and maturity, it is slowly revealed that these things are actually exemplary of his homosexuality. The film comically uses stereotypes to reveal the ways that Christian is different from other boys. His interest in abstract sculpture reveals that he has a refined aesthetic palette—a stereotype about gay men—and his interest in the Tony Curtis films is revealing. Both films have homoerotic and queer undertones; Some Like It Hot is about cross-dressing and the scene they watch in Spartacus is charged with homoerotic innuendo. Heckerling uses subtle hints to reveal that Christian is gay; by the time Murray informs Cher, we already know, because of the motivic but subtle use of stereotype.

The News & Current Events (Motif)

The news and current events are a motif throughout the film, and are an area around which Cher seeks to "makeover" her soul, and transform into a more compassionate person. In the beginning Cher and Josh have a sibling-like rivalry because Josh is an idealistic undergraduate who likes to watch the news and Cher is more interested in the mall and her social calendar. Josh teases Cher, saying, "Hey, in some parts of the universe, maybe not in contempo-casual, but in some parts, it's considered cool to know what's going on in the world." The reason Cher gets a poor grade in debate class—the injustice that sets the whole plot in motion to begin with—is because her arguments about current events and world politics are un-researched and un-informed. When she realizes that she loves Josh, Cher turns on CNN instead of her usual television diet of cartoons, in hopes of winning him over and showing him that she is more aware and involved; she struggles to understand what is going on in war-torn Bosnia, however. Finally, she comes to Ms. Geist's aid in captaining the Pismo Beach Disaster Relief efforts at her school. Cher wants to show Josh that she is engaged in politics and helping people in need; even though her efforts are often played for laughs, her engagement shows Josh that her heart is in the right place.