Popular Culture, and Feminism's Third Wave: "I'm Not My Mother"
By KATHLEEN ROWE KARLYN
"Popular culture is the politics of the 21st Century"
Gale Weathers, Scream 3
 The 1990s might well be remembered as the decade of Girl
Culture and Girl Power. New phrases began sounding in the air and
new images surfacing in our media, changing the face of popular
culture in a decidedly more youthful and feminine direction. In
1994, Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia helped put the issue
of teen girls on the national cultural agenda. Indicting our "media-saturated
culture" for "poisoning" our girls, the book sold
1.6 million copies. In cinema, teen girl audiences emerged as
one of the most powerful demographic factors of the late 1990s,
creating surprise hits out of movies ranging from the low-budget
romantic comedy Clueless (1995) to the slasher parody Scream
(1996). In 1997, teen girls saved the romantic epic Titanic
from financial disaster when groups of them flocked to theaters
for repeat viewings of it. Clueless's success was followed
by a TV spin-off and a wave of teenflick romances, and the cult
around Scream led to two sequels. On television, more programming
than ever began featuring teen girl protagonists in situations ranging
from the everyday (Felicity and Dawson's Creek) to
the fantastic (the highly rated Buffy the Vampire Slayer,
based on a 1992 movie of the same name). In music, phrases such
as "Girl Power," first articulated by the underground
"riot grrls," moved into the mainstream with the international
if short-lived phenomenon of the Spice Girls, adored by very young
girls (if reviled by almost everyone else). "By sheer bulk,"
according to one studio executive, "young girls are driving
cultural tastes now. They're amazing consumers" (Weinraub).
 Girls now control enough money to attract attention as a
demographic group. This may or may not represent an advance in
terms of girls' actual social power, but it does indicate that girls
are being listened to by cultural producers who are taking them
and their tastes very seriously. That hasn't necessarily been the
case, however, for people with far more compelling personal and
political stakes in understanding young women and what drives them:
that is, their mothers, their teachers, and feminist thinkers in
general. And while more academic feminists are beginning to follow
British scholar Angela McRobbie's lead in examining the relation
between feminism and youth cultures, these investigations (in special
issues of Hypatia and Signs) have more often focused
on alternative, independent and subcultural venues, such as riot
grrls, rather than mainstream popular culture. Like Mary Pipher,
educated and liberal-minded adults from widely differing backgrounds
have more often felt a deep unease about the connections between
girls and popular culture, especially youth-oriented genre films
 Let me cite a few examples. As a teacher and researcher
of film studies and television and the mother of three daughters
in early adulthood, I've been following the emergence of girl culture
since the mid-nineties. Recently I spoke to a large group of academics
and other professionals who work with girls about the ways such
media icons as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Xena Warrior Princess and
the Spice Girls challenge familiar representations of femininity
by affirming female friendship, agency and physical power. While
my audience was entertained by my examples, many could not see past
the violence, overt sexuality and commercialism in the clips I showed
and in fact were troubled by my argument. At the same time, I've
taught educated and involved mothers in my classes who have battled
with their daughters over their tastes in popular culture. The
film Scream has been a particular flashpoint. Despite its
influence among teen girls, these women have discouraged or even
forbidden their daughters from watching it, and they have certainly
avoided watching it with them.
 These responses speak to real fears about the damaging effects
of popular culture on young people, and to real desires to protect
girls from those effects--fears which increased dramatically after
the wave of school shootings in the 1990s, with worries about violence
focused on boys and about sex on girls. More important, however,
the responses to Scream stand as poignant examples of missed
opportunities for women of my generation—the "mothers"
of contemporary feminism, or feminists of the Second Wave—to
learn about where our daughters are today and to mend or at least
better understand some of the rifts and fissures that divide us.
For despite the preferences of many educated adults for more refined
examples of culture, for Jane Austen's Emma over Amy Heckerling's
Clueless, for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein over Wes
Craven's Scream trilogy, popular culture infuses the world
in which today's young women live, and the face of feminism today,
for better or worse, is being written across media culture. A startling
image on the cover of a 1998 issue of Time magazine depicted
succeeding generations of US feminism with the faces of Susan B.
Anthony, Betty Friedan, and Gloria Steinem in black and white, followed
by Calista Flockhart's in "living color." (Flockhart is
the actress who plays Ally McBeal, the most popular female character
on TV that year.) The headline on the cover, "Is Feminism
Dead?" suggests that if feminism lives, it does so in the fictionalized
characters of popular culture.
 The tension I've observed between mothers and daughters on
the issue of popular culture resonates elsewhere in the US feminist
movement today. Carol Gilligan describes a "relational crisis"
(25) about how to foster authentic connections across real differences
of experience, values and identity, while Carol Siegel notes how
ideological and generational differences have eroded feminism's
"shared sense of purpose" (3). The challenge of making
feminism represent more than a class of privileged white women is
not new, of course, and inspired productive internal conflict within
feminism's Second Wave. What appears new, however, is the generational
dimension to this tension. On the one hand, "Girl Power"
and "Girls Kick Butt" are familiar phrases on magazine
covers, bumper stickers and T-shirts, one sign of the ways the Second
Wave has changed the world young women are growing up in. On the
other hand, feminism itself seems most evident as a "structuring
absence" for middle class young women attempting to define
their identity. "I'm not a feminist, but. . . ." has
become the most ubiquitous reference to feminism today, heard in
university classrooms, the popular press and a wave of recent books
on contemporary feminism. Brought up during a period of social
conservatism, young women today are reluctant to identify themselves
with any social movement and instead more likely to place their
faith in free-market individualism. This resistance to thinking
collectively, however, has serious political consequences at a time
when collective action remains necessary not only to advance feminist
goals in an age of globalization but to protect its still-vulnerable
achievements in the areas of abortion rights, affirmative action,
education and healthcare. For example, feminists have failed to
protect the social safety net for poor women and the families of
 Thinking collectively requires both real and imaginative
models of productive relationship, which have been hard to come
by for girls and women in high art as well as popular culture.
While representations of sisterhood or female friendship have begun
to appear with more frequency in popular culture, especially with
the new presence of female sport teams after Title IX, the mother/daughter
bond, a key model of female connection remains, as Adrienne Rich
has argued, invisible, unexplored or taboo. With a few important
exceptions (the Alien films, especially Aliens 
and Alien Resurrection ; and Species II ),
movies tend to dispatch mothers with a vengeance, relegating them
to sentimentality (Stepmom ), hysteria (American
Beauty ), monstrosity (Titanic ), or mere
invisibility (Rushmore ). Similarly, as Lucy Fischer
has argued in Cinematernity, film criticism itself is characterized
by a kind of "amnesia" about the maternal. As a result,
girls have been hard pressed to imagine what female collectivity
might look like, among women of their own generation or across time.
Sentimentalizing sisterhood as an ideal of false solidarity among
women is not the answer, especially when that ideal obscures real
differences among women and the power differentials that accompany
those differences. However, without models of common goals and
action, the liberal ideology of free-market individual power can
and does thrive.
 My purpose here is not to mount an unconditional defense of
popular culture, but to argue that women who care about the next
generation of girls need to learn more about the popular texts they're
drawn to, whether Ally McBeal or Buffy, Y/M magazine
or MTV. If a productive conversation is going to happen among women
of all ages about the future of the feminist movement, it will have
to take place on the terrain of popular culture where young women
today are refashioning feminism toward their own ends. As Australian
feminist Catherine Lumby argues, "If feminism is to remain
engaged with and relevant to the everyday lives of women, then feminists
desperately need the tools to understand everyday culture. We need
to engage with the debates in popular culture rather than taking
an elitist and dismissive attitude toward the prime medium of communication
today" (174). Catherine M. Orr similarly warns that academic
feminists may find themselves "positioned uncomfortably"
against the populism implicit in the Third Wave (41).
 This paper takes a step in that direction first by mapping
out the connections between Third Wave feminism and popular culture,
then by illustrating those connections with a reading of the Scream
trilogy. As I will show, these films provide a rich opportunity
to study the contradictions and possibilities of feminism in a postmodern
age. Scream (1996) stands as a key text in identifying
girls as a powerful audience, and as Jonathan Hook and Steven Jay
Schneider have argued, it had a major impact on the Hollywood film
industry. The cult following that developed around the film led
to two sequels (Scream 2  and Scream 3 )
as well as the parody Scary Movie  and Scary Movie
2 ) and contributed to the wave of movies and TV shows
targeted to teen girls in the late 90s. Built around themes of
female empowerment and narratively driven by the ambivalent but
powerful connection between mother and daughter, the trilogy raises
the issue of bonds among women across time, gesturing toward a way
out of current feminism's "relational crisis." Unabashedly
postmodern in its celebration of B-movies, it provides keen insights
into the tastes, desires and issues that move young women today,
as well as the cultural landscape from which Third Wave feminism,
or the feminism of our daughters, is emerging.
 One of the most puzzling elements in recent public discussions
about feminism is the degree to which young women have disavowed
a social movement intended to benefit them. Before proceeding further,
I would like to define a few terms of my argument as well as its
methodological limits. As Amanda D. Lotz and others have argued,
contemporary feminism has preferred the concept of "wave"
(first attributed to Rebecca Walker in 1992) rather than "generation"
to discuss its history, in order to avoid the overdetermination
of "generations" and the ambivalences evoked by the mother/daughter
relation, as well as to suggest the cumulative impact of these phases.
Generation, however, remains a useful concept, especially when viewed
not as a biological term but as an indicator of political values
held in common. I do not wish to draw strict parameters around
the terms "girl" or "young women," although
market researchers have created increasingly refined distinctions
among groups of females (such as 8-12, 13-18, 18-25 or 18-34) in
order to determine their viewing habits, spending and politics;
and important institutional and ethnographic research needs to be
done on these groups, as well as on the overall impact of the kind
of market fragmentation Joseph Turow analyzes in Breaking Up
America. However, the questions that interest me here I invite
a qualitative methodology based on cultural history and critical
readings of media texts.
 It is even more difficult to pin down the meanings of such
widely contested terms as "Girl Power," Girl Culture"
and above all "feminism." What is—or was—feminism?
Who has the authority to define it? What was the Second Wave, and
how historically accurate are current understandings of it? What
is the Third Wave? The generalizations that follow are not intended
as definitive answers to these questions but as tools cautiously
employed to explore a thesis about the current state of what is
broadly understood as feminism.
 Finally, while I refer anecdotally to actual mothers and daughters,
I use these terms metaphorically. I also use them with political
intention. First, the mother/daugher relation ties a nexus of
cultural representations that "erase" mothers into a broader
political order that erases history or historical consciousness.
Second, given our culture's tradition of mother-blaming as well
as its expectations that older women "disappear," feminist
scholars should not shrink from this metaphor, despite its inadequacies,
as a means of conceptualizing women's relations across time. Not
all of us are mothers, but we all have mothers. And we all have
a stake in the future of girls and young women, whether we see them
as our daughters or not.
 One of the most puzzling elements in recent public
discussions about feminism is the degree to which young women have
disavowed a social movement intended to benefit them. Feminism
has become an easy target for women who do not feel that they have
benefited from the highly-touted booming economy of the late 1990s,
and who in fact are working harder than ever to get by, with less
time to enjoy the rewards of family life and domesticity. At the
same time, while young women of all races and social classes appear
to be uncomfortable with the term "feminism," most agree
with many of the principles associated with it, such as equal pay
for equal work. Most young women also have little knowledge of
the history of the woman's movement, or of the restrictions on women's
lives that existed a mere generation ago.
 Explanations abound for this apparent turn against feminism,
from the notion of backlash identified by Susan Faludi in 1991 to
probing critiques of the Second Wave from within. In Backlash:
The Undeclared War Against American Women, Faludi argues that
feminism became the target of a massive effort during the socially
conservative 80s and 90s to reverse the gains achieved by the women's
movement since the mid-60s. From her perspective, if today's young
women believe in their unlimited freedom and opportunity as individuals,
reject structural analyses of social power, and avoid questioning
the unequal effects of the period's economic boom, that is because
of they came of age in a conservative political environment. This
environment also accounts for the wave of highly publicized books
by women such as Naomi Wolf, Katie Roiphe, and Rene Denfield who
identify themselves as feminists but according to a new set of definitions
built on an array of rhetorically savvy terms and misleading oppositions:
"victim feminism" vs. "power feminism," "gender"
or "difference" feminism vs. "equity" feminism.
Young, white, educated at elite institutions, these women conform
to Time magazine's choice of Ally McBeal, a narcissistic,
Ivy League-educated lawyer, as the "face" of popularized
feminism. Other conservative voices with more established academic
credentials have joined the chorus, including Elizabeth Fox-Genovese,
Camille Paglia, and Christina Hoff-Sommers. While Debra Baker Beck,
Alyson Cole and others have refuted their ideas in more scholarly
venues, the mainstream press has embraced these authors as the new
voices of the women's movement, using their work as the basis for
sensationalized discussions of the state of feminism today. While
claiming to refashion a "new" feminism, however, these
women have not learned the lessons about racial and class privilege
so hard won by the old. (See Ann Oakley and Juliet Mitchell, Leslie
Heywood and Jennifer Drake, and Nan Bauer Maglin and Donna Perry,
with women of color, such as bell hooks, Angela Davis and Rebecca
Walker, particularly pointed in their critiques.)
 If Faludi has looked outward to the social formation explain
the current challenges to feminism, others, such as psychologist
Carol Gilligan, have turned inward to the psyche. Gilligan argues
that girls' socialization, especially during adolescence, causes
them to develop a "different voice" or sense of identity,
ethics and values from boys. Her work, which influenced Mary Pipher's
bestseller Reviving Ophelia, has been widely criticized for
its essentialism, especially early in her career, but scholars such
as Cressida J. Heyes are now calling for a reevaluation of its contributions
to feminist scholarship. In "Getting Civilized," Gilligan
extends her previous work on the impact of relationship in women's
lives to broader debates about feminism today. She suggests that
the problems besetting current feminism arise from our culture's
pervasive ethos of alienation and separation and its effect on women
and girls, who learn as they mature that success in our culture
requires them to "dissociate" or disconnect from their
authentic perceptions and desires. The issue, she argues, becomes
how to maintain our connections with the power structures of the
social world while remaining connected with each other and ourselves.
The solution, for feminism and for the culture at large, is a model
of "relational psychology" that would privilege relationship
or connection with ourselves, each other and the world itself.
 This argument resonates on several levels with the gap young
women feel between the feminism of their mothers' generation and
themselves. First, it identifies the psychological underpinnings
of young women's desire to maintain connections with the existing
power structure, especially at the cusp of adulthood when that power
structure begins to appear within reach. As Gilligan notes, this
identification with the status quo is particularly strong for girls
already privileged by race, class, sexuality or education. At
this same developmental phase, conversations between mothers and
daughters increase in volatility. As girls become "acutely
concerned with what women know" (22), or with the wisdom and
history of a previous generation, they also resist hearing it, and
begin their experience of the doubleness or contradiction of female
life under patriarchy. Americans are notoriously lacking in an
historical consciousness, a condition exacerbated by postmodernity's
erasure of history, and young women are no exceptions.
 Most provocatively, Gilligan notes from clinical psychology
that "when faced with the new, people often feel the tug of
the familiar" (26), and when patients find themselves on the
cusp of major transformations, they often hesitate. Feminism has
wrought massive changes in Western society, and its effects, especially
on family and domestic life, have been complex. Whereas for previous
generations of middle-class women, work represented a longed-for
freedom to participate in public life, and family life meant forced
confinement within the private sphere, these categories for many
young women today have come to mean the opposite: work is a necessity,
and family life (or their fantasies about motherhood and domesticity)
an option or "luxury" that may appear frustratingly out
of reach. At the same time, both spheres remain fraught with inequities
that continue to weigh heavily on women's shoulders, as Michelle
Sidler has argued about work, class and the Third Wave. As a result,
the movement has become an easy scapegoat for problems originating
elsewhere, from the economic restructuring brought about by globalization
to the incomplete actualization of the feminist project.
 Gilligan's work suggests a psychological and ethical basis
for the kind of coalition politics needed to preserve and advance
the women's movement. For her, the debates raging about and within
feminism—or "relational conflict among women"—are
not troubling in themselves, but only when they are used to prevent
or reverse radical social change. As Gloria Steinem suggests, with
an apt use of metaphor, "It will take awhile before feminists
succeed enough so that feminism is not perceived as a gigantic mother
who is held responsible for almost everything, while the patriarchy
receives terminal gratitude for the small favors it bestows"
(Walker 1995, xix).
 Perhaps the most challenging analysis of feminism's current
conflicts locates their source within the Second Wave itself, especially
in aspects of it which have been perceived as dogmatic, censorious
and out-of-touch with the everyday lives of women. In New Millenial
Sexstyles, an exhilarating effort to chart the territory between
the Second and Third waves, Carol Siegel describes the alienating
effects of the Second Wave's "concessions to conventional morality
and its role in the regulation of sexuality" (2). Her critique
of the Second Wave zeroes in on its failures to address love and
sexuality, especially heterosexuality, in ways that many women could
relate to. Not only did the Second Wave's orthodox analysis of
sexuality leave no place for "non-complicitous heterosexuality,"
it reinforced larger structures of bourgeois capitalism in policing
the anarchic power of Eros. For Catherine Lumby, on the other hand,
disagreements within feminism point to the failure of older feminists
to acknowledge their own power as feminism has become absorbed into
the establishment. (Tensions related to this issue erupted at the
national Women's Studies Conference in 1995.) This stake in the
establishment, according to Lumby, has helped blind second generation
feminists to important changes in the landscape of politics and
public life, which today are being enacted in the realm of technology,
mass communication and everyday culture. In particular, by failing
to articulate a feminist vision of the place of new technologies
in our lives, Second Wave feminists have inadvertently aligned themselves
with conservative social forces.
 Building on a tradition of cultural studies which examines
the ways class and other social hierarchies are maintained through
categories of high and low culture, Lumby shows how high culture
has invariably served the needs of the elite, and new forms of culture,
such as the Internet, evoke anxiety because—like feminism
itself—they help destabilize old power structures and boundaries
between the public and the private. Just as the liberation movements
in the late 1960s followed the penetration of television into middle
class households in the 1950s, the Internet at the turn of the 21st
century has become the flashpoint of struggle between those who
view access to information as a means to social power and those
who wish to restrict that access. Indeed, as Henry Jenkins has
argued, the inflammatory issue of pornography has been used in campaigns
to control the Internet by groups interested in attacking gay and
 Seigel's and Lumby's books, combining critique with manifesto,
typify a body of new work now becoming associated with the Third
Wave, a movement first named by Rebecca Walker in a 1992 article
published in Ms. ("Becoming the Third Wave").
This work, which includes collections of personal testimonies as
well as more academically oriented anthologies, is provocative,
wide-ranging and difficult to characterize because its views and
modes of address differ so widely. (See Ednie Kaeh Garrison for
a helpful overview. See also Carlip; Green and Taormino; Walker;
Heywood and Jennifer Drake; Maglin and Perry on Third Wave feminism;
and Gateward and Pomerance on "cinemas of girlhood").
Despite these differences, several threads run through it. Unlike
the popularized feminisms of Roiphe et al, the Third Wave
tends to be racially and sexually inclusive, global and ecological
in perspective. Young campus feminists today see environmental
and international labor issues as deeply connected, and the anti-sweatshop
and workers' rights movements as central to feminism today. Third
Wave feminism also shows the influence of poststructuralist theory
on its notions of identity and subjectivity; an interest in consumerism;
a postmodernist orientation toward popular culture; and a focus
on sexuality. In this context, a film such as Scream provides
an opportunity to sort out the relation between the highly commodified
"Girl Culture" (of popular magazines, TV, film, music,
zines and the Internet) and the real empowerment of girls.
The THIRD WAVE and POPULAR CULTURE
 In Third Wave feminism, popular culture is a natural site
of identity-formation and empowerment, providing an abundant storehouse
of images and narratives valuable less as a means of representing
reality than as motifs available for contesting, rewriting and recoding.
This perspective rests on a poststructuralist critique of the relation
between language and the "real." If young women reject
the label of "feminist," that stance may have less to
do with the meaning of the term itself than with their skepticism
about the capacity of language to represent the "truth"
of who they are. According to writings from the Third Wave, young
feminists today resist the positivist epistemology of the Second
Wave, and consider such categories as "male" and "female,"
"black," "white," and "lesbian" and
"heterosexual" pragmatic bases for identity politics more
than transparent signifiers of "the real." While uneasy
about the political consequences of abandoning these categories,
many 3rd Wavers also view them as markers of identity
that can be borrowed, performed and pieced together ironically,
playfully or with political intent, in a mode typical of postmodern
 According to critics such as Fredric Jameson, postmodern
culture lacks the potential for political critique because its "pastiche"
of signifiers and intertextuality no longer refers to a shared historical
reality. However, for youth culture, the appropriation of diverse
cultural labels, motifs or other signifiers may express an aesthetic
and politics of hybridity consistent with its consciousness of multiculturalism
and sexual diversity. And so young women of all races and ethnicities
borrow from hip hop, the preeminent movement in youth culture today,
even though its roots are in urban, male African-American culture,
in order to take up its politicized stance toward racial injustice
(Neisel). Similarly, young women freely engage in masculinity—within
themselves as well as in male-oriented music and violent action
films—in order to "take up" the sense of power our
culture still identifies with boys and men. And the Scream
trilogy enables girls to reject codes of femininity familiar to
them from the highly conventionalized genre of the teen slasher
film in order to rewrite them in more empowering ways.
 As Nina Maglin and Donna Perry argue in "Bad Girls"/"Good
Girls", sexuality has become a "lightning rod for
this generation's hopes and discontents (and democratic visions)"
(xvi) in much the same way that Civil Rights and Vietnam mobilized
their mothers. The regulation of female sexuality is deeply ingrained
in our culture to hold the structures of patriarchy and heterosexuality
in place, with mothers—even feminist mothers—who have
internalized these lessons teaching their daughters from an early
age about the need to police their sexuality. Indeed, much adult
concern about young women and popular culture arises from the treatments
of teen girl sexuality in movies, MTV, magazines, advertisements,
clothing, TV shows. As a result, Third Wavers focus their attention
on sexual politics as well as cultural production, viewing society's
"construction, containment, and exploitation of female sexuality
in the 1990s . . . as a model for women's situation generally,
particularly in terms of agency or victimization," two of the
key topics of debate among the "popular" feminists (Maglin
and Perry, xvi).
 While the Second Wave generally tied (hetero)sexuality to
oppression, the Third Wave is less conflicted about sexuality in
any form. Through her own encounters with youth subcultures and
provocative readings of alternative music, Siegel finds a movement
toward fluid categories of gender and wide-ranging sexualities (or
"sexstyles"). This movement challenges power structures
threatened by sexual practices such as S/M or fetishism that resist
the ideological frameworks of both mainstream culture and the Second
Wave. The insistence of young feminists on their right to define
their political strategy as "[making] use of power and danger"
(Howard and Drake, 3) or as guided by desire, pleasure and anger
may well unsettle older women concerned about girls' vulnerability
to exploitation by men or experimentation outside the social norms
of heterosexuality. However, older women need to understand more
fully the intention that motivates this strategy, whether they agree
with it or not. As Lisa Jones writes of the Third Wave, "We
are smartass girls with a sense of entitlement, who avail ourselves
of the goods of two continents, delight in our sexual bravura, and
live womanism as pleasure, not academic mandate" (To Be
 Part of that pleasure involves reclaiming the right not only
to the term "girl" but to "girly pleasures"
trivialized by the culture at large, such as shopping and dressing
up. According to Susan Douglas, popular culture directed to girls,
from the girl bands of the 50s to the Spice Girls of the 90s, has
provided them with pleasurable opportunities to negotiate the contradictions
of patriarchal culture. In a punchy and knowledgeable survey of
girl culture in Spin magazine, Ann Powers describes how girls
aggressively flaunt traits formerly viewed as demeaning by both
feminists and misogynists: prettiness, brattiness, and sexual flamboyance.
And so, while retaining the critique of beauty culture and sexual
abuse from the Second Wave, young women have complicated the older
feminist critique of the male gaze as a weapon to put women in their
place, and instead exploit the spotlight as a source of power and
energy. Thus girls do not see a contradiction between female power
and assertive sexuality. Girl Power icons can dress in provocative
clothing while demonstrating fierce physical prowess (Buffy) or
chant the virtues of female power and solidarity while wearing Wonder
Bras (The Spice Girls). Powers' sharpest insight into the new girl
culture describes its strategy as neither rational or analytic,
like the Second Wave, but "mythic," manifesting itself
in the symbols, rhythms, and motifs of a media-infused age.
 If any recent popular text works on a mythic rather than
rational level, it is the Scream trilogy, which is as drenched
in generational guilt, excess, violence and sexuality as any ancient
Greek or Renaissance drama, while at the same time exemplifying
the postmodern aesthetic and cultural values of its time. And
if any popular text brings together the issues of power, danger,
desire and anger for girls of the 1990s, it is Scream.
Understanding the place of these issues in girls' lives today provides
a helpful context for assessing the meaning of sensational material
that adults might well find disturbing. Indeed, the Scream
films demonstrate the potential of the highly commodified popular
texts of Girl Culture to yield meanings consistent with Girl Power.
Like popular culture itself, the trilogy is built on familiar old
narratives; but in its effort to capture and address changing audiences,
it bends those narratives in new ways.
 The plot of the first Scream film, like many current
teen movies, is set in an affluent, predominantly white, bucolic
community being preyed on by a masked, serial killer. It begins
with the stalking and violent murder of a blonde teen girl, then
shifts its attention to another girl, Sidney, who becomes the killer's
next target. Sidney, whose mother had been raped and murdered a
year ago, has been left alone by her father for the weekend. At
the same time, because of unresolved grief for her mother, she resists
her boyfriend's ongoing pressure for sex. Meanwhile, Gale Weathers,
an ambitious TV newscaster, pursues the story of the new killings.
Gale's appearance on the scene rekindles Sidney's anger at her coverage
of the events around the mother's death. The subplots culminate
at a party during which Sidney decides to have sex with Billy and
the killer lays siege to the gathered teens. After a violent battle,
a wounded and battered Sidney learns that the killer is Billy, who
claims to have killed her mother as well because her affair with
his father caused his own mother to abandon him. With the help
of an equally battered Gale, Sidney kills him.
 The Scream trilogy raises key issues in the lives
of teen girls: (1) sexuality and virginity; (2) adult femininity
and its relation to agency and power; (3) identity as it is shaped
by the cultural narratives expressed in popular culture;
and (4) identity as it is shaped by the family romance—in
particular, a daughter's relationship with her mother. The Scream
trilogy confronts each of these issues head-on, resolving them in
powerful and innovative ways which allow a teen girl to occupy center
stage, defend herself and assert her agency and identity according
to her own desire.
 Scream zeroes in on virginity and sexuality as a source
of anxiety for young women. It does not shrink from the realization
that sex is dangerous, and tied to violence and power. It can cause
a girl or woman to lose not only her reputation ("your mother
was a slut bag," Sidney hears throughout the trilogy) but her
life. The enduring cultural myths of heterosexual romance, as
in the film Pretty Woman (1990), also highly popular among
young women, perpetuate female fantasies of Prince Charming boyfriends
who will rescue them. However, Scream radically revises
that myth. Recent work on female adolescence such as Carol Gilligan's
(see also Mary Pipher, and Joan Brumberg's The Body Project)
explores how coming of age into heterosexual adulthood "kills
off" young girls' confidence and strength and suggests how
for girls the boyfriend (or desire for a boyfriend) is a
killer. Scream literalizes the metaphor. Drawing on literary
and cinematic traditions of the Gothic, it narrativizes a girl's
sense of boys as mysterious and unknowable entities, who like the
killer wear can wear masks that disguise their true identity.
For a generation that gave a name to date rape and acquaintance
rape, Scream shows the ease with which a trusted friend
can become a potential rapist. The principal of the high school,
cleverly cast as old teen idol Henry Winkler ("the Fonz"
from the 70s sitcom Happy Days) touches Sidney to reassure
her but in doing so conveys a creepy sense of sexual entitlement.
Heterosexuality can be deadly for growing girls, and adult masculinity
not only mysterious and unknowable, but capable of manifesting itself
in ways that are potentially psychotic. Sidney doesn't know who
the killer is, and—as the film-savvy character Randy reminds
the other teens—everyone in the film, including her absent
father, comes under suspicion.
 Undercurrents of danger run through Billy's efforts to seduce
Sidney, who is a virgin when the film begins. In one scene, he
invades her space when he climbs uninvited into her bedroom, a visual
metaphor for his desire to penetrate her body first sexually then
with a knife, reenacting the violent penetrations he inflicted on
her mother to punish her. Sexual urgency and aggression are implicitly
tolerated or even valued in teen males, and we don't know until
the film's final moments whether Billy's "edge" merely
reflects that urgency or is something more threatening. Yet the
film also acknowledges the ambivalence of female desire for the
sexual other, and the fine line that divides the crazed killer of
Scream from the brooding, bodice-ripping romantic heroes
of women's pulp fiction. Sidney remains in control of her own sexuality,
however, and chooses when to have sex with Billy. The film does
not romanticize or sensationalize this rite of passage, showing
only her agency in initiating it and its unexceptional aftermath.
 Scream's treatment of sexuality
arises from its identity not only as a teen film but as a horror
film. The horror genre has generated a tradition of scholarship
in film studies by scholars fascinated by the powerful emotional
effects these films produce. The genre took on new life when it
began to absorb the concerns (and audiences) of the teen flick,
beginning with Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th
(1980), and Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and the many
sequels they spawned. Barbara Creed and Carol Clover first established
the importance of the horror genre for feminist criticism"a challenging
task given the aversion of many women toward cinematic violence
and its status outside the purview of more respectible criticism
due to its association with B-movies. For Clover, Creed, Linda
Williams, Rhona Berenstein, Vivian Sobchack, Kate E. Sullivan and
others, the genre's graphic excesses provide opportunities to explore
cultural connections between violence and sexual difference. Their
scholarship both anchors Scream in its generic tradition
as well as highlighting its departure from it. According to Clover,
in her influential Men, Women and Chainsaws, horror films,
like fairy tales, provide raw and unmediated glimpses into unconscious
fears and desires, especially around sexual difference. The killer
is invariably male, like Billy, and his victims female"young, beautiful
and sexual (or sexually transgressive), such as Casey. He is eventually
killed by a "Final Girl" who, like Sidney, is "boyish"
in name, appearance or behavior and uses an active, male gaze to
hunt down the killer. Unlike Sidney, however, the Final Girl remains
a virgin, allowed to kill the killer because she has not yet discovered
the more threatening power of her adult sexuality. For Clover, the
horror film is primarily a male discourse, with the Final Girl a
point of identification for the male adolescent viewer. However,
other critics, such as Isabel Pinedo in Recreational Terror,
see in the genre the potential for female and feminist appropriation,
a potential which Scream develops.
 Scream depends on an easy familiarity with the generic
conventions out of which the film is built, and the trilogy's most
noted formal characteristic is its self-reflexivity. The films
abound in references and in-jokes about popular culture, from the
conventions of the teen slasher film to debates about violence in
the media to references to trends in pop sociology ("Teen suicides
are out this year. Homicide is healthier"). This self-reflexivity
increases as the trilogy progresses and the films begin to build
a dense layering of narratives-within-narratives and intertextual
references. In the first film, the killer repeatedly quizzes his
victims on their knowledge of the horror films. "Do you like
scary movies?" he taunts. The young couple describes the degree
of their sexual intimacy in terms of movie ratings (Sidney struggles
to keep their relationship "PG-13"), and when they have
sex, the scene is intercut with shots of their friends watching
movies downstairs. The trilogy finally highlights the place of
popular culture in teen lives by making knowledge of it the defining
characteristic of those who live and those who die. Indeed, in
a world infused with media culture, it is hard to dispute the implications
that knowledge of how media work is a crucial survival skill.
 The use of self-reflexivity in these films marks them as
hip, ironic and of the moment, enabling them to reinforce subcultural
bonds among their teen audiences by highlighting their shared knowledge
of a film genre alien to viewers of their parents' generation.
The Scream films have become popular fare for slumber parties,
and like the Titanic phenomenon, reinforce the place of cinema
and video as a communal experience and social ritual for teen girls.
Scream depicts that ritual by showing teens picking out videos
together, then gathering around the TV to watch them together.
This communal viewing becomes an occasion for social interaction
and shared commentary. The trilogy also uses self-reflexivity to
interrogate its own generic conventions, examining in particular
how those conventions are tied to cultural ideals of femininity
and masculinity. At one point in the film, a flippant teen notes
that in movies, "there's always some reason to kill a girlfriend,"
foregrounding the misogyny of US culture as it is reflected in Hollywood
 One of the most troubling aspects of the Scream trilogy
for many adult women is its apparent approval of violence, especially
in the hands of its teen girl protagonist. This violence cannot
be understood, however, apart from the narrative and generic conventions
which give it meaning and which the films challenge in important
ways. Young fans are also likely to bring an auteurist's understanding
to these films and interpret them in the context of Wes Craven's
body of work, which has consistently challenged dominant ideologies
of gender and bourgeois family life (The Hills Have Eyes,
1977) as well as those of race (The People Under the Stairs
1991). (See Lehman and Luhr, Heba, and Markovitz.) Scream
is structured around two very different kinds of female protagonists,
whose differences lead to radically different narratives. The
female protagonist in most narratives plays a familiar and unchanging
role: she is the passive object of the active male hero's quest
or the prize at the end of his journey. Action, agency, movement,
change belong to the male hero, and action—even violent action—is
not only sanctioned for him but serves as a means of proving his
courage and strength. The slasher film exaggerates this opposition
according to its own highly stylized generic requirements: blonde
female victims ("some big-breasted girl" as one character
in Scream observes) and male psychopaths. Male fear of female
sexuality becomes encoded in the slasher convention that only female
virgins can survive—a convention that Scream notably
 Scream begins with a graphic and exaggerated display
of those conventions in order to undermine and rewrite them for
the remainder of the film. Its first joke on viewers' expectations
is its witty casting of Drew Barrymore, the film's biggest teen
star attraction, to draw on her personal history of exploitation
and victimization then kill her within the first fifteen minutes.
In the film's most sustained sequence of suspense and gory violence,
Casey Becker, the character she plays, is ruthlessly trapped by
the killer's threatening gaze and taunting vocal address, as well
as by the camera's complicitous, voyeuristic gaze. Most important,
the film hinges her death on her ignorance of popular culture:
when the killer quizzes her about knowledge of slasher films, she
falters, and her ignorance of the rules"where the killer is hiding,
how to elude him and so on"takes her right to his knife. By killing
off this character so decisively, the film also kills off a certain
model of femininity—dumb, passive, dependent, victimized—in
order to replace it with another that is more knowing, less glamorous
and far more capable. Sidney, played by Neve Campbell, a lesser
known model and star from TV, knows the rules but resists her assigned
part and in the end succeeds in unmasking and killing the killer
herself. In effect, she usurps the male role in the narrative for
herself. She resists the passivity of the traditional female protagonist
and the model of femininity on which it is based.
 The film constructs Sidney's character with quiet visual
references to icons of Girl Power, such as the poster of the Indigo
Girls in her bedroom, and shows her techno-confidence when she uses
her computer to signal for help. Like Buffy the Vampire Slayer
and Xena Warrior Princess, Sidney is physically active, strong,
resourceful, and capable of taking care of herself. (Campbell,
in fact, is an athlete who performed some of her own stunts.) She
has sex according to her timetable, not her boyfriend's, and the
loss of her virginity doesn't mean the "end of the story"
for her, as it does in the traditional slasher film as well as an
enduring tradition of romantic comedies and melodramas which conclude
the woman's story when she reaches the altar. Instead, it marks
the beginning of her real power as a adult woman. She doesn't depend
on male authorities to rescue her, whether the school principal,
the cop, her father or her boyfriend.
 One of the most telling moments of the film occurs in a brief
moment of calm when the battle to kill Billy and his partner has
apparently ended. One of the surviving teens—Randy, the film
buff, who has given a metacommentary on the action throughout the
film—warns Sidney that the killer always rises once again
from apparent death, and Billy lurches up to attack one last time.
"Not in my movie," Sidney claims, before killing him for
good. With that remark, she claims her place not only as a new
kind of female protagonist, but as the "auteur" or author
of her own movie, or in fact her own life, in an age where the movies
and life are indistinguishable. As the killer says, "It's
all a movie, just pick your genre." The happy ending of this
script does not require the union of a heterosexual couple, the
staple of Hollywood films and most traditional narratives. Following
the lead of Heathers (1989), another important teen girl
film which refuses the romantic ending, Scream concludes
with the teen girl heroine independent and unattached.
 According to the logic of realism, Scream might well
be considered an endorsement of violence in the hands of a teen
girl. But when viewed in its cultural and formal context, the film,
like the slasher genre in general, provides an opportunity to examine
cultural and individual fantasies as they relate to gender and power.
The film's particular revision of the genre invites female viewers
imaginatively to "try on" a new model of femininity more
suited to young women of the Third Wave. Moreover, its generic
license for excess and exaggeration enables it to make its points
with bold strokes: the boyfriend can be a killer quite literally,
the girl can defend herself boldly and take on power formerly off
limits to girls. Interestingly, our culture has yet to create
such exercises in female imagination in the genres of realism, which
continue to consign girls and women to traditional roles. "Supergirls"
like Buffy, Xena, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Sidney, remain
thinkable only in the realms of fantasy.
 Teen films from Rebel Without a Cause (1955) to Clueless
have traditionally addressed issues of generational tension, but
this tension takes on a new dimension in the 90s when it is played
out against the social backdrop of divorce, single-parent homes,
and houses empty after school. Indeed, the empty house signifies
more than an opportunity for a wild party but the occasion for terror,
and parents no longer stand as towering figures of authority against
which to rebel, or even neutral absences, but haunting specters
of impotence and loss. The film's title is taken from Edvard Munch's
famous Expressionist painting of 1893, evoking the inarticulate
anguish of an alienated age, and the killer always wears a mask
bearing the image of Munch's "Scream." However, the Scream
trilogy uses this image to evoke the angst of its own historical
times, where it manifests itself in deep-rooted fears about changes
in the family and the desire to blame women for the consequences
of these changes, especially as they relate to boys and men.
 These themes are set up during opening sequence, when Casey
is home alone. Her parents return but too late, as she is near
death. In a horrific image of botched communication and the limits
of technology to substitute for real contact, parents and child
are within close proximity, screaming to each other into cordless
phones, but cannot "connect." Similarly, Sidney's father
has left her alone and so put her at risk. He has also rendered
himself a suspect, tapping on recent cultural awareness of violence
and sexual abuse in the home and fathers as figures of potential
risk to their daughters. He returns during the siege, but is unable
to help his daughter. In an exaggerated image of paternal weakness,
the killer ties him up with duct tape, rendering him even more powerless
until Sidney rescues him. Indeed, the film's critique of idealized
figures of masculinity is as telling as its reconstruction of femininity:
from father to principal to boyfriend to cop, male authorities
are suspicious, silly or weak. As the trilogy progresses, the
cop develops stature as a new and gentler model of masculinity,
but in the first film, the only male who is both trustworthy and
able to approach the killer on his own turf is Randy, the teen cinema
buff who draws on his vast knowledge of pulp film to provide a metacommentary
on the unfolding events both for characters within the film and
for viewers without.
 Despite the presence of failed father figures, however, it
is absent mothers who provide the underlying narrative enigma in
the Scream trilogy. The first segment of Scream
concludes with Casey's gasping "Mom" as she dies, and
the remainder of the trilogy becomes an investigation of the mystery
of Sidney's mother and the events of her life and death. This mystery
is only heightened when the killer discloses his motives and we
learn that Billy lost his mind when he lost his mother"all because
of Sidney's mother, whose affair with his father drove her
away. The film highlights the depth of Billy's obsession with his
mother by having him refute current conventional wisdom about what
creates violence and all other contemporary social ills: It is
not "movies," he insists, but mothers. Movies only make
killers "more creative." Quoting pop psychology, he
informs Sidney that "maternal abandonment creates psychopathology."
This loss sends him on a rampage to punish all mothers and potential
mothers for the loss of his own.
 "Maternal abandonment" triggered by maternal sex
lies at the core of the films, and both evoke powerful cultural
taboos. Our culture likes its mothers "immaculate" and
maternal sexuality unacknowledged and unrepresented, so Sidney's
mother has ensured her own violent punishment and death by having
sex outside marriage. (The same rules, of course, do not apply to
fathers, and Billy's father doesn't warrant a mention for his role
in the affair.) Throughout cinema history, a mother shown as sexual,
especially outside marriage, is certain to suffer and probably die
by the end of the film. The 90s have been particularly fixated
on the missing mother, who like feminism itself, becomes a scapegoat
for the malaise of a generation brought up with divorce, low economic
expectations and empty houses. However, a more careful look at
the trope of maternal abandonment exposes it as a stunning ideological
inversion of the social reality of teen lives, where in most cases
of divorce and blended families, it is not the mother but the father
who is missing from the home.
 Initially, the films provide very little information about
Sidney's mother. Billy accuses Sidney of being a "slut"
who is "just like her mother," and Sidney acknowledges
her confusion about who her mother was and her fear of turning out
like her, suggesting her own vulnerability to the power of the double
standard, especially as it applies to mothers. Her struggle, like
that of all girls, is to know her mother not only as her mother
but as a person in her own right, and as the trilogy advances, the
focus intensifies around Sidney's quest for her own identity as
it relates to her mother's.
 The trilogy takes its first step toward that understanding
with the relationship between Sidney and Gale Weathers, played by
another popular TV star, Courtney Cox. The character of Gale brings
together stereotypes of the ambitious career woman and bloodthirsty
tabloid TV, both targets of derision in our culture, but revises
them in interesting ways that redeem this culturally unpopular figure
without domesticating her. Gale is allowed the film's only successful
romance when she falls in love with Dewey, the dim but endearing
cop. She, not Sidney, was right in her suspicions about the first
trial, which left the real killer at large and an innocent man in
prison. And by the end of the film, it is Gale—not any of
the film's well-intentioned but helpless boys and men—who
comes to Sidney's aid.
 An accomplished woman a decade or so older than Sidney, Gale
stands as a displaced maternal figure, a locus of the conflicted
feelings teen girls often feel toward their mothers. This is clear
when Sidney punches her the first time the two face each other early
in the film, and again when they meet in Scream 2. Sidney's
relationship with Gale, however, not only paves the way for the
renegotiation of her more complex relationship with her mother but
also models a kind of solidarity among women who despite their differences
can unite toward common goals. In the first two films of the trilogy,
Sidney and Gale never come to like each other. But they develop
an uneasy alliance as they recognize the common goal of survival,
and in that way they suggest a kind of coalition politics for the
 Scream 2 takes place a year later, in a college town
where Sidney is studying drama and attempting to put her past behind
her. She has a new boyfriend and a close girl friend who is encouraging
her to join a sorority. She is also preparing for her role as Cassandra
in the college production of Agamemnon, the blood-soaked
Greek tragedy which like the Scream films, hinges on issues
of maternal rebellion and adultery, the primacy of mother/daughter
bonds, and the struggle between patriarchal and matriarchal orders.
The film begins in a movie theater with the opening of "Stab,"
a film based on Gale Weather's book about the Hillsboro slayings.
The film triggers a series of copycat killings which end when Sidney
kills the killer, after learning that it is Mrs. Loomis, Billy the
boyfriend's avenging mother (ian allusion to Friday the 13th,
in which the killer is also the mother of dead son).
 Scream 2 is moodier and darker
than the first film, with Sidney and other returning characters
bearing the emotional scars of the events of the first film. It
is also more ambitious in scope, making bold claims for popular
cinema as a serious means of enacting a culture's most profound
anxieties and myths. Most dramatically, in its use of Greek mythology
and drama it links the teen horror film of today with a long tradition
of respected dramatic and narrative antecedents. As literary critics
such as Northrop Frye and others have shown, popular audiences have
always been drawn to sensationalistic treatments of highly charged
subject matter on stage, page and screen, from the tragedies and
comedies of antiquity to the violent dramas of the Jacobean stage,
the melodramatic fiction of Dickens and the action-packed, emotionally
charged cinema of Spielberg.
 Following the rule of sequels"spelled out in an early scene
set in a university cinema studies class"not only are the stakes
raised in Scream 2, but the self-reflexivity even more layered
and complex. The film includes overt visual allusions to such classics
of the genre as Nosferatu (1922) and Psycho (1960).
"Stab" replays the events of the first film with its characters
played by yet another set of actors. At its opening, an unruly
audience surrounded by huge "Stab" posters and brandishing
fake "Stab" knives (reminiscent of Star Wars light
sabers), points to the ways popular culture commodifies real life
tragedies and turns them into entertainment. The first characters
introduced by the film are a young black couple who argue over Hollywood's
racial politics on their way to see "Stab." The woman,
a cinema studies student, criticizes the horror genre for its exclusion
of blacks and its violence against women. As if to underscore her
point, the couple becomes the new killer's first victims, violently
re-asserting the genre's, and Hollywood's, narrative privileging
of white characters, while at the same time exposing these cinematic
mechanisms of racism to a teen audience already familiar with Craven's
earlier treatments of race. The casting delves even deeper into
teen culture, drawing more stars from TV teen hits such as Dawson's
Creek and Felicity, with teen icons Tori Spelling playing
Sidney in "Stab" and Sarah Michelle Geller, the star of
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, cast against vampire-slaying type
as a defenseless sorority girl.
 Masks—both literal and figurative—become an even
more prominent narrative and visual motif worn to sinister effect
not only by the killer but in the two spheres of "Greek"
culture evoked by the film: actors performing Agamemnon
according to traditional style, and the "Greek" social
world on campus, which connotes an outmoded gender system based
on ritualized performances of femininity and masculinity. The
sorority girls "put on" femininity as a mask of silliness,
superficiality and the desire to please men at all costs. "Everyone
thinks sororities are just about blow jobs, but that's not true,"
one vacuous-sounding girl explains to an unconvinced Sidney. The
fraternity boys exemplify a kind of masculinity defined by "animal
house" carousing, violence and loyalty to the exclusive all-male
group at all costs. They wear actual masks when they abduct Sidney's
new boyfriend Derrick, one of their brothers, to discipline him
for giving a charm bearing his fraternity letters to his girlfriend.
Derrick represents the possibilities of an evolving masculinity
that must be excluded from the older order, and his ritual punishment
by his "brothers" leaves him carved and bloodied, strapped
crucifixion style on a stage prop suspended high over the stage.
 With the use of Billy's mother, Mrs. Loomis, as the new killer,
the trilogy deepens its investigation into the place of motherhood
in the cultural myths and narratives of the 90s, suggesting once
again that even before the movies could be blamed for kids gone
wrong, there were mothers. Hovering over the trilogy is Clytemnestra,
the tragic queen of Agamemnon who is remembered for her many
transgressions: her rebellion against her husband for killing her
daughter, her eventual adultery, her death at the hands of her son
and the curse he must bear for killing her. "I'm sick of
everyone saying it's all the parents' fault," Mrs. Loomis rages,
and acknowledges that the weight of that blame falls more heavily
on mothers than fathers. "I was a good mother," she
says, adding, "You don't know what it's like to be a mother."
To be a mother is not an easy task in a culture where mothers are
liable to be blamed for loving too much or not enough, for being
too present or not present enough, for leaving their homes to work
if they are middle class or for staying home to care for their children
if they receive public assistance. Played by Laurie Metcalf with
the kind of controlled hysteria she brought to her role in the sitcom
Roseanne, Mrs. Loomis does not fold in despair over her losses,
however, but rears up as a demonic fury who becomes readable and
even sympathetic within the horror genre. A crazed Clytemnestra
seeking revenge for the loss of her child, she is neither pitiable
nor weak but a figure of superhuman strength who refuses to be a
victim. Muscling herself to the center of the narrative, she usurps
the place of the villainous male serial killer and stands face to
face with the new Girl Power hero.
 In Scream 2, Sidney also develops into a more mature
and complex hero for the Third Wave. By casting her as Cassandra
in the production of Agamemnon, the film identifies her with
a figure of mythic stature, described by Sidney's drama teacher
as one of the "great visionaries of literature" who was
fated to see the truth but not to be believed. As in the first
film, Sidney battles her own demons, which would wall her off from
other people as a result of her emotional trauma. When Sidney attempts
to beg out of the production, her drama teacher refuses to let her
do so, reminding her and the film audience that she is a "fighter,"
someone who has the courage to "face her fate" and embrace
it. In a highly dramatic scene depicting a rehearsal of the play-within-the-film,
a crimson-clad Sidney as Cassandra stands out against the masked
chorus, a powerful image of a new girl hero who not only has the
wits and physical courage to defend herself but a growing capacity
to understand herself and the cultural scripts that would write
who she is. This time when she defeats the killer, she puts an
extra bullet in her head for good measure, and walks away with a
 The ghost of Sidney's mother, a structuring absence in the
first two films, becomes the focus of the final film, which zeroes
in on the mystery of Maureen Prescott's life and its meaning for
Sidney. Scream 3 finds Sidney isolated once again in a
bucolic setting where she takes calls for a women's Crisis Center.
Meanwhile, "Stab 3" based on the Windsor College killings,
is in production in Hollywood. On the studio set, the masked killer
strikes again, leaving photographs of a young Maureen Prescott,
Sidney's mother, with each victim. When the killer starts calling
Sidney, she travels to Hollywood where she begins to learn about
a missing chapter in her mother's life: when her mother was her
age, she had appeared in several horror films under the name of
Rena Reynolds. In her final showdown with the killer, Sidney learns
that he is Roman Bridges, the director of "Stab 3," who
also turns out to be her half-brother. He tells her that their
mother ended her career and began a new life after she had been
raped and left pregnant by studio executives. Roman tracked her
down four years ago, only to have her reject him as the child of
someone who no longer exists. In rage, he turned on her and Sidney,
the daughter she acknowledged, and masterminded the murders to follow.
Sidney puts an end to the horror by killing him, then returns to
the mountains to take up her new life in the company of Dewey and
Gale, who decide to get married.
 As the mother's story moves into the foreground in Scream
3, so does the story of Hollywood with which it is so closely
intertwined. As if to signal the scope of its critique, the film
begins with a helicopter roaring over the "Hollywood"
letters in LA. and the film's self-reflexivity deepens to include
practices within the film industry itself. Like the earlier films,
Scream 3 abounds in references to other films and most of
its action takes place on a Hollywood studio set that recreates
the settings of the earlier films. Randy the video buff who died
in Scream 2 addresses the characters on a videotape to let
them know that the final chapter of a trilogy differs from a sequel
in its inevitable return to the beginning. Like Freud's return
of the repressed ("The past will come back to bite you,"
Randy warns) and the trilogies of classic Greece, film trilogies
uncover past secrets and "unexpected backstories."
 In a more subtle variation on this theme, a detective new
to the story explains to Sidney that Hollywood is "always about
death," a statement resonating with the very essence of cinema
according to classic theories of film, which have speculated on
the ability of film's flickering images to evoke life where there
is none, thereby satisfying viewers' desires to defeat death. Similarly,
cinema has also been theorized as vampiric in its ability to feed
off the living in order to create images which appear in fact "undead."
Indeed, "Stab 3" is more a ghost story than a horror film,
haunted as it is by Sidney's dead mother. Maureen Prescott appears
as a narrative device in the photographic images, as a ghostly hallucination
in Sidney's mind, and as an key to Sidney's identity finally to
be faced. Throughout the film she appears as a monstrous ghost,
expressing the daughter's ongoing struggle to reconcile her conflicting
ideas about who her mother was. On one hand, Sidney experienced
her as "the perfect mother" at the heart of a "perfect
family." On the other, she has learned about her extra-marital
affairs, heard her judged a "slut," and discovered that
she had a secret life in her past. This monstrous mother is the
mother as seen by the social world and the woman Sidney fears she
will become herself. However, the film eventually provides a
"backstory" to that judgment that redeems the mother and
points an accusing finger where it belongs.
 Sidney's final discoveries about her mother occur in a sequence
that imagistically returns the viewer to the maternal body. Her
struggle with the killer in the paternal mansion takes her down
secret passageways suggesting the birth canal, and she and Roman
confront each other in a dark, womblike room. In naming Sidney's
brother "Roman," Craven evokes Roman Polanski, the Polish
émigré director renowned for his masterful horror films (Rosemary's
Baby ) but also for the scandals of his personal life,
including the sensational murder of his wife by Charles Manson,
and his flight from the country following charges that he raped
a13-year-old aspiring starlet in circumstances similar to what we
soon learn is Roman's own backstory. The real villain and bearer
of Polanski's legacy, however, is not Roman, but John Milton, the
powerful studio mogul and emblem of the patriarchal power Roman
both exposes and aspires to possess. (His name alludes to the
arch-patriarchal author of the17th century epic poems
Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, suggesting Hollywood's
place as a purveyor of paradises and dreams, both false and real.)
As a legendary director of horror films, Milton made millions of
dollars on young women like Maureen only to destroy them. Sidney
learns that he was renowned for hosting wild parties for powerful
men and young women seeking careers in the movies. At one of those
parties which Rena attended, "things got out of hand,"
and Rena ended up leaving Hollywood for good. Other references
to the casting couch add weight to the film's critique of Hollywood's
sexual politics, which continue to the present. Carrie Fisher
in a cameo role says her famous part of Princess Leia in the Star
Wars films went to another actress who looked like her but agreed
to have sex with director George Lucas, and the young woman playing
Sidney in "Stab 3" bitterly acknowledges having had to
sleep with Roman to get the part.
 By unmasking Milton as the real killer, Roman emerges at
this point not so much as a monster but as the male victim of a
cruel and exploitative gender system, an Orestes figure driven by
the patriarchal order to commit the sin of matricide. The film
portrays Sidney's killing of her brother as yet another dimension
of a fate that deepens her character, and the two clasp hands as
he nears death. By linking his mother's subsequent sexual behavior
to the sins inflicted on her by a paternal figure who "gave
away" her innocence, Roman demystifies the term "slut."
"She never got over it," he says of her Hollywood experience.
And so Hollywood is "about death" not only in the capacity
of its flickering, ghostlike images to defy death, but in the costs
of putting those images on the screen. As Milton said in trying
to defend himself, Hollywood is "not the city for innocence."
While focused on Hollywood, however, the Scream trilogy
points to the very essence of a culture in which women, from Monica
Lewinsky to the sorority girls of Scream 2, see sexually
servicing men as their most immediate access to power or even survival.
When Sidney learns about her mother's past, she also learns that
they are connected not only biologically but through shared experiences
of betrayal or violence against women.
 Rena Rowlands, however, is not only the victim Roman describes
but a fighter like her daughter. "The bottom line is, Rena
Reynolds wouldn't play by the rules," Milton says. Just as
Sidney refused to follow the script of the classical horror film
in Scream, her mother resisted the script for success in
Hollywood. Moreover, Rena succeeded in rewriting her identity in
order to create a new life for herself—one that represented
success for a woman of her generation. By the end of the film—and
the trilogy itself—Sidney has completed a horrific journey
into her own past and put the ghost of her mother to rest. The
knowledge she has gained of her mother's history enables her to
redeem her mother's life and expose the systemic injustices that
had brutalized her. As such, she moves from protagonist or film
star to auteur or director of a new movie with a new script.
 The trilogy concludes in the pastoral setting of Sidney's
mountain retreat, where shots of Sidney walking alone in a setting
bathed in golden light return the film to an Edenic beginning.
Dewey and Gale are present, along with the golden retriever who
was Sidney's only companion at the beginning of the film. When
Gale accepts an engagement ring from Dewey, the film reconstitutes
the lost nuclear family, replacing the family of origin"with the
repressed secrets and horrors implicit in the very structure of
the nuclear family"with one that has battled openly and hard for
its rewards. Sidney has conquered her demons of isolation, and
leaves the door ajar signaling her openness to a new life. For
director Craven, according to Kate E. Sullivan, the moral center
of contemporary culture lies with girls, and in this trilogy Sidney
has been assaulted on all sides not only by physical violence but
by corruption and compromise. By locating Sidney's most dangerous
threat within her family and requiring her to commit fratricide
to survive, the film dramatizes a devastating vision of female isolation
and vulnerability. The trilogy suggests that female adolecence
is a lonely place to be, especially for young women such as Sidney
who are willing to confront the sexual politics of their world.
The trilogy's success in capturing that loneliness suggests one
reason for its appeal to young female audiences. Sidney is a "Final
Girl" who stands as a figure of identification for
girls not boys, and in that way the trilogy stands firmly outside
the tradition of horror Carol Clover documented.
 The ending of Scream 3, as with most Hollywood films,
reasserts the ideological promise of the perfect, white, straight
family, at home in a rural paradise. But the mise en scene
renders the resolution surreal after the darkness and horror that
have preceded it. In its generic context, the open door connotes
not only Sidney's new security and openness to life but the possibility
that some new ghost can rise up again to cause yet another sequel.
No happy endings are permanent, no closure guaranteed.
 Feminism is never mentioned in the Scream trilogy,
but the films address head-on the issues of representation, power
and sexuality that speak to Third Wave audiences. Like the Girl
Power phenomenon, they operate in the realm of myth rather than
rationality, acting out scenarios of female desire, pleasure and
anger. The films abound in female characters who refuse to play
by rules that would diminish them, from Maureen Prescott to Gale
Weathers to Sidney. In Sidney, the trilogy provides a new model
of femininity for Third Wave audiences: a girl who is active, who
can protect herself through physical resources, who can claim power
over her own sexuality, and express rather than repress her rage.
This new girl hero knows her culture, from the legends underpinning
its institutions to the popular culture and technology of her own
generation, using the tools it offers as a means of rewriting old
narratives that no longer serve her.
 Most important, the film's model of a daughter's struggle
to come to terms with her mother is a suggestive one for contemporary
feminism. In Hollywood, collective histories are always retold
as personal stories, and the story of the missing mother might well
be seen as the repressed history of the women's movement itself
and the injustices that brought it about. Sidney's journey has
forced her to face the historical realities of her mother's life,
when they erupted as horrors in her own. The trilogy suggests the
necessity of facing history because the failure to do so threatens
the security of the present, and the subtle erasure of historical
consciousness is the surest way to take the teeth out of any liberation
movement Without knowing and remembering the world of their mothers
and grandmothers, young women remain vulnerable to having to fight
old battles once again. The film teaches Sidney about the bonds
that connect generations of women, but without sentimentalizing
her acceptance of her mother and Gale. Instead it shows her growing
in her own strength through her experiences with these figures of
motherhood or displaced motherhood.
 At the same time, the films remind women of the Second Wave
of the need to remain conversant with the culture of today's young
women. The Scream films are not unambiguous treatises on
feminism and sexual politics. Like all popular culture texts, they
are riddled with contradictions which account for their emotional
power and appeal. These contradictions, however, also beg careful
analysis based on an informed understanding of media culture and
representation, of history, and of the issues that matter to young
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: With thanks to Julia Lesage, Chuck Kleinhans,
Karen Ford, Louise Bishop and James Earl for helpful comments; to
Catherine Earl for introducing me to Scream; to Kate Sullivan
for crucial help with the horror genre; and to Carol Siegel for
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KATHLEEN ROWE KARLYN teaches film studies at the
University of Oregon. Her publications include The Unruly Woman:
Gender and the Genres of Laughter and articles on feminism,
film and cultural studies. She is currently writing a book on media
by and about teen girls.