Ja’mie: Private School Girl, episode four, definitely taught Ja’mie a thing or two and, as such, it certainly didn’t disappoint me as a Chris Lilley fan with high hopes for the series. As I had anticipated, the audience finally saw Ja’mie vulnerable. Yes, she was still monstrous, but vulnerable nonetheless. However, Lilley also threw in something I didn’t see coming and, in doing so, this episode really exceeded my expectations.
It wasn’t a boarder who pushed Ja’mie over the edge, after all. It was, in fact, someone much closer to home – her BFF Madison, who hooked up with her boyfriend Mitchell behind her back and, when confronted about it, told Ja’mie she wasn’t even that quiche. Cue a physical cat fight and Ja’mie’s subsequent bout of depression. Briefly, she refused to return to school out of fear that she would be taunted for being fat and not having a boyfriend.
This was a clever move by Lilley, opening up the floor to exploring the realities and contradictions of Ja’mie’s immediate world. In other words, Ja’mie learns that she, too, can be a victim of the environment that she herself has ruled with tyranny. After all, Ja’mie cut her former best friend loose for becoming “all fat and weird”. It is perhaps not for nothing that one of the lyrics to ‘Learning to Be Me’, the song that Ja’mie is to sing at the school recital, is, “Teach and you shall learn it”.
Ja’mie’s world is one that hinges on looks and power – whether it be wielding or conforming to that power. Moreover, it is not just Ja’mie’s world. To quote Tina Fey’s screenplay for the film Mean Girls, based on Rosalind Wiseman’s self-help book Queen Bees and Wannabes, this is “girl world”, and even Ja’mie, like Regina George before her, can become its prey. We find that the very insults Ja’mie uses to put others down and keep them out of the inner circle is what she fears the most about herself. Tellingly, Ja’mie only asks Mitchell two questions after she finds out the truth about him and Madison. The first – “Did you kiss her?” The second – “Is it because I’m fat?”
Yet sympathy for Ja’mie is almost certainly out of the question due to her deep-seated racism, homophobia and overall despicable attitude. Rather, Lilley seems to be interested in exploring just how far young women will go to survive in this girl-eat-girl world. To quote an excellent comment piece by Madeleine Ryan in The Age, “Are young women, in order to make sense of their place in the world, becoming monsters?” Indeed, Ja’mie’s girlfriends and even her little sister are definitely no angels.
The preview for episode five shows Ja’mie attempting to rebel against the dress and behavioural codes at Hillford that she herself exemplified. With two episodes to go, I can’t wait to see what Lilley has in store. Perhaps Ja’mie still has a whole lot more to learn about herself before she graduates from Hillford, after all.