The Whore Next Door: Pick Flick!

Being a politically ambitious woman in America feels eerily like a dark comedy about a high-school election.

(Photograph by Isabel Dresler/Isabeldresler.com)

Although holiday music is already being pumped across the airwaves into Ubers and boutiques across the country, I’m not quite ready for holiday cheer yet.

Still, I’ve been in the mood to revisit a few classic seasonal films. I wasn’t sure if it was too soon after the devastating election results to revisit the 1999 classic Election starring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick. But it’s currently streaming for free on Hulu, so against my better judgment, I got cozy on the couch and fell into the world of Tracy Flick’s rise to power.

Alexander Payne’s film bombed at the box office, but acquired a cult following (and even an Oscar nod, for Best Adapted Screenplay) for the way it chronicles the student body presidential campaign of ambitious high school junior Flick, played by a fresh-faced, Cruel Intentions-era Witherspoon. A relentless overachiever raised by a hypercritical single mother, she’s hell-bent on gaining the presidency of her high school by any means necessary.

Embroiled in an affair with one of her teachers that ultimately ends his teaching career and marriage, Flick manages to emerge untarnished in the eyes of the student body — but not in the eyes of the student campaign adviser (Broderick) who ultimately rigs the election to ensure that Flick doesn’t win. Fueled by an irrational hatred that’s mixed with a bizarre lust for the young girl, Broderick’s character encourages a popular male football hero to run against her, and eventually throws the two votes that would have won her the presidency into the trash, costing her the election.

The fraud is ultimately uncovered, and Broderick’s character faces exile to a life of educational docentry at the Museum of Natural History, while Flick goes on to Georgetown and presumably a career in politics. Years later, Broderick’s character catches a glimpse of his nemesis getting into the limo of a Republican Senator in Washington, D.C. We hear his inner monologue say that he “just feels sorry for her,” because his life is so great these days and “she’s probably still waking up at 5 a.m., working on her silly little dream.”

As the car drives away, he hurls his fountain drink at the back window and runs away — the analog version of trolling — leading us to believe that, perhaps, he feels a little bit more hostility than pity for her.

When the film was initially released, I had just finished the eighth grade, where I’d spent the year doing my best to catch my English teacher’s eye. He wasn’t the slightest bit creepy, despite my level of in-class flirtation and my awkward Christmas gift of a vintage Rolling Stones album. I rented the movie on my own hypercritical single mother’s Blockbuster account in the hope that it would fulfill some deep teacher-student fantasies that I was only just beginning to realize.

I remember not having much sympathy for Flick upon first viewing, seeing her as Broderick’s character does: uppity and even a little bit evil. The film underscored what I was already learning about what it means to be a girl with a dream in the real world: People — especially men — will resent, undermine, and attack you for trying to succeed.

Now, in a world where rigging an election so that an overqualified woman loses to an underqualified man is more real than MTV Studios might have ever imagined in 1999, I see Flick’s plight differently.

As voter recounts in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania move forward, it’s becoming apparent that Hillary Clinton has won the popular vote by a higher margin than any other presidential candidate not to take office, and allegations of Russian interference in the election results are looking as though they hold water.

The contempt with which Broderick’s character undermines the dreams of a statutory-rape survivor reminds me of the vile rhetoric that Donald Trump’s supporters spew about Clinton. They have called her unattractive, a criminal, and a liar. They have dismissed her long list of credentials.

Neither woman is perfect, and Flick and Clinton are each more than a little ruthless. But in the face of lecherous teachers, misogynist reality stars, and a system that has kept women disempowered for centuries, we have to be more than a little cutthroat to make it in this world.

No matter what the recount results uncover, the reasons that both Flick and Clinton didn’t initially win their respective elections has less to do with voter fraud and more to do with the multitude of reasons why men cannot stand to see women succeed.

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