Everyone likes to remember the alternative side of the 1990s now that nostalgia for the decade is a force in fashion, music, and culture. But for actual alternative kids, the '90s were not always a particularly accepting time.
This short documentary, directed in 1996 by a then-high school senior named Michael Lucid, examines a social group at Lucid's high school known as the "dirty girls." The dirty girls are characterized by their thrift-store clothing, their habit of talking about feminist issues, and their contentious relationship with their "cool"-group peers. "They don't shower," snaps a classmate in a black turtleneck. "Yeah, they're trying to be rebels," agrees her friend. "They're just rebelling against society." The mean girl at 1:40 who exclaims, "You're filthy! You're filthy! I mean, God!" needs to be a gif, stat. Someone starts a rumor that the dirty girls all stopped bathing when Kurt Cobain died.
The most prominent of the so-called dirty girls are sisters Harper and Amber. In the video, they talk a lot about Riot Grrrl music, sexual assault, and are shown distributing copies of their 'zine. One peer dismisses that as "like, dime-store feminism." Another adds, "'I have a right to be mad, I have a right to be sad,' who gives a shit?"
The video offers something that virtually anyone who felt like an outsider in high school — especially in the '90s — can relate to. It went viral on YouTube last week, racking up nearly 300,000 views in a few days. Vice tracked down Harper and Amber and — surprise — they both turned out to be nice, productive, and seemingly well-adjusted adults. And also, they totally forgive all those mean girls. There's a sweet Q&A with the sisters over at Vice's site:
How do you feel when you watch the video now? Are you proud? Embarrassed?
Harper: I'm excited about it. I think it's great. I remember in the moment feeling like we were given a voice that we didn't have without that video being shown to the rest of the school. So I felt proud of the commentary then, and I do now too. I'm also just so blown away by the positive reactions from everybody. Just looking at the YouTube comments where everyone is so inspired, impressed by us. That just makes me feel so happy. I think back then we were dedicated to giving people voices that maybe didn't have them. And I think both of us would agree that neither of us have any hard feelings toward any of those people, the older students making comments about it.
Amber: The first time it came out, I was like, "Whatever. We're different from most of the other kids, so I can see why he'd have an interest." But being in our 20s, watching 13 years ago, I was always sort of like, "This is awesome. We did something. Not just sitting around being kids, but making a statement." So I'm proud of that, but I did have that little twinge of, Why didn't I speak up more? Now watching it, I just think it's the most perfect high school period piece of history. You couldn't have written it better. Everyone had issues. The kids that were doing things, the opinions, the bullying, the fancy kids, the dirty kids. All of it is so perfect. It's so high school. I just think it's the most perfect high school period piece of history. When I look back right now on 17 or 18 year olds, I think that they're so young, like, "God, what does anybody know?" That's what genius about it, though. You're at a time in your life where this is the first time where you are testing the boundaries, you're trying to find your independence from the institutions around you. We're really lucky we have this video, because it's like we get to go back in time, and it's a very rare experience.
So, the world wants to know what became of the Dirty Girls?
Harper: I'm a photographer and videographer. I've been living in New York for six years. Amber and I have had some opportunities to work together, which was awesome. I graduated from Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, and straight out of graduation, the two of us had an opportunity to go travel and do some filming together. I've done a few feature films. We just got back from India a week ago, maybe 10 days ago.
Amber: I've done a lot of things. Today, I work with the family business. We manufacture a shatter-proof wine glass. It looks like crystal, but it bounces. Our family is very entrepreneurial. We do that, and we also have some real estate. I basically flipped one of Lucille Ball's first homes in Palm Springs and turned it into an event space. That's careerwise, but who we are lifewise is just a moving forward with a frontier, pioneer spirit, trying to figure out how to live life bigger and better.