Popular theory

CHEMISTRY, SOCIAL ISOLATION, AND THE CHEWING GUM OF POPULARITY: ERWIN’S STORY FOR ELEMENTS +10.

Erwin doesn’t think about hair dye and boyfriends. Erwin raises her hand in PE and asks the teacher if she can read a book. Erwin wants more than anything to win a scholarship, the award for chemistry. Her goal is ‘the state science fair’.

Erwin doesn’t think about hair dye and boyfriends. Erwin raises her hand in PE and asks the teacher if she can read a book. Erwin wants more than anything to win a scholarship, the award for chemistry. Her goal is ‘the state science fair’. One day, on her way back from school where ‘I didn’t have time to talk to anyone, I just asked the cafeteria lady if there were peanuts in the sauce’, the heroine of POPULAR THEORY (in competition for Elements +10) returns to her room and can’t find her books, her formulas. She engages in a dialogue with her favourite scientist: his picture hovers in her room in a photo-poster. ‘They don’t know what they are doing,’ she says in this imaginary dialogue, ‘preventing me from participating is like preventing me from breathing’. She insists, she perseveres, she stubbornly goes in the opposite direction of her family. ‘My family feels that science is hindering my social development,’ Erwin tells Winston, ‘I accept to work with you, but we are only colleagues and not friends”. The ingenious team comes together: they work on smells that are supposed to promote popularity. The idea came to Erwin when a student burst into tears while telling her about another kind of isolation, from social media and not from studies: ‘I follow a thousand people on social media, and no one follows me. I would do anything to be popular’. Erwin and Winston have an idea, they invent a chewing gum that releases a scent and captures likes, the girl who chews it by agreeing to be a ‘guinea pig’ becomes a star. The baby scientists dream of being somewhere else, ‘in a world where no one says little genius or nerd’. In the meantime, they also forge a social relationship with each other: they trust each other, each steps into the other’s experiences and private life. But the magic chewing gum has counter indications: it transforms relationships, it disrupts people’s lives, everyone seeks it out because it increases their popularity. They are not looking for Erwin or Winston, they want the chewing gum. Everyone is after their own popularity. Thus, a tragicomic chase ensues. The aim is no longer to release scent that attracts but to mask and suffocate it, because paradoxically the scent becomes an oppressive, nagging odour that transforms the person chewing it into an object of attraction. The baby scientists get back to work: Erwin’s sister has gone too far with the miraculous chewing gum and by stealing the gum means stealing the science project. What is the director’s message?

‘I would like the world to be a place where little girls grow up dreaming of becoming more than just an ornament,’ explains director Ali Sher. ‘I would like them to dream of becoming scientists, doctors, Nobel Prize winners or even directors. This is Erwin’s dream. This is her message. Many female characters are still there to appease the viewer’s gaze. I hope that Erwin is, instead, a step towards changing the way girls and women are portrayed in children’s entertainment. I have portrayed the world I would like’.

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