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In Hollywood All Guys Want Cheerleaders... until they actually get to know them.
In any High School setting, no Stock Character is portrayed as harshly as the cheerleader. Cheerleaders are often depicted as outright evil, with the Alpha Bitch as their leader. If the girls aren't evil they might just be Brainless Beauties, following their Alpha Bitch leader out of ignorance or a desire to be approved by her. The Captain, if not the whole squad, will usually portrayed as Really Gets Around. From evil to slutty to dumb, any cheer leader in western media can be expected to be portrayed as shallow and superficial because popularity is her first and only concern.
Even If a sympathetic, smart character is a cheerleader she will probably end up quitting the squad as part of her 'growth'. Apparently in Hollywood one can't be a rounded person and remain a cheerleader. A good girl might want to join the squad but her friend will think that cheer leading is inherently bad and try to stop her, leading to a lesson on how a person should get to do what makes her happy.
This trope seems to have weakened slightly in recent years, perhaps due to the popularity of the Bring It On series of films. A sympathetic depiction is still the exception rather than the rule however. In fact, in a sign of how strongly rooted this trope is even media with relatively sympathetic depictions of cheerleaders will often feel the need to go out of their way to explain to the audience (via an outsider POV character like in Hellcats) that cheerleaders can be good people too.
Male cheerleaders are sufficiently rare in fiction that they are usually developed as characters themselves rather than falling under The Cheerleader trope. A good rule of thumb is that if you see a male cheerleader then cheerleading will be depicted positively, or at least less negatively.
See also Jerk Jock, Alpha Bitch and Popular Is Dumb. Contrast with the positive Cute Sports Club Manager. A cheerleader also has a better than average chance of being a Dumb Blonde, but it isn't required. They can be The Fashionista sometimes but often suffer from a Limited Wardrobe: at least during school hours many cheerleaders never wear an outfit other than their uniforms.
Of course this isn't Truth in Television, unless diffusion of responsibility is a factor (sometimes meaning, a tribal mentality similar to what can make a Jerk Jock). Most cheerleaders are in the squad because they like singing and dancing, and are general people persons. For such a depiction in fiction, you'd be looking for a Pom Pom Girl; bitchiness doesn't exactly mesh well with winning the crowd over.
Anime & Manga
- Mariko of Ranma ½ is mean (using Martial Arts Cheerleading to sabotage the opposing team -- and even her own if they're up against the boy she likes. "Dumb" is arguable, she may just have poor taste in men.
- Non-school example: The Gambee pilots in Soukou no Strain treat newbie Sara about as badly as the cheerleaders in standard high school fare do the Cool Loser heroine. It escalates as time goes on (and as the STRAIN pilots attempt to befriend Sara), to the point where after the "queen bee" of the group dies in combat, her friend lures Sara to a disused portion of the ship and she and several other girls start pushing her around. After a little while, however, the lead girl starts outright beating Sara, screaming "It's your fault she's dead!" and starts to go for a nearby lead pipe, at which point the other girls get horrified and start trying to talk her down. Thankfully, the STRAIN pilots intervene before things get worse.
- From the manga omakes, Eda from Black Lagoon used to be one when she was younger. When de-aged in said omakes, she hides from the others so they won't find out.
- Sakura and most of her female friends are cheerleaders for Tomoeda Elementary School. See "Aversions" however, because they do not fit the stereotype at all, aside from being cute and popular.
- In the Pokémon anime series, Gary Oak travels around with a bevy of cheerleaders in the early seasons. Later, as he becomes nicer and more humble, he dispenses with them.
- Chassis included a cheerleader named Twist who became so obsessed with her favourite racer she started killing his rivals.
- Breanna in Its a Boy Girl Thing is a trifecta of dim, evil and slutty.
- Christie Masters, the antagonist of Romy And Michelles High School Reunion was a cheerleader.
- Penny (who alone makes up the entire cheerleading squad) from Sky High, though being a Disney movie the slutty part is left out.
- Heather in John Tucker Must Die isn't totally evil, but she's still bitchy, shallow and vain.
- Priscilla (Jaime Pressly) in Not Another Teen Movie embodies this trope. She's even labeled on the DVD front cover as 'The Nasty Cheerleader'.
- The eponymous cheerleader in Jennifer's Body is vapid, rude and skanky... and that's even before she gets posessed by a demon.
- In Whip It the High School age Cool Loser heroine has a feud with the local Alpha Bitch. Said Alpha Bitch is a very minor character in the film but we do learn that she is a cheerleader, much to the heroine's contempt.
- Weirdly enough, this one was skewered in High School Musical 3. The Alpha Bitch, Sharpay, is not on the squad... and the only cheerleader we actually meet is Martha, the hip-hop loving nerd. Presumably, her Ascended Extra status from the second movie helped. In fact, the characters who would most fit the status are Sharpay (literal drama queen), Chad (basketballer) and Taylor (brainiac).
- In A Cinderella Story, Shelby likes ruining the life of Sam, the nerd. She's portrayed as self-absorbed, bitchy, and spiteful, but its unclear how stupid she may be.
- You Again gives two examples, spanning two generations. Joanna (Odette Yustman's character) was Head Cheerleader and a particularly cruel and arrogant version of the Alpha Bitch. Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis's character), also a former Head Cheerleader wasn't nearly as bad but was apparently pretty insensitive towards her less popular friends. Interestingly both characters matured into genuinely kind hearted, pleasant people after school. Maybe it's the uniform.
- Ninja Cheerleaders gives us April and Courtney, both of whom get quite nasty, but it's only in the line of duty (or whenever Courtney decides to insult the Y chromosome). Monica, the third girl, is the ditzy one, but none of them are actively shallow.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all the cheerleaders (including Buffy herself at the start of the movie) are shallow, nasty and stupid. When Buffy becomes the Slayer and gets Character Development, she stops being a cheerleader. The episode of the show was sort of a Continuity Nod.
- The first Scream film had a Bathroom Stall of Overheard Insults scene where Sidney was forced to listen to a vapid and obnoxious cheerleader smugly analyse Sideny as being the killer (her friend who called this theory pathetic was notably not a cheerleader.)
- The Princess Diaries has Mia having to deal with the cheer leading captain and her followers.
- In Sweet Valley Twins (a prequel to Sweet Valley High) #4 Choosing Sides Elizabeth doesn't like learning that her best friend Amy wants to be on the cheer leading squad.
Live Action TV
- Libby and her minions in Sabrina the Teenage Witch, a series in which cheerleaders are treated as Always Chaotic Evil until proven otherwise. An entire episode was based around Sabrina freaking out over her best friend looking to join the squad (she gets over it but from her reaction you'd think Valerie had joined a cult).
- Lana Lang was a cheerleader in Smallville but quit to 'find her own identity'.
- Although the cheerleaders were not depicted as malicious or dangerous until much later, and then only in the single episode "Devoted." Lana's desire to leave the cheerleading squad had nothing to do with the squad's malevolence.
- No but it is a strong example of the 'you can't be a cheerleader and be an individual' side of the trope.
- Buffy in the television version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer who after trying it for one episode never mentioned it again until helping out Cordilia with cheerleading in the XBOX game, set before the season 3 episode "Lovers Walk".
- "Witches" was the same episode which had an ex-cheerleader turned witch as the villain.
- Cheerleader and antagonist Cordelia Chase was initially characterized as "shallow", "vain" and "self-centered".
- In an early episode of Married... with Children Kelly very reluctantly joins the Polk High cheerleading squad to get closer to a boy she is into. Very unusually cheerleading is portrayed as extremely uncool and Kelly outright refers to her fellow cheerleaders as geeks (though this could be seen as part of the 'cheerleaders are conformist zombies' section of the trope).
- Rachel in Friends was a cheerleader in high school. Sure she's fairly likable as an adult but by all accounts she was an Alpha Bitch during her teen years.
- Individually, the Cheerios in Glee manage to hit nearly every stereotype on the list. However none of them play it absolutely straight (the trifecta of mean, Really Gets Around, and dumb). Quinn is originally an Alpha Bitch but also smart and though she gets pregnant it's from having sex once (whilst cheating on her boyfriend, but she still doesn't Really Get Around). She eventually turns into a Fallen Princess and after gaining sympathy, rejects cheerleading. Santana is bitchy and Really Gets Around, but doesn't seem to be dumb. As of Sexy, it also appears that this is just part of her armoured closet. Brittany is the traditional Dumb Blonde (to extreme levels), but she isn't mean-spirited at all. Terri is an adult former cheerleader and while dumb and bitchy, also was not a slut (marrying her High School Sweethearts). Sue Sylvester, the coach, is an UNBELIEVABLE Bitch but is far from dumb. It's also implied that all the other Cheerios aren't too bright. In an interesting subversion, though, one of the Cheerios is consistently shown to be very bright (and also very bitchy, and very sneaky) - Becky Jackson, the forever-underestimated girl with Down Syndrome.
- Interestingly enough, despite the portrayal of cheerleaders in the show, cheerleading itself is still portrayed as a serious, legitimate sport, complete with competitions. To say Sue's collection of trophies is vast is an understatement, and it's even mentioned that several of the Cheerios were getting cheerleading scholarships.
- However, none of the main girls actually like cheerleading; they just do it because they want to be popular. In "The Sue Sylvester Shuffle", they all admit that they actually hate it. Because no one could enjoy cheerleading.
- It's more like no one could enjoy Sue's harsh and insane (but oftentimes effective) style of coaching then anything. Quinn tells Lauren in "Born This Way" that she first got involved in cheerleading exactly because she started dancing to lose weight and found she loved it and was great at it.
- Heroes: The head cheerleaders from season 1 and 2. Claire's fellow cheerleaders in season 1 are only background characters and the ones in season 2 are more afraid of the Alpha Bitch who's the head cheerleader rather than being cruel or bitchy themselves.
- An episode of Joan of Arcadia has God ask Joan to try out for the cheerleading squad. This irritates Grace until Joan, disgusted by their treatment of one of the former captains after her Teen Pregnancy drama, shows up to the last tryout and delivers a cheer mocking the cheerleaders' shallowness.
- A mild example from the US version of The Office: in "Booze Cruise" Katy is revealed to be a former cheerleader to Jim's dismay. He doesn't actually say anything about cheerleading as such but with his reaction (and Pam's, who teases him over it) the episode does seem to link 'cheerleader' with 'ditzy'.
- Played with in Desperate Housewives; Susan was a popular cheerleader in high school and though she claims she was perfectly nice she did 'accidently' steal another girl's boyfriend and lumber her with an unfortunate nickname (Mike calls her on seemingly selective memory). Also many fans consider to Susan to be The Ditz anyway. A later episode also retroactively makes Bree's bitchy, slutty, dim daughter Dannielle a cheerleader.
- Done straight in the Cold Case episode "Stand Up and Holler": the victim was a pretty intelligent girl who joins her school's cheerleading squad. On the advice of the Alpha Bitch -- who is the captain of the cheerleaders -- she starts to hide her intelligence and focuses more on being cool. Before she is killed by the Alpha Bitch and the victim's Unlucky Childhood Friend she starts hanging out with the Cool Loser and decides to quit the squad.
- Played with in an episode of Castle where a friend of Alexis' convinces her to try out for the squad but she decides that it requires too much commitment and time away from her other activities. The other cheerleaders are never met so we don't get to see if they fit the stereotype.
- Subverted in Wizards of Waverly Place by Harper, who is nice, fairly smart and not a slut. Alex who joins the squad can be a bitch and is Book Dumb but doesn't get around. Alex also never wanted to be a cheerleader.
- Jackie from That 70s Show is a cheerleader. While she is selfish and dumb, she's not evil or slutty (in fact, she does have two stable boyfriends, and the conflict between Hyde and Kelso happens when she can't really decide between them). She's eventually kicked off the squad in season 6; when she realizes that she doesn't want to be taken back, it's shown as a part of her personal growth.
- For a while in 2006, a male version of this was in World Wrestling Entertainment: the five-man Spirit Squad. Late in the year it broke up.
- Degrassi provides several teenagers on the Spirit Squad or Power Squad. Not all of them are evil, but a few do reach for this trope on occasion. Paige, Hazel, Holly J, and Chantay most often. Like in Sabrina, there's an entire episode based around Emma freaking out over her best friend looking to join the squad (she too gets over it but from her reaction you'd think Manny had joined a cult).
- Subverted in Unnatural History, the 'dumb cheerleader' turned out to be incredibly smart, and was dosing the team with the 'fountain of youth' in secret. The reason she pretended to be dumb was so boys would like her.
- An episode of So Little Time has Ashley wanting to join the cheerleading squad because "Being a cheerleader would make me really really popular" (check). They're rather disgusted at her sister Mary-Kate hanging out with a Goth, so they make her spray paint said Goth's backpack (check). She does the deed, but feeling sorry for how Goth feels about her treatment, tells the Alpha Bitch: "I wanted to be a cheerleader, but not this bad" before offering to buy Goth a new backpack. In black, of course.
- Kate from Lizzie McGuire was the captain of the cheerleading squad and led a group of nasty bitches, including her Girl Posse of stupid girls. She victimized Lizzie as much as possible, singing a "U-G-L-Y, You ain't got no alibi, you ugly" cheer to her in front of the whole school.
- In the "Lois Strikes Back" episode of Malcolm in the Middle, four cheerleaders pull an evil prank on Reese by pretending that he has a secret admirer and then drop off a pig at his front door, sending Reese into a depression. Lois... well, she strikes back HARD.
- Cheerleader Susie in "The Joker Goes To School" episode of Batman joins The Bad Pennies and becomes The Joker's henchwoman.
- Earl and Randy go to a cheering camp to take care of a list item in My Name Is Earl. The coach was a former high school cheerleader back in her glory days, and now she is stuck teaching very Hollywood Homely cheerleaders. (One fat, one pregnant with her second child, and one with Braces of Orthodontic Overkill.) Earl decides to help them win the championship.
- 7th Heaven has an episode where Lucy wants to join but her sister Mary thinks it's stupid.
- One of these, Pamela, is the both the Alpha Bitch and the Asshole Victim in 1000 Ways to Die's episode "Pam-Caked!". She's so jealous of her Lovable Jock rival Amber that she drops her in the middle of a presentation and makes her fall to the ground hard AND head-first... only to be accidentally trampled to death by the whole football squad because she stood up to brag about what she had done -- in front of the school banner, where the dudes couldn't see her.
- The Cheer Up Charlie Daniels song "Pig Tails" is about a guy realizing that his girlfriend's like this (she's already a cheerleader, but as far as personality goes). He notes that she 'used to be sweeter', indicating that she may have been nicer before. It's surprisingly sad.
- In the music video for Lordi's "Hard Rock Hallelujah" the metalhead girl is bullied and ostracized by a cheerleading squad... before Lordi shows up and kills them. And then raises them as zombie thralls, which the metalhead girl then leads against the rest of the high school. It's pretty much every high school goth kid's fantasy.
- Taylor Swift's You belong with me has the girlfriend of the boy that the narrator likes as a cheerleader and a nasty, selfish bitch... who of course is rebuffed and dumped and humiliated by the main girl and the guy.
- Legally Blonde (The Musical) loves this trope and plays with it in a really confusing way: Serena is a cheerleader and a sorority member, but sorority girls are supposed to be the good ones here. Yet she's slutty, but not the sluttiest Delta-Nu. And she knows how to use her sex-appeal, but is also willing to teach other non-cheerleader women to gain confidance by doing the same.
- Bully plays this straight. Not only is Mandy Wiles, the team captain and Alpha Bitch, a jerk, but the other three girls (Pinky, Christy and Angie) on the squad are much nastier while in uniform than when they're not.
- Sandy in Maniac Mansion seems to fall under the "dumb and pretty" version of the trope -- her major purpose in the game is to be the helpless victim kidnapped by the mad scientist and his family, thus motivating her cool boyfriend and his highly-varied friends to ride to the rescue.
- In Pokémon, Plusle and Minun act as cheerleaders.
- Cheerleader in Teen Girl Squad. Though, she's not always an actual cheerleader -- when questioned about why she's not leading cheers during a football game, she claims that "I'm only a cheerleader in the way I dress, and the way I treat other girls".
- Lindsay in Total Drama Island. She's a much nicer person than many characters on this list but she more than fits the Brainless Beauty side of the trope.
- Played straight with Heather.
- The cheerleaders of Danny Phantom.
- In Sym-Bionic Titan, the High School that the heroes attend includes a troupe of mean cheerleaders.
- In the King of the Hill episode, "Lupe's Revenge", a female police officer claims to have been a cheerleader back in high school. While it's never shown what she was like back then, the fact that she's shown badly abusing her power in the present doesn't exactly defy the stereotype, now does it.
- Beth, in the pre-cutant animated Polly Pocket movies, is a cheerleader. She's Polly's main High School rival.
- Head cheerleader Connie D'Amico on Family Guy is mean and spoiled.
- Stacey, Tracey and Lacey in American Dragon Jake Long.
- In The Simpsons 'Spin-Off Showcase' episode Lisa refused to participate in a cheesey family variety show so was recast by a pretty blonde cheerleader who, while nice enough, is decidedly less intelligent.
Fake Lisa: "I'm Lisa Peppy, blonde and stunning. Sophomore prom queen five years running. Go Lisa!"
- Subverted with the Ashleys on Recess, as their not shown as cheerleaders in the show, but they end up going to cheerleading camp in Recess: School's Out. In the same movie, T.J.'s older sister Becky is one of these, as pom-poms can be seen in her room at one point.
- Kick Buttowski gives us true demonic cheerleaders. In one episode Brad is tricked into thinking he's in a real relationship with the beautiful Kelly, only for the viewers (and Kick) to find out that it's a part of the initiation ceremony of becoming a cheerleader - to date a loser. Even when we think Kelly is going to show sympathy she show her true evil cheerleader colours with the rest of them.
- The Fab Five scandal at McKinney High School in McKinney, Texas.
- At many Hell Houses that are held by fundamentalist Christians on Halloween, cheerleaders are shown having abortions.
- When she was in high school, schoolteacher and convicted murderess Pamela Smart was a cheerleader at the Pinkerton Academy.
Anime & Manga
- Mostly averted in the Mahou Sensei Negima anime. The three cheerleaders: Madoka, Sakurako and Misa are more or less fun loving girls of average intelligence. Unless you count Misa's plan to "score points" with the 10 year old Negi so that she'll have a cool younger boyfriend once he grows up a bit. A plan the others heartily embrace.
- This is any dfferent than most of the rest of his class how?
- The fact that she's supposed to be one of the few girls in the class that already has a boyfriend, for one. Then again, he may not actually exist, as we haven't ever actually seen the guy.
- This is any dfferent than most of the rest of his class how?
- Also averted in Heroman, where Lina is nice and pretty cool to be with, but her brother is a douche. It's difficult to say about the other cheerleaders, who don't have enough screen time to be fleshed out at all.
- In Cardcaptor Sakura, the main character is a cheerleader and so are two of her friends (Chiharu and Naoko, who curiously doubles as a Bookworm). But this is Sakura Kinomoto, so of course she's the sweetest girl ever. It certainly helps that she and the other girls are much younger than the standard.
- Suzuna Taki from Eyeshield 21 is friendly and intelligent, especially compared to her idiot older brother.
- As mentioned above Bring It On, which is probably the first time cheerleading was portrayed as a genuine athletic pursuit in media.
- Fired Up! plays with the stereotypes but ultimately portrays cheerleaders with affection and some respect.
- In But I'm a Cheerleader, the protagonist even explains to another character why she loves cheerleading, and using it as a form of self-expression turns out to be a major plot point in the climax. Oh, and she's gay.
- Dodgeball has a likable male cheerleader as one of the main cast and his cheerleader love interest is also depicted very positively. It also what is possibly the first male cheerleader to fit this trope.
- The Blind Side has Collins as a cheerleader.
- Heather McNamara from Heathers is arguably the nicest of the Alpha Bitch Girl Posse and is the only cheerleader of the group.
- Though it's technically not cheerleading, the characters in The Kayla Chronicles assume the girls on the school dance team are shallow and appearance-oriented, only to find that most of them are intelligent and willing to stand up for themselves when necessary.
- Flores Quintera in Spellsinger turns out to be a very intelligent Action Girl suffering from a glass ceiling. She wanted to be an astronaut, but she's too pretty to be taken seriously and living in the 1970s, so she ended up taking a communications course at university to get in on the public relations end of the space program, and only joined the cheerleading squad because women at her university aren't allowed to join the actual football team.
- Subverted in The Squad by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. The cheerleaders are the members of a Junior CIA group and their ditziness and/or bitchiness is just an act to maintain their cover and keep people from probing them too closely. Chloe is genuinely bitchy to Toby, but that's because she thinks that the addition of Toby to the squad threatens her position on it, given their common area of expertise.
Live Action TV
- Cindy on Freaks and Geeks was a little shallow and humorless, but on the whole she wasn't mean or stupid.
- Jenny on The Hard Times of RJ Berger is a total Spoiled Sweet Cheerleader. She's so sweet that she's in a Betty and Veronica with the main character and his childhood friend with a crush on him and manages to be the likeable one!
- As a TV show about college cheerleaders, Hellcats has all kinds of personalities in the squad, only one of whom fits the typical cheerleader stereotype (and that's only until you get to know her).
- Played with on Glee. Santana and Quinn seem like the typical cheerleader stereotype, but then Quinn becomes a Lovable Alpha Bitch, and there turns out to be a reason for Santana's bitchiness. Brittany also seems like a Dumb Blonde, but she is really much more of a Cloudcuckoolander. Mercedes and Kurt don't fit any cheerleader stereotype at all. By Season 3, Becky Jackson has the Alpha Bitch thing down, but is neither stupid nor slutty.
- Averted in Eureka. Being that the city is composed entirely of geniuses, even the cheerleaders entertain themselves by talking about chaos theory inbetween games.
- Penn and Teller Bullshit argues that some feminist activists who argued that cheerleading should not be classed as a sport were driven by their anti-cheerleader prejudices. Most of the real-life cheerleaders who appear in their show generally fit the normal well-adjusted teenager model.
- Claire of Heroes was a good person who enjoyed parts of cheer leading. At college she meets a girl she starts to make friends with who was also in cheer leading.
- Alex, Sam, Lita and Jo of The Wotch and Cheer! are the very antithesis of the stereotypical cheerleader. Of course they aren't exactly typical girls, either.
- In Vicki Fox, her new roommate Ceri worries at first that she will turn out to be this type (she's not).
- Caliban Academy's cheerleaders from Kevin and Kell seem pretty ordinary. Then again, not many have been shown, and only once did a named character go for it -- Corrie, who drew some slight attention for her wool pompoms.
- Gregg Easterbook of ESPN.com takes time out of his football column every week to debunk this stereotype, by highlighting some NFL cheerleader who is well educated (most of them are) or has a day job helping others.
- The eponymous heroine in Kim Possible. Most of the other cheerleaders we get to know are okay too, Bonnie is the only one who is shown to be mean-spirited and Tara was the only one implied to be The Brainless Beauty.
- Peggy became a cheerleading coach in an episode of King of the Hill but only the ex-coach is truly mean-spirited. Connie even joins the squad, and while there are few mild jokes alluding to the girl's cattiness they're not portrayed too stereotypically.
- Brittany in Daria is the head cheer leader. And though she is portrayed as particularly empty-headed, she is Spoiled Sweet otherwise, and does care for her just as dumb but more stupid than really mean boyfriend Kevin.
- Sym-Bionic Titan manages to be in the straight examples and aversions sections of this page. While most cheerleaders are portrayed as vapid and bitchy, Kimmy is actually revealed to be much more than that Beneath the Mask. Jury is out on the rest of the cheerleaders.
- Lisa, Amy and Janet from American Dad.
- Malina, the main female character of The Emperors New School, is a cheerleader who cares about studies and ethics. In fact, one episode shows that cheerleaders at Kuzco Academy are required to keep high grades and that A minus isn't considered high enough.
- Miss Martain/M'Gann in Young Justice joined the cheerleading squad but is one of the heroes, as well as being usually a friendly and nice person.
- Penny from The Amazing World of Gumball is one of the nicest characters in the show. The title character has a crush on her and it's shown she feels the same about him, but neither have the courage to say it.