Forget Taylor Swift: The real tortured poet worth celebrating is in '10 Things I Hate About You'

Forget Taylor Swift: Here’s the real tortured poet worth celebrating
Forget Taylor Swift: Here’s the real tortured poet worth celebrating Copyright Touchstone Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Copyright Touchstone Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
By David Mouriquand
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The 1999 coming-of-age rom-com - and one of the best Shakespeare adaptations out there – just turned 25, and Kat is the tortured poet we all need right now. Sorry, Taylor.


As you may have heard, The TayTay Supremacy continues, with Swift’s surprise double album having landed almost a week ago.

Since then, ride-or-die fans have been combing through the lyrics of ‘ The Tortured Poets Department ’ to find every easter egg to add to an ever-expanding lore; countless op-eds have been published dedicated to whether Swift has lost it; and some mildly tortured Swifties like myself continue to bemoan the overblown cultural stranglehold the singer continues to exert through her hyperproductivity, waking up to the fact that oversaturation is near - especially when she could have released one polished album instead of unloading 31 songs in one sitting, thereby proving we’re fully in the Quantity-Over-Quality Era.

While there are those who choose to embrace the title of her 11th album by championing Swift’s latest effort as a true poetic work of post-romance martyrdom, I’ve gone the other way, feeling conflicted about what feels like performative misery through her lyrics.

Most of all though, I’ve discovered that I can’t listen to 'The Tortured Poets Department' without casting a shadow over it when my mind drifts off towards one truly tortured poet.

Silvia Plath? Good shout, but no.

Allen Ginsberg? Solid choice, but again, niet.

Neil Perry in Dead Poets Society? Close, but no Parnassian cigar.

I’m talking about Kat Stratford from 10 Things I Hate About You - a stellar watch whichjust turned 25. 

Kat is the tortured poet we all need right now.

Julia Stiles as Kat in 10 Things I Hate About You
Julia Stiles as Kat in 10 Things I Hate About YouTouchstone Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

For those of you who require a quick recap, 10 Things I Hate About You is loosely based on "The Taming of the Shrew", and starred a fresh-faced Joseph Gordon-Levitt as new kid in school, Cameron. He quickly falls for Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) but can’t date her unless her sister Kat (Julia Stiles) gets a squeeze of her own, as per their father’s strict dating rules. Enter brooding high school bad boy Patrick (Heath Ledger, in his first American movie), who accepts to be bribed by Cameron to take out Kat…

Gil Junger’s 10 Things I Hate About You (a title inspired by one of the film’s screenwriters finding her old high-school diary, which included a list she’d made of the things she hated about her then-boyfriend) stands to this day as one of the best modernised retellings of a literary classic. Screenwriting duo Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith made it an endlessly quotable and slyly subversive comedy that had more feminist credentials than many of its genre neighbours. Quite the feat, considering the misogynistic leanings of the source material, in which the “shrew” is “tamed”.

More than that and a nostalgic trip to the seemingly simpler times of the 90s, the film is an empathetic portrait of adolescence, one that brushed aside cookie-cutter stock characters in favour of well-written teenagers who actually felt relatable, and who ultimately taught us to blaze our own paths.

That, and while you can be overwhelmed and underwhelmed, the only place where you can be ‘whelmed’ is Europe.

And then there’s Kat.

Kat was many things. An out-and-proud misfit. A rebel with a socially-conscious cause. An assertive, Silvia Plath-reading aficionado of “angry girl music of the indie rock persuasion”. Someone who surprises herself by falling in love and understands that vulnerability and self-assertiveness need not be mutually exclusive.

A true tortured poet.

Kat Stratford
Kat StratfordTouchstone Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

If 10 Things I Hate About You is up there with Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet as one the best adaptations of a Shakespeare play, which paved the way for other Bard riffing films like Get Over It, O (also starring Julia Stiles) and She’s the Man, I’d argue that the character of Kat walked so that Swift could run.

Kat was the mainstream embodiment of the era's Riot Grrrl sensibilities, something initially mirrored in the film’s Seattle setting. The underground feminist movement of the 90s was birthed in Seattle, and then, through Kat’s actions, words and music tastes (Raincoats and Bikini Kill are namechecked), she reveals herself to be on the same stage Tank Girl was walking.


Take that scene in the English class when Kat takes her male English teacher Mr. Morgan (a terrific Daryl Mitchell) to task by asking him why they have to read Hemmingway.

“He was an abusive, alcoholic misogynist who squandered half of his life hanging around Picasso trying to nail his leftovers.”

She then calls out the “oppressive patriarchal values that dictate our education”, gets sent to the principal’s office for disrupting class, before telling Ms. Perky (Allison Janney, at the top of her game): “Expressing my opinion is not a terrorist action."

*Chef’s kiss*

Sorry, *bird flip*

Kat Stratford
Kat StratfordTouchstone Pictures, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

In establishing a protracted link between Kat and Taylor Swift, I’m not arguing that the latter is a modern revamped version of the Riot Grrrl spirit. Nowhere near, in fact, as the punk movement rejected hyper-consumerism, gave oppressive beauty standards the finger, and brought awareness to social issues like domestic violence and classism through music.

However, I would posit that Swift is Stratfordian in her own way, as she too aims to empower through her “tortured poetry” and does, to her credit, suggest to her listeners that being angry need not be a bad thing, and that love doesn't have to equate to compromising your ideals.

The difference between the two I do mark – quite aside from the fact that Swift has yet to deliver a line quite as brilliant and cutting as Kat's “I guess being male and an asshole makes you worthy of our time” - is that at no point did Kat perform for the sake of others. I’m not sure I could say the same about 'The Tortured Poets Department' and its brand of self-referential performativity.

And when Kat delivered her poem at the end of 10 Things I Hate About You, she was teary-eyed yet strong, and crucially, genuine. She stood firm in her feminist beliefs, and managed to show there was no real weakness in being tortured.

I hate the way you talk to me,
And the way you cut your hair.
I hate the way you drive my car,
I hate it when you stare.
I hate your big dumb combat boots,
And the way you read my mind.
I hate you so much it makes me sick,
It even makes me rhyme.
I hate the way you’re always right,
I hate it when you lie.
I hate it when you make me laugh,
Even worse when you make me cry.
I hate it when you’re not around,
And the fact that you didn’t call.
But mostly I hate the way I don’t hate you.
Not even close.
Not even a little bit.
Not even at all.


Puts ‘So Long, London’ into perspective, don’t it?

So, while you may be trying to figure out which song is actually a dig at Matt Healy or Joe Alwyn on Swift's latest album, I choose to celebrate one of the best teen comedy films ever made and its lead protagonist Kat Stratford - a character that 25 years ago showed what a tortured poet truly was.

Join me, won’t you? You won’t be sorry.

Not even a little bit.

Not even at all.

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