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The Problem Clueless Fans Have About Cher And Josh Isn't What You Think

Jane Austen has had many, many adaptations of her work crafted over the years. One of the stories that's been told more than any other isn't Pride and Prejudice — it's Emma

Gwyneth Paltrow played the title role in 1996. Romola Garai did the same for the widely successful BBC miniseries in 2009. And in early 2020, Queen's Gambit star Anya Taylor-Joy starred as Emma, as well. But for all those period accurate versions of Emma, there is one modern version which stands head and shoulders above the rest, and that's Clueless. Yes, back in 1995, writer-director Amy Heckerling crafted what is arguably both the most nineties and the most timeless incarnation of Austen's Emma, by reimagining her as a teen from Beverly Hills.

Also, while there may be many contenders, you could pretty easily argue that Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silvertstone) in Clueless is the style icon of the nineties. But despite the maturity we can all acknowledge Cher's fashion choices engender, it's got to be said that she is still a 16 year old girl. And that makes her love affair with her step brother Josh (Paul Rudd) weirder and weirder, the more you think about it.

How big is the age difference between Cher and Josh?

Okay, let's get the obvious out of the way: yes, Cher and Josh are step-siblings, which makes their romance weird enough. And, yes, despite context clues suggesting that they didn't actually live together for a very long time, they still act like they are brother and sister. Cher makes fun of Josh's flannel, Josh mocks Cher for watching cartoons — the bicker, joke, and do all the things real life siblings do. No, Cher and Josh are not related by blood, but it is still uncomfortable. And yet, let's face it — in a post Game of Thrones, Jaime-and-Cersei-Lannister-making-babies-together world, we've all gotten a little weirdly used to incest in fiction. Heck, Supernatural fans even had a term for their fanfiction where the Winchester brothers hook up, that being "Wincest." We live in strange times.

What's even more disturbing, though, is the seeming age gap between Cher and Josh. Josh does make mention of his interest in Environmental Law, and as Reddit user hlierman22 pointed out, "does that make him still in undergrad or is he attending law school already?" 

If Josh had only just started his undergraduate program and is merely discussing his future plans, it's possible he is only 18. On the other hand, if he's talking about his graduate program, he could be 22 or 23 years old. If Josh is 19 and Cher is 16, then that would technically be legal, but we're truly skating a fine line of weird that, even all these years later, Clueless fans are still squicked out by.

Cher and Josh's romance in a historical context

Let's talk about Emma a moment, shall we? The original Jane Austen novel was released on December 23, 1815. In the literary version, there is a much larger age gap between Emma and Mr. Knightley — seventeen years. To make things a few shades creepier than Cher and Josh, Austen's Mr. Knightley knew Emma when she was a young child growing up. 

And before anyone tries to argue about the "different times" that were the early 19th century, let's set the record straight: contrary to common opinion, according to History, women at the end of the 18th century did not marry young. In fact, the average age of marriage, at the time, was 28 for men and 26 for women. That's a two year difference — not seventeen years. 

Also related to our Emma adaptation discussion: late 18th century women weren't inclined to marry relatives, save for some wealthy families. Granted, the lack of cousin marriage relates more to avoiding birth defects, but still, even in the early 19th century, people would've eyed Cher and Josh a little suspiciously over their romantic union, to say nothing of the two decades separating Emma and Knightley. Also relevant to this debate is the real life age difference between Alicia Silverstone and Paul Rudd: Silverstone was born in 1976, while Rudd was born in 1969, thus bringing their actual age difference to about seven years. 

Given all the facts, it is safe to say that, in any century, the age difference between Cher and Josh in Clueless is weird. And if you were to pick on anything in the film, the age gap should probably be it.