Sunday, January 08, 2006


"Is it just me, or does the whole world suck?" -- Lindsay Weir, Freaks and Geeks

It's the level of hell Dante missed. It's so bad. So, so bad. And yet stories about high school remain totally fascinating. Hollywood really likes to tell stories about high school. So what is it about high school that makes it such a compelling setting for TV shows and movies? I'm brainstorming for a longer post about this, and I invite you to share your thoughts and ideas. So far mine are pretty half-baked -- and sometimes contradictory -- but here's what I've come up with so far:

  1. High school is flawed. Puberty, the fascist caste systems and intricate social hierarchies, and the limits on one's freedom and time combined with increased freedoms is a big toxic cupcake. And the social pressures more than make up the difference for those immune to ones of an academic nature. High school does little to make any of this better. The buildings are ugly and smelly, the teachers are often unhappy and underpaid, and the students either do their homework or don't. Yuck.
  2. High School is full of teenagers. Somehow, even before we are teens and after we are teens, we find it easy to identify with teens. Something about the psychological struggle of figuring out one's identity -- the psychic locus of high school -- remains familiar to us.
  3. High school is ironic. Parents believe it to be good and safe and educational, but it's often little more than a sesspool of weird sexual harassment, drugs, and boredom.
  4. High school is often a critique of society at large. The problems within the halls of high school mirror those of the culture beyond it.
  5. In high school, the future is indeterminate. Who knows where these people will end up? Something about the openness of the high school student's future is appealing.
Pictured above: Wilson Cruz as Ricky (My So-Called Life), one of TV's first gay teens.


Jenny said...

I love the big toxic cupcake. That's classic.

elizalou said...

All of the above! You'll be sorry you got me started on the subject!

I think people love/hate to look back at high school through movies to remember all the joy/pain they experienced while there and to weep/exult the fact that they're no longer there. Sometimes a mix of both.

High school movies (Breakfast Club, Mean Girls) tend to exaggerate the division of cliques but I think people are actually comforted by this. Those that were picked on/ignored/etc. can say, "I was normal compared to this group!" and those on the other end of the spectrum can say the same thing. It's a sort of affirmation.

High school is sort of like a traffic wreck. So many idiots running around with a few intelligent people. It's a classic disaster formula, which works great for movies. You've got a few teachers encouraging students to use their brains and think and speak up and question injustice. Then right next door you've got a teacher literally telling her class that a girl who was raped in the school parking lot deserved it because she was skipping class.

Not that I'm bitter or anything. Big toxic cupcake indeed!

rockslinga said...

i hated hated high schools ( i went to three of them...probably part of the reason why). the people were unkind and fucked up. but i love love shows like my so called life and movies like mean girls. presicely because the loser girls (i was a loser girl) get to be up and center and awesome. so, i think what makes the movies/shows about HS successful is the fantasy aspect.

kate.d. said...

hey, found you through elizalou - she recommended your post on gossip, truth, and james frey. good stuff.

but of course, what drove me to comment was ricky :) oh, how i miss that show! wilson cruz was actual the parade marshall at gay pride here in chicago last summer, and he looked so old! not bad old, but just...not high school old! given that the show was on 10 years ago, though, i shouldn't be surprised.