When I was a kid, high school was the shining light at the end of the tunnel that my prepubescent friends and I looked forward to. And why wouldn’t we? There are what seems like millions upon millions of movies featuring teenage protagonists that showcase the escapades of rebellious high school students: Going to parties every Friday night! Skipping class! Getting drunk in the bathroom at prom! Having melodramatic teen love affairs!
If the popular depiction of the American high school experience actually mirrored reality, then high school was bound to be an exciting four years of fiery, hormone-driven relationships, seize-the-day sort of impulsive antics, and cheeky yet defiant disrespect for authority figures. As twelve year olds who were completely fed up with our boring childhoods, we were ready to move on to the exciting world of high school.
In 2012, my freshman year began, and I started high school with bated breath, ready for my own riveting plot arc to commence. I very quickly became aware that the world of high school movies was, as movies tend to be, total fiction.
In the classic dark comedy Heathers, we see Veronica and her immaculately dressed group of frenemies (played by adult actresses with impeccable facial symmetry) exchanging morbid one-liners and navigating the halls of Westerburg High School. The boys are cute (and murderous), the parties are wild and eventful, and these kids’ parents seem perfectly okay with them running around town drinking slushies and committing felonies. Meanwhile, I’m lucky if I show up to school in anything more composed than mismatched pajamas, and I have to ask my parents for permission to take a walk around the block. I’ve never had an endearingly cynical, handsome new kid take me by the hand as the Bonnie to his Clyde, and I’ve spent most of my evenings working on AP homework rather than murdering my nemeses with rat poison.
Say Anything is one of the most famous classic high school movies. Lloyd Dobler, played by 23-year-old John Cusack, pursues the studious valedictorian Diane, who somehow also has time for a sickeningly adorable relationship. In one iconic scene, he serenades her with a boombox, and it’s a sweet, sentimental gesture that has become synonymous with teenage puppy love. I have never been serenaded. I have never even been on a date. I focus on homework and extracurriculars, which consume too much of my spare time to leave room for maintaining a serious relationship — and I’m still not valedictorian.
Ferris Bueller, one of the most famous examples of rebellious high school protagonists, goes to great lengths to skip school for a day and ends up convincing his friend to steal his father’s sports car so they can race around Chicago exploring art museums and crashing parades. Even when I’m actually sick, missing school makes me nervous. Make-up work is a hassle, and I’m not outgoing enough to ask my deskmate if I can borrow the notes I missed. If I do skip school, it’s to catch up on work or much needed sleep, not to go on wild adventures. Life moves fast, as Bueller says in the movie, but I’m too bogged down with work and college applications to slow down and enjoy it in the same way he does.
I feel like I’m doing something wrong. Why am I not leading this exciting lifestyle? Am I wasting the best years of my life?
I’m almost finished with my final year of high school, and I’m struggling to come to terms with the reality that I’ve spent more time factoring polynomials and annotating essays than sneaking out and going to parties. I’ve had fun times, and I have been to a party or two, but it just doesn’t feel like enough. Why didn’t I go on more adventures and break more rules? I’ve spent all this time worrying about standardized tests and my GPA, and it doesn’t even feel like it’s worth it in the end. Is the problem with myself, or is it the movies that have wronged me and the rest of my generation?
Movies are fiction (unless they’re documentaries). This is common knowledge. And yet, when we grow up learning about the world through our TV screen, it becomes difficult to separate the fabricated, glamorized caricature of the typical teenager from the reality of the high school experience. So why don’t we see any completely realistic high school movies? I guess studying for finals and going to student council meetings just isn’t as riveting as partying and sneaking out. Or maybe times have changed since the 80’s.