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    Friday, February 17, 2006

    Prom Redux

    Judith Martin aka Miss Manners argues against the Prom.

    In schools that have canceled or discussed canceling that hallowed event, it is not only the shortchanged seniors who produce outraged squeals. Parents who remember their own proms imperfectly, or who remember not having had them, possibly because it was fashionable to boycott them, have also chimed in:

    "They've worked hard all year, they deserve to have some fun."

    "Come on, they've been dreaming about this for years. It's something they'll always remember."

    "You can't take that away -- it's an American tradition."

    These sentiments are up against two arguments -- that proms are expensive and that they are dangerous.

    Now that proms have frozen into a pattern that involves restaurant meals and fancy car rentals, there is pressure on those whose families can ill afford such luxuries. And since liquor manages to ooze into the occasion despite a variety of civic and parental precautions, proms are tragically associated with accidents and fatalities.

    These two opposing sides leave Miss Manners as the only person taking up the question of high school proms in social terms. Her objections to it are that the prom has become crass, and that it serves as a training ground for even crasser weddings.

    What do you say to that, kids?

    What they say is, "So what? It's just supposed to be fun." And then their adult defenders ask what on earth she expects from teenagers -- that they should behave like little social climbers, heaven forbid?

    Heaven forbid. But that is exactly what they are doing.

    High school proms were never exactly decorous. The idea was to assume the privileges of grown-ups, as they had personally observed them. They actually assumed that the lives of their parents were more fun than their own.

    Even under modest economic circumstances, their parents would occasionally get dressed up and go out, possibly dancing. They moved about at will with their own transportation. They also drank and smoked. Best of all, no one outside of the law could tell them what to do.

    For better and for worse, that was what the next generation wanted for themselves. The prom was supposed to be a limited version of this without the smoking and drinking.

    Being grown-up is no longer a state to which anyone seems to aspire. Not even grown-ups. Any glamor that may have been attached to it has disappeared in the increasing freedoms and prevailing styles of youth.

    And so the pattern for that anachronistic institution, the prom, is taken from the lives of pop celebrities -- the suddenly enriched who go wild.

    It would indeed be wonderful if high school seniors had a chance to sample the real pleasures of formality that are missing from compulsively casual modern life. Variety of style, even if it was no more elaborate than "Sunday best" or "company manners," was pleasurable. That there is still a craving for occasional formality is evident on the two such occasions left for it -- the prom and the wedding. It would be nice if the older generation could show them what it really is.

    A hint: It is not riding around town in an impossibly long and expensive car, throwing up.

    My Amusement Park is generally anti-Prom, and is therefore supportive of Ms. Martin's efforts.

    This all reminds me of something that makes me really annoyed: how Prom is handled on television. On The OC and Queer as Folk, one character is talked into going to Prom, "It's an important right of passage," etc. People who missed their Prom talk about how, basically, their lives were never okay because of it. Am I the only person who doesn't feel a phantom limb because I missed my Prom?


    Blogger Omnipotent Poobah said...

    Not that it is directly connected to your piece, but they have an annual Gay and Lesbian prom near the town I live it. Huge affair and I'm told most of the kids have to stay there instead of roaming around in limos getting drunk.

    But then again, maybe the gay and lesbian kids are just a better class of people.

    By the way, are you the gold dressed girl in your prom post?

    1:33 PM  
    Blogger EL said...

    Ha- no, that's not me! :) I just Google-Imaged "Prom" and that was my favorite pic. Is that immoral?

    2:21 PM  
    Anonymous Bitch | Lab said...

    someone I met in grad school did her dissertation research on queer proms and the symbolism of proms, etc.


    2:23 PM  
    Anonymous Bitch | Lab said...

    d'oh. guess i screwed that up. here's the title: Prom Night: Youth, Schools and Popular Culture

    2:24 PM  
    Blogger EL said...

    You know her? I read about that book. Sounds like a brilliant topic for a dissertation.

    3:01 PM  

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