If Prom Is One of the Greatest Nights of Your Life, You're Fucked


Did you go to your prom? Did you drop serious dough on it, or rock it low-key and good times? The answer is b, right? You acted like you didn’t care because you had the foresight and good sense to realize it Didn’t Matter. But that didn’t stop everyone else, because it’s official: Prom, the mega-lolz “life event” that everyone was supposed to eventually figure out wouldn’t count has instead been declared the “new social arms race” for parents and teens. Anxiety ratcheted! Let me take this time to climb aboard and hereby conduct the Real Talk stream train chugging right up into your freshly tanned, zitty faces.

According to the results of a Visa survey for which they have cleverly devised an app, prom costs have risen 5%, and people are dropping an average of $1,139 per person for the joy of copping a feel in a satin dress at midnight. Everything costs more! People are outdoing themselves more than ever! You should, too! (Seriously, is there ANYTHING left we aren’t spending “too much” on? I know. Socks. We aren’t overspending yet on socks. Oh.)

Look, I get it, it’s PROM. Splurge a little. When you’re in high school, it’s almost impossible to ignore the chatter of how important and life-cementing it is that you go, that you go with the right person, that you have FUN, that you look GOOD, that you fulfill all the ideas about what teenagers are supposed to do come senior year on this one night when the magic happens. But prom is a weird microcosm about what it means to grow up in this world, a crystal ball of truths about what is to come. And it’s just not worth going crazy over.

I totally went to my prom, which took place in the deep South in the Bible Belt, at a school where football players were treated like gods and cheerleaders as if they were Victoria’s Secret models in the making. The school lived for traditional milestones, and we were constantly told by nearly ever adult ever trotted before us that this was, hands-down, the “best time in our lives.” Prom was just another traditional ritual in an entire school’s worth of training for proper adulthood, based on this very Southern, traditional notion of what a good life was.

The idea that high school was the most awesome time I would ever have was the saddest fucking thing I’d ever heard. Naturally, I didn’t want to go to prom and I resented all the hullabaloo about a stupid dance. But I had this basketball player boyfriend for whom it was out of the question not to attend. So I went, and I did the thing and bought the dress and the shoes and paid for a hairdo. I “got ready” and actually “tried” and all that shit.

It was a hilarious exercise in fitting in, a mini version of She’s All That. For one, I had never been told more in my entire life that I looked so “good” — after putting on copious product and getting professional help and wearing hyper-feminine clothes, of course. But I noticed how it went for my friends: the theme of the night was one of immense pressure to hit all the marks: sneaking in booze without getting caught, securing a hotel room to party in. Some of my boyfriend’s friends even took home their official prom dates post-dance, and picked up a second date for the after-party — a girl who was, in the parlance of teen boys, “way easier.”

I had some fun, though. Dancing is fun. Getting all gussied up is fun. But it was also a crass display of eager adolescence aping a grown-up sophistication. And it has always left a bad taste in my mouth. The thing about prom is:

There are two kinds of people in the world: People excited about prom, and smart people.

OK, I exaggerate. And I know, I know, it’s a teenage ritual, an American dream, a significant social event in the lives of young people. It’s OK to want to go and do it up. But it’s also really dumb. Like when poor people who rely on social services to EAT vote Republican, I never understand why everyone is supposed to want to go, why the freaks and weirdoes (to whom I feel a lasting alliance) would ever want to be part of the dumb shit the popular kids do. Don’t wholeheartedly, unquestioningly accept the status quo. Do other stuff. Make your own fuckin’ prom! Reject their bullshit! Etc. And for the love of God don’t waste a bunch of money on it.

Because prom is just a poor-man’s faux debutante ball.

Rich people would “introduce” their sons and daughters to official society via their first big adult-like social outing with grand parties and fancy clothes, and hook them up with other people just like them so they can keep breeding other rich people. The rest of us mimic this absurd little play in a sweaty gymnasium with a biology teacher/coach supervising while someone tries to spike the punch and/or smoke a doob under the bleachers.

Sure, that can be fun for an hour, but make no mistake: You’re just a regular person who has to date regular other people, and the chances of you ending up with any of these people in the end is slim to none anyway. Why we frontin’?

Speaking of poor people, this is depressing:

The most troubling aspect of this spending free-for-all is the recurring finding that those who can least afford it are spending the most. In households with less than $50,000 of annual income, spending plans this year average $1,245; parents who make more than $50,000 will spend an average of $1,129. Two years ago, Visa found that the top prom spenders had household income under $30,000.

What happened to Molly Ringwald’s Pretty in Pink poor girl’s prom dress of awesomeness? Yeah, it was shitty, but it was CREATIVE with MONEY. But noooo, everybody gotta keep up, right? Everyone has to prove they can swing it, fit in, do what the other people are doing. But if we don’t start teaching the young people that it’s OK to reject the standard of grabby materialism our culture thrives on, how is this going to help them as adults, when they are going in debt to present an “acceptable” image of wealth to their colleagues and peers? Do NOT waste a bunch of money on it.

If this is one of the greatest nights of your life, you’re fucked.

Prom can’t be the greatest night of your life because then one of the greatest nights of your life would be occurring before you stayed up all night making out with your first college boyfriend/girlfriend, before you saw your first rock ‘n’ roll show when you were old enough to buy your own beer, before you drove all night to New Orleans to see the sunrise, before you did a bunch of autonomous shit designed by YOU that doesn’t involve archaic rituals, bad hairstyles and shitty, shitty music. (And wasting lots of your MONEY.)

Prom is an artificial, totally manufactured teen “event.”

In movies, prom is nightmare of pressurized hormones, status seeking, clique asserting and all around power grabbing. Everyone pairs off along totally obvious lines of wealth and popularity while the plebes sweat it out hoping for the emotional validation equivalent of a T-shirt shot out of a party cannon. Please someone ask me! Please let it be the guy I like! Did he ask me as a joke or does he really like me? Was our prom date the result of a losing bet? Please let me hang all my hopes and fears for validation around the neck of this one totally artificial school dance that has no reflection on anything that actually matters, big picture.

The reason people have such terrible times on New Year’s Eve or when it’s couples’ skate time at the skating rink is because it sets you up to perform, to prove your worth, to show that you fit in, and you actually paid for it. But hey! Not fitting in is character-building, so if you don’t fit in, try to see that as a unique opportunity to explore your differentness, to take pride in it. Prom is just there to point out all the differentness and pressure-wash it into sameness. This is a disaster waiting to happen, not to mention really fucking boring. (AND EXPENSIVE!)

Prom is dead anyway.

A former coworker with a kid in high school recently posted a letter on Facebook from her kid’s school announcing that they are implementing BREATHALYZERS at prom this year. Look, I get it, the kids need to be safe. Sure. But part of the problem is making prom such a hugely important marker of teen life that it encourages this kind of tomfoolery by making it so life-or-death important to pull off a blitzer of an evening. Besides, easy to get around that: Duh, go sober; take flask. (Also CHEAPER.)

Proms are racist/homophobic.

Hello, banning interracial and/or gay couples. Proms are still, it seems, some of the last bastions of prejudice and fear-mongering in the world still standing without embarrassment. Please, children, can’t you just go to this dance and make us adults feel like the world hasn’t changed all that much? I applaud the social activism to make schools like the one in Indiana allow all students to attend regardless of sexual orientation, but I can’t actually decide if the institution is worth changing or if it merely deserves to be put out of its overpriced misery.

In spite of all this, prom is still the greatest (for some people).

I firmly believe the only reason to attend prom is ironically — on a lark, for a laugh. But if you’re a well-adjusted kid who just happens to love the idea of attending your prom, and it’s a hang-up free excuse to have a blast with your friends, your boyfriend, yourself, your polyester leisure suit or your vintage prom dress, you do you. And hopefully, that you knows that it doesn’t need to spend the equivalent of a mortgage to do it.

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