Hollywood Myths, Cracked: 4 Things High School Movies Get Wrong
It’s another round of Hollywood Myths, Cracked — the series of columns where we speculate which planet those movie types find themselves on. Looking at our mountain of research and findings to date, it seems to be one where anyone can come back from the dead after flatlining, and no one ever gets the bends. Truly, a magical planet for miracle people. It also seems to be a place where every high schooler can drive or have a car, can do whatever they want in between classes, and never have to actually study for anything.
Okay, fair, that last part is probably the most relatable of all the high school Hollywood tropes. The following, however … not so much.
Kids Can Just Wear Whatever
Some of you already know that I live far away in this tiny little country called South Africa. What you may not know is that, when it comes to school dress codes, we only have uniforms. Imagine, then, our absolute wonderment growing up and watching American movies where kids get to dress up not only in civvies but like this:
You know, just the shortest pants and skirts with everyone’s tummies hanging out like no one’s going to bat even half an eye. Or, whatever this guy’s trying to show off:
Even the schools that seemingly have some sort of uniform going on didn’t seem to mind if someone just decided they’re totally wearing their shiny leathers today.
Imagine our surprise when we found out that, no, not even in the U.S. can girls get away with skirts this short:
Or that most dudes can’t just walk around school all day without getting scolded for a shirt hanging out or a mullet growing too thick. Hell, people are still fighting to un-taboo spaghetti straps and tank tops. Look, movies can do whatever they want, but it’d be nice (and again, more relatable) if someone got called out for violating the “fingertip length rule” every now and then — dutifully followed by the students staging a mass protest (which, going by the tropes, might include some sort of food fight).
And if movies really wanted to be accurate, they’d refrain from showing every single kid wearing different clothes every day instead of, oh, the same washed-out Lakers T-shirt they’ve probably slept in for a week.
That School Spirit
Boy, oh boy, do the movies make it look like every school’s got the spirit, and every second kid is super into it or will at least most definitely be there. No, they don’t have anything else going on in their lives other than being at the big game or cheering wildly for their dumb mascot.
Seems like actual school just isn’t that important, and kids will be ripped out of class or stay behind or whatever to watch a rehearsal of girls grinding and boys peacocking, all in the name of sports. Or, if you go to a school like in Euphoria, the whole pep rally thing apparently resembles “dinner and a show.”
Generally, this trope is used to show who everyone is and where everyone fits in because, in the movies, you can only either be a jock or a nerd and have sex appeal or be a wallflower. Yes, the people writing high school stories apparently wake up every morning yelling, “KIDS CAN’T BE COMPLEX!” and go about writing a movie where the guy dressed all in black is bad. This brings us to …
Everyone Is Always Part Of Some Group
The jocks and the cheerleaders, the popular and the not-so, the drama kids and band kids and mathletes and punks are always huddled together in their own little groups from which they never seem to stray lest everyone gets super confused. Mean Girls took this trope to the next level, even suggesting no one ever mixes with people of color:
Sure, kids will sometimes hang out with whoever they’re doing some school activity with, but anyone who’s ever been in an actual high school will tell you that most people mix it up a lot. Many of us weren’t part of a single clique — we all mingled and meshed and jumped around like head lice in a sandpit. Few kids in high school belonged to a single group, which is why teenagers in general struggle with the whole “sense of belonging” thing in the first place. We didn’t have that one BFF we’ve had since forever. We also didn’t have just one or two close friends, and if we did, those one or two changed ever so often. The BFF thing is quite rare. But, you know, not if we believe the movies.
Teenagers are constantly floating between friends and social groups, and some don't even have that group and aren’t total screw-ups because of it. In fact, many teenagers (just like people) don’t feel comfortable in a clique and prefer the freedom of hanging out with the drama kids in the morning, lunching with the computer nerds, and partying with the punks over the weekend. But apparently, that’ll just confuse an audience.
The Bullies Are Obvious
Let’s quickly list the movie bullies we have all come to know and loathe:
1) The jocks who will pick on anyone not on their sports team or, in the case of sexual suppression paired with aggression, any gay kid regardless of gender.
2) The popular girls, usually rich, mostly white, have the best hair.
3) Some big kid who uses his size to stomp everyone.
4) The alternative, better-than-thou types who think they’re different but secretly wish they were part of the popular crowd.
Anyone who knows anything about growing up and teen social dynamics will know that a lot of the time, bullies aren’t the obvious kids. It’s not the popular or, to put it differently, the socially agreeable girl who bullies everyone. It’s one of her friends who desperately wants attention and thinks being horrible to people will make her feel better. It’s not the biggest guy in the group, it’s some little f*cker who thinks it’s funny to hurt a guy by constantly giving him wedgies in the hallway.
It’s the kid who smiles that sickly suck-up smile at a teacher before turning around and spewing some vile rumor about someone to get a dopamine hit.
It’s the kid who seemingly has everything they want but still feels an overwhelming, uncontrollable emptiness inside.
It’s the kid who struggles to fit in with anyone and blames everyone for their pain and suffering.
Yes, sometimes it’s the obvious kid, but so many times, it’s the kids you’d least expect because no one really wants to talk about it. Most people simply shrug and say things like, “It’s part of our nature. It makes them tough.” But then a school shooting happens, and all everyone wants to know is whether the kid was bullied or whether they were the bully themselves. It’s the product of thinking that everyone needs to fit into a stereotyped box. It’s the idea that kids are either one or the other because it seems like the real challenge for us is to understand that sometimes, kids can be both.
And it would be kind of cool if the movies actually showed it.
Thumbnail: Columbia Pictures, Paramount Pictures