Tuesday, July 18, 2006

How Great/Terrible Was Your High School Experience?

Watching and reading a lot of media about teens, I almost take for granted that everyone's high school experience was traumatic and sad. That's certainly the favored representation: embarrassment in front of peers, apathetic or authoritarian teachers, mean girl cliques, stilted romances. There are several ways to explain this. First, everyone's high school experience was awful, in its own way (remember the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer where Buffy can read everyone's thoughts?). Second, it's just more dramatic that way, i.e. happy stories are boring (Freaks and Geeks mocks happy high school stories in its opening shot, craning away from a budding jock/cheerleader romance on top of the bleachers to the social rejects down below). Third, insofar as good art grows out of suffering, the artists who make teen narratives give accounts of high school based on their own unhappiness during adolescence. Though they indeed frequently produce "good art," it perhaps biases our view of high school, maybe even making us remember it as worse than it actually was (worse relative to the rest of our lives, of course). And if high school dramas show the experience as miserable for a few alienated outsiders, does that mean that it really was great for most people?

I ask because I'm currently watching two teen TV series which were cancelled due to low ratings before they even finished their first season--Freaks and Geeks and My So Called Life--and I wonder if the adolescent misery factor had anything to do with their lack of success. Of course, TV shows fail to gain an audience for tons of different reasons, so I don't want to read too much into this. But compare these shows to a few recent teen series that have done well in the ratings: The O.C. (last season notwithstanding) and MTV's Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County. Both have drama and conflict, certainly, but both also celebrate the adolescent years and show their kids having a grand old time. Maybe the wider television audience remembers their high school favorably, and it's only the artists (and critics) that were perpetually unhappy.

And, frankly, all this teen angst is wearing on me. I find Freaks and Geeks amazing and totally watchable, but only because it tempers its characters' constant mortifying embarrassment with extremely funny moments. Its tone is not melodramatic but sardonic, like a lot of the best stories of adolescence, going back to Dickens. In contrast, My So Called Life, while compelling "quality television," sure takes itself seriously. I was enthralled with the first few episodes, finding them prescient, intelligent, and sensitive. After watching several in a row, however, I felt myself drawing away from the characters, wishing they would just get over themselves.

Thinking back to my own high school experience, it was a mix of joy and anguish. I wasn't popular, I was painfully shy, and I hated being patronized by the institution. But I also met friends that I still have to this day with which I had all kinds of fun, and I began all manner of intellectual pursuits under the tutelage of some very devoted teachers. It wasn't perfect, but it wasn't constant suffering, either.

So, how was high school for you?


Blogger RBG said...

Well, I was nominated for homecoming queen during my senior year, so I can't complain. :) I think people who had even slightly better than completely dreadful high school experiences are hesitant to speak up for fear of being mistaken for the jock whose best four years of life were between the ages of 14 and 18. Every high school has them. Personally, my high school experience overseas in a public, but quite small (graduating class of 42) school afforded me a unique opportunity that I realize is not typical stateside. I had a pretty decent experience overall but I was definitely ready to move on by graduation.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Chrissa said...

I think mine was somewhat similar to what you describe - I was generally shy and awkward, but was lucky to have some good friends, and classes where I felt comfortable and valued. There was a lot of yearning to be accepted by the "popular" kids, and trying to figure out what made them that way, and also a lot of (guilty) relief that I wasn't among the most maligned and geeky of my schoolmates. All in all, I probably got off easy, but I still have to admit it: each day was agony!

7:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

High School was a painful world in which authority was given to generally unsophisticated teachers who had little to no appreciation for great ideas, culture, or art. Nor did these authority figures appreciate when students had nuanced and sophisticated ideas. Instead they favored cooperation and a shallow, cheerful attitude.
As for the students, the little monsters were intent on participating in an imaginary power struggle, where gaining social power meant terrorizing those weaker or uglier than yourself and where the most popular fellows and ladies were the least compassionate, and most intolerable people I have ever encountered. I hope their lives pass without ever having a meaningful thought, except perhaps the realization of their own meaninglessness and failure as a human being.

12:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

High school for me, was tolerable. that would have to be the best word to describe it. Going to a Christian school in Michigan, I was pretty popular, had a lot of friends. But I also wasn't afraid to be myself, which, I think, scared a lot of people. Knowing your social identity was very rare in high school, and I was lucky enough to know who I was and stood by my decisions.

Like I said, I had a lot of friends, but a lot of them were fake, which comes with the title of being popular. They would leave me out of things, plan things around my back, and talk about me behind my back. And these were my close friends. They aren't always like that, don't get me wrong, they're a ton of fun. We have so much fun together when we hang out. But they are fake.

Junior year was pretty bad. They left me out, for pretty much the whole first semester. Dis included me from things. But what could I do? They were my "friends." All the cliques were already set, and I had no where else to go. So I put up with it. The second half of the year I confronted them, and things changed a little. They started treating me better, but I honestly didn't care. I still knew they were fake. So I was just patient through out my high school carrier because I knew I knew better. I knew I was above them when it came to being true to yourself. So i sat home sometimes, I'd rather sit home and be with people who love me rather then sit and watch movies with people who only like me some of the time and be judged and dis included. So I waited.

This was just my friends in high school by the way. I had PLEANTY of friends outside of my school who were much more accepting and chill about things. So I hung around them a lot. But in school, it was pretty much hell. Putting on a face for all my fake annoying popular friends. Putting up with their preppy, stuck up shit. Being judged.

Basicly all what popular people are are insecure. They bring people down to make themselves feel better. Trust me, I know first hand. Being in the popular group, but still seeing the bigger picture, you notice a lot. One of my good friends in the popular group told me that people dis include me because they're jealous of how easily I get along with everyone and how confident I was and how I had so many other friends outside of high school.

But even so, everyones fake in high school. Even if they tell you differently, they're being fake to you.

High schools rough. My best advice is to just get through it and chase your dreams as soon as you get out of that hell hole.

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love high school. I'm not saying I don't complain and wish certain aspects of it are different, but hey; nothing's perfect. Freshman year I spent the majority of my time being ditched by my friends and wishing my life was like the O.C. When I finished watching all the old reruns I realized how un-realistic shows like that are. It would be great to have one super close best friend and an amazing boyfriend, but lets get real. High school just isn't like that. Here's the kicker though, I have a group of friends that I love. Anyone inside of that group I can tell anything to and am always able to have fun with them. I work hard, get stressed out over work, break out and go through all the gawky uncomfortable situations that come with teen age years; however, the few great memories out way the millions of bad ones.
High school is a place for people to figure themselves out. It's a place to make friends. It's a place to do all the crazy activities that you don't get a chance to do when you are older. It's a place for school spirit. It's a place for weird clothes, and colored highlights. It's a place for memories.
I'm not little miss popular. My year book isn't filled with paragraphs from the student body, but I have fun with my small group of friends. When we get together we make something of our insignifigant (i can't spell) lives. We make each other feel important, even though we are only 16.
So, I guess what I'm trying to say, is for all you people who consider your high school years to have been average, to all the people who looked forward to the day when you got to through up caps to the sky, things are what you make of them. In high school you will not find your husband, heck you probably won't find your brides maids, but you will find friends and make memories.
I'm going into my junior year. I'm not saying that I don't look forward to college, but I also don't want to grow up too fast. By nature high school isn't extrodinary, but it molds everyone into who they become for the extrodinary (sorry i can't spell) moments. . . and I have to say, I'm having a pretty damn good time.

10:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm a gr. 8 student so far, and I'm very scared of going to high school. It's not really the work or homework because I'm a pretty birght student. But what scares me is the people around me or the crowd. Obviously there not going to be the people at elementary school who have shared very fun moments with me and maybe it's just because I'm used to those people. Everyone tells me that I will keep some of my friends from elementary school but there are also other people who I'm going meet and become new friends with and maybe they will feel the same way as I do on the first day of school. I just want to know one thing; Is it dangerous and scary with people around you bothering you?

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My high school year went well. I was so sacred on my first day, but as I met new poeple during that first week, I loved it. There were some things that I didm't like here and ther but over all it was the best experience of my life. But I still kept my friends I hade in elementary school but mostly my frineds were all new.There were some rude people, but most of the poeple were very nice. It was also very fun how we shared about our nationalities to make us feel comfirtable. But, if your a good student and want to learn, the pople that don't want to learn, who you don't want to be around, won't even attend classes so you don't have to worry about them. That is something I thought was really nice. In my opinion, I think that high school is great!

5:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No more then.... One word.... "Confusing"
I asked myself so many question and no one really answered them ,and there not really supposed to be answered.....

Why do we smile when it hurts most, and natural want to...so we feel strong but never are
Why do we laugh at our mistakes and think its before anyone else can... But somehow think ur a dumbass
Why do we say the things we say, maybe its cause we just secretly want to be admired as much as a popular kid...and liked for something small, cause Thts all u have... And loved for sumthing big when u don't have the talent
To me... It feels as if all my days are the same and when something new and exciting happens ... It's obviously not for me... I go to school do the same thing day after day... And go home... Not that hard... But more sneaky then usual...
Kit I had to choose one word to scribe high school.... "confusing".... Yet interesting in a barbaric way
_Savannah Jane Abboud 1998-2016

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


From Blogger Bob

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