Somewhere about mid April of my senior year my English teacher waxed eloquently about the virtues of Shakespearean sonnets. There was to be a big game on the diamond behind the school later that day. But Mr. Sachwald's primary concern was helping students understand that the flowery imagery of Elizabethan poetry was alluding to something more, something greater than mere daisies. Frustrated at our apparent lack of insight he stopped and tried to simplify. "Okay...it's springtime, right? Springtime! When a young man's thoughts turn to...turn to...what do a young man's thoughts turn to in spring?" Being the varsity first baseman I piped up much to Sachwald's chagrin and boldly replied, "Baseball!" The correct answer of course would have been love. But I was pretty sure my sardonic retort would be well received given the White Sox jacket hanging over the back of Mr. Sachwald's chair. Also he often attended our home games. Nonetheless I offer up this little anecdote as proof that when it comes to romanticism I'm not afraid of throwing cold water all over it. Which brings me to the topic at hand: the high school prom. Prom. What a stupid idea.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure let it be known that I was far from a high school Romeo. In fact I didn't even go to the prom. There was no girl who wanted to go with me and no girl I wanted to go with, nor was I at all interested in wearing tails or a corsage and pretending to be sociable. I spent my prom night like I spent most other Saturday nights; grilling chicken and crab cakes for just above minimum wage until 9, then playing ping pong and watching Shania Twain music videos in a friend's basement until the wee hours. Had Shania offered to accompany me to the prom then perhaps I would have considered. But otherwise I couldn't for the life of me understand the appeal of such an event. Now as a crusty old father of two I'm even less amused by the idea. Why?
1.) You can't spell promiscuous without prom. High school administrators and brave chaperones annually complain about the nature of what passes for dancing at these things. Meanwhile students lament that they must suffer the indignity of dancing under the glare of undimmed lights because gone are the innocent days of the Jitterbug and a nice waltz. Apparently the Cupid Shuffle can't even satisfy the itch. Now there's "grinding," which likely serves only as a precursor to "twerking," both of which likely serve in many cases only as precursors to something else entirely.
2.) The prom is pregame for the "hook up." The "something else entirely" referred to above would be the "hook up," which of course means different things to different people, but generally ranges from a comparatively benign make out session to sexual intercourse. The potentiality of the "hook up" provides a lot of motivation for prom, as prom with all it's "grinding" and "twerking" provides a charged atmosphere conducive to such behaviors.
3.) The prom promotes materialism. Good news! The recession is over. That is why according to USA Today students attending proms last year saw fit to spend on average $1139 on the affair. In my case that would have been an entire year's worth of grilling chicken and crab cakes! How many better things are there to spend over $1100 on? One could broaden his horizons and go almost half way around the world for $1100! But no... Better a guy spend that money on a drum of Axe Body Spray and a fancy limo to drive him and his sweetie less than 5 miles to go dancing. After all, he might "hook up" with a girl whom he will likely never talk to again, or wish he would never have to talk to again, after they graduate.
4.) The prom creates stress. Many of us will find it difficult to fall asleep on at least one Saturday night in May. Should the phone ring any time past 10 p.m. on that particular night we're likely to jump out of our skin. Why? Because God only knows what the kids are doing after the prom is over. Now of course your son or daughter knows better than to drink alcohol, and he or she certainly knows better than to get into a car being driven by someone else who's been drinking. But we're also betting on everyone else's sons and daughters knowing better as well.
5.) The prom is a narcissistic enterprise contributing to a false perception of reality. Apparently by not attending I missed out on one of the most memorable nights of my life. I don't know. Have you seen Shania Twain in those early videos (speaking of false perceptions of reality)? Besides, I've come across plenty of people over the years who have plenty of memories, regrettable memories, from their prom nights. This year countless "selfies" will crop up on Instagram of young people who have convinced themselves they are having the time of their lives because they look great and for one night there are no consequences. By the time they're 30 years old they'll all realize, hopefully, that their lives are defined by more than looks and there's no action that is free of consequences.
Am I being a bit uber-prudish and overly alarmist in my assessment of prom? You bet I am! I defy anyone to explain the logic behind spending 14 to 18 years attempting to teach kids to resist the temptations of among other things alcohol, excess, sex, and self-absorption only to set them up with one night, one school sanctioned and parent supported night, on which all of those temptations are bound to arise in the name of "having a good time." Were we teaching them to avoid all these things because we wanted them to have a perpetually bad time previous to prom night? Prom has become the postmodern world's compacted version of the Amish rumspringa, when adolescents are turned loose in order to test out all that they've been previously warned of and kept from.
Fortunately most survive unscathed, physically and emotionally. Prom, others will say, is a necessary rite of passage for young people. Bull. It's a societal construct the likes of standardized testing, placing undue pressure on young people who either don't measure up or simply choose to color outside the lines. And the prom is just another contributing factor to the meltdown more and more young people are experiencing in the pressure cooker of adolescence. It's costly. It's risky. It's unnecessary.
Think I'm crazy? You should hear what I think about high school dating, which for the record I did participate in...until I realized she was no good at ping pong. But that will have to wait. It's springtime. There's a ball game on.