The epitome of every American teen rom-com from any decade: the big dance. Whether that be a Spring Fling, Prom, or Homecoming, the states’ youth seems to revolve around events such as these. Dramatic proposals, shopping for outfits, and the event itself are always the climax of several notable cult classics for students in high school. But of course, the highlight of the evening is always the victory of the royalty. The crowning of the king and queen is often the most anticipated part of the night for many kids in these movies, even those who only appear in the background. The crowd of supposedly cynical teens erupts into applause when the most popular of their peers are awarded for fulfilling their character arc. This sentiment of apparent popularity is a widely known and very vital aspect of most teen movies. Cliches, tropes, and stereotypes in general play a prominent part in dozens of films.
The classic character types in teen movies are common knowledge; people always fit neatly into the boxes of nerds, losers, jocks, etc. And while every student in America is aware of how outdated and unrealistic these staples are, they can still linger in the back of people’s minds.
“I was a theatre kid, I was in orchestra and the band, and everyone else was like a cheerleader or an athlete,” says Taylor May (12), a current senior who won Homecoming royalty as a freshman. As someone who has lived through the glory, her perspective has evolved since then.
“I think it’s something that everyone strives for because the media has portrayed it to be a popular person that needs to be one of these archetypes,” says May (12) “It’s made it competitive and a popularity contest”.
Even to this day, the influence of movies like Carrie, Mean Girls, and 10 Things I Hate About You permeate in the background of teen’s minds. For those who try for the position of Prom Queen, or in this case Homecoming royalty, the effects of these films are widely felt through their actions to achieve their goals. This mindset can be noticed in how school dances are portrayed to further these character types.
“I think, as it was initially created, Homecoming royalty is not the greatest thing. It’s based on stereotypes, and it’s a popularity contest, but I’m hoping that as years go on that this is more of a show of what CT looks like and who is a part of different communities at CT rather than just a popularity contest,” says Asaiah Gifford (12). But what do people desire when they say they want to win? Popularity? Notoriety? Recognition? It depends on who’s being asked.
“It should be seen as taking people who are active in the CT activities and such and putting them in a position to be rewarded for being active and being a good member of the CT community,” says Brandan Wurst (12). Several nominees share this mentality but are more focused on representing the school and showing school spirit.
“I think that being Hoco royalty means that you’re a good representative of the school,” says Eve Baker (10), a sophomore wanting the win to continue the tradition. “I also just want to follow the legacy of my sisters, who both of them won.”
Teen movies usually have quite the focus on a particular school or community of schools. The world is small to help the audience feel for the character’s struggles, even if some viewers would think of them as arbitrary or immature. Some students think of their school within their broader community, beyond the lens of a movie’s one-way mind.
“For me, it’s like representing my grade in front of the whole school, and then it’s like representing my school to other schools,” says Matthew Morcos (10). Being the best representative for a high schooler’s institution and their class is a part of Homecoming and Prom that movies tend to not delve into whatsoever, a sentiment not shared in actual schools.
“People vote for whoever they want to represent their class,” says David Behrendt (11). Popularity is more sensational than students who put effort into their work. Directors and screenwriters know this. But teenagers today can pick up on the possibly damaging effects these notions in the media create.
“Media portrays Homecoming royalty as a super basic universal high school experience where the popular kids compete in a contest, and they vote for the kids they know and all the popular kids are the winners of Hoco royalty, so I think it kind of skews our perspective on what Homecoming royalty should be,” says Gifford (12). This senior’s wish for a more progressive and up-to-date school dance is reflected in the underclassmen who have also been nominated and how they perceive what Homecoming means to them today.
“I think Hoco royalty is just a great way to represent the leaders of the school, and I don’t think it has anything to do with popularity or who people like the most. I think it’s just who you think shows the best school spirit and represents CT best as a whole,” says Sophia Bouyalitene (9). Overall, while films like Jennifer’s Body leave a lasting impression on their young impressionable audiences, students at Cherokee Trail are still able to enjoy the event despite the media’s pressure to experience school dances in a certain way, especially when people discover they were nominated,“I felt excited! I felt like I could run a lap around the school and not be tired, and like I could rule the world,” says Solomon Griffen (9). While the outside world has much to work on, the world of local schools and communities can thrive on the positivity of its peers.
Movies and shows, books and songs all glamorize teen life. Adults of all ages reminisce about their peak in high school and how they wish they could return to their joyful youths. Several external influences constantly remind students of how fragile and short their time is, how they have to make the most of today, or else they’ll regret tomorrow. But this mentality only weakens today’s generation. Being in the moment is what being young is about, and teenagers should be allowed to figure them out themselves in their own time without every film preaching how pertinent approval and admiration is. Events like Homecoming can become more than what the media portrays by moving on from the fallacies of perceived popularity.
Story Blurb: Homecoming royalty has been an ongoing tradition for decades throughout high schools in America. But how has it developed over the years, and how have teen movies centered around the event influenced today’s kids on what this event truly means for them, their peers, and their school? Elena Donatelli, Paige Kyle, Austin Frances, and Lexi Cipriani are here to tell you.
This article originally appeared in CT Today.