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Don't believe the hype about high school / by Liana Helene

In most high school movies that I can think of, “types” are portrayed through groups, and the people within them appear to act one way only. Usually, they find their place -- their spot in a group filled with people just like them. Generally, you’ve got your standard jocks, drama kids, nerds, and burnouts. These types have been shown in obviously exaggerated ways, and specific examples that automatically come to mind are movies like High School Musical and Mean Girls, yet even though these are meant to be extreme representations in the first place, people will take them more seriously than you would believe.

I'm 15, a sophomore in high school, and I can confirm this portrayal is mostly false. Though most people have qualities and attributes or hobbies that stand out as their character, even in high school, people are not this simple. I think it can be habitually assumed by adults, that teenagers are often immature or irresponsible, and not actually interested in things the way adults can be. This in itself can create a very black and white stereotype of someone by taking the trait that is most noticeable and turning into someone’s entire personality.

It is true, that individuals find their group of friends that are "like them”, and there’s nothing wrong with this. Making friends can be good, and knowing your own interests, even better. Why are these "cliques" so poorly portrayed in any form of media reflecting high school? For one thing, not everyone finds their group, and not all that are "outcasts" bond with each other. There are many imperfections and mishaps that occur in the social world of high school, just as there are in any other social situation.

From the perspective of many high school movies and TV shows, there is usually pressure on a certain individual to find a group that they fit with. This in itself assumes quite a lot; that people want to find a group, that finding a group is healthy and the right answer, and that finding a group will solve some sort of problem or give you something that you evidently lack. This specifically infers that teens need to conform to an identity, and that they need to use this identity to fit in with a group, which-aside from being unrealistic-doesn’t seem right at all as something that should be projected on someone by the media.

Not only from personal experience, but from the knowledge of how things can often work out between teenagers, pressuring yourself to find a group of people to be with all the time is totally unnecessary. This is not to say that one's aim should be to not bother to have friends, but instead to not feel as rigid when it comes to fitting in. For me, I am much more satisfied to wander around and - if I feel like it - mix with certain people and not try to bond with groups. This way, I don't have to get involved with their drama if I don't want to, and I also don't have to feel obliged to be in a group all of the time. I'm perfectly content with being alone at times. In contrast with the way various medias portray groups, finding a group is an expected measure one should take, while being alone is seen as sad. If it is not seen as sad, it is often idealized or put on a pedestal to appear as quirky, cute and interesting, when in fact it's sometimes just a social choice, lack of interest, or simply preference.

A lot of (if not most) movies and TV shows do not typically use actors the same ages of their characters to portray high schoolers. This is an interesting dilemma, wherein the desire to portray some sort of glamorized imperfection of the teenager is accomplished by choosing a model or movie star in their twenties. I've always thought this was terribly unfair. Even when some of these are entertaining, movies like Grease, Twilight, and Perks of Being a Wallflower use older actresses and actors to portrayer younger characters.

A current example seems to be that a lot of blogs and sites geared towards "teen grrlz", like to glorify high-school imagery using models well out of high school to show fabulous moments such as "afterschool" and "prom" and "sneaking out". I have often felt like a lot of sites use older models, even when the site is meant to be directed towards teens, and is meant to empower teens. The most disappointing and frustrating thing about this, is that this specific type of media wants to show things that are far more realistic than what is shown in most movies or shows about high school, yet they still have trouble showing actual young people in these representations. There should be more young people trying to represent themselves. I am of the firm belief that teenagers should be the actors in these movies and shows, and should be similarly featured in "teen grrl" blogs.

The misrepresentation of teens and of high school in the media started to bother me even before I started high school. Growing up, I never had access to cable television in my own home, yet I was still able to see the way lots of cable shows about teens affected the people around me starting in middle school and even before that. Girls I knew would start to act like teen characters that they saw on TV, and they would make a conscious effort to try and make their lives as much like the lives of these “perfect teens” as they could. Later in middle school, I even had a group of girls eject me from their friend group because they thought I wasn’t cool enough to join them in their effort to become “the popular girls”!

At the beginning of high school, I soon realized that trying to fit myself into a group was a waste of my time. More than ever, I had felt pressured to find people to connect with. I am currently at a small school, and it seemed that from day one, everyone already had their friends all sorted out. Unlike in many of the movies about high school that I had watched, I was beginning to find that the odd one out (me in this case), wasn’t going to magically discover some circle of friends that were just as different as I felt. When I stood in the corner and didn’t bother to interact with people, I wouldn’t get confronted, like all of the outcast characters did in movies, and sometimes people would even invite me to sit with them. (I soon learned that just because someone invites you to their table doesn’t mean they have any intention of talking to you.)

Outside of school, I was a different person. I still didn’t (and currently do not) have tons of friends, but I found a sort of comfort and place in the punk scene/DIY community of Boston. This was one of the reasons that I felt so comfortable being alone at school, and one of the reasons why I continue to not feel pressured to join a group to stick with permanently. It also enlightened me to the fact that not all systems had such a black and white social structure, and that it was possible to be a part of something where people were received as complex individuals regardless of age.

The reality is, school is only a small portion of one’s life as a whole. Media portraying high school tells teens that high school is a big deal. It says that high school is a time to find your group of friends, and that if you don’t find your group you’re not getting the full experience. I’ve learned not to believe the hype, to do what you like, and talk to the people who are kind and interesting human beings.

The issue of teen representation in the media is important, because people in their teens should feel respected and feel that their opinions and ideas are valued. Teens should be able to see that it's okay to be complex with many interests and emotions. This should not be ignored, but instead represented and celebrated for the odd and very much once-in-a-lifetime thing it is, whether one's experiences are positive or negative.

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