Apparently, the show Glee is now the major American cultural export. At least according to my students, whose visions of America are based on it. So this week they peppered me with more questions about the accuracy of such representations of high school. I am their fount of American cultural revelation. (Or maybe they were just trying to distract me from talking about sixteenth-century government formation? nah.)
You know how on TV, high school is always kind of simplistic? Like, there's one cool group and everybody wishes they were in that cool group? I tried to explain that real high school actually has lots of different groups that are on a spectrum of coolness -- people can be cool and nerdy in lots of different ways. It was difficult for them to grasp, mostly because apparently in their schools growing up, there really was only one cool group. At boarding school, for example, you sat in particular seats at the Harry-Potteresque dining table. If you couldn't sit there, you were not cool.
Among the strange questions they asked me were these gems:
- Do cheerleaders really wear their uniforms everyday?
- At lunch time, are there really lots of smaller tables with different cliques sitting in their own special area?
- Are students really involved in school activities like on Glee? (In England, the less you participate --the less you seem to care-- the cooler you are.)
- Do tough guys really slam you into your locker if you're a nerd?
- Are high scool students really that emotional, whiney, and manipulative? (Why play mind games when you could just punch each other's lights out and get it over with?)
I tried to explain the different types of un-coolness: anime clubs, theatre freaks, band geeks, computer nerds, goths, choir members singing in the halls. Each group was, on the whole, uncool. But members of those groups were also cool in their own circle, and the groups were more- or less-cool in relation to other groups.
Turns out the most difficult concept to explain is the huge but subtle difference in coolness between cheerleading, drill team, dance company, and color guard. Because when you describe these groups of girls, it sounds as if they were all doing basically the same thing. And weren't they, really? What a complex society we lived in, when I thought we were just being force-fed the periodic table of elements, Beowulf, and the pythagorean theorem.