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Prom Story
June 17, 2004 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Prom Story In a series of essays at Slate (1, 2, 3) a journalist in his mid-20s lightheartedly recounts the experience of escorting a 17-year-old girl to her high-school prom (purely for journalistic purposes, it's worth noting). Posters at Slate's reader discussion forum, in spite of its supremely cumbersome interface, express their strong (and not always coherent) disapproval, based mostly on the age difference between the author and his prom date. The author of the essays responds: "As the film critic Richard Roeper (who is much older, and much more influential than myself) pointed out in Esquire recently, this is indeed a strange cultural moment, one made all the stranger by the fact that we're not supposed to admit [it] actually exists." I'm not the biggest fan of journalists who engage in seemingly socially taboo behavior for the sole purpose of writing an article, but this made for interesting reading nonetheless.
posted by Prospero (53 comments total)

 
This excerpt from the third essay gets at what's most interesting about the series, as well as why its underlying ethics are problematic:

"It's official: I'm ready to go back to New York, a place where you're constantly surrounded by adults who merely act like too-savvy teenagers, as opposed to the real thing. I like Sarah and tell her that I'm having a great time, which I am, in an awkward sort of way, but I do not want to go out with a 17-year-old ever again. How did I ever even think I did? [...] It also strikes me that tonight has provided me with a cursory sense of how strange it must be to be a parent of an adolescent, a species that seems like an adult one second, an amoeba the next. This is the paradox, I think, that's largely responsible for why we as a culture are so prone to fetishize them. Because the sad fact is this: You get older, you grow jaded, and it becomes difficult to be genuinely shocked by something that doesn't involve, say, global strife on a mind-bogglingly massive scale. You start to crave a petty thrill. You miss it. And so you want to be able to cringe at the notion that kids are out there getting laid in parking lots, while continuing to demand details, because that way you can revel in your own manufactured shock while tricking yourself into believing you once lived in more innocent times. It's something to do. It's kind of silly. It's also, as Sarah would say, kind of gross."
posted by Prospero at 11:57 AM on June 17, 2004


I can't help getting the impression that Slate's readers just don't get the point. But maybe that's the point.
posted by tommasz at 12:08 PM on June 17, 2004


I went to my prom with a 27-year-old guy. Of course, he didn't write about it.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:19 PM on June 17, 2004


Proms are lame.

I spent the night of my school's junior prom 500 miles away eating Chinese takeout in a graveyard, alone. And I was thankful.
posted by jonmc at 12:24 PM on June 17, 2004


Man...eating chinese takeout in a graveyard WAS our prom...
posted by sexymofo at 12:32 PM on June 17, 2004


Proms are lame.

Yeah, but getting a girl out of a prom dress is a cliche that I'm glad I've experience first hand. However, if I could have cut out the photos, corsage shit and dancing, it would have been much improved.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:33 PM on June 17, 2004


Well, aside from the question of how he came up with the idea of doing this in the first place and what exactly was he looking for out of it, it's not a badly written piece. A little skimworthy, but entirely fine.

I do get the feeling he glossed over some parts of the evening, especially toward the end. His narrative kind of breaks down between the prom and the afterparty. (I'm not accusing him of anything, just saying.)

(My date to the prom married her math teacher. They were already an item on prom night, and since school was pretty much over, they were together all night, so my beard duty was rather brief. I got hamered on the stairs with the punk & mod kids in our dolled-up finery, and I had a blast.)
posted by chicobangs at 12:36 PM on June 17, 2004


And then there are funny as hell prom stories like this eBay auction as a result of a Prom night gone wrong.

I never went to a prom, never saw the point of paying tons of money to hang out with the same losers I spent every day in school with in uncomfortable clothes in the, often, vain hope of getting laid.
posted by fenriq at 12:36 PM on June 17, 2004


Man, those folks have way too much time on their hands...

I don't think I even knew when my prom was.
posted by lodurr at 12:38 PM on June 17, 2004


I went to my Senior Prom with my then 28 year old fiance. We left early and went to hang out at our bar with my parents. My Junior Prom I went with one of my dearest frends who was 27.

No big deal, both of my dates spent time talking with my teachers, several of whom were younger than them.
posted by SuzySmith at 12:47 PM on June 17, 2004


Is it ok if someone tells me how old the writer is so I won't have to wade through what seems not worth wading through? First, a girl 17 is underage. Wait till she is 18. Second, a girl should be 22 before you begin to get serious--before that, generally, they are not mature enough to make responsible choicesl Third, I have been told that a quick blowjob is viewed as no big deal so there is here no big deal. Fourth, if the writer has reservations,he should try the mother.Fifth, age difference no big deal--I can cite my own case but only upon request.
posted by Postroad at 12:53 PM on June 17, 2004


First, a girl 17 is underage.

Underage for what? Going to a dance? I didn't read the whole thing, but a good bit of it. Did I miss the part where he says they had sex? Or are we just supposed to infer that?

If not, um... what exactly is the big deal again?
posted by soyjoy at 12:57 PM on June 17, 2004


Guess what just came on the office radio as I was reading this thread.

The universe has a sense of humor.
posted by jonmc at 12:58 PM on June 17, 2004


please don't. we'll check out your blog in case of emergency.
;)

anyway, as a non-USian, allow me the simple furriner question re proms:

what's
the
point
?
?
?

really. from afar they look just... dumb?
why is it that such a lame tradition hasn't died yet?
posted by matteo at 1:01 PM on June 17, 2004


my first sentence in the above comment is of course meant for Postroad
my bad
posted by matteo at 1:03 PM on June 17, 2004


Matteo, it's a ceremony, a rite of passage.

Lots of kids don't feel they need it, and they probably don't. But for many, it's the end of an era in their lives, before which they're dependent on parents and cliques and petty crap, and after which they (often) move out of their childhood rooms, go off to some college, and begin the slow ramp up to adulthood.

Despite the fact that it's rarely that cut and dried these days, that is the general idea, and the need for such a ceremony is still quite present, at least in North American culture.

Think of it as a secular bar/bat mitzvah, five or so years late.

Your mileage, of course, may vary, and I suspect we'll hear lots of examples of such.
posted by chicobangs at 1:10 PM on June 17, 2004


why is it that such a lame tradition hasn't died yet?

Surely you jest....

Consider that this is a country where the President urged us to bet the turrorists by SHOPPING them to death...where we celebrate a holiday dedicated to conspicuous consumption [self-link]... where it's big GOOD news when yet another holiday, Halloween, becomes thus commercialized (sorry, no handy links)....

You get the picture now, right?

And it's not just the tuxes and the prom dresses and the limos, though those are important, to be sure. It sets the tone for the rest of these kids careers as consumers: To really have a SPECIAL time and make that RITE OF PASSAGE complete, you've got to spend a ton of cash.

This is America, after all: Land of the Bought.

ON PREVIEW: Seems to me I saw a story recently about gentile kids demanding bar/bat mitzvahs, but I can't lay my hands on it...maybe I heard it on Whadyaknow.
posted by lodurr at 1:13 PM on June 17, 2004


17 is underage for sex?

Haha @ America.
posted by Blue Stone at 1:16 PM on June 17, 2004


Man I'm down for dancing in the inner circle!
hoot hoot! Who's with me?
posted by Peter H at 1:18 PM on June 17, 2004


matteo -- its something of a coming-of-age ritual, such as it is. Prom is the night that you can slip into the old man's car and take it out for a spin and pretend you are all grown up. You go out to a fancy dinner, dress up all fancy. Lots of nerves, lots of energy.

Re Prospero's original comment: I don't believe that the point of the article was really "what its like to be a 27-year-old man going to a prom, tee hee", though obviously that factored into it. It seemed that he was sort of curious to look at the process from adult eyes, see it from outsider's perspective on the inside.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:18 PM on June 17, 2004


Postroad:
age difference no big deal--I can cite my own case but only upon request.
Wow, you remember that long ago.

[I kid, I kid]
posted by DBAPaul at 1:18 PM on June 17, 2004


Matteo--rituals that makr "big steps" in life's many changes...how many rituals have you taken part in since birth? You will not have a ritual for a divorce, and your death ritual will focus upon you but will be mostly ignored by you...as the guy says: take away tradition and life becomes as precarious as a fiddler on a roof. Now go back to my blog and do the ritual of PayPal
posted by Postroad at 1:21 PM on June 17, 2004


it's worth wading thru. he's a good writer.

i can only assume the rest of your comment was supposed to be nonsensical.

Fourth, if the writer has reservations, he should try the mother.

i like the strategy.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:27 PM on June 17, 2004


I am in the car with my girlfriend, sporting an ill-fitting tuxedo, fighting heart palpitations, and questioning my overall sanity as we drive to meet my date for prom.

First, a girl 17 is underage.
Not in Texas, besides her mother set it up - read the first part at least - his girlfriend went with him, picking the prom date up. Plus the 17 year old's boyfriend would not take her - they suck.

Postroad the answer to your other questions, you'll have to ask a teen. Don't think it is a time thing, more like the girl's thing.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:40 PM on June 17, 2004


I didn't go to my proms. There was no chance in hell that I was going to:
a) get shot down over-and-over until I actually secured a date
b) spend all that money trying to look cool and then
c) spend the whole evening feeling awkward because I didn't understand my peers anyway

I have never felt like I missed out on anything. High school sucked. Most of the kids that I went to high school with sucked too.
I spent the night of my senior prom playing D&D with my friends.
posted by djeo at 1:50 PM on June 17, 2004


I don't believe that the point of the article was really "what its like to be a 27-year-old man going to a prom, tee hee", though obviously that factored into it. It seemed that he was sort of curious to look at the process from adult eyes, see it from outsider's perspective on the inside.

I'd agree with that mostly, though I don't think he succesfully maintains that outsider's stance consistently (and that it begins to break down in the third essay, when he inclines toward privileging recounting his own reaction to events over recording the events themselves). But I do think the self-flagellating-slash-accusatory way in which he winds things up is disingenuous:

"And so you want to be able to cringe at the notion that kids are out there getting laid in parking lots, while continuing to demand details, because that way you can revel in your own manufactured shock while tricking yourself into believing you once lived in more innocent times."

It's a variant of the Natural Born Killers defense, in which the artist plies the audience with sensationalist details, and then accuses it of immorality just because they paid attention. (For what it's worth, I think he's a talented writer, other than that.)
posted by Prospero at 1:51 PM on June 17, 2004


Wow. USENET with a crappier interface. I have vague memories that once upon a time, the contributors to the Fray were generally articulate and sensible. Rose coloured glasses?
posted by maudlin at 1:54 PM on June 17, 2004


Postroad the answer to your other questions
Excuse me, you were telling - not asking.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:02 PM on June 17, 2004


Most of the kids that I went to high school with sucked too.

And quite a few of them at the Prom if that article is any indication.
posted by biffa at 2:14 PM on June 17, 2004


Posters at Slate's reader discussion forum
Did some of these poster just read the titles? Their comments pancake their lack of a common sense - a high school senior w/o a date adding her boyfriend will not take her + a journalist whom is a friend w/o a spring story(guessing here) adding his girlfriend backs the idea = better than watching reality TV. Still waiting for a foursome comment here by them. They should have filmed and played it back on channel 4, fox tv in Dallas, so these commenters laking sense would understand it better.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:21 PM on June 17, 2004


Think of it as a secular bar/bat mitzvah, five or so years late

Seems more like a big collective quincenera to me. Not that I have much experience with quinceneras.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:26 PM on June 17, 2004


I give my prom(s) (we had a junior as well as senior prom) a B-, which is about par for the course for my high school experience.

Prom is not something to be dissed or put on a pedestal. It's just a party put on under the aegis of the school and the parents. It's not for the jocks, the burners, the geeks or the misfits. It was more for your parents than for you anyway (just like graduation ceremonies). It was a thing for you to go to, accompanied by your friends. It was a sign to your parents that you were healthy and had at least some friends and possibly even a member of the opposite sex that didn't find you too too repulsive.

At both my proms I spent exactly 30 minutes at the school dance. The rest was spent at a tux shop, a flower shop, my home (pictures!), her home (lots of pictures!), an expensive restaraunt, a limo, a hotel room, and finally inside the very moist kitty of my date. I recall both of them very, very, very fondly.
posted by vito90 at 2:26 PM on June 17, 2004


I went to 3 proms. They were all fun experiences. My date and I were both geeky, but the whole punk/freak/geek gang was there too - looking spiffy. We went to the beach afterwards and just had a great time. I think I am a minority in having a good time (and perhaps more so in having it more than once). I believe it fills the social gap left from no longer having your wedding at 17.
posted by milovoo at 2:28 PM on June 17, 2004


Having just attended my 17-or-18-year-old cousin's graduation party (a few weeks after walking out of Mean Girls feeling dirty), I can easily relate to the author. I'm in my mid-twenties now and despite being reasonably in tune with pop- and youth culture, I simply couldn't figure out how to talk to her, her college-sophomore brother and their friends.

Years of age-related differentiation (high school kids are cooler than junior high kids, seniors over freshmen, college freshmen over high school seniors, college upperclassman over college underclassman, post-college over collegiate, two years out versus one year, four years versus two, etc...) suddenly washed away and I realized that these kids were really, really bright and had it together in a way that I don't know that I did then and may not now.

Even as my brain struggled with humanizing these kids, I had a kneejerk impulse to condescend to them. It was a bizarre experience watching them solemnly undertake some of the obligatory rites of passage that I remember thinking were so important and unique at the time but which I now know were anything but. I guess it all comes down to the whole knowledge-can-be-taught, wisdom-can-only-be-learned thing.

In any case, for my part, it was tough enough being a kid 10 years or so ago, and I'm fascinated with how it must feel now. But I'm also at a watershed moment, I think, where it is simply an impossibility to genuinely understand, because I can't experience it firsthand. The article did a great job of filling in some blanks, though. Loved it.
posted by Sinner at 2:29 PM on June 17, 2004


Proms are an excuse for teenagers to buy a pretty dress/dress in evening clothes without being at work, have a "fancy" dinner, and dance like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers for a change.

I grew up in a very small rural community, and it was nice to have one social event that didn't revolve around riding around in a pickup truck and drinking beer.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:57 PM on June 17, 2004


dance like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers...

not at my prom. unless fred and ginger danced to rap or dry humped on the dance floor.
posted by Recockulous at 3:09 PM on June 17, 2004


Sidhedevil, you left off a limousine ride for some.
posted by thomcatspike at 3:17 PM on June 17, 2004


Sidhedevil - I grew up in a small rural community too. Everything, especially prom, involved riding around in a pickup truck and drinking beer.
posted by nathan_teske at 3:18 PM on June 17, 2004


While some people really get off on planned events, personally the best things in life just happen out of nowhere. Planning them raises the hype value too much.

That said our school was crazy about breathalyzing everyone that went in so that meant cramming the "fun" in after the dance. Which meant highly emotionally charged inexperienced girls were trying as hard as possible to create as much drama as possible. I guess people who had girlfriends instead of just a date had a better time, I know while I enjoyed my prom on a "yeah I had to do it" level, it's not something I'd repeat.

Especially when you're too cool to realize sitting back and making fun of it is totally uncool yet enjoying yourself is too forced and you have no mind altering substances to put you at ease.
posted by geoff. at 4:53 PM on June 17, 2004


Oh I forgot to add that I think parents are way more into prom then the kids. It holds so much more value to them as they realize all the "adult" things that the kids will be doing. Of course my advice was a stern "do what you want, get anyone pregnant and you would have fucked more then just her."

I did not get anyone pregnant.
posted by geoff. at 4:55 PM on June 17, 2004


Ha! The author's discomfort is mildly amusing to me.

I still occasionally go to proms - and I do the same thing there that I did at the four proms and four homecomings I went to in high school - work!

One of my companies does large-scale DJ/video services. We set up 10'x30' screens and run around the dance floor with cameras. We play music videos and CDs. We supply lighting and fog machines.

Every year, on the floor, it's the same thing, and has been since I first went to one in 1986. It's a roiling mass of drunken, hormone-laden teens, rubbing upon each other until they can leave to go fuck at the hotel rooms they've secured.

If I had a nickel for every time I witnessed a teenage boy rubbing up against a teenage girl to the point where her dress came up enough for the entire world to see that she wasn't wearing underwear...
posted by tomierna at 5:32 PM on June 17, 2004


Every year, on the floor, it's the same thing, and has been since I first went to one in 1986. It's a roiling mass of drunken, hormone-laden teens, rubbing upon each other until they can leave to go fuck at the hotel rooms they've secured.

Sounds like weddings without the chicken dance. And more people getting into the action.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:26 PM on June 17, 2004


tomierna: If I had a nickel for every time I witnessed a teenage boy rubbing up against a teenage girl to the point where her dress came up enough for the entire world to see that she wasn't wearing underwear...

If you had a video camera running, I suspect you could get substantially more than a nickel.
posted by Sinner at 7:39 PM on June 17, 2004


Sinner:

Nope, we don't record the evidence. The cameras just run to a switch and then to the screen.

Plus, our cameramen are trained to keep the nasty out of frame so it doesn't find it's way onto the screen.

If we were to record these actions, we'd be liable for criminal child pornography, I'm sure.

Let me be clear, though, I'm not happy about this state of affairs - I don't want my employees or my company to get into trouble because some oversexed people who happen to be children in the eyes of the law can't keep their pants on in public.
posted by tomierna at 7:47 PM on June 17, 2004


One does not go to prom if one does not go to high school. So says bargle.
posted by bargle at 7:55 PM on June 17, 2004


Correct. Most high schools have age limitations on who can go to prom. I happen to be dating a 17-year-old (I'm 23. It's gone great for five months but the instant she graduated from high school it seemed to change.)

Anyway, her principal wouldn't let me go because I might supply liquor. Which is ironic, seeing as we all have wine whenever I visit her at her parent's house. Oh well. So after I encouraged her to go, I couldn't. She went with someone else.

I keep on vowing I won't date 18 year olds. (17 in this case.) But I'm afraid the older women are smart enough to know not to date me. So it goes. Back to contemplating whether she'll dump me or not.
posted by Happydaz at 8:10 PM on June 17, 2004


Ugh. Ugh to proms and ugh to journalists taking 17 year olds to proms. Just ugh.

I spent my senior prom night waiting tables at the crappy italian restaurant I worked at during High School. That night I waited on a few friends--one of whom hated her date I remember--and then got drunk with the rest of the kitchen staff when my shift was over. There was this one guy there, named Gooby, a dishwasher. Gooby could pour a pitcher of beer straight down his throat without even swallowing. Amazing. The things I learned there. Here's to you Gooby! Where ever you are!
posted by octobersurprise at 8:32 PM on June 17, 2004


Well, at my prom, they made us dance some "grown-up" dances as well as our usual (this was the 80s, so there was a lot of pogoing, which is not easy in a prom dress and heels!)

As for limousines, HA! And everyone's parents let them take the car instead of the pickup, just this once. The beer, though, was omnipresent.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:02 PM on June 17, 2004


17 is underage for sex?

No, it's not, in most states (laws vary), but it's a persistant if idiotic myth. The fact that it refuses to die probably says something about the American psyche but I can't imagine what.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 7:52 AM on June 18, 2004


But I'm afraid the older women are smart enough to know not to date me.

Your candor is refreshing. So was Danny Elfman, back in the day:

I, I, I love little girls they make me feel so good
I love little girls they make me feel so bad
When they're around they make me feel
Like i'm the only guy in town
I love little girls they make me feel so good

They don't care if i'm a one way mirror
They're not frightened by my cold exterior

They don't ask me questions
They don't want to scold me
They don't look for answers
They just want to hold me
Isn't this fun
Isn't this what life's all about
Isn't this a dream come true
Isn't this a nightmare too

oingo boingo

posted by soyjoy at 9:00 AM on June 18, 2004


17 really is underage for sex in the United States. While individual states have differing laws, federal rules are different. If you cross state borders to have sex with someone under 18, you're breaking the law. Even if you travel to (insert foreign nation) and do it, while remaining within the laws of that country, you can be prosecuted when you get back. And woe betide you if you have pictures of a naked 17 year old, or R.Kelly-esque videotapes.
posted by Jart at 11:46 AM on June 18, 2004


In the cities I've lived in, prom is about getting shitfaced, stoned, and fucked.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:51 PM on June 18, 2004


17 really is underage for sex in the United States. While individual states have differing laws, federal rules are different. If you cross state borders to have sex with someone under 18, you're breaking the law.

Special Note to U.S. Citizens Travelling Abroad

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but it says, "for the purpose of engaging in any sexual act with a person under 18 years of age THAT WOULD BE IN VIOLATION OF CHAPTER 109A if the sexual act occurred in the special maritime and territorial jurisdictions of the United States."
In other words, you can be fined or imprisoned if and only if you travel to another state or another
country and engage in a sexual act which would be illegal in the United States, such as rape, etc.
Here's a quick summary:

Traveling to have sex with someone under 12: ILLEGAL
Traveling to have sex with someone between 12 and 16, and you are less than four years older: LEGAL if local provisions allow so
Traveling to have sex with someone between 12 and 16, and you are more than four years older: ILLEGAL
Traveling to have sex with someone 16 or over: Legal if local provisions allow so"
posted by thomcatspike at 2:09 PM on June 23, 2004


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