Social Cruelty in Adults: Does High School Ever End?
February 13, 2002 4:43 PM   Subscribe

Social Cruelty in Adults: Does High School Ever End? An upcoming ABCNews Special with John Stossel (airing Friday) explores peer pressure, being in the "in crowd", and the role that popularity plays not only during our years in the groves of academe but also in the professional workplace. We'll see John's report on Friday, but I wish to redirect this discussion to the mefi crowd: Were you in the "in crowd" during your high school/collegiate years or on the outside looking in? Did it even matter, and if it did, how and in what way? Has it played a distinct role in the person who you feel you've become?
posted by iceblink (42 comments total)
I was definitely an outside looking in person. At first it mattered to me a lot, and then one day I realized that all I wanted in life was to get the fuck out of this wide spot in the road and *do* something. What did I care if some guy who is the checker at the market (and is probably still the checker at the market) looks down on me for what I wear or think or say? That was the moment I officially stopped caring what they thought. Hey, when your graduating class is 69 people, you know more than you want to know about most of them already.

(RE: Distinct Role) I learned very early on that I needed to determine whose opinions I valued and whose opinions didn't matter at all, and as a result, I learned to be a bit more astute about people as well. It helped me develop skills for when I sallied forth into "The Real World".

The hardest part of the whole thing was learning not to listen to or care about those that truly didn't matter. They had mattered for so long it was a hard habit to break. My trick was to imagine them in their current after school job at the age of thirty and me being somewhere fabulous doing something fabulous whilst they toiled. heh.
posted by verso at 4:56 PM on February 13, 2002

In high school, I had this uncanny ability to float across the social boundry lines. Even at the time, I thought it was pretty odd, but I felt comfortable, and was welcomed, to hang out with the geeks, the jocks, the "cool kids," the rockers, the rappers, etc. So depending on my particular mood, I'd go from one group to the other - and they were pretty segregated in my HS (which was in the Los Angeles area).

I'm pretty sure it's helped define how I interact with people today, because I tend to do the same thing with friends and work colleagues.

Being on the "in crowd" in my HS was extremely important, too. I've often wondered if some of those try-hards behave the same way now that they're adults. Would be an interesting special to watch. Too bad we won't get it in Australia.
posted by cyniczny at 4:57 PM on February 13, 2002

Wow, that should be one intriguing hour of TV. Unfortunately, we know the answer to the question already: No.

I wasn't in the "in crowd" in high school, but I didn't really want to be, as I found them all incredibly dull. And I was obnoxious enough in HS (and big enough physically) that they at least respected me. In the end, 90% of them went on to the same university in the same town, continuing on in the same cliques as if it was was 13th grade, 14th grade ... I guess they're up to 25th grade now, since it's 13 years on, and they're all still there. I, on the other hand, hightailed it to Manhattan immediately upon graduation.

My experiences dealing with cliques in college (I went to NYU) definitely played a major role in how I deal with people now, and my somewhat negative feelings about modern American society in general, but I can't think of any way to explain it in a post of reasonable MeFi length. Suffice it to say I think I'll be agreeing with a lot of what Stossel uncovers in his report about the most negative aspects of human social interaction.
posted by aaron at 4:58 PM on February 13, 2002

I was definitely not part of the "in crowd" but I wasn't part of the "out crowd" either. I was one of those weird guys who didn't like being pinned down. So, I had freinds(and enemies) in all the usual cliques(Still do, there are dozens of people in the world who have absolutely nothing in common except for the fact that they are all freinds of jonmc)

Does High School Ever End?

If you mean the petty back-biting politics. raging hypocrisies, cliquishness, and pressures towards conformity-the answer is no, it doesn't end.
However, people who notice the abovementioned things eventually come to a crossroads where they can make one of two choices.
First choice: They can rage angrily and violently against it all. Which, at best, isolates them even more and at worst can turn them into Travis Bickle or Dylan Klebold.
Second Choice: You can accept the fact there will always be assholes of all varities in the world, refuse to participate in the pettiness and go your own way.

Guess which one I chose?
posted by jonmc at 5:00 PM on February 13, 2002

like cyniczny I found myself able to traverse each social group in highschool. i was probably more of a mystery than anything else, but usually stuck with my friends that i would skateboard with and the geeks who i would study and game with. while the social clicks didn't appear to be as severe compared to other highschools, we did have the preps, punks, geeks, etc. funny thing is that today (three years later) most of the preps/jocks are drug addict shitheads.

since I could care less about being in a click, I don't see them as affecting my life in any important way. now most of my friends are geeks, and quite honestly i have luckily surrounded myself with some of the most down to earth, crazy fun, and genuinely caring people i have known to exist.

"in crowd", "out crowd" ... fuck the crowd. life is meant to be loved and lived, so forget all the petty materialistic bullshit and enjoy it.
posted by physics at 5:13 PM on February 13, 2002

I was always in the 'in crowd.' Trans ams, Beer, Wine, liquor, wild chix. That kind of thing. Of course now I'm not in at all. Times change.
posted by chaz at 5:14 PM on February 13, 2002

First choice: They can rage angrily and violently against it all.
Second Choice: You can accept the fact there will always be assholes of all varities in the world, refuse to participate in the pettiness and go your own way.

Second choice doesn't fix jack shit, you might as well join them for all the good it does. The first choice, if done right can bring about change. Look at Voltiare & that crew. Refusing to participe in something is one thing, and it's useually a good choice, and could change things, but raging angrily and violently with whatever talents you have (writing, art, music, interpretive dance) is the only proactive stance. If you stand back and don't try to fix the situation, don't complain.

Also, luriete, you're an idiot for bothering to comment.
posted by fuq at 5:21 PM on February 13, 2002

I have to thank Bill Gates for helping me accept my inner geek. I was reluctant at first, then when Gates officially became the richest man in the world and looks like the biggest geek in the Mily Way Galaxy -- I figured not being the dumb buff jock was a-ok if on a whim I could just buy the damn team.
posted by owillis at 5:31 PM on February 13, 2002

I'm not sure there was an "in" crowd at my high school. There were several crowds. I didn't belong to any. My idea of fun involved going to the library myself. Still does. Hermits of the world, unitecarry on ignoring each other! One take on the impact of peer pressure on social discourse: The Spiral of Silence.
posted by mlinksva at 5:32 PM on February 13, 2002 [1 favorite]

fuq -

Second choice doesn't fix jack shit,...

Duhh...there's certain things that can't be fixed, like human nature. Not participating at the very least means your not making things worse. Your "Hey, whose side are you on?" mentality could be called an example of pressure to conformity.

By "raging violently" I didn't mean not speaking out against those you oppose. I meant, 1) literal violence ie; Klebold and Harris and 2)denying the humanity of those you oppose.
Whenever people make line-in-the-sand type proclamations(especially about clique affiliations and the like) I'm always reminded of the movie Heathers.
Specifically the scene where JD and Veronica are giggling at the jock's funeral and the jock's little sister turns and looks at them crying.
Who knows, the people who I hated(and hated me) in high school and now for that matter may be terrific people in other regards. Recognizing that is what keeps us from becoming fanatical psychos a la Travis Bickle and the Columbine Kids.
posted by jonmc at 5:38 PM on February 13, 2002

jonmc, now I see your point. I still say raging against it is better, because even if you're not changeing anything, you're at least doing something. Who's making line-in-the-sand proclaimations?

idle hands are the devils workshop you know. Besides, you're either WITH US OR AGAINST US! GRRRR CONFORM YOU!
posted by fuq at 5:50 PM on February 13, 2002

Listen, if you nerds don't shut up... Well, don't make me sock you. I mean it - knuckle sandwich!
posted by hotdoughnutsnow at 6:15 PM on February 13, 2002

I went to high school in Southern California during the '70s. Point of trivia: our school was Tricky Dick Nixon's alma mater and the apocryphal story is that he ran for class prez and lost.

I was on the staff of the school paper and often found myself observing and reporting on the various cliques rather than participating. The newspaper staff was kind of a microcosm of the school itself consisting of stoners, surfers, lowriders, jocks, social outcasts, cheerleaders, and gay students. Some of those categories overlapped. I had a few good friends and mixed easily with everyone else with the exception of a couple of particularly vicious jocks.

In my work life, I also find myself to be somewhat of a loner and tend to cynically observe and comment on office politics rather than participate. Fortunately, most of the folks in my office seems to appreciate me for the work that I do although they do humorously view me as a "troublemaker".
posted by MrBaliHai at 6:28 PM on February 13, 2002

I was not in any crowd in high school, I dropped out during my first semester and went to a community college instead (contrary to popular belief, you do not have to go to high school to go to college.) But when I entered "the real world" I was startled to find myself in a reenactment of high school! Amazing how little things change.
posted by homunculus at 6:28 PM on February 13, 2002

As someone who is fabulous and has always been fabulous, I am having trouble grasping what you losers are whining about. Why not just be fabulous?
posted by rodii at 6:39 PM on February 13, 2002

Why not just be fabulous?

Cos being mediocre involves far less work, which cuts into my drinking time.
posted by jonmc at 6:44 PM on February 13, 2002

Fabulous = be gay?
posted by hellinskira at 7:01 PM on February 13, 2002

I was a cheerleader in high school, which was thirteen years ago. But when people find out, they really react. Some positive, some negative, but people still care, which is just strange.
posted by swerve at 7:13 PM on February 13, 2002

I was neither in the in crowd or the out crowd. I had one really good friend, and I haunted the fringe of the alternative crowd. I hung out in the library and in the art room with a few like-minded individuals. They tended to be all older than I was - I have to say there was no love lost between myself and my graduating class. I remember the one year I was alone with them, 8th grade, when all my older friends were at the high school and you really couldn't get to know younger kids because of the way the school was structured, ugh. It was bleak. Plus I was the first dye your hair pink sixteen piercings in your ears girl, and this was 1982, so I wasn't hangin' with the Marilyn Manson crowd. I was mocked for having a picture of Duran Duran hung up in my locker. I kind of came into my own once I left high school, working in a record shop then much later in college.

But if I think back on all the places I've worked with larger staffs, or my college classes, I definately see the same patterns I saw in high school. While not as defined as jocks or nerds or whatever, there are definate social groups that exist and seem to perpetuate themselves ad infinitum. I admit to being kind of naieve about this until recently...I was astounded to find out that there were a couple of people in one of my college classes who hated me, and I do mean hate, because I was friends with the professor. And I think about one job I had that was really a boys' club and only certain women were allowed at their parties. Or other places where I worked with large staffs, and there were always one or two people who never quite 'fit in'. I guess in the end it depends on how much you let it affect you, and how comfortable you are with who you are.
posted by kittyloop at 7:31 PM on February 13, 2002

I am too cool for this thread.
posted by Kafkaesque at 7:44 PM on February 13, 2002

No, I'm one of the rare fabulous straight people.

To be mildly serious for a second: as a kid I went to a private school with a lot of rich kids (I was anything but, and decidedly an outsider because of it). Looking back, I'm struck by how effortlessly, unreflectively some of the rich kids just... ruled. There was an unconscious assumption that they were just good, and I think the rest of us just went along, prisoners of their charisma. (No, I'm not making any kind of claim about money and arrogance, just noting how some people seems to attain Alpha status early in life.)
posted by rodii at 7:59 PM on February 13, 2002

High school was hell. Fortunately I got out. Then I read Matt Groening's School is Hell and it all made sense to me.
posted by jazon at 8:00 PM on February 13, 2002

I was in with the out crowd. Still am.
posted by ook at 8:15 PM on February 13, 2002

I was one of the "geeks". Not a picked-on, sniveling, pocket-protector geek (well, the getting-picked-on phase ended in 8th grade with a right hook to the jaw of my tormentor that got me enough respect that they left me alone), but the dude who was always a little bit different, left alone, and had better grades in classes that didn't involve too much homework. :)

Funny thing is, most of my compatriots aren't doing much now. When I look around in my job or in other places, I either see people who have never moved on beyond HS because that was it for them -- the best it will ever get -- and people who have moved on because, while HS wasn't bad, we were just getting started.

Then again, thinking about my upcoming reunion, I'm half-tempted to imitate Dilbert and take a copy of my W-2... ;)

posted by elvolio at 8:20 PM on February 13, 2002

And I was obnoxious enough in HS...

hmm...nah, too easy.... :)
posted by rushmc at 8:37 PM on February 13, 2002

My high school didn't have a newspaper, so I wrote a column about it for the local community paper. I was popular when I took pics for the paper column. With that 35mm in my hand everyone was yelling "Hey! Take my picture!" (Always did - I never paid for the film) And if I were to ask questions for my column, people were always willing to talk to me. Turned out to be a great way to get known (and sometimes liked) by people.

My friends and I were kind of the 3rd, maybe 4th ranked "in crowd". Not the "in crowd" per se, but perhaps an affiliated group. We were the "Acquaintances of the 'in-crowd' Crowd."
posted by Salmonberry at 8:38 PM on February 13, 2002

I went to a large enough high school that it was easy to find some sort of crowd to run with. I was in with the band nerds, which wasn't entirely shameful at the time.

It was in middle school that I was tormented, or that people attempted to torment me. It didn't bother me as much as it taught me how much people suck, how some people have sunk so low that they only way they can bring themselves up is to tear others down. In sixth grade I perfected a blank stare that serves me well to this day, since I apparently slip through a hole in the space-time continuum every morning on my way to work.

My coworkers gleefully call me "Two-Ton Tessie" behind my back. Because I'm a tubby sort of person, see? Even my seventh-grade tormentors were more clever. My coworkers are the sort who stayed in the state after high school, lived with their parents until they got married, still get together with the old gang to get drunk and high on weekends, etc. The core group went to high school together, even, and readily admit that it was the pinnacle of their madcap lives. They got annoyed with me when I wouldn't attend a "Proud to Be An American" singalong in one of our conference rooms on the afternoon of September 11th. And the looks I get when I politely refuse the "Girls' Night Out!" invitations!

They are snotty, selfish, terrible human beings, and I want no part of their sad sphere. I am glad of my solitary nerdiness. It certainly makes for fascinating freakshow viewing.
posted by kittyb at 8:40 PM on February 13, 2002

I went to a tiny high school - 32 people in my graduating class. It was a very insular environment and the social dynamics were straight out of "Lord of the Flies." People were vicious. I managed to stay in that neutral territory where you're not "cool," but not ridiculed for being "uncool" either. I think it serves me well at work because I know how to assert myself without making other people feel threatened by it and provoking attacks. four years in a predatory environment will do that to you :) you also have to learn how to get along with everyone when you're in close quarters, and learning to work well with people you can't stand goes a long way in corporate America.

I occasionally go home to visit (I was the only person in my class to leave the state after graduation) and the kids that were "cool" in high school are the most dysfunctional now. Most of them got so used to being the "big fish in the small pond" that they weren't prepared to leave. They talk about high school incessantly and revel in the "glory days." My feelings about the whole experience were nicely summed up in that line from Dazed and Confused, - "All I'm saying is that if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life, remind me to kill myself." The kids that were at the bottom of the social ladder seem to be pretty well adjusted now. I think most of them stopped giving a shit somewhere around junior year so they were pretty unfazed by graduation.
posted by lizs at 9:12 PM on February 13, 2002

Somehow, I get that feeling with John Stossel involved, this will be a waste of time and television.
posted by Mo Nickels at 9:30 PM on February 13, 2002

Due to my bookwormish behavior and the fact that I was so damn shy then (as well as the fact that I didn't wear Gap or Dolce & Gabanna), I was definitely not part of the "in" crowd. There were so many different cliques at my school...the jocks, the geeks (of which there were a *huge* contingent because of the school's magnet status), etc. I wasn't part of a group, and I hung out with other people who weren't part of a group (which would make us a group, wouldn't it)...I suppose we would have been labelled "freaks" or something like that.

My friends were my salvation then...high school wouldn't have been bearable without them. In fact, my unique friends were what made high school fun. Do you think that, if I could do it all over again, I would choose to talk the talk and walk the walk of an "in" person, whoever they were at the time? Hell no. ^_^ This may make me a bit of a misfit, but as much I wanted to leave, I really did enjoy high school (although I still wish I had joined the swim team). ;-)
posted by Spinderella56 at 9:46 PM on February 13, 2002

The best thing about high that it only lasts 4 years. I went to 3 different high schools (long story)and didn't do too well until junior & senior year at an all girls' school, where I discovered that I was talented, that it wasn't so bad to be unique, and that I didn't need to be in an "in-crowd" because I was doing fine on my own. Irony is, that now in some kind of twisted universe thing, I *work* in a high school. Sigh - if I only knew then what I know now....
posted by Lynsey at 10:53 PM on February 13, 2002

High school social orders are set up by children, and anyone that puts up with that sort of social order as an adult needs a new set of friends, cow-orkers, or emloyer.

And you can all find something better to do than watch that tool Stossel. Yes, even with Tivo.
posted by dglynn at 1:46 AM on February 14, 2002

I find it interesting that almost eveyone here claims to have been a loser or "part of no clique," geeky, bookish, etc. It might be the selection bias of MetaFilter, or it might be the fact that the "lonely loser who grew up to be happy" story has so much more appeal than the "cool person whose life stayed cool" story. It's like indie cred in the social arena. I wonder, would anyone admit to having been one of the in crowd during high school?
posted by rodii at 5:26 AM on February 14, 2002

It's interesting that so many people see high school replicated in real life. I suppose some features may be the same, cliquishness and the like, but I've found that real life lacks the casual cruelties that are so common in high school. By the time most of us get into the real world, I think (hope) we develop some sense of when not to say those really stupid things that just pop out when we're kids and don't have those filters developed yet.

Then again, I suppose some people never get past the "Two Ton Tessie" stage. Fortunately, none of my friends, but....
posted by geneablogy at 6:03 AM on February 14, 2002

Gawd, kittyb, I sincerely hope you can get a job elsewhere. "Two Ton Tessie?" Those are the kinds of co-workers who end up looking down the barrel of an AK-47. May they all die young, in terror and pain.
posted by Holden at 6:14 AM on February 14, 2002

I never belonged to any crowd at all -- I was shy and maladjusted, because teen-agers treat introversion and strict parents as character flaws. I did have friendships with individuals, but no real group affiliation (though in junior high people seemed to like me a lot better if I joined the bully side, which I'm sad to say I did every now and then). I floated between groups: the Wiccans, the drama and music geeks, the outcast "bad" kids who went to the park during lunch. But mostly I kept to myself. High school was the least happy period of life and I'm glad it's over with.
posted by Vacaloca at 7:13 AM on February 14, 2002

Teehee... thanks for your concern, Holden. My cow-orkers are terrible wastes of space, and I do truly detest my job and have been poking around for something new for awhile. They are all karmic ruins... there's a lot of schaudenfreudey glee for me almost daily, what with the sordid tales of their various misfortunes.

I'm also not afraid to let them have it. The time they "sneakily" attempted to call me Tessie to my face led to a tongue-lashing that nobody's going to forget. I think the fat girls they teased in school didn't dare to talk back.

I'm planning a cross-country move in the forseeable future, so I'll be rid of them whether I get a new job or not. Until I move on or away, it's almost entertaining to be in such a dysfunctional place. A daily freakshow they pay me to watch.
posted by kittyb at 7:19 AM on February 14, 2002

I feel obligated to mention that John Stossel is a dork who pretends he's a journalist.
posted by Outlawyr at 7:58 AM on February 14, 2002

My graduating class was about 800 kids, and that was an unusually small one. 4000+ kids at the school overall. Any one capable of speaking without drooling could find company, and no group had anywhere near the influence to control the tenor of the whole scene. Racial scene was nothing worth knowing about (blonde suburban school with a black student elected president of my class most years). Kids that got pregnant were still welcomed. But it would have been a tough time and place to be openly gay.

kittyb - Publicly displaying glee in the suffering of the people you're denigrating isn't helping your case that they are the freaks.
posted by NortonDC at 9:44 AM on February 14, 2002

I was not really part of any crowd, and generally got along with most people.

I wasn't popular so much as I was just well-known.

The only thing substantial/quantitative I could say about my intra-personal life in HS is that I was voted most likely to be killed by terrorists (or tried for treason) by my peers... and voted among the most influential by the school's faculty and staff.

I'm not sure what that says about me. But there you go.
posted by silusGROK at 12:39 PM on February 14, 2002

Prisoners of Charisma vs. The Tragically Hip

That's all I got. Sorry.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 2:02 AM on February 15, 2002

NortonDC: My high school experience was pretty much like you described. A big school means that there isn't one group controlling things. I hung out with a very small circle of friends. I also associated a bit with the drama and debate crowds, even if I didn't do either of these activities. It was strange. I didn't recognize my high school experience in those teen movies. There was a group of popular rich types of kids (but this was a private school, so most people were well off), but there existence had little to do with mine.
posted by Charmian at 2:25 AM on February 15, 2002

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