Lately I’ve been obsessively listening to the Broadway Mean Girls soundtrack (it’s good stuff, y’all–listen to it here), and there’s one song called ‘Where Do You Belong’ that isn’t even in my top five songs of the show, but I’ve had it stuck in my head a lot. It’s a really showtune-y song and it’s really fun, but the reason I’m talking about it is because it’s all about finding and sticking with your clique in high school. If you’ve seen the Mean Girls movie, you’d know that it heavily relied on the concept of high school clichés and cliques.
Mean Girls isn’t the only movie to feature this. If you’ve seen any high school-set piece of media, you’d know what I’m talking about. High schools in America all apparently have these popularity hierarchies with football players, cheerleaders, and mean girls at the top and band geeks or nerds at the bottom with everyone else living precariously in the middle, afraid to disrupt the order.
And I say “America” because I am Canadian and this high school set up is so weird to me. My high school wasn’t like that at all. I mean, we didn’t have football players or cheerleaders, but we did have more well-known kids (I wouldn’t say ‘popular’) and kids who played Yu-gi-oh before class and musical theater kids. But there was no set hierarchy that dictated the way we behaved. There was no pronounced bullying. I’m not saying we were all BFFs with each other, but there were no clear cliques. We were just kind of friends with who we wanted to be friends with. That’s why I’ve never really identified with high schools portrayed in media because they all seemed so hellish and unnecessary.
Are American high schools really like the way they seem in movies and TV? Do football players really run the show? Do the hallways really part when popular kids stroll through? I’ve considered that perhaps my high school was just an anomaly and other Canadian schools may align with the media, especially given that I went to a Catholic school in a largely middle-class town, so I asked around. Overall, people said that there were popular kids (often athletes) and some mild bullying, but nothing strongly resembling the movies. To be fair, I only asked like ten people, and I think they all went to school in the same province as I did, so I know it’s not concrete data, but still. I also asked a couple of American internet friends, and while they said their high schools were a bit more clichéd, it still wasn’t as dramatic.
So, now the questions remain: are there high schools where people are labeled and forced into hierarchical cliques and football players are local celebrities? And if not, why does movie after movie perpetuate this idea? What’s fun or smart about portraying a wildly unrealistic setting? Isn’t the point of high school-set media to make it relatable to everyone because we all went to high school?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, so let me know what country you went to high school in and what that experience was/is like.