Remember when high school prom was the highlight of the school year? This longstanding ritual used to be an excuse for students to gather for one last night of celebratory dancing (and mild misbehavior) in a poorly decorated gym or tired hotel ballroom before scattering for the summer or, in the case of high school seniors, forever.
The charm of prom was its predictability, which is why it has served as fodder for many movies over the years. Who can forget Olivia Newton-John, who in real life was almost thirty, pretending to be a dance-crazy teen in Grease? Or Kevin Bacon defying God and small town mores in Footloose (more dancing!). Proms provided the penultimate scenes in movies such as Carrie (yikes), Back to the Future, Pretty in Pink, 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, and many more.
In many of these movies the act of asking someone to attend the prom provides a brief moment of dramatic tension in the story, one usually resolved when the underdog/geek/misfit succeeds in persuading the object of his/her affection to be his/her date.
In real life, unfortunately, things have gotten a little out of hand.
First there was the trend of total strangers making elaborate pleas on social media for their favorite celebrities to attend prom with them. High school boys and girls filmed videos of themselves begging Taylor Swift or Shaun White to “make their dreams come true” by showing up at their house ready to party. Seventeen magazine even compiled a list of “crazy fun celebrity promposal videos” highlighting some of the more outlandish efforts.
But the celebrity prom magic quickly faded. As Billboard magazine noted last year, “It was cute at first. Arguably even a novel idea. But like so many ideas that spring from the Internet, it’s time we let this come to a close. . . let’s make 2015 the year we say ‘no’ to asking celebrities to prom.”
Enter the social media proposal, or as it’s now called, the “promposal.” Today’s high school kids create elaborate proposal stunts and post them online, fueling a kind of prom arms race as kids around the country seek to outdo each other each year with their clever “asks.” Social media sites like Pinterest offer ideas for crafting cute ways to lure in that perfect prom date, some of which would make Martha Stewart swoon; Buzzfeed compiled a list of the more clever proposals including ones featuring pizza, donuts, elaborately staged candle displays, and many, many bad puns. Recently, an Arizona teenager decided to convince his potential prom date to accompany him to the dance by offering her a trip to Hawaii.
And yes, there is also evidence of promposals gone wrong, like this guy:
All of which begs the question: Why are so many people treating the act of asking someone to prom like it’s a wedding proposal? Watching these high schoolers’ promposals is like taking a deep dive into those weird videos on YouTube of kids pretending to get married in fake weddings (yes, that’s a thing). And it suggests that an increasing number of young people are so focused on the attention they get from asking someone to prom that they forget what the high school ritual is supposed to be about: having fun with your friends before you all grow up and have to face the real world. For kids who grew up online, maybe that’s the point: there is no real world unless it’s documented online. Promposal pics, or it didn’t happen.