IT’S EASY TO GROAN over high school movies that swarm with supermodel-looking teens and nice-kid-beats-the-bullies storylines, but sometimes film and TV scripts contain plot points that breathe a little realism.
While I’m no expert on what can and can’t happen in high school, I would (and will) argue that the following characters and conceits are, sometimes, rooted in fact.
1. The Wally Cleaver-Eddie Haskell syndrome
Forced to fashion a likable character, scriptwriters often pair him (or her) with an obnoxious, wisecracking pal. That combination reached its peak, or maybe its nadir, with the bromance of “Leave it to Beaver’s” Wally and his two-faced, scheming sidekick, Eddie.
Were they unlikely friends? Sure. Impossible? Not at all. A fictional pairing of the Dalai Lama racing around Europe in an Alfa Romeo with crime-solving partner O.J. Simpson would be ridiculous (and awesome!), but youthful friendships can defy all logic.
Think about it: Did you never meet a really nice guy or girl, only to find that his/her best friend was the scion of Satan? Or shudder in the presence of a reprehensible creep who unveiled a friend/boyfriend/girlfriend who seemed sweeter than Tupelo honey.
I have. And I’m sure I’m not alone.
2. The can’t-leave-high-school-behind syndrome
Matthew McConaughey’s Dazed and Confused (1993) character (above) spoke for thousands of 20-something sleazebags when he said, “That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, and they stay the same age.”
Back in my day (the late-1970s), I’d see guys with bad mustaches cruise through our high school parking lot in their Trans-Ams and Camaro Z-28s at the end of the day. Some of them could have had slightly younger, still-in-high-school girlfriends, but others seemed to be well past 18 and on the prowl. Yeech!
3. The married-to-the-job syndrome
“I’m a single, successful guy,” Judge Reinhold’s Brad (below) says in Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), basking in his status as shift manager at All-American Burger. While he had a girlfriend (briefly), a few pals, and a charming old car, Brad invested most of his self-worth in his jobs.
In my teens, I washed dishes, bused tables, and broiled burgers at eateries that teemed with starved-for-success kids — including me. Some places, including Burger King, rewarded the most dedicated youngsters with a title, “assistant manager.” Employees received no raise with this ersatz promotion, but it sure made them feel good. One of my employers had about seven assistant managers doing the same work as everyone else. Except they worked even harder.
4. The biased-teacher syndrome
In the Harry Potter movies, Severus Snape (left) expresses contempt for the hero and preference for students from Slytherin. He gives Draco Malfoy and company the best grades and downgrades the work of Gryffindor students.
Rotten teachers are rarely so open with their biases, but that doesn’t mean they (the teachers and their biases) don’t exist. I once had an English teacher, Mr. Howard, who fawned over every popular kid in class and all but spit on losers like me. I was a decent student, despite my bottom-feeder social status, but that didn’t prevent Mr. Howard from slapping Cs on all my work and cringing in my presence.
I had loads of great teachers in high school, but when I remember Mr. Howard I still get chills. Given a choice, I’d take Professor Snape.
5. The secretely-mean syndrome
If we’ve learned anything from high school romances, it’s that the perfect guy will prove to be a lying jerk and the acid-tongued girl will be hiding a heart of gold. Which sounds like tripe, except it’s not. I’ve found, in high school and beyond, that a lot of the everyone-loves-’em types are more manipulative than they seem and, given a choice, will support the strong and bash the weak.
I witnessed this as a high school freshman when an older kid named Rory showed me around the school. Sounds nice, but he acted like he wanted to flush me down a toilet as soon as we left the smiling secretaries at the office. He was brusque and rude and yet later I must have overheard a half-dozen girls gush about how “nice” he was.