John Walker's Electronic House

High School High

by on Apr.27, 2007, under The Rest

I’m on a television set.

That’s not strictly true, in as much as it’s a lie. I’m in a Chicago high school, sat in the corner of the room while Kim teaches an English class. And yet, I feel as though I’m on a television set.

You would think that there would be enough in common between schooling across the Atlantic that a classroom would feel like a classroom, but despite all the commonalities, there’s still something completely distinctive, alien even, about the American High School Experience.

Long, stretching corridors lined with tall, thin lockers are set dressings for a high school drama, rather than objects appearing anywhere in real life. There’s school, and then there’s pretend American school from off of the telly. To step inside this doesn’t shatter the mythology and reveal it as reality, but rather absorb you into the mythology itself.

Somewhere, between the bells ringing and the class immediately leaping out from behind their individual desks while the teacher shouts last minute instructions over the ruckas, and loud intercom buzzers preceding drawled announcements for such-and-such to go to the principal’s office, there has to be a blonde teenage private investigator solving intricate crimes, and a floppy-shirted disgruntled girl dying her hair red and lusting after Jordan Catalano. It’s certain that the unnaturally giant fifteen year old boys strolling on their way to football practise will be taking part in a game against the local rivals which they will be losing until the final few minutes, when their grumpy, overweight coach comes up with a new tactic that’s so crazy it just might work.

The class banter, lively and impressively funny, is surely scripted. They are the cleverly constructed lines from a writer who later plans for their wit to be used in the face of surly vampires or young superheroes. And which of these students are going to meet grisly and unpleasant deaths at the blade of a cloaked, crazed and perhaps supernatural killer?

How peculiar for this cast of extras to be seemingly unaware of their Truman-like existence, believing themselves to be studying here for a reason, seeing their existence reaching college, and then even regular adult life, rather than the early cancellation that inevitably awaits. Or perhaps these will be the lucky ones, seeing their stereotyped roles re-realised in a college setting, with even their principal coming along to run a local bar.

5 Comments for this entry

  • Tedi Worrier

    …and in that bar, will everyone get a little paper doylie whereas we have to make do with an uncouth beer mat?

    (but you can’t flip a doylie)

  • John

    Once again Tedi Worrier, you manage to make a comment utterly irrelevant and bewilderingly nonsensical.

    Are you sure you’re on the right internet? Seriously, do you have a bad headache?

  • bob_arctor

    I have often wondered that: school can’t /really/ be like that?
    The UK state schooling experience is so divorced from its US counterpart you do just see it as myth.

    Can you go to a college? I have seen post Virginia Tech that they do have room mates (crazy, to think your accommodation means you share a room, as an adult, in a bunkbed!) but do they have hazing with cricket bats (“paddles”) and Omega frat house etc?

  • John

    I’ve stayed at a US university/college before (although weirdly, they will insist on calling it “school”), and the same applies.

    I remember walking down a street in Evanston, IL and seeing three girls who looked identical, hair, clothes, even faces, and I asked my companions what on earth that was. They said, “Oh, that’s a sorority.” They exist?!

    And yes, there are bat-based hazings, Greek-letter-based fraternities, and most of all, keg parties. But Kim tells me they mostly don’t have hellmouths.

    More importantly, today I went to a baseball game, and can once more confirm that they DO have people marching the aisles crying, “PEANUTS! PEANUTS!”, and then throwing them to people (or more frequently, passing them down the row).

    What I find most weird about this, and I think I’ve written about it before, and will most likely do so again, is the degree of separation that we perceive when watching American television, that is completely absent for a US audience. I call it my “Spaceship Theory”, and I imagine I’ll rattle on about it at great length soon.

  • Tedi Worrier

    More amazing than the accuracy of the peanut thrower is watching not only the money pass along but also the change pass back … and getting to their respective destinations … can one imagine this happening at a soccer match … Wimbledon, perhaps … at least on Centre Court anyway?