You see them in every movie; spot them in the pages of every book. Their unavoidable presence marks every work they grace, yet the very structure of the plots they inhabit relies heavily on their existence. Perhaps you will even find them somewhere in the real world. I refer, of course, to the age-old cliché found in every work set in high school: the popular kids.
The depiction of all secondary institutions as containing an unavoidable social hierarchy within their hallowed hallways is an incredibly common one. Students are segregated according to popularity, which appears to be calculated based on entirely arbitrary traits such as physical appearance and athletic ability. Those fortunate enough to find themselves at the top of the heap have absolute control over those considered beneath them. No one associates outside of their clique, especially when it comes to dating. If anyone dares to even think of challenging this mildly dystopian system, they are instantly branded an outcast and are mocked, taunted and otherwise bullied forever and for all eternity, or at least until they graduate. Sound familiar?
The importance of popularity in a high school setting is an idea and a plot device that is so overused universally, both in fictional works and in real life. Everywhere you turn, high school cliques can be found, from “Mean Girls” to “The Breakfast Club” to “Glee.” Not even the fantastical Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry found in “Harry Potter” can escape the curse of the clique. Thanks to the existence of the four houses Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw, segregation among peers is officially mandated, and interhouse hostilities are even encouraged!
With such a prevalent concept of what high school is like, it’s almost as if the concepts of cliques and high school hierarchy are deeply ingrained in the very depths of the teenage psyche. After all, at the end of the day, everyone just wants to be liked and respected. Combine that with the raging hormones of hundreds of teenagers confined within a single building all day long, and this only serves to aggravate the already complicated pathways of social interaction that plague the human race on a day-to-day basis. But is this hierarchy really so universal when it comes to the real world?
Contrary to popular belief, most high school students are not ruled by the ideal of remaining within a clique as the be-all-end-all of high school society, at least not as prominently as you may have been led to think by the likes of “Degrassi.”
In reality, popularity and social group boundaries are not as black-and-white as they are portrayed on television. Adolescents are multi-faced human beings whose actions, thoughts and beliefs are as varied as their personalities. They cannot be described and summed up with a single word, nor do they follow scripts and standardized plot lines like the flat and superficial characters you watch and read about. In real life, jocks can unashamedly admit to singing in the school choir, the “popular girls” don’t sneer at everyone they pass in the halls and even the nerdiest of nerds usually has a date to the prom.
No matter what you may think, life in high school is not an 1980s movie.
» Rebecca Xie is a Grade 11 student at Neelin High School.