The snow has melted, the temperature is climbing, and Thunder Bay’s long winter is finally coming to an end. If you’re finishing your last year of High School this year that means that prom is right around the corner and, as we all know, prom is a very important event.
But it’s worth asking why prom is so important. Or, in other words, what does it commemorate? The obvious answer would be that it’s a celebration that symbolizes the transition out of the public school system. But, if prom is just that, a transition, why is it so tied up with sex?
Perhaps we have Hollywood to thank for this. What do American Pie, She’s All That, Footloose, Back to the Future, and Pretty in Pink all have in common other than a prom? Well, they all insinuate straight teenage sex surrounding the event.
We could say that these are simply fabricated stories made to pull at the heartstrings but if they didn’t hold some form of cultural weight then why would Mike Stone, of Oakdale, Minnesota, turn to Twitter.com to find a date after, as ABC’s Eyewitness News reports, “He asked more than two dozen girls and they all turned him down.” More tellingly, why would Stone turn to adult film actresses?
Megan Piper, a 19-year-old pornographic actress, agreed to attend prom with Stone providing he raise the funds to get her there. The conditional acceptance resulted in absolute anarchy on both of the attendees Twitter feeds as well as a frenzied media scrum that alerted Stone’s school and mother to Stone’s conduct online. Stone’s mother has stood behind her son’s actions. The school, on the other hand, has banned Piper from attending, citing school-board regulations that allow the school to deny access to a school-sponsored event if “the visit is not in the best interest of the students, employees or the school district.”
Returning to prom’s connection to sex, this situation and recent history makes it painfully clear that prom, as it is culturally perceived, is a celebration of teenage sexuality but a very particular kind of teenage sexuality: straight, male-initiated sex. The school has banned Piper from attending because it is not in their “best interest.” In other words (and the Trojan High School board has never addressed this directly), Piper, as her career requires, has a great deal of publically available sex and because of that she is deemed unfit to attend a high school prom.
But Stone is a hero. His reaching out to pornographic actresses has made him a cult phenomenon on the internet and among his school peers. @CalvinMontes tells Stone he “is a freakin boss” and @sprewell31 calls Stone “an American Hero”. Nowhere has it been insinuated that Stone might be denied entry for inviting Piper since her presence sits so uncomfortably with the school board.
Let us also remember that in 2010, an American student also tried to take command of their own prom experience and fight an oppressive bureaucratic system at Itawamba County Agricultural High School. Her name was Constance McMillan and all she asked for was the permission to bring her girlfriend and to wear a tuxedo instead of the obligatory gown. In this instance, the school shut down the entire prom, pointing the finger at McMillan as the source of blame. A private prom was held later but McMillan was sent to a fake prom along with her date as well as five other “undesirable” students.
Prom has become, thanks to warped representations like American Pie, a symbol in which straight men gain their right to express their sexuality without fear of domineering authority figures like parents and teachers. I’m not sure exactly what it is women gain exactly. As seen in “She’s All That” and “Footloose”, the right to be shaped by men’s sexual desires without fear of dad butting in really seems like the short end of the stick. Also, thanks to Itawamba County’s less-than-shining example, queer students have been sent a clear message to do one of two things: adopt a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to prom or stay home.
Agree or disagree with the proposed date set up for Stone and Piper but, at the end of the day, they might just be the two most honest prom-goers that America has ever seen.