Stop this High School Musical virus!

FOR most of my life, “prom” has meant a lovely wide pavement at the seaside. Now it’s become a million-pound industry – one that’s a little unhealthy. A friend explained the other day how her teenage son hired a tuxedo, posh shoes and pitched in with his mates to hire a limo for the school prom. She did tell me the cost but I had an attack of the vapours and when I came round had forgotten it. But it was big – and, to my mind, could better have been spent on other things. Like college rent and food . . .

Now, I will admit to a Puritan streak that could easily have been inherited in DNA from fellow Cambridgeshire grumpy-guts Oliver Cromwell, but I wouldn’t begrudge sixth-formers a graduation party to end all parties. Indeed, I’m convinced we need ceremonies to mark the end of chapters in our lives and start the next adventure. It’s just that we’ve fallen victim to the American knack of taking money out of our pockets while we bop and drink and whoop and lose a sense of perspective.

I blame High School Musical and other U.S. films and TV series. They portray lives of brilliant white teeth, Californian sunshine and perpetual happiness. In greyer Britain we yearn for that shininess. So we buy into the American dream. Literally. Young people (or their parents) splash the cash to dress up to the nines, arrive in style, enjoy good food, and have the event recorded in moving and still images.

Just last month East Renfrewshire council refused permission for a parent to send his child to a primary school prom by helicopter. Honestly. If folk have money to burn, sponsor a needy child in Rwanda.

When I left school, we hired a room and had a disco. We didn’t arrive in stretch limos (though my jeans were stretch . . . thankfully.) We didn’t burst into song like characters from Glee; we talked about the future, gazed for the last time at the girl with dark eyes we’d never had the courage to properly talk to, watched enviously as teachers copped off with a couple of the 19-year-old girls who never looked at 19-year-old boys, and endured a “tired and emotional” Dylan Thomas wannabe witter on about hypocrisy.

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The careworn Great White Horse Hotel in Ipswich probably looked as luxurious as it had 145 years earlier, when Dickens visited and found inspiration for The Pickwick Papers, but it didn’t matter. Substance was more important than style. PS: Emma has read this and said I’d better start saving. She’s eyeing a huge ice sculpture and firework display for next summer, to make hers the prom that has everything. That Puritan DNA line has surely come to an end . . .

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