Half-Baked Ideas: On How Everything Is Like High School

I remember the first time I heard it. It was on, I think, David Letterman, and Steve Martin (this is actually beginning to sound like a 1980s-themed dream, but I think it was reality) said apropos of something or other, "Well, you know Hollywood is like high school—with money." Much laughter from the audience, wry smile from Mr. Letterman if memory serves, a deep appreciate from me, who was at the time not so long out of high school and so had a fresh sense of just how harsh that might be.

It's come up again over the years. Sometimes people say Washington is like high school with money, other people might just go with a more generalized, "You know, they're pretty much the prom-queen-type person," and it's made me wonder: can this really serve as the metaphor for all social and power dynamics?

What's put me on about this is that Mr. Aragorn and I were talking about Jonathan Franzen (it just happens sometimes) and how really successful he is at pissing everyone off. It's close to Phillip Roth's capacity to offend just about anyone, and it is, I think, a gift, or at least Aragorn has convinced me it is. I mean, the man pissed off Lynda Barry! I feel that no matter how dedicated he is to stirring the pot, that one must have hurt.

At any rate, we were talking about this, and I was saying "He's like the most popular kid in class, so everyone resents him," and Aragorn (correctly) said, "No, no, no, he's the teacher's pet. That's why everyone hates him."

And I saw that it was true. And then I had to ask myself: wait, seriously? This is the only way I can figure out the relationship of one person to others in a power structure, to compare it to high school? What the hell?

Because, of course, high school represents…well, it shows: "Here's how shitty human beings are, with their perpetual need to create a society, which of course means there have to be some people on the outside of the society, or at least on the lower rungs." But I guess it's too confusing to go metaphor-less and say, "Oh, he's in the familiar position of approved from on-high yet detested by his fellow practitioners"? Or is it the idea that we somehow all shared the experience of high school, it's the closest we come to a shared experience of a society?

If we still had some pantheistic folks out there I would imagine that we might work more from a pantheon standpoint: Ah, he is the mischief-maker, and he is the god of love, etc., and we would all know what we were talking about.

What do you think, is there any easier/better/other way of contextualizing and naming someone's societal ranking? Or are we stuck with high school forever?!?

2 thoughts on “Half-Baked Ideas: On How Everything Is Like High School

  1. It’s not that we’re stuck with it exactly – but it is the easiest/most accessible metaphor for many of us that grew up in the US since the 50s. So yeah, stuck.

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  2. Huh. Not an hour ago, while watching Orange Is the New Black, I turned to my spouse and made the stunningly original observation that prison is like high school. But maybe it really is everything, not just jail or the Inernet or Washington or…

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