In the present season, this Spring 2018, it’s been said that proms are cheaper than ever. This proclamation comes as something of a shock to those of us who lived and died by the thought of going to prom, the fanfare surrounding it that always meant being forced to reconcile what class you belonged to. I mean, shit, entire premises of films were built around the prom as the third act denouement promising the right girl (read: the underdog) a happy ending. And yes, it was mainly John Hughes who swore by this plot point go-to, but still, was he or was he not the sum total of the 80s in all of its classist implications as represented by prom?
I don’t know, I just couldn’t believe it when I was sipping my morning coffee and reading my tangible copy of the Wall Street Journal before forcing myself to go to the corporate job that being a middle of the road high school student had sent me down the path of. By that, I mean, I was sort of like Cheryl Quick in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion–able to hang with the popular crowd but knowing full well it was a charade. Still, in my stead as “one of the lemmings,” I was always asked to prom by an upperclassman and, much to my chagrin, it was what I most looked forward to every year. That feeling of giddiness waiting for someone to ask you, followed by the buildup of preparing and getting ready. I don’t know, it just felt like the most natural sort of high to me. But then, like everything else, the event itself was never as good as the anticipation leading up to it. I would find myself shuffling around on the dance floor to the latest Britney Spears ballad feeling all too hollow inside. I guess that’s why toward the end of my high school career, I started to shy away from the experience, my senior year avoiding it altogether in favor of driving up the coast to Monterey with a boyfriend I later found out was gay. It wouldn’t be the first time this would occur, for it has always been a gift of mine to make men have the epiphany that they’re gay. It’s like a little unpaid service I perform: Sexuality Revelation Implementer. In any case, I incidentally happened to come across a box of old photos and prom regalia about two weeks ago. I left the box out but was unable to go through it again until seeing the article. And tonight when I got home, something possessed me. I dropped all of my shit immediately upon entering my sterile single woman’s apartment, practically sprinted toward the box and put on my hot pink, sweetheart neckline bodycon dress. Even though I didn’t go to high school in the 80s, I always modeled my prom looks after that era. The peak era, if you will, of prom going. And every time I would finish putting together my ensemble, I would look at myself in the mirror and, mimicking Andie Walsh, say, “I just want to let them know they didn’t break me.” It was the sort of bizarre behavior I could never engage in while in front of my friends, which is precisely why I always opted to get ready alone. There was something religious in the ritualistic nature of preparing for it. Too bad all of my prom dates turned out to be so unholy. Any subsequent news I learned of them after the college years tended to be of the “incarcerated” or “divorced” variety. And I thought Beverly Hills was supposed to breed nothing but “wholesome” types–but then, what am I saying? Just read Less Than Zero.
Sitting at my kitchen table in the somewhat too tight dress that still “kind of” fit me, I popped open one of the bottles of prosecco I always kept on hand and started to look through all the photos, some of the Polaroid variety, some printed out from a digital camera and some even birthed from a disposable camera. Looking at myself–the plastered on smile, the occasionally captured expressions of insecurity–I wondered if I ever really could have been that person. Or if maybe I still was. The main aspect about prom–about what it’s a manifestation of–is a social hierarchy. To participate in it guarantees as much disappointment as opting out altogether. But if prom continues to lose its cachet as a concept, are we, in some ways, veering toward an American society as classless as it is genderless?
The thing is, proms aren’t just getting cheaper because the costs haven’t kept up with inflation–they’re getting cheaper because no one is interested in that heteronormative bullshit. There was a time circa “The Anti-Prom” episode of Dawson’s Creek in 2000, when Jack has to go and make things “political” by trying to bring a boy named Ethan as his date, that non-straights kind of cared about prom. It was, like marriage, something they wanted to make a big to-do about because they couldn’t have it. Now that they can have it, they realize how frivolous and artificial it all is. Plus, no one ever plays good music anymore–primarily because it’s not the early 00s and it’s a fact universally recognized that “pop culture died in 2009.”
This Pecksniffian attempt at wanting to keep prom “pure” for so long–a.k.a. just for heteros–had nothing to do, per se, with a contempt for what we now label as “fluidity.” It was wanting to sustain the lore and subtle taboo of prom as a place for a girl to lose her virginity–or “lose it again,” as is often the case. And yes, I lost mine many times over in the backs of cars or in hotel rooms over the course of my many prom tours of duty. Each “session” a little less special and a little less “finessed” than the last. Because for some reason, men want to treat you more delicately when they’re about to “break” you so to speak. Your hymen being “you,” in this case. Once you’ve been broken, they figure you’re already damaged goods anyway. That’s probably what I would look like to anyone who caught a glimpse of me sitting alone in my kitchen in a prom dress from Macy’s back when it was still relevant getting drunk on nine dollar André “California champagne” from the bodega downstairs. I guess I, too, was getting cheaper than ever. Ready to sell myself to the lowest bidder for the false promise of not feeling so solitary.