Genii Weblog

Prom: The new battlefield?

Wed 21 Apr 2010, 08:19 AM

by Ben Langhinrichs
Have you noticed how many stories recently refer to prom dates?  What people are allowed to wear, whom they are allowed to take, what is allowed to be said, what kinds of dances are allowed, etc.  Lots of social issues including gay/lesbian rights, free speech rights, sexual mores, and they are all being played out surrounding prom.  Courts are getting involved.  Newspapers and other media are involved.  Has this always been true, or is this a recent phenomenon?  I remember that when I was ready to go to prom, I deliberated between one girl who was black and one who was white, but my decision came down to which seemed more likely to say yes rather than color (interracial dating was a big issue in the 1970's -- by 2004, when my daughter went with a black prom date, it was televised nationally, but not an issue).

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What has been said:

898.1. Philip Storry
(21/04/2010 15:33)

At the risk of sounding like some offensive foreigner...

I see many news articles from the US which basically boil down to one thing:

People trying to push their own intolerances and beliefs onto (into?) the lives of others.

I'm specifically going to point at the right-wing Christians. Which will no doubt attract their ire, but I think you'll probably find a consistent thread in those news stories that supports my pointing.

(And yes, I know it's rude to point. But it's also rude to try and force everyone else to live according to your beliefs. Let's just say that I don't feel I'm casting the first stone here...)

Because the US is a fairly conservative culture, these attempts to push beliefs and intolerances onto others are picked up by some media and turned around into "someone is being prevented from...".

Which is true, in a way, but not the way it's reported. The media in question usually sides with those doing the pushing, not those being pushed.

If it happened over here in the UK, you couldn't do that turn-around in the reporting, because the general populace doesn't like being told how to live, so won't react the same way an American media audience will.

On your second question, I don't think this has always been the case. I think that American society has always been conservative, and that this is a backlash from the most conservative elements for the freedoms and tolerances gained in 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's.

Effectively, the religious conservatives felt emboldened by some success once they'd drawn their line in the sand, and are now pushing for all their worth.

(What was that line in the sand? Not sure. Feel free to speculate!)

Those conservative elements have learnt how to game the media, and are using it for all it's worth to push their agenda.

It'll backfire. They'll go too far. It's a cycle, and the cycle opens up and gets everyone more tolerant over time. The conservatives will lose in the long run.

That's one outsider's point of view, anyway. Probably wrong. Certainly rushed and lacking finesse in its writing. But I hope it helps!

898.2. John Head
(04/21/2010 04:21 PM)

Philip - for every right-wing Christian, there is a left-wing Liberal who wants their own agenda. The big difference is that the left doesn't tie themselves to the hip religion. But the issues are almost the exact same, the positions are just the exact opposite. The beauty of the US is that every voice can be spoken. And the loudest ones get the most attention (ok, that isnt a good thing, but its reality in todays 24 hour news media world). The far right and the far left make up about 8 to 10 percent on each end of the spectrum, roughly. They are most passionate and are willing to spend money and time to get their message heard. This is not a one sided argument.

Now, being a conservative who is Catholic, I think the far right folks are nutjobs. I do not tie my political views to my religious beliefs. I also think the same way about the far left folks who believe stuff that makes me shudder. But that is what democracy is all about. The US political landscape tends to ebb and flow like a weighted pendulum. The party in power is bad, the other party makes small wins, then wins congress, and then the big one of the Presidency. Guess what, now they are the party in power, are bad, and the swing goes the other way.

Now Ben, to answer your question, the reason that Proms are in the news for all of the social issue stuff is because you can't litigate marriage in 2010. Most people who go to prom are under 18, and subject to 'parental control' laws of some form. Hey, not agreeing or disagreing, just think that is why you see it. The under 18 control factor (or lack of control depending on which side of the coin) is a place courts and judges and governments; local, state, and national; feel comfortable getting involved in. Plus, I thought I heard on the news that the Prom industry is growing at a faster pace then the marriage industry.

898.3. Ben Langhinrichs
(04/21/2010 04:42 PM)

@Philip - I'm always happy to blame the far right, but the issues seems more random than that, and less centralized.

@John - I agree that the extremes tend to be fairly nutty and scary, even a bit more so these days than usual due to polarization. I tend to be fiscally conservative, socially liberal, generally middle-left. I think your points about proms are right on.

898.4. John Head
(04/21/2010 05:48 PM)

I am middle-right Ben. fiscally conservative and believe government shouldn't get involved in social issues. I tend to vote for Republicans because most of the time, they would rather ignore social issues than legislate them. But any generalization is harder these days because everyone is required to have a stated, documented opinion on every issue to run for anything. I believe in a woman's right to choose, but only because I don't believe the government should tell any person what to do with their body. Personally, I am against it and would never want a woman to do it. But it's not my place to tell her. I am also pro gay civil unions (if they took marriage away from the government, everyone got a civil union, and each religion got to define what marriage meant and who could marry under their rules, it would be a non issue). I am also for term limits at every level, and would even put in a max limit across all elected offices. We don't need career politicians anywhere. Cap the terms and cap the costs and far more citizens would get involved. Yeah, I know, I am an idealist. Sue me :-)

For me, I vote for someone who is looking for smaller government on the things they don't need to be part of. The problem, in 2010, is it seems everyone wants to be part of government so they can have power.

As for proms, it's like the school book crap in Texas. Why that one state sets new guidelines that it effects the other 49. It's that why we have "states" - so people can pick and choose how they want to be governed? And yes, I know, that mean's I should really move out of IL given our recent history :P