Prom is one of the major events in American high school life, which is widely seen as a rite of passage into adulthood where freedom begins. It is usually held at the end of the school year but early in the year, pre-prom planning already takes place for decisions about theme, location, decoration, music, menu and others (Best 2000).
The contemporary prom is associated with iconic images: groups of prom-goers arriving in the scene with limousines walk on red carpet, priding themselves on their expressive evening dresses and accessories or expensive suits and ties. After the celebrity-like red carpet performance comes dinner and dancing time. In addition, participants are also eager for the announcement of a prom queen and king, where 2 of the most popular students gain the titles. To some prom-goers, driving around for displaying their showy outfits is part of the fun. Later, the celebration night likely continues with private parties or after-prom event provided by the schools or non-profit groups (Best 2000). As they play an important part in American high school scene, proms have been portrayed in many American teenage films, such as “10 things I hate about you”, “American pie”, “mean girls”, and TV series like “friends”, “Sabrina the teenage witch”, “Buffy the vampire slayer”. Today, proms have spread across countries to become a trendy celebration in high school, probably due to the popularity of American movies and TV shows. In Britain, where 85% of high schools have adopted the norm (according to British council), some primary pupils can now take part in a prom (McVeigh 2012).
Alongside its immense attraction and popularity across countries, proms have long been raising concerns about youth consumerism and youth safety, as remarked by Bert Nelson:
“prom time is both the best and worst of times. It should be a happy and memorable occasion for students and their families. Sadly, it sometimes becomes a tragic and memorable occasion for an entire community” (1994 cited by Saslow 1994).
Regarding the issue of youth consumer culture, within the context of booming prom industry (where prom services thrive), the escalating levels of prom-related spending and today showy performances of the self (to the extent that some of them are even aired on local TV) reflect an expansion of youth consumerism, which many parents have found problematic. In the US, an average cost per person spent for the night amounts to $500, fundamentally on limousine rent, clothing and accessories, hair styling and prom ticket. And that excludes post-prom spending. On top of that, post-prom occurrences pose a number of problems about youth safety, where a prom night may expand to a prom weekend (Saslow 1994) and engage heavy underage alcoholic use. On such an occasion, many teenagers perceive drinking not only as a way to celebrate but also a common ritual of entering adult world. PAD (parentsactionondrugs.org) contended that after-prom private parties, possibly at someone’s home, in a hotel or at a camp ground, provide chances for wild drinking behaviors without adult supervision, which could even lead to drugs use and unrestrained sexual acts. To minimize the post-prom problems, teens have been encouraged to attend supervised after-prom events organized by parents or some non-profits groups, and to increase the effect of the approach, prizes are introduced to attract more of their attention (Mannette 2013).
Apart from its significant role in signifying new independent stage of life, prom creates emotional once-in-a-life-time memories of high school life, where friendship and togetherness are celebrated. Besides, Dr. Caroline Schuster proposed that the appeal of contemporary prom is also rooted in red carpet experience, where students seize a chance to appear and behave like celebrities (Williams 2012). According to Miller (2010), the Hollywood-like opening of a prom night emerged as a tradition at the beginning of the 21st century, and around 2005, filming and broadcasting of proms on some local cable TVs even started to involve in the scene.
“The new age of participatory media has turned the prom into a fast-emerging vehicle for teenagers’ self-conscious displays of stylized drama” (Miller 2010, p.12).
Originally, proms have been identified as a space of self-presentation and “self-(re) invention” for the youth, “in which to express a range of confrontational youth stances” (Best 2000). More precisely, prom fashion display and acts imply adolescents’ establishment and insistence of individuality. Furthermore, the after-prom related problems about youth safety reflect the trend of teenage resistance to control from schools and adults in general, as highlighted by Best (2000):
“located at the intersection of school, commercial, and youth cultures, proms are contentious spaces wherein kids work through central issues surrounding questions of authority, class, diversity, sexuality, and romance”.
Best, A., L., 2000. Prom Night : Youth, Schools, and Popular Culture. [online]. New York: Routledge
British Council, 2016. Prom time [online]. Available from: http://learnenglishteens.britishcouncil.org/uk-now/read-uk/prom-time [Accessed 24 April 2016].
Mannette, A., 2013. The supervised after-prom party: Now with cars, iPads and other goodies. Chicago Tribune [online], 17 May 2013. Available from: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-05-17/features/sns-rt-us-usa-prombre94g0ma-20130517_1_after-prom-party-two-students-ipads [Accessed 24 April 2016].
McVeigh, T., 2012. How British children have embraced the high school prom. The Guardian [online], 3rd June 2012. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/jun/03/high-school-proms-in-britain [Accessed 24 April 2016].
Miller, M., 2010. Taking a New Spotlight to the Prom: Youth Culture and Its Emerging Video Archive. Journal of American Culture, 33 (1), 12-23.
Williams, S., 2012. Fairytale ending: the rise of the British prom. The Telegraph [online], 10 August 2012. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/9459579/Fairytale-ending-the-rise-of-the-British-prom.html [Accessed 24 April 2016].
Saslow, L., 1994. Post-Prom Activities Worrying Schools. The Telegraph [online], 12 June 1994. Available from: http://www.nytimes.com/1994/06/12/nyregion/post-prom-activities-worrying-schools.html?pagewanted=all [Accessed 24 April 2016].