Are you ready to hear a fundamentally annoying and unfair thing? (Or I suppose it could also be an affirming and confidence-boosting thing, if you had a different high school experience than I did.) The popular kids from high school make more money even 40 years after the fact, according to a recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. So, yes, popularity does matter, in exactly the way you always feared.
On Saturday, 90 Ravens cheerleader finalists — male and female, culled from over 300 original competitors — auditioned for roughly 60 spots on the squad. Many were returning vets. Men tried out for “stunt” performance only, while women could strut their dance and/or stunt skills. Callback event happened loud and proud, before a paying 500-person crowd ($20 a ticket) at the Lyric Opera House. Fourteen “local celebrity judges” were on hand, including Ravens legend/TV personality Qadry Ismail. Spying the busy coverage in The Baltimore Sun got me pondering the value of performing as a cheerleader as an adult — I mean, I never saw the sense in the silly pastime when I was a kid. Growing up in Texas, cheerleading capital of the universe, I saw the sport as viciously competitive and snobby. Girls who secured a spot on the varsity or JV squad became the royalty of the huge school; they set the standard for looks and decided who fit into the larger popular crowd and who absolutely did not gain admission to keg parties in the woods.
After more patient research, I find myself hot-curler-ing a twist into my post’s narrative, a post that I first imagined would involve poking easy fun at these mostly blond and built, typically plainspoken + hyper-chipper gals. Sure, mainstream cheerleading will always sign up beauty and grace of the capital-C Conventional variety (though Cheer Coordinator Tina Galdieri promised she’s looking for beauty, brains, and skill, all three). But the Ravens cheer candidates I’ve recently videoed and read more closely about all come across as mature, realistic adults who are rather humbly passionate about both the Ravens’ team spirit and the joy of fitness. Many of the performers (blond/built/overly made-up included) are married people in their late 20s and early 30s, with kids to care for, and on top of that, full-time jobs to manage. (Full-time employment, full-time stay-at-home-parent status or full-time college enrollment is a requirement, as the Ravens pay cheerleaders only about $100 per game, though squad members can earn money through public appearances, according to About.com). A quick aside: In 2005, Molly Shattuck famously became the oldest Ravens mom-with-pompom at 38.
Americans’ favorite state is Hawaii, according to a recent poll. This might lead you to conclude that we have a penchant for palm trees and beaches — but then it turns out that our least-favored state is California. And then there’s Maryland, which Americans feel kind of “meh” about.
Public Policy Polling is one of those outfits that’s always calling up at dinnertime, trying to find out Americans’ opinions on everything from Republican presidential candidates to the most-hated NFL teams (the Cowboys, apparently) to God’s approval rating. Last year, PPP asked American voters about their impressions of each state. The five states that came out on top were Hawaii, Colorado, Tennessee, South Dakota (!?), and Virginia. But most states — Maryland included — make an overall favorable impression. The only five states that Americans feel negative about are California (Hollywood?), Illinois (the Mob?), New Jersey (the Garden State Parkway?), Mississippi (self-explanatory?), and Utah (Mormons?).
Maryland ranks 30th, liked slightly more than South Carolina and slightly less than Maine. We’re liked more by liberals, less by moderates and conservatives. Men dislike us way more than women. Young people like us more than middle-aged or old people. Hispanic voters aren’t really sure what to make of us.
What do we do with this information? I guess we could try to win over some of those Virginia fans, or gain a little ground by putting out bad PR about South Carolina. Or we could just ignore it, and go back to our lives.
In Geeks, a new study of the high school misfit, Alexandra Robbins tracks a host of teen nerd archetypes: “the loner, the gamer, the nerd, the new girl, the band geek and the weird girl.”
According to Robbins’ “Quirk Theory,” the very qualities that might get a kid sidelined as a nerd/geek/”cafeteria fringe” are the same traits that will help her succeed in the long run. Not much new there, at least if you’ve kept up with teen movies, or considered the many famous teen-nerd-makes-it-big celebrity stories (JK Rowling, Bruce Springsteen… Megan Foxx?!)
What’s new (or new-ish), according to Robbins, is that teachers, administrators, and parents are increasingly trying to mold these kids to be more like their popular equivalents. Creativity, individuality, a willingness to go against the grain — all are traits that would serve kids well as adults. That is, if they don’t get disciplined out of them by adults who would prefer that they fit in. It doesn’t help that teachers and administrators tend to promote students who are athletes or cheerleaders to act as de facto representatives of their schools, neglecting the quirky kid in the corner who might be both nicer and more brilliant. Robbins also points out that teenagers’ hypersensitivity extends to the adults around them, and that their awareness of cliques and popularity differences between teachers doesn’t help matters, either.
And so, “young people are trying frantically to force themselves into an unbending mold of expectations, convinced that they live in a two-tiered system in which they are either a resounding success or they have already failed.” The homogenization of the US educational system and the competitive atmosphere of many schools leaves kids feeling that non-conformity is akin to social death — which, to a hyped-up teenage mind, is pretty much actual death.
It’s a pretty dire picture — does it ring true with you? In a city that celebrates its quirks, are oddball students getting the recognition and support they need?