What a George Mason Expert Is Saying about…Prom Night

Posted: April 16, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Catherine Probst

For many high school students, prom is the highlight of their senior year. For others, it is a time of expectations, transitions and transformations.

prom book cover

Although once seen as being the first opportunity to play an adult role — wearing make-up and staying out late — prom has evolved into an opportunity to display wealth and social status, according to Amy Best, associate professor of sociology and author of “Prom Night: Youth, Schools and Popular Culture.”

As students spend hundreds of dollars on clothing and limousines, prom has developed into a night of struggle, resistance and power.

“Prom has become a serious media interest. There are so many areas that are heavily marketed for prom, such as dresses, tuxedos and flowers. It’s not surprising that consumption plays a huge role in prom. We are a very consumerist society, and this consumerism is visible in schools. Prom is basically a consumer event,” says Best.

According to Best, the pleasure of prom is being able to be someone else or one’s “best self” for a night. While some students invest seriously in prom because it is their “night to shine,” the number of parodies on prom also trivialize it. This goes hand-in-hand with the idea of adolescent identity, she says. While we carefully watch over our youth, we also trivialize and dismiss their worries and concerns.

“How young people engage in prom says a lot about how they engage in culture. The awareness of this plays out around prom,” says Best.

Best’s research focuses on the study of youth, culture and social inequalities.

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