Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Trouble with The Beautiful People

Anyone who has ever watched a "Brat Pack" movie in the seventies and eighties, recognizes the cultural phenomenon of the Clique. It's been a factor in schools since time began, but never really exposed until Queenbees and Wannabees came out a couple of years ago. I have a few observations about "The Beautiful People" that I think hold true. As with most stereotypes, there are always the stalwart few that will be paragons of virtue and fly in the fact of conventional wisdom.

First of all, there are problems with the "Beauty Queen". She could be prom queen, or homecoming queen or even just an average winner of the local JayCees sponsored pageant. She's the girl who sets the pace, makes the unwritten law and calls the shots socially within the fabric of the social order of the school. She has good communication skills and frequently bamboozles authority figures by kissing up or giving the appearance of perfection, all the while causing havoc within her social set. Quite often she demands others exact social payment or act upon her desires, whether it's squelching the new girl that could be competition or stealing some beer for a party.No matter what their MO,B they seem to have this one thing in common, being viewed as "beautiful", they are often crowned with the mantle of intellectual and ethical perfection as well. That's a heavy load to bear and only a few really make the cut. The rest seem to use their beauty as both a crutch and a weapon. They call on it when confronted with nasty realities such as drunken behavior, cheating, theft or any number of crimes, as a means to create the appearance of perfect innocence. They use it as a weapon in the school, in the workplace, and if not stopped, throughout life, to bully and manipulate others. This is not to say that all beautiful women or beautiful men, if it comes to that, are suspect. But there's a certain echelon of society that thrives on empty beauty and imbues it with qualities that just don't exist. So you end up with cheerleaders that get drunk on the football field, or that beat up a girl for moving in on her guy or just generally obnoxious behavior in the classroom. If not stopped, these same people use their looks to control their environment, making sure that they get constant validation of their beauty. Beauty becomes the controlling factor in their lives and without constant attention, they become unbalanced and act out in strange and often illegal ways. I think this can result in ruined marriages, destroyed careers and damaged futures. When beauty, and by that I mean sexual attractiveness, becomes the ONLY ruling factor, then in order to convince themselves they are worthy, they resort to behavior that is illegal, immoral and unethical. This is a situation that produces people such as teachers who get involved with students, professors that get involved with students, or bosses that use their power to coerce underlings and vice versa.

I think that many of the "beautiful people" having gotten away with bad behavior for so long, are genuinely shocked when the rest of the world finds out what they are doing and slams them in response. When was the last time you saw a professional athlete arrested that admitted he or she was doing something wrong? Look at pro baseball and the steroid scandals. Look at the number of athletes on expensive scholarships that get caught doing everything from rape to theft to dealing drugs. Do they do this to get by or do they do it because for too long people have looked the other way and made excuses for their bad behavior?

And it isn't just the beauty queens and clique leaders, it's the class president, the cheerleaders, the kids that appear to be the clean-cut all Americans. The create this image, give you the behavior publicly that you expect, then go around behind your back and do all the things that the "good kids" supposedly don't do. Don't get me wrong, there are some terrific kids out there who happen to play sports and have leadership roles in the schools. But those kids are three dimensional and have more than just their athletic abilities and social skills going for them. Those kids are often smart enough to see beyond the games of high school and college and have larger goals in life. But the kid who can only run fast or jump high or who is only blessed with good looks and not much else has other issues to handle. Sometimes academically he or she are given way too much slack. Sometimes when he or she get in trouble with the law, it's overlooked because of his status on the team or because of their parents' status in the community. This is not to say that it happens at all schools.

Many schools try to be vigilant and maintain some standards, but quite often it's the parents that give so much leeway to our "beauties and stars". In our own community, the son of a county judge and an assistant DA was arrested two years ago for shooting at girls with a pellet gun. That case still hasn't gone to court. He was arrested again for shooting off a gun in his backyard-not commonly done in suburban settings. And now, finally, he's 18 and in jail for stealing beer from a store and beating up the owner. This kid didn't get this way overnight. At some point his parents let things slide. And the more they let him get away with, the more he pushed. This lack of moral clarity and personal ethics should be alarming to most people, but even my own kids see it every day in dealing with their peers. It makes it hard for the kids trying to do right.

I don't think that creating this false assumption of superiority does these kids any favors. And I think the reason we see so many Paris Hiltons' and Terrance Owens' are because when younger, these people were seen as being golden. They could do no wrong and even their transgressions were overlooked until the behavior became too outrageous for anyone to overlook. Andy Warhol said "In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." With the advent of reality shows and other nonsense, there seems to be the vacuum in so many kids' lives where they feel the need for fame. That isn't what the American Dream was supposed to be about. But too many kids relate more to a controversial Eminem than they do to their own parents who work to provide them sustenance or people within their world that do what needs to be done and don't shout out for attention at every burp and snort. Once again it isn't every kid, but I think the children of the Hippy Generation, who were told they could do no wrong and that no decision was a bad one, are sadly in need of direction.

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