First published in Celestial Junk.

Truly there is no greater cinema genre than the High School/College flick. No other artistic medium does more to realistically capture the trials and tribulations inherent in humanities continued struggle with existence on this celestial sphere we call Earth. To be sure, no other genre delves so deeply into the human condition and exposes the true nature and dynamism of the human condition.

The humble origins of the High School/College genus of films emerged in the 1980’s. It was a different time, a time of national and international harmony, a time of unbridled creative ambition, a time of parachute pants and Cyndi Lauper. The proletarian masses no longer feared “wearing their sunglasses at night” after reformist Corey Hart nailed his edict, Luther like, to the doors of the church of Pop.

Eddie Murphy proved to the world that a bad actor need not be confined to big screen, and could be equally bad as a vocalist. Men “came from a land down under”, girls “just wanted to have fun”, Bananarama was “our Venus, our fire, AND our desire”, and most everyone “really did want to make” Boy George “cry”.

The Bee Gees, Kings of Disco, had been rightfully dethroned, drawn, and quartered. Gargantuan figures of nerd-dom Bill Gates and Steve Jobs battled for supremacy and paved the way for such crucial inventions as dancing babies, pop-up adds, and junk mail. Lethal Weapon gave a concise but unheeded warning of Mel Gibson’s insanity and the bizarre musical displays in Footloose and Dirty Dancing caused most people to question humanity’s sanity on the whole. Milli Vanilli proved that prancing around a stage revealing great quantities of bulky German man flesh was in fact an art form, and finally, the golden era of the High School/College flick was born.

The protagonists featured in this bold new genre were, like all of the other characters, utterly and comfortably predictable. Tagged with uber-slick 80’s names like Slater, Marty, Ferris, and Skyler, they were truly kings among geeks. High School for the hero is a laugh a minute adventure; hooky on weekdays, football on the weekends, and “slaying” the shy but independent and above average intelligent though certainly not nerdy and sometimes just a little bit dirty bodacious babe at the prom. For our College stud, it’s titillating amounts of “second base” and beery shenanigans that usually target that campus “square”, the grumpy old Dean. This is a near mirror image of my own high school experience, where I usually ended up beery and received a foot to the balls every time I tried for second base.

Just like the protagonists, the antagonists are, generally speaking, the exact same character in every film. They come in three forms; the uptight and overbearing authority figure (the Principle, the Dean), the school bully or college thug (usually with monosyllabic names like Bull or Biff), and the uppity and exclusive clique (filled with hot but “totally stuck up” chicks). This cast of middling adversaries presents an easily surmountable challenge for our hero.

The clique is usually the first dealt with; they are “brought down a peg” with a slick and impromptu stunt done in front of the whole school that leaves them embarrassed and defused. As a side effect, this bit of tomfoolery usually impresses the “totally smokin’” heroine of the picture.

The bully is a little tougher, but still not much of a challenge. Our chill champion simply challenges the oaf to a battle of the appropriate skill set (skateboarding, “beer bombing”, a dance-off-ing, etc), and he is sure to win.

Finally, the authority figure can be tackled in a number of ways. Our lead can pull off the ultimate prank right under his nose, prove he’s actually an “ok” student, or simply graduate and leave the school behind. One of these, promptly followed by a “ totally bitch’n ” guitar solo usually wraps up the film nicely.

The rest of the supporting cast is also, unsurprisingly, predictable. However this is a certifiable benefit, if anything. Just like cold in Winnipeg, inanity in Liberals, or the inevitable release of another Will Farrell/Vince Vaughn/Ben Stiller/Owen Wilson/Jackie Chan/Chris Tucker buddy flick, it’s just comforting to know they’re there. The protagonist’s campus cohorts can vary slightly depending on his needs.

If a devilishly clever prank requires some complex constructions, great hacker skills, or just more brain power, then a “nerdlinger” or simple nerd is befriended, albeit reluctantly. For more general-purpose friendship, an altogether more forgettable buddy is employed to say things like “narly!” and “whoa, right on dude!” and crush beer cans on his forehead at the appropriate moment.

Next we have the heroine of our picture. As I mentioned before, she’s a shy but independent and above average intelligent though certainly not nerdy and sometimes just a little bit dirty totally bodacious babe. Our hero always manages to bridge that mysterious chasm of devotion and capture the most intimate desires and affections of our young mistress’ longing heart (i.e. he “scores”).

Finally, we have a few tertiary characters worth mentioning. There is the vaguely foreign kid of indeterminable nationality and the gorgeous mother of one of the students who sunbaths beside a pool in a bikini and sunglasses and makes unnatural advances towards every 17 year old in the neighborhood.

With all of these characters firmly in place, our movie is ready to unleash some totally bogus seminary high jinx and beery mischief. These sudsy shenanigans can vary greatly. One classic gambit involves the construction of a rudimentary mannequin to play the bed ridden “sick student” and facilitate a full-blown all day hooky escapade, which results in beer and probably bra-less-ness at some point. Another more impromptu scheme finds our hero slyly infiltrating a sorority, commando like. Once the hallowed halls of Theta Beta Detla or I Coppa Feel are penetrated, boozing and bra-less-ness ensues. A final scheme involves setting up the ultimate prank, meant to send that crabby old Dean over the edge. Without getting into too much detail, it will suffice to say that a barnyard animal, beer, an air raid siren, and several hundred gallons of creamed corn will be involved in the “totally righteous” hoax. Also, it goes without saying that at some point during the prank, someone’s loosing her bra.

That in essence is the award winning formula of the High School/College flick. It’s a recipe that has served us faithfully since 1982, and will probably continue to reign supreme so long as consumers between that ages of 15 and 24 are dense, slobbering, Neanderthals.

If you happen to fall outside of the drooling ape-man demographic, there’s very little hope that you will be able to fight the system. So get out there and rent yourself Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Breakfast Club, Revenge of the Nerds, Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Spring Break, Mean Girls, American Pie, American Pie II, and if you’re feeling daring, American Pie: Band Camp. Either that or take a one-way 13 hour bus ride to The Pas, Manitoba in February with Carrot Top and a “Best of Boy Bands” mix tape and then sit through a half-day seminar on The Effects of Hydro-Distilled-Herbicides on Thistle and Ragweed. Your level of enjoyment will be much the same.

 

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