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The Hobby Shack => Creative Writing => Topic started by: Chiprocks1 on December 04, 2012, 09:08:18 pm

Title: The High School Genre Cliche Thread
Post by: Chiprocks1 on December 04, 2012, 09:08:18 pm
Another Genre Cliche thread that will focus on High School. What are the most common scenes that appear in the majority of films set in and around High School? This thread will get large pretty fast is my guess. As with the Horror Genre thread, be sure to high-lite your scenes in Yellow so it's easier to pick them out at a quick glace.

The Cliques - There always seems to be a scene where the "Rebel" or "Nerd" is giving a running commentary about all the Cliques that populate the school: The Burnouts, the Jocks, The Brainiacs, The Dweebs, etc.....and it usually takes place during lunchtime in the cafeteria or the quad.

'Genius as Idiot' - Another trait found in High School Flicks is that the main character is incredibly smart, but decides to dumb down in order to fit in with the other kids.

The Dance - You can't have a High School movie with the always in demand school dance.
Title: Re: The High School Genre Cliche Thread
Post by: Neumatic on December 04, 2012, 10:35:01 pm
Worse than the Dance, it's always the big dance, it's always prom.  I'll grant you that my school had a lot of dances but they can't be small ones, I like the idea of big things happening in a smaller arena, it's the emotions that are big (especially for teenagers since it's the first time), not the locales.  I guess it has something to do with the fact that prom is the most glam of school dances and it looks good on screen, but I think that's even more reason to do something different.  My fave dance at school was in the new cafeteria, a low ceilinged place with almost no decor.

Title: Re: The High School Genre Cliche Thread
Post by: Chiprocks1 on December 04, 2012, 10:40:10 pm
Ditching Class - What self respecting High School movie doesn't have a scene where the main character, along with friends ditches classes?

The Big Game - There is always a big game in this genre and its usually football. As a matter of fact, I can't recall any other sport with the exception of Basketball and never is it Baseball. I do think it adds to the excitement having people beating the crap out of each other on the field.
Title: Re: The High School Genre Cliche Thread
Post by: Neumatic on December 04, 2012, 10:59:20 pm
Didn't they have lacrosse in American Pie?  Or was that just the American Jedi parody, which is the only one I can remember.

My school never had a football team (undefeated!), so I never got the whole appeal.  One Tree Hill was, I think, Cain and Abel on the basketball court, but yeah, baseball... unless they remake a Japanese high school movie we probably won't get that.  Which is so strange since it's the American pasttime.  Heck, the last baseball movie, Moneyball, barely had any actual baseball in it.

I now wonder what extra-curricular activities could be interesting spines for high school movies, we've have school papers, cheerleaders and glee club, but there's tons more.  And not just the crummy school has exceptional kid in unlikely field becomes a symbol of hope type stories, like the inner city kid is a chess whiz and goes to a chess tournament and brings pride to the town type of thing.  You could have a foodie club (like the Breakfast Club) or something like that.

One trope I'm guilty of is the "new guy in the middle of the school term."  Never joins school at the start of the year.  And in the incredibly unlikely chance it IS the first day of school, you never see them buy their textbooks or put all their junk in their lockers for the first time (or empty their lockers) or pop open a fresh lock... 
Title: Re: The High School Genre Cliche Thread
Post by: Chiprocks1 on December 04, 2012, 11:06:41 pm
The Fight - There is always a big fight scene, usually it's in place of the Big Game, since it's really about the "Nerd" going up against the 'School Bully'. This is in essence the 'Big Game' when the entire school is there to witness the beat down. When done right, it's My Bodyguard ('s-blu-rays/my-bodyguard-(1980)/msg11266/#msg11266). When done wrong it's Drillbit Taylor ('s-blu-rays/drillbit-taylor-(2008)/msg14197/#msg14197). Ugh.
Title: Re: The High School Genre Cliche Thread
Post by: Neumatic on December 04, 2012, 11:11:35 pm
I was trying to remember what I said in the Drillbit Taylor fight in that thread, but I'll just repost:

I'm trying to remember if Drillbit was their muscle or just their consultant, teaching them to fight and being their lookout, like the CIA guy in the van.  That seems far more plausible.  Was he mirroring their plight with his own problems, they teach him while he teaches them, cause I sure as heck don't remember it. 

Well, to be fair, what credible threat could bullies in school pose to kids?  In one script I was toying with the bullies were going to mutilate the main kid character, but no movie... especially a comedy... is going to put that in.  If they had a sub-threat like blackmail or something, that would be interesting (and make the kids far from innocent, so they'd have something more to own up to themselves)... it would be the leverage they have to treat the hero kids like garbage.  Then you could get away from the whole "violence solves everything" approach (which I greatly dislike) and have the kids turn the tables, own up to their issues and take power away from the bullies, THEN the physical thing would be the icing on the cake.
Title: Re: The High School Genre Cliche Thread
Post by: Neumatic on February 14, 2014, 03:53:43 pm
(I didn't realize that this was one of the first threads we posted here).

More than a couple of high school movies have crossed my eyes in the last two weeks or so and I've made a couple observations...

The lack of homework
First, I don't know when you all went to school, but when I did we were just weighed down by books.  Think how big a school textbook is, then you have them for every class, then you have notebooks, then you have all this supplemental stuff, now some kids have their laptops... ti's back-breakingly heavy (so I CAN see the reason why the actors don't do this).  But every school movie I see, the students are casually carrying one textbook and one notebook.  It just hurts the reality of it all a little bit because it doesn't match up to experience.  Perhaps a way to get around this is that they have slightly too much to carry, or they need to shift it in their arms because it's a bit too much.  it doesn't have to be too big, but it should be slightly more than they can handle.

This also makes me realize how little I see people do homework in movies.  Now I grant you that movies cut out the boring parts, but on the rare occasion that you do, it's usually one book open and one notebook or something instead of what's more likely: a giant, disorganized mess.  School is so messy, and a lot of that mess comes from what's required of you.  And even if you slimmed all that down, even if it was all computerized, you'd still have a mess and more junk than you'd think.  And homework takes a LONG time.  Again, it's not something we want to see, but it's one of those things that, when you omit it, causes a big part of the "reality" to go missing.  It seems less true to experience.

Teachers are losers
Not really, I mean that... well, society treats teachers as losers, we certainly don't pay them enough or give them proper respect or even trust them with educating our kids (they really don't get input into curriculum and so on, that's all taken care of more and more by private companies).  They just have this burden on them that's really crushing, and we go through them like tissues in real life.  Being a teacher sucks.  Most of the times this little element is ignored, one thing I really liked about Mean Girls was that Tina Fey's teacher character just had bad luck, had a crummy job, she just... there was this sense of patheticness to her that just unfortunately rang true to life, *I* thought.  Now, of course I want our teachers treated better in the real world and we need serious education reform (and probably a new way of educating our children), but this isn't the real world we're talking about, it's movie world, where we gotta reflect reality.  So ideally all that unfair pressure and stress should come out in a teacher character in the way they do things.

It's not that I hate or am tired of cliques, or even see them as unrealistic, the thing about them is... that becomes an easy category to put all the characters into, and most importantly it takes away attention on something I think is almost always overlooked in HS movies: each class has their own personality.  Mine did.  My sisters' did, and she was just a year under me, and we had some of her classmates in my class, but still, there was something there that made us different from them, and not in a good way/bad way.  It just was.  It was an identity thing.  And I almost never see that in movies.  A class isn't just the groups that make it up, it's the gestalt personality from all of them combined.  And I can imagine it's real tricky to write, but if you can, it's an interesting thing to consider.

Something I loved about Say Anything is that not only did that class seem to have it's own personality, everyone in it was unique, and so they all stood out, but they also felt like people you might run into.

Adults as teenagers
I recently had a revelation about this, and now I'm totally cool with adults playing teens in certain situations: that's how teenagers see themselves.  Teenagers see themselves as older, as adults, they have this weird perception, so when we have adult actors as teens, it's like an unreliable narrator in a way, we're seeing how they see themselves.  Sort of like Quantum Leap where we see Scott Bakula but everyone else sees whoever he jumped into.  So I'm cool with that now.

And of course, there's the added benefit where having adults means you can work longer days and go into more delicate subject matter and get more nuanced performances (it helps to have HAD the HS experience before looking back at it), acting is experience, after all.  The other side of that is when you have teenagers playing teenagers, they seem younger, more inexperienced, and more real, and you can do things that you just couldn't do with adults.  The documentary Bully was heartbreaking because it was actual kids, and after all the adults-as-teens movies, they came off as babies so it was even more powerful.  Of course, if you wanted to fictionalize the events in that movie, you'd probably need young adults to do it.

Carrie really got me thinking this, b/c prom/homecoming are the two "big" parties that HS movies tend to center around.  I don't know how popular the trope was before the original Carrie but since then it's everywhere, I kept thinking She's All That when they were talking about the prom when really, if anyone's entitled to use the prom, it's Carrie, particularly because it gets her on that stage.  But the truth is that there are TONS of parties and social events that kids throw.  I quite like how that never came up in Charlie Bartlett, where the big party was just held at a venue for... I don't even remember the reason.  I know you need adults to book a hotel or proper venue, but kids are totally capable of having their own fun and throwing their own parties... and those can have their own identities and their own culture of anticipation around them that could be really fun to play with.
Title: Re: The High School Genre Cliche Thread
Post by: Chiprocks1 on February 14, 2014, 05:09:18 pm
All great observations on your end. I will addressed a couple of them from my own perspective. In Jr. High, I always carried my books in a oversize backpack because for whatever reason it was, my classrooms were always at the tail end of the school. I never had two classes anywhere near my locker and it was just added work...and pressure of getting to each class on time in the span of 5 minutes between periods. In High School though, all my classes were pretty much in the same vicinity of my locker and that afforded me the option of keeping all my books there and all I needed was the one book per class. So, I can and will give any HS movie that actually has students carrying just one at a time since it's not totally out of line of reality.

When it comes to proms and / or dances, I also give them as pass. As much as sex is a right of passage, the same can be said about School functions like dancers or parties. It's a part of the school culture and I think for a school movie not to have one would draw too much attention to itself. The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller's Day Off do in fact get a pass because of the unique situation they are in. Both are about High School, and yet they really aren't if you think about it from a typical point of view of the characters as one is more or less a Group Therapy session and the other is about playing hooky.....far from school grounds.

The same goes for Cliques. You can't have a HS movie without them. I will point to The Breakfast Club again as a prime example. You have 5 kids each representing a specific 'Type'. There is a reason why TBC is tops in my book because they take cliches and make it about something so relatable while being totally original for the genre itself.
Title: Re: The High School Genre Cliche Thread
Post by: Neumatic on February 14, 2014, 05:46:24 pm
Your comment about carrying all those books and how far your locker was reminds me of just how horribly designed lockers are.  They don't make any sense to me, they're too skinny or too small, there's not enough shelf space... I just feel like there's a better way to do that.

I really don't have anything against cliques in general, I just think they become an easy excuse to avoid complex side characters or motivations... it makes it easier for the writer to think they can get away with stock characters.  "Oh, they're the mean girls because they're rich" or something.  A little more exploring can give you not just interesting motivations but interesting actions and reactions.

I almost never went to parties, never went to my prom or anything like that.  I went to a few side concerts but that wasn't much.  One thing that I'd definitely want to see more of is the splinters that any gatherings like this create: everyone breaks into small groups (not cliques) and have their own things going on, which are usually more interesting.  I think when it's prom or something like that, it's easy to get trapped in the structure of it, and I think the elements on the side are where the magic can happen.

You know, thinking of hooky, it's confession time, I used to sneak off campus in high school and go to the comic shop, it was a couple blocks away and definitely beyond where we were allowed to go, and I'm sure everyone knew but I never got in trouble for it.  I'm sure that was one of those karmic rewards I got for being an overlooked loser in those days.

Maybe this is one of those things where... I think that the reason people write HS stories is they want to address and "fix" their own experiences, get some sort of closure on all that, but at the same time, they're fearful of opening those old wounds (which would actually HELP if they wanted closure), so they fall back on the standards instead of really going in (I'm sure that the assignment work is also on a strict timetable, so there's no time to really dive into all of that).  That's just my guess.
Title: Re: The High School Genre Cliche Thread
Post by: Chiprocks1 on February 14, 2014, 06:17:22 pm
I've got a couple of my own High School stories that I've written over the years (need to find what external HD they are sitting on as it's been awhile since I've actually read them) and I will be the first to say that they pretty much follow the same tried and true genre cliches. It wasn't a conscious thing on my part to do that. It's just what I know and what I experience firsthand in my own years in school. They say 'write what you know' and that's how it came out on the pages. Sure, they are cliches for a reason because everyone has the same experiences and no one really tries to do anything different with it (TBC being the exception in the genre). I may write another HS story and be more mindful of trying something different with the knowledge of this discussion.
Title: Re: The High School Genre Cliche Thread
Post by: Neumatic on February 14, 2014, 06:48:53 pm
That's the trick with writing, it's not just writing what you know, but writing it in a way no one else has done.  Sometimes you may find yourself realizing that you focused on the wrong character, or you put the characters in the wrong circumstances... when you find them and look back on them (and I'll be happy to read over them if you like), don't judge, just... ask questions.

My approach when I watch and try to work on trope-centric stories is to see what everyone else does, why they do it, and what they could do instead.  So many of my notes start with "wouldn't it be nuts if...?"
Title: Re: The High School Genre Cliche Thread
Post by: Chiprocks1 on August 17, 2014, 12:21:13 pm
Top 10 Fictional Television Schools

Before playing the clip, I tried to guess what would take the top spot and I wasn't even close because the selection wasn't even on my radar. After the reveal that The Simpsons was #1, literally pulled a Homer and went Do'h! An obvious choice. With that said, a lot of good picks but as with the case of all things Mojo, their order is just completely wrong. When coming up with my list before the clip, I had it as such: 1. Buffy The Vampire Slayer 2. Friday Night Lights 3. Beverly Hills: 90210 4. Veronica Mars 5. Freaks and Geeks. Needless to say, my list didn't make it compared to what Mojo pulled out of its ass.
Title: Re: The High School Genre Cliche Thread
Post by: Neumatic on August 17, 2014, 03:14:34 pm
What school is it where someone walks around in a swimsuit?

Also, isn't it interesting that so many of the schools have big problems?  You can go to these schools, but those diplomas might not be worth much.

I was also a little miffed but not surprised to see that Knob Haven High from "Sit Down Shut Up" wasn't listed.  There aren't even any clips of the show on Youtube.  But a school where the teachers include Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Henry Winkler, Will Forte, Kenan Thompson, Cheri Oteri, and Tom Kenny?  Come on!

Here's the movie top 10:

Thoughts:  The stereotypes are off the charts here, the stoners in one movie look like the stoners in every other movie.  It's like a feedback loop.  They even do the same spit/swallow trick.

Also, have you noticed this difference, where on shows the teachers and students are more intertwined (to the point where there's affairs going on?) while in movies, they seem more separated?  No one's having a teacher's baby in the movies.
Title: Re: The High School Genre Cliche Thread
Post by: Chiprocks1 on August 17, 2014, 03:17:29 pm
I didn't even think look to see if they had one for the movies. Gonna watch now........
Title: Re: The High School Genre Cliche Thread
Post by: Neumatic on August 17, 2014, 03:36:14 pm
Going through WatchMojo, and found this little video.  Seeing how many of those schools are named after US Presidents, shouldn't a fake high school be named after a fake president?
Title: Re: The High School Genre Cliche Thread
Post by: Chiprocks1 on August 17, 2014, 03:53:31 pm
...shouldn't a fake high school be named after a fake president?

Give it time. Someone is bound to name one after Obama soon enough.
Title: Re: The High School Genre Cliche Thread
Post by: Neumatic on August 17, 2014, 04:04:01 pm
Sarah Palin High School.  Everyone drops out halfway through.

Rick Perry High School, where they stress the three Rs: Reading, writing, and... uh...

The trick about naming high schools seems to be to be as neutral as possible, either the town "Smallville High" or a long-dead public figure.  But what about a private school?  That's the kicker.  Sometimes it's a private citizen, sometimes it's just a combination of words ("Chadbrook" is my current go-to).