Every once in a while I’ll wake up remembering something from my school years I’d forgotten, and yesterday morning, it was the strange American high school phenomenon known as the pep rally.
Even if I hadn’t participated in this bizarre ritual, I would have known I hated it just from the name. I don’t associate myself with anything that contains the word “pep,” except perhaps “peptic ulcer.” The word “pep” makes me shoot fireballs out of my eyes. You’re giving me a “pep talk”? Fuck you. You want me to “pep up”? Fuck you. I should add here that I’m also not fond of the word “rally” because it implies the presence of other people. And if I were to subject myself to a rally, it would be completely voluntary, to support power to the people or some shit like that, not to support a high school sports team. (There’s another post somewhere deep within me about the inanity of high school sports, but I’m gonna just keep that simmering and let this caustic indictment of pep rallies suffice for now.)
From what I remember, the pep rally involved all of us students being herded through the gym doors and onto the bleachers, where we had to sit with our designated class. While we entered, the jazz band played, and to this day I wish I’d been part of it, as hiding behind a large brass instrument seems to me the only sane thing to do during such a nightmarish social experiment. The principal spoke, and maybe some teachers, and maybe the president of student council, and then the members of that season’s sports teams were announced and ran onto the gym floor to varying degrees of acclaim from the student body. At least one athlete would perform some stupid dance or self-aggrandizing gesture. By this point I was sorely wishing I hadn’t left whichever Sylvia Plath book I was reading back in my locker. At intervals throughout this tiresome charade, our cheerleaders would perform. I’ve since learned from pop culture that cheerleaders are supposed to be the prettiest and most popular girls in the school. At my high school, the most popular girls actually played sports themselves, and with the elite having been already culled, the cheering squad was a sad second string. They’d perform an anemic, poorly-synchronized routine of some sort that ended in the short, spunky, chunky ones lifting up the one wobbly, pale, sticklike one in a tenuous pyramid formation that frankly made me anxious. Yet I was unable to look away. Before I knew it, the worst part of the rally had come: The jazz band was traveling to each of the class groups and leading them in dancing and chanting. I seem to remember that the goal was for each class to be louder and more spirited than the others, and to this day I can think of few more inane enterprises. As the monkeys danced and chanted for the pleasure of who-knows-who—I can’t imagine that anyone was deriving pleasure from the pointless exercise—the band threw candy up into the bleachers. Which I might add was the ONLY redeeming thing about the afternoon, and not nearly redeeming enough since I could have just gone home and eaten more of the Krackel bars I had in my bedroom and was supposed to be selling for show choir. Unless it was holiday time, in which case it was tins full of Fudgy Bears.
It’s beyond comprehension that with the U.S. so far behind in so many measures of academic progress, schools consider dancing, chanting, and candy-catching a worthwhile use of a class period. True, I was learning about as much there as I would have learned in 7th period pre-calculus, which is nothing, but shouldn’t they have at least kept up appearances?
I’d like to think that times have changed a little, and that if our high schoolers are still forced to go to pep rallies, they’re at least allowed to play Words with Friends on their phones while a culturally-sensitive mascot strolls among them, handing out veggie crisps and fat-free muffins labeled with self-esteem-boosting messages, fostering cooperation instead of competition. Which sounds more my speed. If the “veggie crisps” are Fudgy Bears and the “fat-free muffins” are narcotics, and “cooperation” involves my not having to look at or speak to another human being.
I could rally around that.