Thanks to Facebook, I recently reconnected with my date to the Winter Park High School junior prom of 1994. Chatting with Jenny, I thought back to that magical evening. Days before prom night, I'd dyed my short hair a color called fuchsia plum, and what I remember most is sitting outside the dance afterward, sweating in the polyester tomb of my tux, and noticing Jenny looking at my shoulders.
A 16-year-old boy can be forgiven for thinking that his prom date might be marveling at the breadth of his shoulders. But it turned out that she was staring at the fuchsia plum dandruff on my jacket.
Prom may cost a fortune. (And it does: A 2004 study calculated that high school proms are a $2.7 billion industry.) But the memories of prom are priceless — which is unfortunate, because I for one would happily sell mine for a dollar.
Prom shouldn't just be discouraged; it should be outlawed. These days, I write novels for teenagers, and I often hear prom horror stories from my readers: the rejection, the disappointment, the prom shoes vomited upon by a date with alcohol poisoning. An inspired few have taken to throwing what they call "Morps," or backward proms, on prom nights.
I'm all for morps — casual house parties where the dress code is more funny than formal — instead of proms, but I think that any party should be deemed felonious if it includes more than two of the following: nonalcoholic punch, dresses that only get worn once, an unironic theme, rented clothing, a creepy association with virginity — or elected monarchs. We fought a war of independence to live in a nation free of monarchy, and now we choose kings and queens in elections more bitterly contested than those for student council?
Imagine if parents invested their $2.7 billion per year in arts education, or in school libraries, or even in over-the-top graduation parties. At least graduation has symbolic resonance. Prom is graduation's vapid sibling. The Bramwell Bronte. The Billy Baldwin.
Prom gives us so little in return for our billions. Sure, there's a kind of joy in self-indulgent displays of wealth — even when the wealth is rented. But Wall Street is learning what all teenagers know by the end of a night at the Sheraton ballroom: Throwing money around doesn't make the phony real.
John Green is the author of Paper Towns and other novels for young adult readers.