high school movies and clique taxonomies


It’s no wonder I’ve been having traumatic high school flashbacks. In my class on Monday, there was an extended discussion of terms used to categorize cliques (and outcasts) at the various schools that people had attended. (Keep in mind, for most of the students in the class I’m taking, high school was fairly recent history.) This was all relating to our assigned reading, primarily a text by Penelope Eckert about an ethnographic study she’d done in an American high school. The Eckert text (the same one that had a sentence that made me laugh out loud) discusses the terms Jocks and Burnouts, terms used by the teenagers in the Detroit area suburban high school she studied.

So the kids (yes, I’m freakin’ old) in the class were all relating the terms used in their schools. “We had jocks and greasers” or “we had preppies and townies”. Terms like “skaters” and “band kids” were bandied about. To be honest, I don’t remember all of what they said. I was too busy feeling old and having flashbacks to various movies that make reference to clique structure and terminology. Which is basically every American high school movie ever made.

But lets go over some examples, with the terminology:

  1. The Breakfast Club (1985)
    This movie featured 5 students of differing categories: Jock, Princess, Criminal, Basket Case and Brain.
  2. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)
    This quote about sums it up:

    Grace: Oh, he’s very popular Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads – they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.

  3. Heathers (1989)
    This movie has the exclusivity (and cruelty) of the popular clique taken to the extreme, with the 4 members (3 of whom are named Heather) called “The Heathers”.
  4. Clueless (1995)
    I don’t remember what terms this movie used explicitly, but I found this reference to the clique structure:

    On paper, Clueless would sound like just about any other high school comedy. It’s got the popular girls and the jocks, the dreamboats and the bitches, the stoners and the slackers.

  5. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
    One character gives a tour to another, a new kid at the high school, and explains the who’s-who of cliques:

    Over there you’ve got your basic beautiful people. Now listen. Unless they talk to you first, don’t bother.

    This movie went for somewhat exaggerated cliques, with Audio-video Geeks, Coffee People, White Rastas, Urban Cowboys and Future MBAs.

That’s all I got for now. I’ll have to do more research into this issue at some point. (Translation: I’ll watch some high school movies.) I am on the lookout for new references on this subject matter. If anyone has any clique terminology to add, whether based on your own ethnographic studies, knowledge of the literature, or familiarity with bitchin’ high school movies, please let me know.

12 thoughts on “high school movies and clique taxonomies

  1. i think i watched the breakfast club over 100 times. i was not really the goth chick, and i was fascinated by claire. her sushi before it was hip.

    i mean, really. it was an anthem.

  2. My favorite was 16 Candles. The geeks in the bathroom paying to see the girl’s panties. The geek tells the jock (Jake Ryan): “I mean, not many girls in contemporary American society today would give their underwear to help a geek like me.”

    …and Say Anything. A friend tells Lloyd why he won’t be able to date the girl he likes: “Diane Court doesn’t go out with guys like you. She’s a brain.
    Trapped in the body of a game-show hostess.”

  3. jen-
    Wow. The things we learn.

    jenny-
    Cool. I saw that in junior high. (Which for me was an even more traumatic time than HS.)

    Alice-
    Excellent references. Have you done research in this area yourself?

  4. has anyone noticed that “some kind of wonderful” and “pretty in pink” are the same movie?

    (best line from say anything: “i gave her my heart. she gave me a pen.”)

  5. I can never remember the differences between “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “Pretty in Pink”, except that one had Jon Cryer and one (possibly the same one) had Molly Ringwald.

    I was more of an Ally Sheedy fan, myself.

    I just watched 16 Candles for the first time a few weeks ago. I made it through the 80’s and the 90’s without ever seeing it the whole way through.

  6. jenny-
    I’ve only seen “Pretty in Pink”, as far as I know. Though I suppose it’s possible I really saw the other one…

    jwbates-
    I kinda identified with Ally Sheedy in the breakfast club. Maybe still do.

    NotSoSage-
    No worries. I always like getting links. (Assuming they’re not insulting…Not that I’ve dealt with that, but I wouldn’t want to overgeneralize…)

  7. Hey what about ‘mean girls’ with Lindsay Lohan… it’s got a classic overview of school cliques… i liked that they distinguished between ‘asian geeks’ and ‘cool asians’… i wish i could remember the rest… it’s a funny scene.

    i know, right?

  8. Wamut-
    You know, I haven’t seen “Mean Girls”. (Perhaps in part because the title alone gives me unpleasant flashbacks to adolesence.) It sounds like it provieds an excellent addition to the taxonomy list, though.

  9. I wanted to find the clueless one he says something about “slightly political, Rasta men, definitely think they are black. “

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