A midnight viewing of the 1999 teen film “She’s All That” on some random station? Sold. My 14-year-old self became slightly giddy when Rachael Leigh Cook (aka Laney Boggs) appeared on the screen. The outcast art freak turned Cinderella, only to fall prey to the popular kids, eventually getting the glass slipper placed on her foot by Prince Charming (Freddie Prinze Jr.). Out of curiosity, I reached for my smartphone and searched for Cook’s Instagram. She is still a fox.
And it was films like “She’s All That” (and also “Can’t Hardly Wait,” “10 Things I Hate About You” and “American Pie”) where the 1990s teen romantic comedy came to be immortalized — onscreen at the time and on late night TV forever after.
I looked at those films — those unrealistic characters, generic status roles and predictable plots — as something to strive for. Leaving a private Catholic school and heading into public school for the first time in seventh grade, I was like the plague in terms of getting anywhere near some sort of semblance of being accepted by my affluent, beautiful and athletically gifted peers.
Me? I was skinny as a beanpole. Hundred pounds soaking wet, as they say. Thick glasses. Gelled hair that was combed over. Clothes 10 years out of fashion. An old-soul mindset 10 years ahead of my time. I was the fringe of the edge of anyone even knowing I existed. I could count all my friends on one hand by the time I got to the middle finger, which I usually dreamt of flipping to those who tormented me in the hallways, classrooms and locker rooms.
But, I never really let it bother me. I simply retreated further into my new obsession, which in middle school was music — live in concert, on the radio and in my stereo. And in the moments when I didn’t have headphones on or a performance to attend (and enjoy) by myself, I kept my head high, hoping someday I’d find common ground with those I wanted to be accepted by.
And yet, the funny thing was, I eventually did find myself in those upper-level social circles when high school rolled around. I found my niche as a track and cross-country star, winning races and big meets, where suddenly I’d get asked to sit at tables I only squinted at from across the cafeteria. It was getting invited to parties at their parents’ house or backwoods gatherings with huge bonfires, where somebody would hand me a beer and actually know what my name was.
It wasn’t some victory, not in my eyes at least. Because, once you find yourself inside the “circle,” you actually realize how lame and ridiculous the circle really is. And that still applies today in adulthood. I’ve always found the higher you reach into the social stratosphere, the more anger, jealousy and bullshit you come across — all spewed by those you had once hoped would give you the time of day, someday.
Way back in the day, pre-Y2K, I held the notion, “we all have our victories in our own time.” I knew one day I’d figure out how to get footing in life, physically and emotionally. But, I was trapped in the body of a teenager. So, I’d just have to wait it out, make the best of high school, and head to college with a blank canvas of possibility and promise.
Heck, rereading that previous sentence I wrote just makes me cringe in how cheesy it comes across. But, that is how I truly felt, and so did (and do) countless other individuals who went through the same things, across the country and around the world. And that’s all because what I felt is a big crossroads of the human condition as a youth — do you let all the noise defeat you or do you let it define your rise above it?
Towards the end of “She’s All That,” when Freddie Prinze Jr. (aka Zack Siler) is awarded the prom king crown, he smirks amid some epiphany and sympathy “for the little guy,” getting on the microphone and saying, “You know, for a lot of us, this is as good as it gets. We aced the test, made the big shot, got a crown. But the truth is we’re just getting started. We can be anything we wanna be. And I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m hopin’ I never forget that.”
What’s funny is, I don’t remember when I first watched that film. Probably on some old-school VHS tape I rented, on some couch in a now repainted living room, in some town I haven’t thought of in years. And yet, that prom king statement always stuck with me, seeing as it still resonates just as strongly right now. Especially in our current social climate, where we compare ourselves to whatever glitz and glamour we see on YouTube or where wish we had as many followers on Instagram as some fake face, body and image we view as a reality of “the way things are and should be.”
What remains is that adulthood is filled with the same obstacles and social minefields that we thought were safely navigated out of in middle and high school, with the safe haven being college. The minefields are just as present tomorrow as they were yesterday. It’s all a matter of if you dance around them or step on them out of sacrifice for a chance at a place and status that might make you happier than where you currently stand.
But, it won’t, for it’s that smile and sense of self, all while alone and on your own, that matters the most.
Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.
1 No Name Sports Pub (Sylva) will host Sultry Sirens Varietease Show & Dance Party at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25.
2 Lazy Hiker Brewing (Franklin) will host Eric Hendrix & Friends (rock/pop) at 8 p.m. Friday, March 24.
3 O’Malley’s Sports Bar & Grill (Sylva) will host PMA (reggae/rock) at 9 p.m. Saturday, April 1.
4 Heinzelmannchen Brewery (Sylva) will host Henry Wong (singer-songwriter) and a potluck from 6 to 8 p.m. March 23 and 30.
5 The Waynesville Public Library will host acclaimed pianist Marquita Someliana at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 25.