Monday, November 14, 2011

Lesson #3: From "The Telltale Head" [S01, E08]

Lesson #3: Peer pressure makes you do idiotic things.

At one point or another, you have experienced or will experience peer pressure in your life. It's just a fact.

In the pursuit of acceptance, people are often willing to do whatever it takes to be part of the "in crowd." From something as simple as buying the right fashion to things as serious as taking drugs and participating in illegal activities, peer pressure happens in every stage of life.

In season 1 episode 8, "The Telltale Head," Bart gets himself into trouble by cutting off the head of the statue of Jebediah Springfield. This act goes far beyond anything Bart would think to do on his own, so why would he do it in the first place? He did so in an attempt to gain the approval of an older group of delinquent boys.

After an unfortunate accident on his skateboard, Bart meets Dolph, Kearney, and Jimbo, the baddest kids in school (whom Bart highly reveres), outside of the local movie theater. Bart's admiration for Jimbo immediately leads him to give in to the will of the group. They start by sneaking in a movie theater to watch the new Space Mutant movie. Bart questions this action, asking, "isn't this like stealing?"  They assure him that it is, in fact, stealing. Bart makes fart noises as they all make silly comments, hamming it up for the bad boys. Of course, this leads to the whole group to be thrown out of the theater, which seems to be a common occurrence for Jimbo and his cronies.

The boys head to the Kwik-E-Mart where Bart purchases a round of Squishies for them all; unbeknownst to him, the other kids have helped themselves to magazines, food, and candy ("five finger discount, man"). They then stop in the town square to throw stones at the statue of Jebediah Springfield. Bart is bothered by this at first, as he holds deep respect for Jebediah Springfield as the town founder. Nonetheless, Bart eventually gives in to peer pressure and chucks his own rock, nailing the statue right between the eyes.

They then head to a hill top to finish their Squishies, and lay in the grass to look at clouds. The hooligans remark that the clouds look like cherry bombs, a man with a knife in his back, etc. Bart notices a cloud which looks like the statue in the town square, but without a head. The group quickly remarks how great it would be if someone cut off the head of the statue and how it would "cheese everyone off." Bart is quick to defend the town founder, which leads to his quick ostracism from the group.

Bart would do anything to regain acceptance and popularity, so he goes to his dad for advice. He asks if it would it be OK to do something you knew was wrong in exchange for popularity. Homer, in his ignorance, tells Bart, "Being popular is the most important thing in the world." For Bart to regain favor with the group, in his mind, he must cut the head off the statue of Jebediah Springfield. Of course, this action does not turn out like Bart expected, and he feels deep regret; instead of becoming more popular, he is shunned by the group and hated by the town.

Like Bart, all of us do things crazy things in pursuit of popularity. Anyone rushing a fraternity or sorority may know the lengths people will go to for acceptance. It may be something insignificant, like wearing a Speed-O at a social event, eating ridiculous amounts of food for entertainment and shock value, or something worse, involving illegal drugs and underage drinking. Here's Josh's first experience with peer pressure:

I know my first experience with alcohol was from peer pressure. I was 19 years old at a small party with a group a friends. While we all sat in my friend's Jacuzzi, I was offered a drink. I turned it down, like I had many times in the past. I always used the excuse that I didn't like the taste, but they had an answer: a Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler. I made it through all of my high school years without drinking a drop, but, of course, I made it through all of high school not being very popular, either. Now, I was in college and things were going to be different, so I gave in to the will of the group and drank up. From then on, I pretty much drank at every party. The drinks had to get harder and less "girly" (and tasted far worse), but hey, I had to fit in. 
As we've said before, you don't need us to tell you peer pressure is alive and well. Between online bullying and cliques becoming more prevalent in schools, kids all across the world are being pressured into conforming to an almost "mob-esque" mentality. Hell, there are entire companies built around peer pressure (read: Girls Gone Wild). With the rise of the internet, social media and reality television, a switch got flipped and now every drunk, loud, annoying degenerate in the country is vying for their own 15 minutes of fame (go watch any video on YouTube that doesn't involve cats). With this mentality, giving in to peer pressure in the pursuit of popularity isn't just encouraged, it almost seems as if it is expected. Take "Jersey Shore," for example: millions of viewers tune in to see is how obnoxious Snooki and Deena were at the bar this week. Behind the scenes, people on reality TV are encouraged by producers to drink more, sleep around more, and get into fights (whether they are staged or not), all in the name of entertainment and ratings.

Where do we, as a society, go from here? Peer pressure will never go away. It's written in our DNA to be part of groups, like social animals. As long as we crave acceptance to be in groups, to be popular, to be wanted, peer pressure will get the best of us every single time.

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