Scarp: Money fuels proms’ social competition - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

Scarp: Money fuels proms’ social competition

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at

Posted: Sunday, May 5, 2013 10:03 am | Updated: 8:58 am, Thu Aug 15, 2013.

I have to admit that this column is going to have few readers. For one thing, here is the only mention it will have of the name Jodi Arias. That’s it. Sorry.

And teenagers reading this can also move on to some other part of the Tribune, because (a) this column is about them, (b) young people never like to read about older people’s opinions about them and (c) it is definitely going to use constructions such as “When I was your age.”

OK, are the young people gone? All right, then:

When I was their age, having just recently emerged as I had from the primordial slime and walking on land, going to the prom meant much the same things to me and my high school classmates as it does to today’s teens.

I grew up in Scottsdale, a place not without people who put on airs as a profession. Still, my classmates and I weren’t interested in much of that.

We were celebrating our high school social scene, our moving into adulthood, our having dates who really cleaned up well after having seen them, for all intents and purposes, only in the more casual clothes we all wore to class.

And even the most modest prom plan cost a tidy sum of money, more than most of us had ever spent. On their own scale, today’s teens face a similar financial challenge.

I don’t know exactly when limousines became a must-do for prom couples. A few of my own classmates rented them, but the rest of us considered that to be more than a bit much. Limos were something our parents may have coveted as a status symbol, but at that time, the kid in my class with the white Pontiac sports car with a huge firebird painted on its hood was the one all the rest of us guys envied as the true prom ride of desire.

Back to today. We read this week in the Tribune an Associated Press story, “Prom spending is on the rise again,” telling of increasing prom outlays as a sign of an improving economy.

The AP quotes a consumer psychologist as saying, essentially, that prom night is something parents should shell out for as it has become an example of Keeping Up With the Joneses’ Teenagers:

“You don’t want your kid to be the only kid who doesn’t have what the other kids have,” psychologist Kit Yarrow of Golden Gate University told the AP. The story quotes average U.S. prom spending – it doesn’t say per person or per couple – to be $1,139 among those who plan to spend something.

And the story included comments from a Chandler mother who said she and her daughter chose a boutique to buy her daughter’s dress that records the types of dresses sold to girls going to the same prom to make sure the same dress design doesn’t show up there more than once.

No one is happier than I to see the recession easing, home prices rising and unemployment falling. And I understand the desire of teenage girls (and boys, for that matter) not to be socially upstaged. But I’m not quite sure that even during the best of times, more than $1,000 should be spent by their parents toward that goal.

After all, within a few months, a place with “university” or “college” in its name is going to want to be paid tuition.

My parents felt the same way. I didn’t spend their money, but mine. I had a wonderful time wearing my fairly fashionable school-choir tuxedo to two proms. I spent my own money on some nice dinners and lovely corsages and gifts and the prom tickets.

The AP story quoted Yarrow as saying, “Kids are fantasizing about their own stardom in a way…. This is sort of their red carpet moment.”

We didn’t have the instant celebrities produced by today’s prime-time-TV talent programs to emulate, but Hollywood’s movie and television stars of our era produced plenty of people not too much older than we whom we could have wanted to imitate.

But we didn’t. We didn’t want to be them. We wanted to be us, the greatest class of the greatest high school. Queen’s “We Are the Champions” was released our senior year. That’s where we were at. Sorry, Ryan Secrest. You didn’t go to our school.

I drove my parents’ Buick, a cream-colored full-size sedan with most every option, to the proms my senior year. It was a limousine compared to what passes for a full-size car today.

No, I don’t think any of us were dreaming of stardom. Me? I was more concerned with dancing like I knew how.

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