Sending Jesus to high school

The TV show I would like to see — on MTV, or the N, or the CW — is simply this: Jesus Goes to High School. I wouldn’t call it that, of course, but that’s the whole idea, no more and no less.

The story would work due to the same dynamic that allows those contemporary reworkings of Shakespeare or Jane Austen to work in a high-school setting when they otherwise defy contemporary adaptation. High school is one place where hierarchical manners and strictly regimented behavioral codes like those of Shakespeare’s or Austen’s time still hold force.

A high-school setting also provides a good contemporary analog to the strict, hierarchical purity codes of first-century religion. High school is a place where clear rules govern one’s social standing, clean or unclean, acceptable or abominable. It is thus an ideal setting for portraying Jesus’ agenda of embracing the unclean, the outcast and the unrighteous and thus for retelling the old, old story in a way that would help us to see it with fresh eyes.

But that’s really only a secondary consideration. Denys Arcand’s beautiful film Jesus of Montreal took the story of Jesus and placed it in the context of the world of art and theater. In doing so, Arcand helped us to see that story in a new light, but I think that was only a side effect of his main theme, which was to allow Jesus’ story to help us to see the world of art and theater in a new light. Similarly, a TV show that told the story of Jesus in high school wouldn’t mainly be about helping us to better see Jesus’ story, but to better see high school.

This heart-breaking anti-bullying PSA gets at what I mean and why I want to see this story told (be warned — this includes harsh, hurtful language):

I want to see a story in which the last become first, the humble are exalted and the meek inherit something better. I want to see a story in which the outcasts and the despised hear some good news. I want to see a story with a preferential option for losers.

It would be best for this TV show to avoid a rigid, chapter-by-chapter rehashing of the Gospels. But take that story arc, borrow from that cast of characters — Peter, James, John, Judas, Thomas, Mary, Mary, Mary and Martha — and just follow where it leads.

What happens when you place that character in that setting? Take high school, and toss in someone like this:

He walks through social barriers and taboos as if they were cobwebs. People and practices other men were required to shun he embraces with an equanimity that infuriates the proper and observant in his culture. … His followers are not to aspire to the social register, but to seek out the forsaken. … No outcasts were cast out far enough to make him shun them — not Roman collaborators, not lepers, not prostitutes, not the crazed, not the possessed. …

That’s from Garry Wills’ What Jesus Meant, which I’d recommend as a resource for the writers of this hypothetical TV show and for anyone else interested in understanding or emulating this character.

I’d only insist on a few aspects of the original story that I think would need to be included for the show in one form or another:

1. She should do something amazing, possibly involving loaves, fishes and hungry people;

2. Near the end of the story, she has to die, alone, in disgraceful circumstances; and

3. The story doesn’t end there.

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  • The Breakfast Club didn’t really give a clear idea of what the social structure of the school was like.

    You knew that there were bullies, Andrew was one.  You knew that there were people who considered suicide, Brian was one.  You knew there were popular people, Claire was one.  You knew that there were people who were smoking pot, Bender was one.  You knew there were people with no friends at all, Allison was one.

    What you didn’t know was how any of these groups interacted.  Andrew and Claire initially gravitated towards each other, apparently each recognizing the other as being superior to the other 60 percent.  We can speculate that if Andrew hadn’t gotten introspective after the stunt that landed him in detention he’d have chosen to bully Brian because Brian was the obvious target.  Other than that we have absolutely no indication of how the social structure actually worked.  Claire was popular, but amoung whom?  Was it the whole damn school, or just those she considered worthy of consideration.  Did anyone actually look up to Andrew?  How does Bender fit in?

    Other than bullying we really have no indication of how the groups interacted.  We don’t know whether or not the school is stratified or it’s simply the groups running in non-hierarchical parallel.

    We can project a hierarchy onto the school if we want, but I don’t think we really have all that much to support that.  Andrew and Claire assumed themselves superior, but then so did Bender.  Brian and Alison clearly did not think themselves superior.  I suppose we could try to extrapolate from that, but I think we can expect that kind of thing to be possible in almost any social structure.

    Bullying indicates a hierarchy of individuals, or at least a attempt at one, as the bullies are asserting that they are superior to those they bully, but bullying doesn’t indicate that the school’s social structure is hierarchical.

    Anyway, what we do see in The Breakfast Club doesn’t seem all that far off to me.  I’d like to think that it’s exaggerated.  But the fact is that I’ve never, to my knowledge, known anyone in high school who contemplated suicide, so I don’t know if Brian’s portrayal is believable.  I know that people in high school do consider suicide, and some of them actually go through with it but whether it’s anything like Brian I don’t know.  To my knowledge none of the people knew in high school were from abusive homes, so I don’t know how realistic Bender is.  (I was thinking physically abusive, but if we’re going with other types of abuse then I have to expand that beyond Bender.)

    I do feel like the movie probably could have taken place at my school if not for the fact that, as far as I know, we didn’t have Saturday detention and if we did the person watching the kids probably wouldn’t slack as much as Vernon did which would mean that they’d never have anything close to that much time alone.  But part of that is the extreme vagueness of what life outside of that detention was like.

    Ryan from my NaNoWriMo book considers himself to have been Alison, both in terms of his home life and social life.  Erin from the same considers herself to have been Brian, but in terms of social life only.  Her life at home was just fine and thus not at all like Brian’s.

    Lucifer from Where Antichrist’s Come From (the story with Nick Andes in it) dresses like Alison.

    This entire post was written from memory, the only thing that I double checked was that Brian had indeed been planning to kill himself as opposed to someone else.  It’s a good thing I checked that because I, for some reason, assumed it was a result of bullying.  I’ve had to rewrite some to fix that.  Other factual errors doubtless abound.

  • P J Evans

     They’re schools with special programs for kids. One might do science, another theater or music or whatever. Nice for kids, if they can get into them. (I’ve heard stories about poor and minority parents trying to navigate the bureaucracy to get their children into magnet schools. Funny about that: it’s much easier to do if you’re well-off and white.)

  • Anonymous

    This, except that I was in a flyspeck town in Colorado, where you might expect to catch a lot of grief for standing out.
    But really, by high school everyone was too absorbed in their own lives to care.It was the people who tried to move outside of their group who caught hell. I was happy hanging out with the nerds, but my sister stayed involved in sports and cheerleading and so on, and saw a lot more hierarchy and infighting than I ever did.
    Likewise, one of my nerd friends had dreams of becoming a pro athlete, but went through hell in PE and at tryouts.

  • muteKi

    It’s often used to refer to what are generally smaller, more selective, and more specialized public schools — but the name, Wiki tells me, is used to refer to the fact that they accept students from outside of the usual school district’s school zone boundaries. This also has the effect of usually increasing the diversity of the student body, and generally the people in them perform well (as they clearly have an interest in school aside from “the government makes me”).

  • ako

    High school movies have a complicated relationship to reality. 

    For one thing, the people making the movie tend to be at least a couple of decades past their high school years, which means that, for instance, movies portraying high school in the eighties are most commonly written and directed by people who went to high school in the sixties.  Which means that there’s often a big “High school as I remember it, but in a modern setting” factor, combined with an outsider’s view on “Kids these days”.  That can create a weird picture, and cause certain features to be considered central to The High School Experience in movies long after they’ve gone out of fashion, or lead to other things being presented in a distorted fashion.

    Second, there have been so many high school movies out there that people expect certain tropes, and are often confused if you don’t include them.  For instance, I know for a fact that it’s possible to have schools where the vast majority of the (mostly white and suburban) student body doesn’t care about the football team and all of the most popular kids are high academic achievers, but a lot of people will go “High school wasn’t like that!” and Hollywood is quite keen on offering up a lot of unchallenging movies. 

    So you get bits where people will go “Yeah, that seems right” because it’s reflective of their experience (which may or may not have been recent), and bits where people will expect it because that’s what they always see in high school movies, and bits where people will go “Yeah, I saw a news story saying that Kids These Days are totally like that!” all mixed together.

  • I just want to chime in with my own school experience.

    I went to high school in a suburb in the southwest.  The majority of my school was either lower class or upper class with very little in between.  There were kids at my school on food stamps and there were kids at my school driving brand new hummers that were gifts from their parents.

    Have you seen Veronica Mars?  Neptune High School?  Scarily accurate to my experience.  Not the biker gang so much, but the veritable social caste system?  Yeah.  If you were a cheerleader?  You went to the POPULAR clubs.  Not, say, math club or science olympiad.  And if you were in science olympiad, you didn’t get to be a cheerleader.

    And if, on your first day at school, you sat alone at lunch and then tripped and landed head first in a garbage can in front of the varsity baseball team?  Those senior and junior boys would remember your freshman face and mock you for it every. time. they saw you.

    …yeah, I didn’t have fun in high school.

  • Zeborah

    I was thinking that if you want him/her to die alone in disgraceful circumstances then he/she needs to be framed for something and then either shot ‘resisting arrest’ or executed, and neither of those is terribly likely if she’s a pretty white girl.  So I’d been thinking she’d be black, but it’d work if he was latino, too.

  • Kukulkan

    chris the cynic wrote:

    The Breakfast Club didn’t really give a clear idea of what the social structure of the school was like.

    The Breakfast Club was just the trigger. Once the idea occurred to I ended up looking at a whole bunch of movies and TV shows.

    One I remember was Grosse Pointe, a short-lived TV series which was about a teen-soup TV show (also called Grosse Pointe) in which the behind-the-scenes dramas were, as the tag-line had it, even more like high school than the high school depicted in the show.

    Just as an aside, I watched Grosse Pointe because one of the producers was Robin Schiff, who wrote Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion, a film I really like — and another cinematic depiction of a high school no-one I know actually experienced.

    I think most of it is as ako says, a set of conventions and exaggerations that exist partially because that’s what people now expect in a high school story and because they provide a good basis for comedy and drama.

    It’s like the trench-coat wearing private eye who has a beautiful dame walk into his office, or cinematic depictions of the old west. A set of film/TV conventions we’ve learned to accept.

    I was just curious where these conventions came from, because, as I said, they don’t correspond to any reality I or any of my acquaintances are familiar with. There were no factions and the differences that divided were primarily ones of age — each year level mostly interacted within itself. Occasionally there would be some strife based on ethnicity, but those in charge were pretty good at policing that. And, from talking to younger fry, I find that no-one cares about the ethnic rivalries that existed when I was at high school, though they have been replaced with new ones involving more recent immigrants. Again, these are only occasional, and dealt with quickly when they do arise.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    He slows down and notices, to his mild astonishment, that his benefactor is still next to him. She is pretty and nice and smart, everything he isn’t, and should be with the cheerleaders, but she is sitting next to him and chatting easily.

    I like your story @nnicole:disqus but — I wonder why we always imagine Jesus as gorgeous and “extra special” by dominant standards. I like the idea of Jesus not being the obviously amazing charismatic one who fits in with the popular crowd.

  • Caravelle

    Yes but… Jesus would HAVE to be charismatic. I mean, he apparently was charismatic for one thing, but more to the point you can’t have Jesus’s impact without being charismatic.

    Same thing with having a Jesus belonging to a minority group – on the one hand there’s the actual Jesus, who as far as I can tell was societally an average Jew – not particularly rich, but not from the bottom of the ladder either. He accepted lepers and adulterers but wasn’t one himself – indeed that was often kind of the point, as people saw him as a preacher who ought to preach against those people as his station required and he went against expectations.
    And on the other hand, even if we’re not copying Jesus’s story particularly faithfully, the position of the person in a dominant position teaching their fellow dominant folk to accept others requires someone in a dominant position. Because otherwise the others simply don’t listen.

    Or they do, in which case you have to amp the charisma up to 11.

  • Anonymous

    Bullying wasn’t a major problem at my school, but it was still very
    codified in who you hung out with, what your ‘tag’ was, which events you
    went to, whether or not you participated in the fundraisers, etc.

    My school was divided between the obscenely rich kids and the well-off
    kids and the poor kids without rich friends, between the AP students and
    the just-here-for-the-social-lifers and the not-hiding-my-drug-habit
    crowd and the still-going-to-special-ed kids, between the athletes in
    the popular sports and the athletes in the unpopular ones, between all
    the athletes and the artistic kids, between band kids and theater kids
    and dance kids, between the participating-in-school-spirit people and
    the get-me-out-of-heres, the white and Asian kids and the other students
    of color, between the fellowship of christian athletes and the only
    girl in school wearing a headscarf, between the earnestly christian
    evangelists and the cynical a-religious kids who had given up on
    christianity, between the pretty, popular crowd and the poor kids who
    were miles away from the beauty ideal…

    High school? Stratified? Whatever gave you that idea?

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    @3d1b0481d437ff6219d79c6995eb1167:disqus I agree that the depiction of school in American movies and tv shows was alien to me and everyone I know*. There were a number of obvious specific differences that seemed to affect social stratification in many Australian schools vs those depicted from the US, such as:
    – school uniforms
    – no middle school
    – fewer specialist elective classes until the senior years (so there’s no “calculus students” or “theatre students” – most people largely take the same subjects)
    – sport is something that happens at school, not the apparent entire rationale for schools existing. In none of my schools was representative sport a big thing. It was different for some of the private schools in rugby competitions, but they seemed like outliers.

    *Bullying was definitely a big deal for a lot of us, but not the uberstrict social groups thing. Also, while plenty of teachers inadequately dealt with** verbal harrassment, ostracism and low-level physical stuff (such as tripping kids up), there’s no way severe physical assault would have not resulted in automatic expulsion in any of the (several) schools I attended.

    **I also shared the experience of the commenter who experienced class-based discrimination from teachers. Absolute bullshit, that sort of behaviour.

  • Kukulkan

     A couple of shows lots of people mentioned as being something like real high school — with allowances made for the fact that a lot more stuff happens in a shorter time frame than it does in real life — were Degrassi Junior High and Press Gang. I remember watching the odd episode of each, but never really got into either.

    Neither show is American; Delgrassi being Canadian and Press Gang British.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I liked Degrassi (with the allowance for stuff being sped up a lot). In part because a whole lot of the episodes were not “Spike got pregnant!” or “Is Ms Avery a lesbian?”, but “Melanie and Snake want to ask each other out but are shy”.

  • Ouri Maler

    OK, you know what?
    This “Jesus Goes to High School” idea? Is extremely cool.
    It should be written.
    Aaaand…there are several good writers here.
    Group writing project, anyone? I know I’d be interested in contributing.

  • Shikhandi1

    Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart: 
    “sport is something that happens at school, not the apparent entire rationale for schools existing”

    Huh. I’ve only just noticed the oddness of this, with Australia having the reputation of being particularly sports-mad. I would have agreed that our culture is pretty focused. Either that reputation is exaggerated, or there’s something else (to do with money?) going on.

    All your other points are also things I had to get used to, over and above the aspects that the Americans here don’t recognise.

  • Tom

    2 things:

    1) Check out the lighthearted ‘Saint Oniisan’ (Saint Young Men) manga, in which Jesus and Buddha have to share an apartment in Tokyo.  There’s no real religious message (Christianity is a foreign religion to Japan) but it’s quite funny, all the girls fancy Jesus cos he looks like Johhny Depp

    2) I’m hesitant to say this because I don’t want to insult anyone’s religion, but as a ‘character’ rather than a man I don’t really think Jesus works, precicely because he has no flaws.  Our approach to fiction now means that any such character is very easy to dislike, coming across as a goody two shoes.  Personally this is why characters like the Monkey in ‘Journey to the West’ are so attractive to me; they are deeply flawed characters (and therefore easy to relate to) but who always end up doing the right thing.

    This is something Dostoyevsky discovered.  After writing The Idiot he realised he’d made Myshkin TOO Christ-like; his later protagonist in ‘The Brother’s Karazamov’ is much more of a flawed character.

    Having said that, one of my favourite literary(?) role models was also kind of Christ-like: Nausicaä from the Miyazaki manga of the same name, but she still has her flaws – namely doubt and inexperience, whereas Christ always seems to have a lot of confidence in his teachings/actions.

    I can’t help but think that it would be extremely difficult for anyone other than the most skillful writers to write the ‘character’ of Christ in a modern setting, for a modern audience without making him come across as smug, or even dangerously sure of himself.

  • Ouri Maler

    While this is undoubtedly a very real problem, the fact remains that Superman, Captain America, and Princess Celestia still have their fans, detractors notwithstanding.

  • Grey Seer

    Ah, secondary school. I.. did not enjoy my initial years, and yet greatly enjoyed my latter years. If I’m being introspective and somewhat self-critical, it’s because around year 9 (third year of secondary school) I suddenly became absolutely, massively confident and, indeed, arrogant.

     I’m fairly sure that up until that point, I’d reacted to the generally discussed bullying and isolation in the typical ways – trying to conform, to keep my head down, to not draw too much attention from my peers. And then, at some point, I came to a sudden decision. No idea when, or why – and I wish I did, because it would greatly help when I’m encouraging others to come out of their shells – but it was definitely rather sudden. And I think the general mindset can be summed up as “You know what? Fuck ALL of you. I have worth, and I am tired of you bastards ignoring that”.

     Such a wonderfully subtle revelation has had all sorts of effects on my personality – to this day, I still suffer from being arrogant and condescending if I’m not careful – but I’m glad it happened. Because suddenly, I felt like I had worth. I had confidence. I was a person. And if anyone else didn’t think so, well, fuck the lot of them. Their opinion didn’t matter – mine did. So I started walking with my head up, starting talking to girls without flinching, starting looking people in the eye and actually bantering.

     Incidently, that last part, the bantering – that was also probably the point where I started to really get along with my dad. Nothing ever felt quite so good to me at the time than when I could start genuinely conversing and mock-arguing with him, which is probably where my habit of sprinkling everyday conversation with over-the-top melodrama comes from as well.

     And then came Sixth Form, and suddenly the teachers were people… and more than that, pretty awesome people for the most part. Ah, nostaliga.

     So, I don’t know. I’m not a religious sort, and I don’t think I’ve ever had a life-changing epipheny at any point. But if I had, and I had to say when… sometime around there would be my guess. And I would, quite frankly, encourage more people to embrace my methodology. I call it “learning to be self-confident, by means of being an incredibly arrogant dick”.

     Hmm. Might need some work…

  • It always feels dishonest to me when high school movies try so hard to make the point that it’s terrible how high school has a heavily codified and enforced social hierarchy with massive codified punishments for anyone who dares violate it. 

    Because if the problem was not the hierarchies but the strictness with which they were enforced, well then. no problem. Because in real life, sure. high school was full of its cliques and circles, but there was no rule that Group X never interacted with group Y, and there was CERTAINLY none of that thing that seems universal now in TV where the administration flagrantly disregards the law and just gives vast official priviliges to one clique based on their parents having money.

    I imagine others had different experience, but cliques were never really anything like castes so much as like a big, complicated venn diagram with nebulous boundaries and strange overlaps, and hardly anyone belonging to just _one_ group.  I was in like 6 cliques

    (My reaction at the end of High School Musical: “Oh, so they’re saying high school can be cliquish? Well thank god someone took that bold stand and let the people know.”)

  • vsm

    I think there are a few ways of getting around that problem.

    1) You could simply depict Jesus with faults. This is probably easier than it would first seem, since the Gospels do portray him as occasionally unwilling (say, at the Garden of Gethsemane) and with a rather strong temperament. He was also probably tempted by what Satan had to offer, or the whole desert episode was rather pointless. You could also take the certainty away from Jessie, leaving her with a firm understanding that she’s on a mission from God but rather uncertain as to the how. This is the approach Martin Scorsese took in The Last Temptation of Christ, and that went swimmingly for everyone involved.

    2)If you want to have a more perfect Jessie, you could focus on other characters around her. Tell most episodes from the POV of the troubled teenager of the week*, or give focus to the group hanging around her. This would be the Ben Hur approach, where the camera goes as far as to politely avert its gaze from him.

    I may or may not be imagining this as a Sailor Moon-esque magical girl show.

  • Another Chris

    As an atheist and someone who tends to have a kneejerk suspicion against overtly religious entertainment… I’d watch this show.

  • Ouri Maler

    Well, Sailor Moon IS the messiah…

  • Kukulkan

    Tom wrote:

    2) I’m hesitant to say this because I don’t want to insult anyone’s religion, but as a ‘character’ rather than a man I don’t really think Jesus works, precicely because he has no flaws.  Our approach to fiction now means that any such character is very easy to dislike, coming across as a goody two shoes.  Personally this is why characters like the Monkey in ‘Journey to the West’ are so attractive to me; they are deeply flawed characters (and therefore easy to relate to) but who always end up doing the right thing.

    Jesus has flaws. He has quite the temper. Doesn’t come out that often, but when it does…

    I mean, I would really be looking forward to the episode where he throws out the money lenders.

    A bunch of young yuppie bankers take over the school hall, excluding everyone else from it and being really obnoxious and Jesus just looses it. He may not take a horsewhip to them, but he comes close.

    I think that’s what makes the various incidents where hostile questioners ask him questions like is it right to pay taxes to Rome work. Given Jesus’s temper, there’s always the possibility that he will just get exasperated and… ummm… respond in a less than civil way. That makes the clever answers he gives so much more effective; Jesus demonstrates that it is better to out-think your opponents and turn their arguments against them than to just thump them.

  • “1) You could simply depict Jesus with faults. This is probably easier
    than it would first seem, since the Gospels do portray him as
    occasionally unwilling (say, at the Garden of Gethsemane) and with a
    rather strong temperament. He was also probably tempted by what Satan
    had to offer, or the whole desert episode was rather pointless. You
    could also take the certainty away from Jessie, leaving her with a firm
    understanding that she’s on a mission from God but rather uncertain as
    to the how. This is the approach Martin Scorsese took in The Last
    Temptation of Christ, and that went swimmingly for everyone involved.”

    Well, we know little of Jesus’s life before 30…so he could well have gone through an interesting rebellious phase, but…

    I think the more interesting aspect of showing Jesus as a high school student would be the seriously amplified problem of misunderstanding.  Admittedly, I went to high school in the mid-70s, but my impression from talking to my children is that high school is still a lot of drama, with people imputing meanings to what other people say that were not necessarily intended (enter Paul?  Judas?  Peter?). 

    Jr. High was definitely the “cruel” and “bullying” experience for me (midwest, largely suburban but some working class).  Much less of that obvious cruelty in high school, and more the rawness of people having their hearts broken day after day because so-and-so said this or didn’t say that.  The jocks hung out by the gym, the Christians (including me, sometimes) had one library table, right next to and often crossing-over with the theater misfits (me, most of the time) and the debate geeks.  The burnouts had their smoking area, and the smart kids had one of the upstairs library tables.  Most of us were blessedly unaware of our families’ economic differences–what mattered was status, which pretty much went Jocks, Christians (it helped that we had an excellent chemistry teacher who was personable, intelligent, and a rabid creationist), Smart Kids, Debate Geeks, Theater Misfits, and Burnouts.  Of course, if you asked any member of one of these groups where they stood (save the Jocks–they knew where they stood) they probably thought THEY were at the bottom.  And of course the groups had major overlaps, though nobody at the time thought in more than two dimensions, so we didn’t really realize that.

    But I digress.  A lot.  I think you don’t necessarily have to show Jesus as flawed; but she *would* have to navigate the social minefield, and in that setting, almost anything you do, no matter how well-intentioned, no matter how good, has negative consequences. 

  • FangsFirst

    I carried a book everywhere for the longest time. I was always labelled as “SMART” which only led to internal feelings of isolation (the idea that I had to live up to this) and no social isolation.

    My best friend’s mother was on welfare. He was in a punk phase and dressed like it (so their income was not hidden, even if it was more choice than necessity).

    My other friends were potheads or in theatre (which I was, too), or just nerdy.

    I was quiet and asocial and interacted with teachers a lot, and often got in quite well with them.

    Oh, and I was in band as a freshman.

    Despite this, anyone and everyone would speak to me without any negative or even uneasy feeling. The head cheerleader once told me I had very nice eyes.

    The whole thing mystifies me. I’ve always believed someone must have gone through it and even that it must still happen and wasn’t just older generations. But I never saw a wisp of it.

  • Anonymous

    Junior high was much worse than high school.  Junior high is the age of raging hormones, where even people who will grow up to be reasonably rational creatures are unable to control themselves.

    My junior high was such an awful place socially, that whenever I meet somebody who claims to have enjoyed that phase of their life, I start to look at them differently, as if they’d admitted to an old war atrocity.  Because if you weren’t one of the tortured, then you must have been one of the torturers.  That said, there wasn’t much social stratification as such — it was more of a crabs-in-a-bucket setting, where everyone gnawed on everyone else and was gnawed in turn.

    In contrast, by the time we got to high school everyone was pretty chill.

  • Nightsky

    “Unpopular kid hangs out with fellow unpopular kids” = dog bites man
    “Popular kid hangs out with unpopular kids” = man bites dog

    Also, the boy’s perspective of Jessie’s social standing may not be all that accurate. All he knows is that she’s not in the lowest group.

    Finally, my own high school experience was much like everyone in this thread described: no rigid hierarchies as teen movies have, just overlapping groups. There were kids whose paths I never crossed because we just didn’t have any circles in common, but that was out of indifference, not malice. The only girls I actively disliked were heavy partiers, and I’m not sure that I’d rank their social standing *above* mine, really. Just sort of… different.

  • Anonymous

    CERTAINLY none of that thing that seems universal now in TV where the
    administration flagrantly disregards the law and just gives vast
    official priviliges to one clique based on their parents having money.

    No, no, nothing like that.  I mean, letting people get away with harassing and throwing books at people is totally different. Making sure the talented and gifted program doesn’t include anyone from the wrong part of town is totally different.  Allowing teachers to give people grades based on what part of town the come from is totally different.

    (I assume the vast official privileges you’re talking about are something other than that, but frankly it just sounds like a slight exaggeration of what some people really did encounter in high school.)

    It also mildly irritates me that everyone who had a good experience in high school here keeps speaking like no one has spoken up and gone “Hey, my experience wasn’t good.”  It’s fine to say, “Mine was.”  But please stop adding “I suppose someone somewhere might have had it different” when people on this very thread have said they did.  It makes it sound like either you’re skipping our posts or our reality is less important than yours. (This is not directed just at Ross, but everyone who’s done that.)

  • Scott P.

    You mean no mayonnaise?

  • Scott P.

    Ah, well, my school was that stratified. More, even. There were at least four or five sub-cliques within the ‘nerd’ grouping. Each had a stable core but one or more individuals who swung between groups. The lettermen definitely did hang together.

  • Izzy

    My high school had distinct groups–which, after freshman year, mostly separated into different dorms, further emphasizing the differentiation, and we even had separate dining halls–but I don’t remember getting hassled or anything. The studious kids were too busy freaking out about college applications from Year 1; the party kids were too busy doing cocaine with the diplomat’s son; there wasn’t actually a lot of interaction except in classes. I don’t remember any sense of real hierarchy.

    Middle school was hellish. Not as bad as some people’s experience, but it was middle school in a small town with a big economic divide and not much value placed on academic achievement. I gave a cheerleader a bloody nose in eighth grade, when she and her friends were getting in my face; I know that shouldn’t still be a source of pride, but it kind of is.

  • Ouri Maler

    Trying to keep the writing ball rolling. I’m probably less fit for this than some of the other people here, but I do think this great material for a group-writing project:

    “And don’t ya let us catch you doing this shit again, ya hear?!” they added,
    slicing the other sleeve of my shirt before turning away.
    It took me some time just to stop shaking. I was still in one piece – of
    course I was, they were bullies, not PSYCHOS – but that didn’t mean I
    was all right. The fear still made it hard to think clearly. But I DID
    realize that they had left my clothes a horrible mess. Sleeves torn
    apart, massive holes…I…I couldn’t go to the school cafeteria like
    that. I couldn’t let anyone see me. Didn’t matter how hungry I was.
    Didn’t matter I’d have class again in less than an hour. I just wanted
    to find some place to hide. The bathroom. I tried to make my way to the –
    “Miss Cooper! What is the meaning of this?!”
    Oh no.
    Not Mister Tilden.
    “I…I’m…”
    Naturally, my stammering wasn’t very convincing.
    “What do you have to say for yourself?!”
    Not much, of course.
    He wasn’t quite done, naturally.
    “School rules strictly prohibit this kind of…indecency. I will be seeing you in detention, missy.”
    “But…Sir, it’s not my fault, I swear! It’s…”
    I tried to explain, honestly, I tried. But they had held that knife to
    my face only minutes ago, and I just choked on my fear. I’m not sure
    Mister Tilden would have cared either way.
    So I just made my way to the bathroom. I locked myself inside one of the
    stalls. And I just cried, and cried, and cried over what a shitty day I
    was having.
    I have no idea how long I stayed there before I heard that voice from the other side of the door.
    “Caylee? Is that you?”
    I stopped crying. “Jessie?”
    “I’ve been looking all over for you. You weren’t at the cafeteria. Did you have lunch already?”
    I was a bit surprised she’d even NOTICED. We weren’t that close, and our
    class isn’t that small. “I…No. I, please leave me alone.”
    There was a silent beat. But she didn’t leave me alone.
    “Caylee, is something wrong?”
    “Just…I don’t…I don’t want to talk about it.”
    “Do you ACTUALLY mean you don’t want to talk about it? When I’M bothered
    enough by stuff to CRY about it, I usually feel better after I tell
    SOMEONE. Even if it’s just LiveJournal.”
    Jessie had a certain quality that made it easy to open up to her. So I
    did. I told her how I’d been flirting with Kevin. How it turned Anna
    fancied him. How I’d gotten on the bad side of her and her crew. How
    they’d cornered me, threatened me, ripped my clothes apart. How Mister
    Tilden was punishing ME over the whole thing.
    “I’m really sorry, Caylee. But you can’t stay in here all day.”
    “Well I’m not getting out like this!” I shouted angrily. I immediately
    regretted it. Jessie had been the one person today to show me some
    compassion, and now I was snapping back at her?
    There was another awkward silence before she spoke again. “Caylee, I’m leaving for a couple of minutes, but then I’m coming back here. Just, just
    wait a bit, OK?”
    “Sure.”
    Not that I expected her to make good on it. What was she gonna do, spend
    the rest of the day in the bathroom to keep the loser of the day
    company? I figured she’d just wanted to excuse herself.
    I didn’t know her very well back then.
    “Caylee? I’m back. Can you please open the door? I think you need to see this.”
    Reluctantly, I complied.
    Jessie’s clothes were a huge mess. Maybe even worse than mine. Ruined. Torn. Cut.
    I stared at her, mouth wide-open. “Wha…WTF happened to you?”
    She took my hand. “Well, you still need your lunch,” she said, “and I thought it’d be WAY less embarrassing with some company.”
    I was too shocked to resist as she pulled me out of the bathroom. “Jessie, you…You’re NUTS. Mister Tilden is gonna kill you.”
    “Detention won’t kill me. Especially since I’ll have some company,” she winked.
    That was when I erupted in laughter. All this mess, all this drama…It
    all suddenly seemed so unimportant. “I swear, you’re just out to break
    every school rule you can,” I said jokingly.
    “Not as such,” she said. “I just try to remember that the rules are there for our benefit, not the other way around.”

  • Anonymous

    Middle school and high school were a particular brand of horrible, for me – I was one of the geeky unpopular kids, and didn’t fit in well with the other unpopular kids. Our social strata were, as someone said upstream, a complicated and sometimes nonsensical Venn diagram, but I got the ‘pleasure’ of being one of the people whose presence in a group could apparently knock it down a couple of pegs, on the logic of “you hang out with [Six]? you must be no good.”

    People were trashcanned, in my school. Lockers were vandalized – never the popular kids’, and the rule was that if you didn’t catch the vandal, the owner of the locker was responsible for the damage (thanks a lot, administration). People got beat up; we had major fights, including dozens of people, in the parking lot twice during my tenure in middle and high school. We had bomb threats, and people pulled the fire alarms so often that nobody took them seriously, even the time there was an actual fire. And if you had a reputation – as I did – for a fast temper and no popularity, it just made you a target for every twopenny bully to come try and raise their own standing. Administration was useless in that regard; the schools’ counselors were worse than useless, often making the situation worse in a variety of creative ways. (The most creative of those counselors called my parents at 9PM on Halloween night to inform them that I thought I was an alien – which was factually wrong as well as tactless and horribly timed. I got in SO much trouble over that one.)

    I still dread people acting toward me the way my peers acted in high school. Fortunately, that pretty much dried up by the sophomore year of college – freshman year, people did all sorts of high-school bully BS, but the general “what the hell is your problem” response from everyone in the vicinity stopped that relatively quickly.

    The only good thing about school was that I met friends there who have stuck by me, and I by them, for pretty much our entire lives. That’s a non-trivial silver lining, and I’m grateful for them to this day.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry to jump in so late to reply but yeah… it’s perhaps a middle america or east coast thing. I’m happy that you had a positive high school experience. Watch “Welcome to the Dollhouse”, it’s pretty much a documentary of my junior high experience.

  • Anonymous

    Magnet public schools were often started to increase integration and make it more palatable, so schools with attractive programs or teaching methods were started, usually in majority minority areas. Sometimes a certain percentage of slots were saved for the local kids with the rest available by lottery, sometimes the whole thing was by lottery. This could annoy the local parents who understandably resented the loss of a neighborhood school. Magnet schools were actually fairly effective at increasing diversity, at least initially.

  • Tom

    The other ‘problem’ is that the kinds of people Jesus hung around with, and the stuff he did, at the time was truly transgressive.

    To repeat that kind of stuff these days either lacks the same power (him hanging aroung the losers… we’ve been taught to love the losers by a million films before) or will ruffle feathers; i.e. you’d have to have him hanging around with, and supporting, people that MOST viewers would see as going too far – i’m talking beyond being nice to the gay kids.

    When Jesus did the stuff he did it was shocking to society.  You’d have to shock – good luck getting that past TV advertisers!

  • I seem to recall mentioning on this blog before that there’s an early Church tradition that says Jesus wasn’t the uber-handsome dude that later art depicts him as but a small, ugly man. Nothing definite just some letters from one Bishop to another saying something like: “But as you know Our Lord himself was not fair featured.” No cite to hand but that’s what I recall reading. (A quick Google says that the idea may have been based on biblical arguments rather than an oral tradition. I dunno. The arguments that he ‘must have been’ the most perfect of humans are clearly wishful thinking but I can’t come up with anything that says he ‘must have’ been ugly either.)

  • Anonymous

    Hey, I had a regular duel in junior high. We had seconds and everything. We met in the girl’s washroom and I retain a small scar on my knee from the encounter. Funny … I remember the seconds’ names, but I have no idea who I fought with or who won if anyone did.

  • Daughter

    This tradition may come from Isaiah 53, which many Christians believe is a prophecy about Christ.  Verse 2 says, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
       nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.”

  • Anonymous

    I’m sure Jesus was pretty small by modern standards – he lived 2,000 years ago and he was a peasant.  It would be strange if he were otherwise.  As for ugly, I don’t know about that, but you’re absolutely right that he looked nothing like all that art portrays.  Because, once again, ancient Middle Eastern peasant. 

  • Anonymous

    Magnet programs were originally designed for school integration and have a racial quota established. Over time, they just became slightly specialized programs with a more rigorous academic standard. The program specializations still aren’t amazing (an arts program didn’t really prepare college friends I had for art school any more than a math/science program prepared me) but the higher academic standards count for a lot. Pretty much all AP students came from the magnet program, and interaction with residential students is infrequent outside of PE classes. When I had to drop out of physics in my senior year, I was still required to take a science class and the only science class that would take me in the second semester was the residential class. It was stuff I had learned in the eighth grade, and there were two types of students – A students and F students. The tests were photocopied from the homework, just in a different order, so if you failed the test it meant you just didn’t care in the slightest.

    Also, the kid that sat next to me turned out to be an undercover narc officer.

    (I’ve heard stories about poor and minority parents trying to navigate the bureaucracy to get their children into magnet schools. Funny about that: it’s much easier to do if you’re well-off and white.)

    Well-off actually has very little effect, except to the extent that well-off parents can generally take more time to try to study the system and figure out how to game it a bit. Whites do get a slight advantage but that’s actually because whites in the public school system in the SFV are a very small racial minority. My brother was one of three white students in his entire middle school, for example. Since magnets are still technically primarily for racial integration, they have trouble maintaining white student populations in what has become a very heavily Latino area. Most of the math/science program was Korean and most of the residential school was Latino.

  • Someone mentioned miracles as being fundamental to the story of Christ.  However, I am not sure that explicit, objective miracles are the way to go.  Fred did once say that if you hold one belief, and your eyes tell you something that refutes that belief, then you ought to adjust your belief system to take that into account rather than deny it.  The problem with an explicit miracle is that it tends to run into that problem, and the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief is shattered.  

    Rather, I think that the proper place for faith in such a thing is not in the observance of objective miracles (such a thing requires eyes rather than faith) but in something that exists in the penumbra between miraculous and mundane.  Maybe that brown lunch bag really did contain all those tuna sandwiches, but it is still an awfully small bag to hold all those.  Maybe all those students who got tipsy drinking from those water bottles were just a placebo because they thought it was spiked, but that is an awfully strong effect for a placebo.  Maybe this student tightrope-walked across the floating lane dividers in the school pool, but the line hardly dipped when they did it.  Maybe they spoke to them after they died, but was it all just in their head?  

    Things like that I think would be much more compelling.  Something that tells you this person is special, they do amazing, bordering on impossible, things.  Just plausible enough that you can believe it, but just implausible enough that there has to be something behind it.  This is the kind of thing that draws viewers in, makes them question, and leaves them wondering.  

  • Ouri Maler

    “Amakusa 1637” had an interesting way of handling it…The people kept interpreting the protagonist’s actions as supernatural miracles. The protagonist could actually see the coincidences that allowed all those things to happen naturally. But all those coincidences kept piling up, and the protagonist herself was left guessing if she was really God’s envoy…

  • Anonymous

    If you’re clear from the get-go that our protagonist is Jesus, then “being nice to the gay kids” will still be plenty shocking. 

    But you do have a point.  To have its real impact, this show would need to do more than shake its finger at kids to be nice to the losers.  It would need to shock adults by showing Jesus associating with people they wouldn’t want their kids to associate with.  Maybe Anna responded so violently in Ouri Maler’s story because Caylee has a history (not just a reputation, a history) of sleeping with other girls’ boyfriends.  Maybe when Jessie feeds the multitude with her sandwiches, the focal character shouldn’t be a boy in foster care who’s being punished with hunger, but rather a boy whose parents self-righteous conservatives would want off the welfare rolls.  Jessie could comfort the girl who’s just found out she’s pregnant (and perhaps accompany her to Planned Parenthood) and accept a show of respect from the leader of the Centurions gang (who are genuine criminals, not safe-for-primetime romanticized rebels) after she helps one of his boys.

  • Izunya

     Quoth Caravelle: “Yes but… Jesus would HAVE to be charismatic. I mean, he apparently was
    charismatic for one thing, but more to the point you can’t have Jesus’s
    impact without being charismatic.”

    I agree, but there are a lot of ways to be charismatic.  I mean, I suspect we can all think of actors who look like nothing much, but who can decide to just be in charge of a scene, and—they are.  (The first example I thought of was Patrick Troughton—short, dumpy, clear comic relief fodder, and yet . . .)  Or there’s always the idea of giving Jesus an average appearance and an extraordinary voice.

    As for the ending—you know, both sides have some good points with regards to gender, but for my idea, I’m going to decide that Jesse is an anti-macho boy who was brutally murdered by gay-bashers.  The whole thing becomes publicized, because there was injustice and neglect on the part of the school officials.  So the notorious Phillips family church shows up to protest the funeral, with signs saying FAGS BURN IN HELL and GOD HATES JESSE NASRI.

    So, after some extremely tense moments, Maggie goes over and talks quietly to one of the women.  And the woman hands her sign to her husband, and takes her two children, and walks away.

    And then Rocko does the same thing with another church member, and they leave too.  And then Simon, who calls himself Crazy Simon and is notorious for blowing his stack, manages it himself—not by shouting, not by insulting them, just by telling one of the Jesse stories that the gang have been passing around amongst themselves since they got the news.  Afterwards, Rocko would swear it was a kind of magic—that somehow, despite his usual ineffectiveness with words, he was gifted with one moment of perfect communication.  Tamar, who never could stand that sort of nonsense, said it was nothing of the sort; maybe the Phillips Church people were just tired, they had been hating for way too long, and the Jesse Gang were just in the right place at the right time.

    The story ends with Pastor Phillips, bitter, horrible old man, standing on the curb all alone, hesitating on the brink of putting down his own sign and walking away free.

  • Ouri Maler

    That’s gold.
    But it also works with a female Jessie. ;)

  • Izunya

    It does.  I’m leaning towards a male Jesse because in our culture, there’s something transgressive and uncomfortable about a gentle boy who cries for other people without any shame, and a proper Jesus ought to make people just a smidge uncomfortable.  But that’s just the way I approach it.

    Or . . . nobody’s brought up an entirely genderqueer Jessee yet.  From a symbolic point of view, it has possibilities.  It runs into the problems Caravelle mentioned, that Jesus can’t be a total outsider or zie wouldn’t have the effect zie obviously did . . . but then again, my vision of Pentacost is a social miracle anyway . . . hmm.

  • vsm

    You could also do something interesting with Jesse’s family. Say, Mary got pregnant when she was fifteen and was pressured into keeping the kid and marrying her boyfriend by their families. Joe did his best, but it’s not easy having to become the head of a family at seventeen, especially when you’re pretty sure she shouldn’t have gotten pregnant that one time you did it, so he became distant. This was not how Mary had planned her life and couldn’t help feeling a certain amount of bitterness, but ultimately resolved to give her child a more understanding family than the one she grew up with. That should make for a fun background for the eventual abortion episode.

    If you’d prefer something more light-hearted, Jesse could get the beer for a party, play a wonderful host and then make sure everyone gets home safely. And who wouldn’t love the Maggie/Jesse/John love triangle?

  • Say, Mary got pregnant when she was fifteen and was pressured into keeping the kid and marrying her boyfriend by their families. Joe did his best, but it’s not easy having to become the head of a family at seventeen, especially when you’re pretty sure she shouldn’t have gotten pregnant that one time you did it, so he became distant.

    It could have been a non-penetrative sexual encounter they had.  Without going into detail, there are certain… acts, which can still result in potential (though unlikely) conception if those doing them are not careful.  Let this be a lesson that a comprehensive sexual education is more important than a standard of technical “sexual purity.”