HS Advice: Saved By The Bell vs Dazed and Confused

“All I’m saying is that if I ever start referring to these as the best years of my life – remind me to kill myself.”  – Randy “Pink” Floyd

If you don’t know who that is, you don’t know the inspiration for the title “Moontower”. Immediately stop reading and go stream Dazed and Confused. I’ll venmo you the money if cash is tight, just don’t let this ignorance remain untreated.

Permanently memorable quotes, casting so good it can only be described as lucky, a signature dad-rock soundtrack, Austin Texas, and a story that unfolds over the last day of school. Linklater delivered a pure shot of joy with this film. If you want to Ebert the movie you could dissect its themes of puberty, responsibility, and what it means to be cool. But it will all come back to the multi-faceted characters. The few who can travel between the worlds of nerds, jocks, and stoners. If you infiltrated those camps, the way these spirits could pass through clique walls, you’d find a truth common to the rest of their cardboard cut-out friends:

They yearn to defy sorting. Quarterback. Valedictorian. Come on, we’re more than that.

A bored Randy “Pink” Floyd, the king of his H.S., knows this is a fake place. He knows you can’t wear a varsity jacket to your first job. Maybe he’s read Asimov. “Past glories are poor feeding”. Dazed and Confused tormented its characters with the knowledge that there was going to be a future.

Contrast this with Saved By the Bell. You knew everything that was going to happen. That was the beauty of the show. It always resolved to the chord your ear expected. Zack and Kelly would always find a way. Chuck Klosterman described it as the “ultrasimplistic, hyperstereotypical high school experience” . As long as the writers suspended consideration of post-HS life the saccharine storylines and eye candy justified keeping the show on in the background.

  • If you are a fan of Saved By the Bell, you should check out Chuck Klosterman’s clever essay Being Zack Morris in his 2003 book Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. He goes into the Tori Paradox, a phenomona you are sure to recognize.
  • Freaks and Geeks is a top 5 favorite TV series. A cast of future stars, epic 70s soundtrack. I was sad when it ended. The oral history of the Judd Apatow show.

Why do I care about high school this week?

Local public schools started this past Tuesday in our summer-hating district. This reminded me that there’s a Paul Graham essay I like to share with HS students. I wish I would have read it the same year I heard Smells Like Teen Spirit. The HS kids I’ve shared it with feel like it’s horizon-expanding advice.

School authorities never let Graham give the talk. It inverts the advice of the typical graduation speech. He is matter-of-fact about what is fake and corrupt about HS. He is more interested in what the student can do in spite of the system’s flaws. He wastes no time with blame. It’s a call to action. A call to higher standards than good grades and conformity.

You don’t need to be a teen, parent or have any other qualification to benefit from reading it.

The text with my highlights is here.

Some themes

  • School won’t tell you, but you must focus on doing hard things. Find out what that means.
  • He applies the computer science term premature optimization to HS. I’ve previously mentioned this is supported by research (snapshot from my David Epstein notes)
  • Obedience is stupid. So is rebellion. I’ll rephrase Graham loosely: you need to see through the contrived experience. He offers practical advice to do this.

Most importantly, his essay gives students more credit than our cultural expectations do. He wraps:

Your life doesn’t have to be shaped by admissions officers. It could be shaped by your own curiosity. It is for all ambitious adults. And you don’t have to wait to start. In fact, you don’t have to wait to be an adult. There’s no switch inside you that magically flips when you turn a certain age or graduate from some
institution. You start being an adult when you decide to take responsibility for your life. You can do that at any age.

This may sound like bullshit. I’m just a minor, you may think, I have no money, I have to live at home, I have to do what adults tell me all day long. Well, most adults labor under restrictions just as cumbersome, and they manage to get things done. If you think it’s restrictive being a kid, imagine having kids.

The only real difference between adults and high school kids is that adults realize they need to get things done, and high school kids don’t. That realization hits most people around 23. But I’m letting you in on the secret early. So get to work. Maybe you can be the first generation whose greatest regret from high school isn’t how much time you wasted.

This is the advice Randy “Pink” Floyd yearned to hear.

If you are interested in more on this topic:

  • screenshot of author David Epstein (who I’ve discussed before) explaining how Michelle Obama’s “swerve” advice to her daughters is supported by research. The whole letter is here.
  • If you want to get practical about Graham and Obama’s advice then Taylor Pearson’s idea of “optimizing for interesting” will calibrate your compass so you can get started. It reaffirms your faith in your “gut feelings” while subjecting it to the “focus on your outputs” test. Here it is with my highlights.

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