When I was a young kid, the prospect of going to high school prom seemed weird. Why would I want to get all dressed up and then go dance with someone? By the time I reached the proper age, however, things all changed, and I ended up going two years in a row with a couple of the nicest girls I knew. Even though I believed I was setting myself up for a great night, I had evidently gone about it all wrong: I had not even attempted to ask out a celebrity.
Maybe my prom days were before this fad took off, but asking famous people to prom has become, technically speaking, “a thing.” A Connecticut girl asked Joe Biden to prom and received a hand-written note and a corsage in response. A guy in L.A. put up a video on YouTube asking Kate Upton and ended up getting to go with one of her model friends. The Internet is filled with videos and discussions of people asking celebrities to prom, and I kind of have to wonder…why? It’s all harmless fun, but what’s with the sudden wave of interest in asking people (who, odds are, will never accept) to prom?
At first thought, it seems slightly embarrassing to go out on a limb and post a video asking one’s celebrity crush to accompany them to prom and only getting rejected (or, more likely, ignored) and then made fun of by hordes of banal Internet users. Many people, however, if their video is clever or well-made enough, don’t mind putting themselves out there like that and being fairly or unfairly judged by whoever comes across it. Seeing that this kind of thing has worked before (despite the very, very long odds) has inspired this sudden wave of dateless teenagers to not only strive for their own fifteen minutes of online fame, but take advantage of the very off chance that they get to have an extremely memorable prom night. What is there to lose?
Fans now have unprecedented access to their favorite celebrities. A Phoenix high school student who asked Miley Cyrus to prom got a response from her on Twitter, demonstrating how directly we can communicate with public figures. His saying that he “was jumping up and down and it was the coolest thing ever” further demonstrates how meaningful people find even the tiniest fragment of momentary interaction with a celebrity. The person may not even remember it the next day, but the three and a half seconds of attention goes a long way on the other side of the phone. Even if a student’s prom bid gets rejected, the rejection itself still stands as a successful form of interaction with their intended date. I’m sure for most people it would still be mission accomplished considering how long the odds of any sort of interaction are.
This access brings celebrities closer into one’s perceived community; we already feel very familiar with them by knowing so much about them, and the opportunity to interact enhances this. Combine this with their prestige and fame, and we end up often putting celebrities on pedestals—glorifying them in a way. This isn’t in and of itself a bad thing (depending on the figure in question), but it’s reasonable to believe that this contributes to the desire to ask out a celebrity. Prom is often one of the biggest nights in a high school student’s life up to that point, so it’s no wonder that many are going all out to try to make an already very special night as memorable as possible by inviting a glorified individual who’s close to their hearts.
There are, however, other types of endeavors to hang out with a celebrity that are justifiably more successful. Kids who are very sick in the hospital and wish to meet one of their celebrity heroes are a prime example. Aside from the obvious fact that this is a much more worthwhile and admirable use of celebrity time, this opportunity affords them a great deal more respect and admiration. It looks much worse to reject or ignore a child with failing health than a star-struck 16-year-old going to prom.
But whether or not it’s sick kids asking for a brief visit or bold high school students inviting them to prom, publicly or privately asking a celebrity for some of their time boils down to harmless fun—an opportunity to show off one’s creativity, perhaps garner temporary Internet fame, and, on the off chance, interact (or even dance) with someone famous.