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Jun 26, 2024

This Is America: Choose Your Fighter!

Let us run down the five classic American high school archetypes to debunk the five main realities of the world it is based on.
This Is America: Choose Your Fighter!

Source: Nhi Thanh @obanhmis for Vietcetera.

Clueless, Lady Bird, Heathers—these are the movies that grew up with the world’s generation Z. To the little girl sitting in front of the TV every afternoon, singing with her basketball Troy Bolten boyfriend like Gabriella Montez are on the high school bucket list.

While it may seem like these classic American high school movies are just a form of entertainment, the consumption of these movies has shaped our preconceived notion on the national schooling, the country and its promise.

The reality is far from what is “served” on the screen, but a school environment can be the replication of the real-world society. So, let us run down the five classic American high school archetypes to debunk the five main realities of the world it is based on.

The Popular Girl

“Get in losers, we are goin’ shopping!” - Regina George (Mean Girls)

Drenched in pink, she owns the color to herself. She wakes up to perfect blown out hair and a slight touch of makeup on her face; she “slays” her #ootd as she “eats up” her makeup, highlighting her button nose and her plumping lips. It seems like her life is glittered with the given beauty that powered her steps through the hallway as everyone put down the invisible red carpet for her.

Source: Nhi Thanh @obanhmis for Vietcetera.

What is underneath the dashing life we see her in? Because even Regina George has an absent father and suffered from disordered eating, the sparkling identity of The Popular Girl is only performative.

Through this archetype, we see the reflection of the American pop culture of a fast changing lifestyle that is led by the trend-setting celebrities.

We doom-scroll through the continuous dumping of fashion trends by Hailey Bieber or new makeup routines by Kylie Jenner, drenching ourselves in the beauty standards set by powerful internet presence. We adopt the parasocial relationship with K-Pop idols, imagining a perfect life with their presentation in the media. We consume information and have the power to filter the news however we want the truth of pop culture to be.

Britney Spears was abused by her own father and the management company, a story that was kept throughout the year due to conservatorship. Celebrities, though living in the light, are not exempt from the law, the injustices and the threats. That each piece of information has to be considered before publicizing, and even in the spotlight, one can still suffer in the personal and domestic realm, behind the scene.

At the end of the day, the brighter it flashes, the grimmer its shadow casts; celebrities are human beings, too.

The Class President

“I can scare the stupid out of you, but the lazy runs deep” - Paris Geller (Gilmore Girls)

They run the school, not the actual principal. In their business casual, they buttoned up every proposal for school events, wreck every debate tournaments with grant technical terms; you can barely see their highly maintained teeth peeked out because they would only drop sharp statements when needed.

Nhi Thanh @obanhmis for Vietcetera.

No space for mediocrity and always thrive for the above and beyond, they do not need anyone’s help, except their widely respected father. Pulling a string or two, no wrongdoing will show up on their record—striding down the hallway, their mature aura is rather distinctive to that of their peers, whose life “only” circulates school, home and parties.

The power dynamic between them and their peers resembles that of the segregated mindset beyond the screen: the social stratification.

“The top 1% of households in the U.S. hold about 20% of total household income. The top 10% hold more than 50% of the nation's income” stated Economic Policy Institute in 2021.

Despite the engraved idea of “freedom for all,” it is for sure that the wealth gap in America exists, establishing the elitism that basically runs the history. The World Wars, The Cold War and its proxy wars, the young United States, with its Manifest Destiny, involved itself in the security of countries’ autonomy that they considered the “Third World.”

The Class President and their story represent that of the disproportionate cerebral opportunities within a hierarchical society as elitism carries its way around the country in different forms—nepotism in the workplace, legacy in college admission, white savior complex in revolutions.

The Athlete

“I was helping this freshman girl find her way to class, and she was deeply lost.” - Mitchell Wilson (Moxie)

Patched in varsity sports emblems, The Athlete, or The Jock, is ready for games at any moment. He is, ofcourse, full of himself and smirked at everyone in the hallway, even though he has a cheerleader girlfriend. Showing up to school with an empty backpack, you will never be able to catch a glimpse of his school supplies anymore but a football in hand.

Nhi Thanh @obanhmis for Vietcetera.

He is also an infamous bully by projecting the traits of toxic masculinity, targeting those who are unconventional—the nerds, the injured athletes, the opinionated girl in the history class. Manifested in various fields of life and society, toxic masculinity establishes harmful mold to men’s living experience, limiting men from exploring the possibilities and, sometimes, opportunities for themselves.

Seeking for help is for the weak—a common mindset when mentioning toxic masculinity. In fact, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared that in 2020, men accounted for 79% of all suicides in the U.S, which was resulted from the stigma around seeking for medical help, mostly mental health.

Showing pain is considered vulnerability, toxic masculinity encourages them to present stoic outside, while hiding their suffering—men are more likely to engage in substance abuse as a coping mechanism for stress and emotional pain, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

With the power of the media, toxic masculinity gradually merges into the gender norm that perpetuates aggression and glorifies dominant male characters, like the infamous social phenomenon of Andrew Tate, while marginalizing empathetic voices.

The Teacher’s Pet

“What about the homework?”

Do not worry, The Teacher’s Pet made sure to ask about it after every class without fail. They are the pigeons of the teachers, catching other students’ misconduct, but it could get on the nerves of everyone for how incompetent and insanely favored they are by the teachers. They might not be the king and queen of the canteen, but they are on top of the academic wave as their way was paved out by the teacher’s favoritism—their mistakes are easily forgiven by the adults or, sometimes, overlooked.

Nhi Thanh @obanhmis for Vietcetera.

So, in a school chaos, they are less likely to get involved because their whole personality being the “stop-it-guys-you-will-be-in-trouble” person in the crowd. Although, it is a key to not rule them out of the causation of any school chaos; they are the favorite of the system, allowing them to have more wiggle room to live outside of the suspicion zone.

A social conflict, just like that at school, the suspects are less likely to be the favored ones within the society. The American criminal justice system promotes racial disparity that limits minorities, especially African American and Hispanic males, to thrive in a socio-economically hierarchical society.

“... with liberty and justice for all” the Pledge of Allegiance.

To whom is freedom applicable? What does freedom and liberty allow us to act? In fact, have we reached the freedom or liberty that is promised?

Throughout history, however, the definition of freedom has shifted drastically. The history of the Pride Parade, Black Lives Matter, the Feminist movements and waves—these are some of the few milestones of how America is achieving the promised freedom.

Contemporarily, the reality is hard to be overseen with the abortion rights being revoked, gender and sexuality education being banned in some states; America’s pursuit of freedom is rather a progress, not a status.

The Loner

“Stop getting inside of your head!” says The Loner’s only friend, whose patient is running out due to a conflict in their friendship.

Quiet, calm, reserved. The Loner sits by themselves at the lunch table, praying to be invisible. Staying away from the crowd, they have a conventional life of a teenager that consists of at least these main locations: home, school, part time job, and … home. Their basic lives make them the main character of the movie—they are the blank canvas for us to interpret.

Nhi Thanh @obanhmis for Vietcetera.

Individualism can be the staple of America in the international eyes, undeniably. Everyone has the sense of self that they work to fulfill: career, romance, entertainment, etc. It is a natural trait to put ourselves first; we subconsciously live and act for the personal benefit.

In every movie, The Loner’s perfect life lost an important part of their lives, a boyfriend, a best friend, a family member, that they learnt a lesson from. The lesson of empathy—the awareness of others’ feelings, experiences and emotions. Emphasizing on the “others,” empathy is unlike sympathy, pity and compassion for others; it is the action that recognizes one’s vulnerability and acceptance towards one’s struggle.

We got carried away in supporting our own beliefs and goals, but oftentimes, we forgot to value the difference between each other, between us and the world.

And at the end of the movie, The Loner made the effort to show empathy, splitting their prom king and queen crown into pieces then giving them to her friends.


From the perspective of a young international scholar from Vietnam pursuing her blue-background yearbook photo dream, my headshot for the record was not blue, nor did I look dashing in my own aesthetic.

In the world of classic American high school movie archetypes, these are the basic characters that are, if not displayed, infused in the plot, making the American high school experience through screen the way it is.

No where near the truth, just like the preconceived notion of America, I walked in as an ambitious young girl not knowing what is to expect and what is offered. High school dance in the gym, in a mosh pit dancing and singing to Party in the USA by Miley Cyrus, I also had a privilege to learn about the real America, separating its presentation in the media from reality.

Recognizing the truth in front of my eyes, from the newspapers to the casual interaction, I have decided to dedicate my academia to finding and offering empathy, putting my voice on the most powerful tool of information distribution. After all, my “American Dream” is not that of prosperity but of challenges.

For now, it is safe to say that America is the country of possibilities.