High School Musings: Physical Assault and the Hierarchy of Coolness

— Ronald Patrick Bossert

Good evening fellow River-Readers. This is the first installment of my column examining the trends and culture of the 1990s specific to high school. Now, I attended a public high school, so my experiences may be skewed, however, it is the goal of this column to address topics which broadly cover all academic experiences, including public, private, boarding, unisex and transgender schools. I will attempt to allow home schoolers to participate, however, the reader should note this is a difficult task and the current installment is not applicable to those who have recieved home schooling. If indeed the reader has recieved home schooling, this installment may not strike the chord it will with the others, however, you are encouraged to read on, then close your eyes and put yourself in the shoes of others, as they have suffered where you have prospered.

The infliction of physical harm in high school is a common occurance, one that brings great joy to the assailant, and frank embarassment to the recipient (for the most part, however, shame reversal does exist and will be discussed). The hierarchy of the school is strictly based on one’s ability to deliver physical blows without repercussion. For example, the valedictorian will eat lunch alone, whereas the physical assailant may have a hard time eating his lunch because he is surrounded by the entire cheerleading squad. Thus, grades do not play into the hierarchy; in fact, their relationship is likely an inverse one. Money does not play into the hierarchy, as those flaunting “bling” are often the targets of attack, thus placing them further down on the ladder of high school importance. Now, one may ask what happens with jocks, as they are often seen at the top of the high school food chain. This may be seen as a loophole to the untrained eye, however, it should be noted that the jocks of the school are generally larger and stronger, thus more likely to inflict physical pain and ascend the ladder. The classic example is that of runners. A high school may have an elite running team, or even an elite runner in particular who lies low on the ladder because he/she is a small jock, less likely to dish out attacks, thus falling lower on the ladder of high school hierarchy.

One may ask what I mean by physical attacks in high school. There are many. I have personally conducted a survey of over 50 people from many states within the US using “symbols” or “signs” and they have all recoiled, awaiting the blow of physical attack, their mind reliving the horrid abuses they recieved between 1994 and 1998. The classic example is the “OK” sign, made by approximating the tumb tip and index finger tip into a circle with the remain 3 fingers extended. When brought into the view of the target, the target recieves 2 blows on the shoulder. Note that the target recognizes this as acceptable and will often offer up his/her shoulder to recieve the blow. Some caveats do exist here, which act as dialects, as they are not consistent across high schools. First, some cultures require the sign to be above the waist, as if it lies below it is both invalid and reverses targets to the assailant. Truly this is a novice maneuver. Other variations allow the target to “break” the OK sign, again reversing the target. Furthermore, other high schools require that prior to recieving the blows, the assailant must make an X on the target’s shoulder “as in X marks the spot”, deliver the blows, then wipe off the X to eliminate the evidence. This is an advanced move, the utilization of which only enhances the anxiety of the target, thus lowering him/her on the ladder of hierarchy.

Another attack, less common but more damning to the target on the ladder is the “open chest”. Simply stated, if the assailant sees any member of the school with their sternum exposed to the elements, he is given the right (some would say the duty) to strike the target in the chest with great force. If one (most commonly a girl) sees a target recieve such a blow, they will no longer want to date them, thus moving them down the ladder of the high school hierarchy. This has led to some placing their backpacks on backwards to protect their chests in school. This is a common mistake, made generally by underclassmen, as girls see this as a sign of weakness, the target will again not get any action and thus move down the ladder further. It is simply wiser to walk around the halls moving your hands in front of yourself (either in a sly way like you are speaking with your hands, or blatantly to avoid an open chest by pretending to do the robot in the hallways) to avoid either form of embarassment.

The most severe form of physical attack, and the farthest fall down the ladder, involves recieving the spittle of an agressor on your person. This is known as the “gleek”. This maneuver is performed by rolling the tongue behind the front teeth, thus creating a small pool of spittle behind the lower incisiors, and rapidly releasing the tonue to¬† expel the evil humor onto the target. The goal of this maneuver is strictly to degrade the target in the most malicious fashion. To be honest, there is no defense to the gleek. If you find yourself being gleeked upon, then you had probably been residing in the 7th-8th circle of high school hell and upon recieving the gleek, like recieving the baptism of satan, have descended into the 9th circle of hell, off the ladder of high school hierarchy completely and into the world of damned, replete with necks dripping with the gleek of those high schoolers who have thus ascended the ladder and are banging the prom queen.

One may ask how this applies strictly to the 90s. This is easy to see. First, today’s high school student does not have time during the day to look up from their sidekick or blackberry to perform any of the above-mentioned techniques. Secondly, we live in a much more litiginous society thus no one would dare try an open chest without fear of being sued. Third, it is well documented that the ability to gleek among high school students has dropped significantly since 1997 (it is believed this is due to a change in the content of water in high school drinking fountains). Finally, the hierarchy in high schools is shifting away from that which rewards the physical aggressor to that which favors the student who has the most electronic gadgets, thus altering the selective pressure away from physical aggression and more towards texting.

I hope the reader finds this installment informative. It shall serve as an important lesson on the history of high school hierarchies in the setting of physical assault, as if we fail to learn from this lesson of the 90s, our children and their children will damned to repeat it.

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