We’ve all heard the stereotype. A popular girl in high school, most likely a cheerleader, intentionally acting stupid so guys will like her more, because heck, no one finds a NERD attractive. This girl is often looked down by her peers for being “shallow” and “insecure”, and “her popularity will mean nothing once she leaves high school”
What about the people at the other end of the spectrum though? What about the self-proclaimed nerds, the people that act like they don’t care about popularity, the secret and not-so-secret try-hards? (Massive generalizing here.) Is there a similar mechanism of “dumbing down” going on? Yes. Even if it is subtle, I see it everywhere.
The motive has nothing to do with attraction though– instead, it’s competition. High school is stressful in the sense that everyone around you wants to have the best grades, awards, and extracurriculars, typically at the expense of others. A person’s true colors only show when there’s a cause for conflict, and high school is essentially an explosion of these colors splattered around.
However, at the same time, everyone is trying to cover up their color palettes and pretending like competition doesn’t exist, creating illusions of friendship and stupidity. It’s easier if people don’t see you as an enemy. From this perspective, the true danger isn’t in the openly aggressive person who acts hyper-competitive around others– it’s in the Trojan Horse, the people who act stupid, like they have nothing to hide, like they aren’t competitive, when deep down, they’re just like everyone else.
From personal experience, I’ve learned it’s easier to keep a low profile instead of having the world (aka the tiny group of people you know) see you as “competitive” or ever “smart,” because guess what? Then you’re just another person to take advantage of for homework help. Better act like an idiot so people don’t expect much out of you.
The inspiration for this post was a couple discussions with people that have been more frank about school than most of my conversations during the school year. The final pusher was meeting someone who fit this “playing dumb but actually smart” model pretty well who specifically requested that I didn’t tell anyone at his/her school about the things that he/she was doing outside of school.
Everything here is taken to an extreme, and in reality, people all have their nice sides, and competition isn’t always a bad thing, The main problem is that the school system encourages people to be competitive, while personal relationships thrive on mutual benefit, creating a difficult situation when the two have to be combined in an institution called “school.”
I’m not claiming a solution to this delicate social problem, because life is about coping in a world that prods at our morals in all directions. However, I did want to point out this practice of “dumbing down” in general, since I see it pretty clearly, yet it is a sensitive topic that no one want to discuss. And that’s why I wrote about it here, in order to clear it out of my head.