Would you Jump off a Bridge?

Liana Teixeira

Popularity. It’s something I’m sure everyone has dealt with since middle school. Our social existence was defined by this simple term, and it separated us into groups of similar status. There are many reasons why newly-graduated seniors become so overwhelmingly excited about the prospect of going to college, but the one I hear most often is because they believe they are escaping the world of “high school drama.” While the college experience triumphs over the high school experience, there are some things that follow us through any educational setting we put ourselves in, mainly how popularity continues to divide the student body.

Movies typically depict this well; the opening scene shows the life of a high school nobody, striving to make a name for themselves. Lo and behold, the most popular guy/girl in school enters a few scenes later, stereotypically wearing their football or cheerleading uniform, a clear indication of elite social status. Yes, I know you’ve noticed it too. I dare you to name one teen romance movie that did not involve its leading man conveniently being captain of the football team, class president or Chad Michael Murray. It’s exactly like Glinda (played by Kristin Chenoweth) said in Wicked: “it’s not about aptitude, it’s the way you’re viewed.”

These characters symbolize everything society believes people want: popularity, approval, prestige. And that sad thing is, they’re completely right. We want to watch movies where the underdog succeeds, where they finally climb the social ladder and have their true potential realized. We are looking for hope; why else would we pay $11 to sit through yet another tacky teen drama with an overused plot? As humans, we yearn for acceptance whether we realize it or not, and the only way we can satisfy this need is through the praise of others. We are made to feel inadequate in comparison to these God-like social butterflies, and it is naïve to believe this phenomenon ends the second we turn our tassels to the left on graduation day.

While more subtle in college, popularity still plays an important role in the way we interact with our peers and appoint leadership positions. Since it’s currently election season on campus, I’ll focus on the current campaigns for USGA senators, president and treasurer. Firstly, I’d like to encourage every undergraduate student to vote in the upcoming elections, it is a great opportunity to let your voices be heard and choose who you believe is the right candidate for the job. The question is, however, how does someone decide who is the right person for the job?

Here, again, popularity comes into play, but not in the usual sense mentioned earlier. When it comes to electing people for leadership positions, it seems to be dependent on who you know and how those individuals view you. If your name is Hillary Clinton, you’ll probably get a few more votes than average Joe Smith from down the street, hands down. But a name is just a name; the fact that someone is well-known to the masses does not mean electing them is right. They could be the most charismatic person you know, but their ideas, once elected, may not be in everyone’s best interests. Meanwhile, an honest and sincere candidate is thrown to the side, unable to turn voters’ attention away from the exaggerated promises made by the opposing candidates.

People confuse “rightness” with majority opinion, and this isn’t anything new; our own government regularly operates this way. This thought process shows just how intensely popularity influences the opinion of the average voter. Growing up, our mothers warned us, “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?” Well, I hate to break it to you, but that’s exactly what we do. We take the leap without looking down at painful consequences. We let our own self-endorsed doubt guide our opinions without a second thought. We let flashy signs and cheesy one-liners sway our votes.

If we never knew the names of those running for office, if we were only given their written platforms for reference, the voting pattern would be much more accurate. Since grade school, this idea of popularity has warped our understanding of leadership and thwarted our confidence to stray from the majority. We want to be popular, when all we should be is ourselves.