Labels: Not Just For Soup Cans

November 12, 2010
By stardust-dreams PLATINUM, Las Vegas, Nevada
stardust-dreams PLATINUM, Las Vegas, Nevada
24 articles 6 photos 10 comments

Label [noun]: a slip inscribed and affixed to something for identification or description.

According to my copy of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, a label classifies things, not people. Yet high school as we know it would cease to exist in the absence of them, these definitions normally reserved for items born in factories.

Why would our brains, half-formed though they might be, ascribe to ourselves a description as bland as that of a soup can? Are we really definable by a few alliterative adjectives and a list of basic ingredients? Of course we’re not. And yet, we insist on labeling each other, and ourselves. We are humans-- contradictory, ever-changing, teenage humans who are just grappling blindly in the darkness that is adolescence for something steady to cling to, anything at all—even if it’s just a can of cream of mushroom soup.

So as long as I’m using the whole Campbell’s metaphor, I invite you to meet a few of the varieties found in my high school's soup aisle.

“The Jock”: This soup, bursting with both robust chicken and noodles, is characterized by a sense of entitlement, arrogance, cockiness, and-- oh yeah, a bit of athletic ability. Often tall and often intimidating, the jock is perceived by some as undeserving and overconfident. Soccer player McKenzie Karl, junior, contests these generalities. “I feel accomplished with all the effort I’ve put into sports. I’ve worked hard to get where I am, and I’ve earned everything.” Not only that, but Karl also asserts that her involvement in athletics has little effect on how she chooses her friends. “I’m friends with a lot of people. Sure, I have friends who are also athletes, but it’s not like I consider my friends any particular label. They’re just my friends,” she said. In addition, Karl dispels the “cocky” stereotype. “I’m friendly, not cocky.”

“The Braniac”: The dependable and persistent flavor of tomato soup is found in the AP student. There’s only one thing you have to do if you want to be known as an overachieving know-it-all for the rest of your high school career—become an AP student. AP students are known for their grade-grubbing tendencies and condescension towards their non-nerdy peers. Although the label serves as motivation to get good grades, junior Annemarie Freude sometimes feels trapped by the one-size-fits-all label. “I don’t like how people only get to see one side of you, because there are different sides to everyone,” she said. Academically-driven teenagers also must live under the constant pressure to excel. Not meeting this standard of perfection often results in less-than-accepting peers. “Sometimes people think I know the answers to everything, when I don't. I get stuff wrong all the time.”A frequent unfulfilled wish of the AP student is to be seen as a person and not just a braniac. Freude is one of them. “All people see is how smart I am, without considering the other things that define me.”

“The Dancer”: Risqué outfits, risqué dances, and heads filled with nothing but (risqué) air. These are the ingredients found in this bubbly French onion soup. “Some people will look at me and say, 'Oh, you're the really happy girl',” said senior and captain of the dance team, Chandler Winger. “I’ve been pegged as an airhead because I'm blonde and happy.” Members of the dance team are commonly admired for their dancing abilities. At the same time, many are under the impression that to be on the dance team is to be, as Winger put it, an airhead. “I talk a lot and because of that people assume that I'm dumb.” Boasting a 4.3 GPA, Winger seems to invalidate this assumption. As for the exclusiveness of the dance team clique, Winger can disprove that, too. “I'm friends with so many other kinds of people,” she said. “I've got friends in drama, orchestra, and sports, as well as people who don’t do anything.” Says Winger of labels, “They really limit you as a person.”

“The Band Geek”: The ever-geeky cream of broccoli soup is filled with flutes and saxophones perpetually marching across a green field of geekiness. Sheet music and suspect black carrying cases are the telltale signs of the band geek, who is known for dedicating virtually all of his or her time practicing after school on the football field. “Being called a ‘band geek’ has sort of a negative connotation,” said Dallin Jones, who plays the trumpet, “but to people who are actually in band, it's neither a bad or good thing. It's pretty neutral.” And despite the affinity Jones has with his fellow band geeks and his love for music, band is not his life. “Surprisingly, a lot of my friends aren’t in band,” he remarked, sitting at a lunch table surrounded by boys all from different social groups. And while there are plenty of friendships to be made in band, Jones can see how the label negatively affects students. “Labels can define you as a person and give you a group of people to be with, but they separate people.”

“The Theater Kid”: Chicken gumbo is one of the stranger soups at my school, composed of an offbeat array of meat and vegetables. Little is known about the theater kid, strange creatures in their adamant refusal to assimilate into “normal” high school society and their tendency to quote obscure musicals. Thespian Zach Homes says theater kids are basically viewed as outsiders. “For the most part, people see theater kids as the misfits. There’s a general perception that we are effeminate.” The shocking truth about theater kids? “There are so many other things I care about as much or more than theater. I do other stuff,” Homes pointed out. The elimination of labels is something he would like to see in the future. “Labels create false, unjustified feelings of superiority.” But on the bright side, he said, “at least they give people an identity.”

Let’s face it: labels aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. The truth about teenagers is not that we’re so close-minded that we form elitist groups just for the fun of excluding people. We’re just so desperate to figure out who we are that creating labels for ourselves is often easier than trying to, if you’ll excuse the cliché, just be ourselves—our inherently indefinable selves.

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