Thursday, July 3, 2014

Social Capital = Validation

[All names are pseudonyms, and some minor details have been changed to protect people's privacy]

In high school drama club, we always did three performances of our winter play - two regular shows on Friday and Saturday night, and a special performance for students during the school day on Thursday. It was my junior year, our Thursday in-school show, and we were all backstage waiting to begin. Our vice principal normally just introduced the show for everyone, but for some reason this year, he took about 30 minutes to make school announcements while we were waiting backstage. We got to the final scene in the play - everyone was standing in the wings waiting to go on, when our director sent a message to the tech crew that we were skipping ahead to the middle of the scene because the play was running too long. This meant that one student, Alison, had her entire part cut from the play. Our director explained later that the play was only supposed to last a certain number of class periods, and because the vice principal ate into our time with the announcements, the solution was to cut this part out of the play. After the play, we heard that Alison was crying in the bathroom, and most of the students were not sympathetic at all. Everyone was saying that she needed to be more mature about it and learn show business and they were all criticizing her for crying. Well, not everyone. Alison was lucky enough to have close friends in the show who took her side. There was a very clear divide where all the people who were less serious about theatre took Alison's side and all the people who were more serious about theatre thought she needed to suck it up. I was one of the serious-about-theatre students, and I felt sick to my stomach. Alison was very passionate about theatre and was always nice to everyone. She was a freshman and this was her first-ever show at our school. We all should have been trying to make her feel welcome.

And to make matters worse, our director was not popular. No one had any kind of loyalty to him that would cause them to take his side in a case like this. Students criticized our director for small, meaningless things all the time. If he told someone to say a line differently than they were saying it, the students would always take their friend's side and say that our director didn't know what he was talking about. Well, not always. Always if you were part of the theatre-clique ingroup, which Alison wasn't. Their reaction to her crying was a way of saying that she wasn't part of their group. 

The day after our in-school performance, I caught up with Alison in the cafeteria while we were walking back to class. I asked her if she was excited about the show that night, and then I said, "I can't believe he cut your part like that!" We didn't get to talk long, but I just wanted her to know that I was on her side, that not all of the theatre kids were against her.

Fast forward one year. It was senior year and we were at a play competition, where we were all expecting Henry (a very popular theatre student) to win an acting award. When he didn't win it, everyone was more upset about that than they were about the fact that we didn't advance in the competition. Henry was very upset and was crying hysterically and everyone was very sympathetic and tried to comfort him. He cried the whole bus ride home, and he had lots of people sitting close to him and comforting him the whole time.

It was the right thing to do to comfort him. I'm NOT saying that we should have told him to suck it up. We did the right thing, and it was perfectly legitimate for him to be upset. But as all this was happening, I just couldn't stop thinking back to Alison. It had never been so clear to me how much social capital determines whether your feelings get taken seriously or not. Did I think Henry deserved an acting award? Yes. Did I think the judges were being objectively unfair by not giving him one, based on everyone else's performances in the competition? No. An award is something extra, something you might get. It is not something you are entitled to the way that Alison was entitled to perform her part. The judges didn't do anything wrong like our director did when he cut Alison's part. But I knew now that it was never about fairness or right and wrong. It was just about popularity. Alison wasn't popular, so her feelings didn't matter. Henry was popular, so his feelings did. That was it. Plain and simple.

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