Dare to Ask: Let's decode a few high school subgroups
By Phillip Milano
The Florida Times-Union
What's the definition of a sk8ter (skater) and a prep?
Michelle, 14, Battle Creek, Mich.
I've always heard that a skater was the same as a slacker: One who does not
try too hard.
Bill L., 40, Vermont
A skater skateboards a lot. "Prep" is for someone who's clean-cut, fairly
popular, does well in school and maybe wears khaki regularly.
S.R., 21, female, Austin
When "skater" is mentioned, most people will probably immediately think of a
long-haired, dirty, tight-jean-wearing pothead. The other common skater look
would be a New Era baseball hat with a big shirt and semi-baggy jeans. No matter
what they're wearing, "pothead" is always included. But most people who fit the
description of "pothead, burnout," etc., don't skateboard. It's hard to nail
down a clear description of an actual skater, just like it would be for a hockey
player or a painter.
H., 18, male, Clay County, Fla.
"Skaters"? "Preps"? What are those? Don't we demean Skaterpreps when we try
to break them down into meaningless, obscure subcategories? Many fine, stoned
Skaterpreps are just trying to get by in their Acuras® with battered kicker
ramps sticking out of the trunk, wearing Aeropostale® shirts while fleeing
public sidewalk rent-a-cops, and texting their friends on LG Rumor® cell phones
to see if that "footy" of their kick-flip backsmith got uploaded to Vimeo yet.
Not to mention all the Emojocks, Nerdgoths and Gangstercheerleaders who
blanch at being subdivided.
But Murray Milner Jr. did, amazingly, analyze these subgroups, for his book
"Freaks, Geeks, and Cool Kids: American Teenagers, Schools, and the Culture of
Consumption." A professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Virginia,
he spent parts of three years observing youths in high schools and getting more
than 250 accounts describing peer structures from students in 27 states.
He found that high schools have become more pluralistic, but traditional
hierarchies still exist at "a fair number" of them, with jocks and preps at the
top, skaters toward the lower end, and nerds, well, still feeding off the
With a disclaimer that his research is now several years old, Milner offered
that preps tended to be perceived as more popular, upper-middle class, dressing
more traditionally, usually identified more with alcohol and feeling social
pressure, and concerned with grades, if not intellectual matters. Skaters were
seen as overwhelmingly male, more alienated from their peers, totally focused on
skateboarding and associated with drug use.
"Initial observations about these differences come from teens themselves, and
then movies and media images crystallize and exaggerate these distinctions for
dramatic purposes," he said. "Those images get fed back, and it affects
students' sense of what it means to be such and such.
"And then the feedback loop goes on ..."
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