Are You Popular? A 1947 High-School Guide

“Good” vs. “bad” girls, courtesy to parents, and brownies!

If you’ve ever wondered how to master that ephemeral phenomenon that is popularity, look no further than America's mid-century social guidance films. This one, from the University of Oklahoma’s Family Life Institute, provides a remarkable window into post-WWII conformity, courtesy of the Prelinger Archive.

The film begins with a familiar scene: the high-school cafeteria, where we meet our two protagonists, Caroline, a classic “good girl,” and Wally, who is eager to meet her. (The scene includes gems such as the narrator's insistence that “girls who park in cars with boys are not really popular, even with the boys they park with” and “meow meow.”) Later on, we witness two opposing scenarios in which a boy asks Caroline out on a date. The first boy, Wally, gets a ‘yes’ because he was considerate and polite. Wally’s even respectful to Caroline’s parents! The second boy rudely asks Caroline out at the last minute, only to be rejected.

Unsurprisingly, the filmmaker -- under the guise of dating etiquette -- presents us with a heteronormative plotline: The boy asks politely, the girl waits graciously to be asked. More telling, however, is what constituted a fun date back then, i.e. ice skating and eating mom’s brownies.

For more from Prelinger Archive, visit their site

Alessandra Ram is a former writer and producer for The Atlantic Video Channel. Her work has also appeared in Foreign Policy.

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