Saturday, October 17, 2009

Grading the Hollywood Principals

School principals have tough jobs, there's no question about it. Dealing with angry parents, providing discipline to cellphone-wielding juvenile delinquents, helping America's teachers to better themselves all the while maintaining a pleasant, professional demeanor. They are truly dedicated public servants and deserve our respect.

So tell me then, why does Hollywood insist on depicting them as either marginally-psychotic drill sergeants or bumbling boobs? It's not realistic, in any way, shape, or form. So I'm taking it upon myself to set the record straight by analyzing the fictional behavior of three high school principals. Going in order from closest to reality to most absurd, we have . . .


First of all, you have to give Strickland credit for longevity. He was on the job in 1955, and still going strong in 1985. His discipline style remained unchanged for decades. Strict, clear in focus, and completely intolerant of students he perceived to be "slackers".

Which, in his view, was everyone.

Strickland had a great memory. He remembered specific details about George McFly thirty years after he'd graduated, and also drew comparisons between George and his son Marty. You'd have to think that in his time at HVHS, Strickland dealt with over 25,000 students, so to remember the specifics about any one individual, well, that's truly remarkable.

While his issues with Marty McFly were relatively minor, Strickland also capably dealt with the problems caused by miscreant Biff Tannen. At the 1955 HVHS "Enchantment Under the Sea" dance, Tannen was caught with a dirty magazine, specifically the June edition of Ooh La La. Strickland confiscated it, and threw it away without even taking a quick peek.

That being said, Strickland was far from perfect. His slacker-obsessed behavior could border on the psychotic. Take, for example, his reaction when he caught Marty taking a newspaper from his porch. Now, granted, this took place in an alternate reality where Hill Valley was basically Hell (or even worse, Los Angeles), but still. “Shoot first, ask questions later” is not the right approach to take with a confused teenager.

Over-reactions aside, though, Strickland was an absolute peach when compared to . . .


Richard Vernon was a proponent of an authoritarian style of discipline, not unlike Strickland. The difference, though, was in the level of focus. Strickland was a laser beam. Vernon was poorly-loaded birdshot.
And let me back up a bit. The clearest evidence that Vernon had questionable management skills is the simple fact that HE was the one supervising the Saturday morning Breakfast Club. Clearly, a wise and experienced principal would've delegated that shit detail to one of his VP's.
One Saturday morning, Vernon made the critical mistake of leaving five detention students unsupervised for huge chunks of time. The library was spacious. He could've simply set up office space in one of the side rooms so he could keep a constant eye on things. All things considered, Vernon's pretty lucky that Bender didn't wind up shanking Andrew Clark or at the very least boinking Claire. That would've been a lawsuit for sure.
And really, Vernon's discipline techniques are for shit. Here's a transcript of his attempt to intimidate John Bender:
Bender: Eat my shorts.

Vernon: What was that?

Bender: Eat... My... Shorts.

Vernon: You just bought yourself another Saturday.

Bender: Ooh, I'm crushed.

Vernon: You just bought one more.

Bender: Well I'm free the Saturday after that. Beyond that, I'm going to have to check my calendar.

Vernon: Good, cause it's going to be filled. We'll keep going. You want another one? Just say the word say it. Instead of going to prison you'll come here. Are you through?

Bender: No.

Vernon: I'm doing society a favor.

John Bender: So?

Vernon: That's another one right now! I've got you for the rest of your natural born life if you don't watch your step. You want another one?

Bender: Yes.

Vernon: You got it! You got another one right there! That's another one pal! You through?

Bender: Not even close bud!

Vernon: Good! You got one more right there!

John Bender: You really think I give a shit?

Richard Vernon: Another! You through?

Bender: How many is that?

Mediocre rookie TEACHERS know that when you get into an argument with a student, the adult always loses. No way was Bender going to back down, and a man with Vernon's experience should've known that.

Despite his claim to Carl the janitor, I doubt that the faculty at Shermer found Vernon to be a "swell guy". In fact, he was kind of a jackass. But that being said, he did make an effort to provide discipline, and as off-the-mark as he was, he couldn't really be defined as a complete bumbling idiot.

THAT title is reserved for . . .

Apparently, Richard Vernon's run-in with John Bender led to his dismissal (or at least resignation) from Shermer High School, because just a year or so later there was a new principal in charge. One has to question the competence of the Shermer School District superintendent and school board, because they managed to find Ed Rooney, who was even less qualified than Vernon.

Talk about a guy with a misplaced priorities. Rooney spent an entire day hunting down Ferris Bueller, an SHS senior with a lackadaisical attitude toward school attendance.
Discovering that Bueller was absent for the ninth time that year (not a particularly horrific attendance record, by the way), Rooney abandoned the school, perused pizza joints and video arcades (accosting a teenage girl in the process), and eventually committed the crime of breaking and entering when he snuck in through the Buellers' doggie door.

Shermer must've had at least 800 students. To neglect 799 of them to pursue a pointless vendetta against one is simply asinine. A phone call home, sure. A letter, absolutely. If that doesn't work, you simply contact the Shermer School District's School Attendance Review Board and let them take over. That's their job.

With all that time he saved, maybe Rooney could've done something about Ben Stein, the mind-numbing economics teacher.
Just once, I want to see a movie (and I mean a comedy, not one of those "marginally based on a true story" films like Lean On Me) where the principal is a normal human being. Is that too much to ask?
In my opinion, the only real conclusion we can draw from Hollywood's depiction of principals is that film-maker John Hughes was a "slacker" as a teenager and could've benefited from a visit to Mr. Strickland's office.

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JohnnyB said...

The only professionals Hollywood has less respect for is accountants. To moviemakers, we are all boring nerds, when in reality the geeks are only about 90% of the profession.

Mr. Condescending said...

My principal looked exactly like the dad in fresh prince of bel air, and he seemed ok. We had six assistant principals and they were all dicks.

How about the 90's show "Boy meets world" where Mr Feeney amazingly was the kids elementary teacher, High school principal, and College Dean!

jdemott said...

Normal high school principal? Sticking with John Hughes, take Mr. Donnely from "Pretty In Pink."

When left-of-center Andie got into trouble with her peers in gym class, Donnely nearly waxed poetic when he calmly and politely said, "If you put out signals that you don't want to belong, people are gonna make sure that you don't." Andie's near unctuous reply, "That's a beautiful theory, Mr. Donnely," was not received with the pointed sarcasm likely intended. Well, the scene ended, but she didn't end up in school Saturday morning.

Actually, Donnely was a sap, and at a real high school, he would have been steam rolled. Further, I suppose PIP is better classified as a romantic comedy, if there is a teen variety of such. No need to caricaturize the principal in that genre, I suppose. So, yeah, nevermind.

otin said...

I love your stuff! I think that after 30 years of service in Hill Valley, never having aged a day, Strickland enlisted in the Navy and led a group of pilots into battle! Same character, different profession! LOL!

My principal was a Bastard! He was a guy who got off on the fact that he was in charge. He would literally scream in the face of a ten year old, causing him to break down and cry in front of all of his friends. That was a little extreme punishment for walking on the wrong side of the hall!

Mr. Condescending said...

I think a movie with john candy as a teacher and samuel l jackson as principal would be pretty fun to watch, right?

CatLadyLarew said...

I think Mr. Condescending has the right idea. That's a movie I'd go see, except that poor John Candy would have to be cast as a Zombie or something since he's dead and all. Instead of filling children's brainz, he'd have to eat them.

Mr. Condescending said...

Lol catlady!

Quirkyloon said...

Hey, hey, hey. Let's not be so hostile! I knew you were headed towards Mr. Rooney, my all time fave Hollywood principal.

Give the guy a break! hee hee

AND... I thought of you yesterday as I watched a show on trutv called, The Principal.

How do you keep a straight face when confronted with the hilarious (I know, I know and disrespectful or disruptive) antics that some of those students pull off?

I was LMBO!

Doctor FTSE said...

Can you "edit html" when you write your blog posts? If so, it is very easy to remove the link in your pictures so that your blog does not jump to the original of the embedded picture when your reader clicks on the picture. After all, it's the same picture, isn't it? Just a suggestion. Like your blog. The "handing out Saturdays" is amusing.

Very best wishes.

Grumpy, M.D. said...

It's weird, but for whatever odd reason I've ended up taking care of 3 of my previous school principals (grade and HS). And they all remember me.

Beth said...

Perfect! I've always wondered why Hollywood has to portray the principals as idiots. That should be reserved for the Board of Education members. :)

Chrissy said...

Really? Principals don't act like this in real life?

Me-Me King said...

I remember my high school principal all too well, I just hope he doesn't remember me.

Sandee said...

When I was in high school I had a great principal. He was normal too. Perhaps the only one ever.

I loved to hate Rooney. He's was a flipping weirdo from he**.

Have a terrific day. :)

Jeanne said...

My high school principal was along the lines of Strickland. Earlier in life, he'd been a fighter pilot and a professional tennis player, and the kids respected him.

For sheer personality, though, you had to go back to the previous principal, who was there when my older sisters attended and I knew only by legend.

J. William Holmes (aka J. Willy), would have made a great movie character. He once interrupted a pep assembly -- stopped it dead in its tracks -- to demand a certain student. Dead silence.

"Where is X?" he thundered.

More silence.

Finally, timidly, one of the teachers said, "X graduated last year, sir."

J. Willy thought about that.

"Well," he said, "Resume your pep."

And walked out of the auditorium.

Now, thinking about the time he introduced the new shop teacher, who was Master Mason, as a masturbator, or the time he called to threaten the commanding officer at Wright Patterson Air Force Base because Wright-Patt planes were "buzzing his building" during morning announcements, I'm thinking J. Willy may deserve a post of his own.

Thanks for dredging this up -- I'll give you a shout-out when I post!

Candy's daily Dandy said...

I'd have to say that my high school principal was an "amalgam" of all three of these jerks, with Vernon probably leading the pack.

What gives with that? Would you happen to know why, generally, most high school principals are full out, hard asses???

Pearl said...

Ya mess with the bull and ya get the horns.

Ack! :-)


nonamedufus said...

Hey I went to Catholic school (me and my friends went to separate schools together) and the pirests WERE marginally-psychotic drill sergeants and the nuns WERE bumbling boobs. But, hey, teachers AND principles have come a long way, haven't they DK. Oh yeah, add the principle from Rock and Roll High School to your list.

moooooog35 said...

Worst principal ever:

Principal in Motley Crue's 'Smokin' in the Boys' Room' video.

I make them work in the school book store?

It's MOTLEY CRUE for chrissake!

Jenn said...

Gotta agree on Rooney being an idiot but I am a true Vernon fan all the way. Claire & Bender did have a little moment in the broom closet. We were left to imagine what happened but with the subsequent granting of diamond earrings and air-thrust fists, one can only assume they got the best of each other and Vernon that Saturday afternoon.

Jules said...

Yeah, I'm pretty sure Bender did boink Claire. Lucky girl.

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