The average millennial could presumably list approximately 15 different high school movies that defined their teen years: Bring It On, Mean Girls, Clueless, Heathers, and for the Gen Z cohort, of which I am a member, more recent films like To All the Boys I’ve Love Before. This constant mythologizing of high school is also embodied by the “Where y’all sitting” meme, which consumed Twitter in mid-August and utilizes a cartoonish cafeteria and tables grouped by every niche interest the Internet could muster: celebrities, rom-com rankings, fashion fads, subcultures, heavy metal bands, zodiac signs, Beyoncé eras. The proliferation of the meme has been understandably exhausting—and also illuminating!
With the Democratic primary ravaging America’s cultural consciousness, “Where y’all sittin” reminded me of the wave of new Gen Z voters who are entering their first presidential election season with fiercely held political beliefs and a renewed vigor for socialism that contextualizes the world around them. What use, then, is old-guard punditry to those who can navigate social media sub-groups faster than someone who gets paid to write about them for a living?
Teens are not too stupid to understand these things, but having spent some time as a reporter, I don’t believe that traditional outlets of political thought serve anyone as well as we think they do. Not when Riverdale is a more honest portrayal of human nature and political absurdity than the nightly MSNBC news roundup. Thus, my plan is to pierce through the election discourse with a fun romp through an imaginary high school, where students are not just categorized by their social rankings or the clubs and sports they’ve joined! In this new hell of my creation, they’ve instead rallied around a popular meme format and the presidential candidates they’ll probably end up voting for.
(Attempts at fairness were likely swayed by my clear and ever present bias.)
Introducing “Where Y’all Sitting?”: Democratic Candidates Edition.
Most high schools are not comprised of loose, tribalistic subgroups. The majority of the student body intermingle and mind their business, the sharp divides between them blurred and often non-existent. Such is the case for future Elizabeth Warren voters. They’re particularly divisive with Kamala Harris voters and the Joe Biden bullies. Both sides appreciate the sense of strength and justice that underscore the Harris camp’s initiatives, but frequently squabble in the Associated Student Body over the Warren kids more progressive positions. (One year, a Warren voter and ASB accountant refused to accept money during a bake sale from the parents of a Biden voter on principle. She was later reprimanded.)
Their past campaigns for class president are often shoved aside in the extremely teen boy-dominated campaign field, but it hasn’t stopped them from excelling in all other areas of extra-curricular activities. Some are your traditional nerds (who try to hard at everything), others are choir kids, and even the reclusive yearbook and journalism students are represented in their rank. (The marching band recently joined after it was discovered that some cheerleaders among the Kamala Harris voters had been calling them names.) They don’t sit in the cafeteria, as the atmosphere is too tense to realistically enjoy their meals and the sunny lawn is nicer anyways. Bill de Blasio’s lone voter, a transfer student that remains a mystery to most at the school, is frequently seen sitting 10 feet away. He laughs at their jokes, hoping that even one person will turn and look at him. They never do.
There are many packs of roving bullies that prowl the halls of high school. None, however, are more dangerous than Joe Biden lackeys. Peeling into parking lots in the BMW daddy bought them, the future frat-bros announce their arrival each morning with a ceremonial shoving parade in their terrifying march to first period. They are split into two camps: extremely wealthy trust fund heirs with family friends on the school board, or kids enamored with these gross displays of power and privilege. The thralls are the most worrying—at any moment, a seemingly harmless passerby might find themselves repeating the propaganda that keeps bullies in positions of power. “He didn’t shove you, you were just in his way!” “If you’re nice to him, the administration will definitely go easier on you!”
You can always smell a Joe Biden voter well before they reach you—a useful trick for dodging them. Their scent is a combination of Old Spice body spray and a Hollister store. Ironically, they don’t wear Hollister. Most are usually clothed in Abercrombie & Fitch. It signals that, unlike their well dressed counterparts amongst Kamala Harris voters, Joe Biden’s base is 10 years too late. The few in the associated student body are there by heritage, and every few years will mount a campaign for the class presidency that fizzles out in the first debate. Unchecked macho energy carries great power in physical spaces like hallways and the cafeteria, but when put on the debate stage, it will always falter. Unfortunately, they don’t need the class presidency to maintain their iron grip on the school’s culture. Their parents have poured immense amounts of money into renovating the football field, and the last three homecoming games were won by Chad, the son of a real estate developer that leads the pack. He refused to comment for this story, telling me: “Suck it, nerd.”
And then there are the Bernie Sanders voters smoking cigarettes in the parking lot and coughing (because they’re bad at smoking cigarettes). It doesn’t stop them, of course. The characters in the Fellini movie they watched in film club smoked, and those characters were smart and artistic. When not interrupting your algebra class to explain something off-topic to your teacher, you’ll often find them in the library starting fights on the internet. They love this, and many believe that Tumblr discourse will heal the soul of our planet. Even doxxing isn’t out of the question if the future of the school is involved! (This piety, however, makes them generally un-fun at parties.)
Most importantly, just remember to never, ever bring up a film director or movie you just saw in their vicinity. The Bernie voters lunch time conversations around such topics are treacherous affairs, and cross-table arguments grow so extreme that friendships and alliances shift often. Which makes following them on social media that much more chaotic! They’re infamous subtweeters, despite not being very good at it. They also genuinely believe the horde of burn blogs under their command will finally end the Harris voters’ reign over the associated student body. (That, or the thrifted leather jackets and surplus military coats they sheathe themselves in.) The Sanders kids don’t want the presidency, however, and aren’t even involved in the school’s political system. To them, the hierarchy is inherently corrupt and protests at debates are frequent. If anyone must fill the role, they admit, let it be an Elizabeth Warren candidate. One told me, “They’re cool, even if they’re all sellouts.”
Like their leader, Kamala Harris voters are often cops. Unless they’re in high school! In that medium, they’re football players, cheerleaders, associated study body members, and hall monitors. They’re also among the wealthiest, and will frequently win their spot on the Homecoming court by the sheer volume of gel pens they can afford. One invariably rises up each year and begins a ruthless campaign for class president. Remember those chocolate bars your classmates would inevitably peddle to you for a class trip or a new soccer field? I mostly stole those, and always from Kamala Harris voters. Except there wasn’t a gymnasium with its floors in desperate need of repairs, or a history class gathering funds for a trip to the museum—those candy bars flowed directly into said candidate’s Kinkos budget.
As a unit, the collective Kamala Harris voting base makes up the largest grouping of tables in the cafeteria. And not because of their population size! Instead, they believe that as the seniors of the school, why wouldn’t they be allowed exclusive rights to the most comfortable seating? (Even at the behest of the average student.) There is also frequent fighting with Pete Buttigieg voters, whose candidate offers the only real threat to their stranglehold on the associated student body. It’s been rumored that, at an election a few years ago, a pro-Harris candidate claimed: “Are you willing to hand this school over to someone propped up by his own empty promises of pizza parties and populist reform? This school needs justice, not a good time.” The Pete Buttigieg candidate won by a landslide in that election. (No word on the state of the pizza party.)
Elsewhere in the cafeteria, Pete Buttigieg voters are sitting respectfully and allowing each person space to talk. A few—too shy to contribute to the conversation about the state of the school’s bathrooms—are absentmindedly ripping apart the plastic wrap sheathing their ham sandwiches. In the hallways you’ll often overhear them reminding each other to tuck their shirts in, or delicately informing the others that they missed a belt loop on their jeans that morning. They’ll tuck in their Harvard sweatshirts and Columbia Law polos: schools they haven’t been admitted to yet, a fact that doesn’t seem to worry them.
You’ll always notice the harried, desperate look in the eyes of a Pete Buttigieg voter. Between juggling speech and debate tournaments with their immense AP class load, you’ll find that every conversation with them feels rushed. They have to make the $60 their mom spent on that Harvard sweatshirt mean something! Around campaign season, their chosen leader will rise up and form the frontline against the Kamala Harris camp’s candidate. They truly believe in their power to grant pizza parties and “casual Fridays,” even when mocked by the more self-serious Harris candidate. Pressed for their beliefs on detention, bullying, and the administration, the Buttigieg candidate will often respond: “We should hear both sides.”
In a dilapidated classroom sequestered in a forgotten wing of your high school, amidst stacks of old chairs and broken computers, a group of Marianne Williamson voters are fiercely debating the ethics of Neon Genesis Evangelion. Forming the entire anime club, they’re often seen “Naruto running” through hallways, overstuffed backpacks threatening to topple their balance at any minute. Once friends with the Bernie Sanders voters, a schism based on a Tumblr callout post that tore the group apart. They also form the loose network of weed dealers, Juul pod vendors, and slime producers that make up the high school’s black market. When not reading Harry Potter fanfiction, some will make beaded bracelets on the lawn in support of the GSA committee’s latest fundraiser while others defect to the art room, furiously scribbling the outlines of cartoon character’s massive breasts based on the instructions in a book titled “How to Draw Manga Characters.”
Angela, their current leader, was famously put in a months-long detention after one such illustration was stolen by a Harris voter and given to the principal. When the administrator summoned her to the office over the intercom, there are rumors she abruptly stood and announced: “If I must choose between my beliefs and conformism, I will always choose my big breasted anime women.” The moment was captured on video by a Beto O’Rourke voter. He’s now famous on TikTok because of it.
Removed from these political machinations is a group of horny drama students that spend their lunchtime in the theater: The Cory Booker voters. When not running lines for their one-person shows, they’re loudly repeating jokes from last night’s Riverdale and squabbling over ships. They’re also all dating, a situation worsened by the close quarters they find themselves in. It’s not uncommon to be having a conversation with an ex-boyfriend, an ex-girlfriend, and their ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends whenever you find yourself in the vicinity of the theatre. The administration slashing their program’s budget in favor of the football team’s homecoming celebration has also made them extremely defensive of the theatrical arts.
With only two productions a year, it’s no surprise that the school had a mediated sit-down with the cast of Little Shop of Horrors last semester after infighting broke out over the role of Audrey 2. On one side, the girls believed that the role should be reserved for them, seeing as the main character of the production is already a boy. The boys, alternately, wanted to preserve the show’s camp elements and historical male casting of the monstrous plant. In the end, I’m told that both parties agreed to share the role, a situation which confounded their parents (who served as their only audience on the dreaded Saturday matinees).
Beto O’Rourke voters, frequent homecoming kings and their cheerleading girlfriends (and defectors from the Kamala Harris ranks), sit in the center of the cafeteria. Many are on the baseball team, and even more are TikTok famous. They really, really, love the attention—even when it causes frequent fighting with their girlfriends. Those among them who weren’t fortunate enough to be born with jawlines and parents who could afford little league are content with going home after school and playing Call of Duty.
Julián Castro: Associated Student Body Committee Members, Library Dwellers, Volunteers, and Mathletes
In the hallways, Julián Castro voters shuffle between the library and the lawn, where they sit with the Sanders voters. Many are the smartest kids in class, and when not organizing fundraising drives, will carry out their “secretary” duties in the associated student body with a precision that will unnerve you. (Secretary, they’ll often tell you, is a much more important job then president.)
And last, and certainly least, are the gaggle of Amy Klobuchar voters that huddle in the gym. They’re the schools low-tier bullies, and pose no discernible threat. Most ignore the school’s various political machinations entirely, opting instead to train for ROTC and the swim team. They’re frequently seen eating their lunch in the gym.
Pop culture often posits that this tapestry of personality dies when we graduate and move on to the real world. Anyone will tell you this isn’t true. “Adult life” is teen life with (sometimes) better drugs and the ability to rent cars, which we can’t afford because we’re paid the same as when we were in high school. Why else would 30-somethings spend their precious time watching, let alone writing, teen dramas on Netflix? And that isn’t to discredit them—they have the right idea! I suggest we apply the same lens to all areas of our lives. Besides the slow destruction of our planet’s natural resources and global collapse of civilization as we know it, high school is one of the last, vast unifying American experiences. And with all the tools it gave me to understand the people around me, I might never grow out of it! Until I do—at which point I’ll start writing self-serious dramedies about married people in Los Angeles instead.