In 2004, the concept of prom changed forever, thanks to MTV. The hit reality series Laguna Beach set new standards for teens everywhere when it popularized the concept of a "promposal," during which boys would make grand public gestures like extravagant scavenger hunts to pop the big question to their prospective prom dates. As for the ask itself, this could be done by simply holding a gigantic poster with "Will you go to prom with me?" scribbled in Sharpie, though some guys went over-the-top by spelling out "Prom?" with objects like rose petals, candles, or twinkly lights.
The rise of the promposal, among other things, in the last decade has meant that prom is no longer simply about the dress, the date, or the dance itself—it's an opportunity to go viral. As products of the digital age, many modern teens are willing to do whatever it takes to get attention and approval from their peers both online and offline.
In a national survey conducted by VISA in 2015, the average American family spent a total of $919 on prom. But the chance to go viral? That rite of passage is priceless. Or, rather, there is a price on it: Teens are spending upward of a thousand dollars to be a part of this phenomenon, as was the case with a recent much-shared promposal featuring Louboutins and lots of makeup from Sephora.
But where there's so much money, there's bound to be lots of problems. In 2014, CNN reported that teens felt intense pressure from the expectation of promposals. Jarrod Chin, director of training and curriculum of Northeastern University Sport in Society, told CNN that promposals are subjecting teens to more social pressure and humiliation. "As promposal clips go viral, more and more young people think that you need to create these elaborate schemes to ask someone to prom and the reality is that it should be just a fun event for young people to dance and celebrate," he said.
Promposals, though, are not the only viral opportunity for teens when it comes to their big dance. More recently, a new prom phenomenon has taken hold; now the entrance to the event is a big deal as well. In 2015, Ashvonn Russell went viral after images of her arriving at prom in an ambulance and being woken up by a kiss from her date circulated on the web.
Since then, the grand entrances have only become more extreme. Last year, Azja Frazier made her date wait outside her door while professional dancers performed the choreography for Beyoncé's "Formation" video. At the time, she told BuzzFeed that she "wanted something to entertain my guests while they were waiting on me to come out." The footage of her entrance gained millions of views in the short span of 24 hours.
This year, Megan Flaherty pulled up to prom in a hearse and was carried out in a coffin. Apparently, the New Jersey teen wanted to be "different" than her classmates. Naturally, she got coverage for the outrageous stunt, but that wasn't Flaherty's stated goal for doing it—she actually aspires to become a funeral director, so this was an extension of her ultimate dream.
There's little doubt that prom-related phenomena are only going to get more elaborate and expensive as teens look for new ways to go viral; as most teens today will tell you, did you really go to prom if you didn't take the opportunity to boost your digital clout?