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Wed September 26, 2012

'Wanna Go To The Dance?' Is SO Passe. Try YouTube

She doesn't know what's about to happen, but this is a moment high school junior Maddy Powell has been waiting for.

She's sitting in her Advanced Placement biology class, and her boyfriend, Andrew Forsyth, is finally going to pop the question.

Don't worry — he's not asking for Maddy's hand in marriage. But what Andrew has planned is perhaps as elaborate as a marriage proposal.

Andrew has the teacher play a funny video he made. As it rolls, the class sees Andrew ask several different girls (and one boy) to the homecoming dance. Each time, he gets slapped and turned down.

Then, Andrew's teacher shows him a picture of Maddy. He thinks, "What a great idea!" The video ends a with a text crawl across the bottom of the screen: "Will you go to homecoming with me?"

Back in the classroom, the video ends. Maddy says yes, and the room erupts in applause. "Thank you! That was so sweet," Maddy says. "Oh my God."

'Modern-Day Machismo'

Gone are the days when a boy would subtly ask a girl to the big dance. Students — especially teenage boys — are feeling pressure to stand out from their peers with a big "promposal."

Maddy and Andrew are both juniors at Spain Park High School in Hoover, Ala., a Birmingham suburb. Maddy had seen similar romantic scenes play out with other girls at school, and she wanted one, too.

"Yes, every time I see somebody else get asked a creative way, I wish that Andrew would do something like that," Maddy says. "And he did!"

In an age when men are proposing marriage in stadiums and on YouTube, and even spending thousands of dollars to hire flash mobs — teens like Andrew are saying, "Oh yeah? We can do that, too."

"So this is just kind of a way of trying to show our independence, I guess," Andrew says. "And do things that are bigger and better to show, 'Hey, we're not little.' "

"For boys, this is the modern-day machismo," says Vanessa Van Petten, an author who writes about parenting and teens.

"This is their way of sort of strutting their stuff, showing how much money they spend on a promposal, how much energy can they can put into it," Van Petten says. "Who's the bigger man, showing off to their ladies and their guy friends."

Of course, there are girls who publicly ask guys to the dance, or announce secret crushes through videos. But this is mostly a guy thing.

Casey Middlebrooks, a librarian at Spain Park High School, is amazed.

"Oh man, I don't know how the kids do it these days. I guess I'd have to be for sure that she'd say yes before I went to those extremes," she says.

Back when he asked a girl to prom, the last thing he wanted was to make a big show of it. Instead, he waited until the girl was all alone in class — and it didn't go entirely as planned.

"Actually, she did say no," Middlebrooks recalls. "So [it] ended up, me and my best friend went together, went stag."

Getting Rejected, Even If She Says Yes

Van Petten says that while a promposal may seem incredibly audacious to adults, that's not always the case. She points out that Andrew and Maddy have been together for eight months — practically an eternity by high school standards.

"There's very little risk involved," Van Petten says, "because usually the boy knows the girl will say yes."

A lot of these promposals are posted on social media sites. Getting thousands of views on YouTube or dozens of "likes" on Facebook is a huge motivator for teens. But there is some risk involved, too.

"All of a sudden, you see in the comments, 'Oh, this guy's such a loser' ... 'He's so ugly,' " Van Petten says. "So even if they succeed, if they get the girl, they get rejected."

Some schools are getting fed up with the disruptiveness of it all. Recently, a Virginia teen asked one girl to a dance by having a U.S. Customs pilot fly over his school to drop a plush bulldog onto the football field.

Andrew brought his teacher in on his promposal. Sometimes, kids enlist the entire school band or the cheerleading team. But just as quickly as promposals have become popular, some schools are already banning them.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Now that school is back in full swing, the pressure is on, not just academic pressure but promposal pressure. Students, especially teenage boys, are looking to land a date for the year's first big dance homecoming. And when it comes to the big ask, they're being pushed to stand out from the crowd. Near Birmingham, Alabama, one young suitor invited reporter Gigi Douban to be an eyewitness.

GIGI DOUBAN, BYLINE: She doesn't know what's about to happen, but this is a moment Maddy Powell has been waiting for. She's in her AP biology class, and her boyfriend, Andrew Forsythe, is finally going to pop the question. He has the teacher play this funny video he made where he's asking different girls and one boy to the dance. And each time, he gets slapped and turned down.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No. (Slap)

DOUBAN: Andrew's teacher shows him a picture of Maddy, and he thinks: What a great idea. The video ends with this text scrolling across the bottom of the screen. It says: Will you go to homecoming with me? And Maddy says...

MADDY POWELL: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

POWELL: Oh, my God.

(APPLAUSE)

POWELL: Thank you. That was so sweet.

(LAUGHTER)

POWELL: Oh, my God.

DOUBAN: Maddy and Andrew are high school juniors at Spain Park High School in Hoover, a suburb near Birmingham. Maddy had seen similar romantic scenes play out with other girls at school, and she wanted it.

POWELL: Yes, every time I see somebody else get asked a creative way, I wish that Andrew would do something like that, and he did.

DOUBAN: In an age when men are proposing marriage in stadiums, on YouTube, even spending thousands of dollars to hire flash mobs, teens like Andrew are saying, oh, yeah? We can do that too.

ANDREW FORSYTHE: So this is just kind of a way of trying to show our independence, I guess, and do things that are bigger and better to show, hey, we're not little.

VANESSA VAN PETTEN: For boys, this is the modern-day machismo.

DOUBAN: Vanessa Van Petten writes books about teens.

PETTEN: This is their way of sort of strutting their stuff, you know, showing how much money they can spend on a promposal, how much energy can they put into it, who's the bigger man showing off to their ladies and their guy friends.

DOUBAN: Of course, there are girls who publicly ask guys to the dance or announce secret crushes through videos, but this is mostly a guy thing. And now, promposals could precede any school dance. Casey Middlebrooks, a librarian at Spain Park High School, is amazed.

CASEY MIDDLEBROOKS: Oh, man, I don't know how the kids do it these days. I guess I would have to be for sure that she'd say yes before I went to those extremes.

DOUBAN: Back when he asked a girl to prom, the last thing he wanted was a big show of it. Instead, he waited till she was all alone in class.

MIDDLEBROOKS: Actually, she did say no.

(LAUGHTER)

MIDDLEBROOKS: So I ended up me and my best friend went together stag.

DOUBAN: Van Petten says even though a promposal may seem incredibly audacious, that's not always the case. Look at Andrew and Maddy. They've been together eight months, an eternity by high school standards.

PETTEN: There's very little risk involved in that because usually the boy knows the girl will say yes.

DOUBAN: A lot of these promposals are posted on social media sites. Getting thousands of views on YouTube or dozens of likes on Facebook is a huge motivator for teens. But there is risk here.

PETTEN: All of a sudden, you see in the comments, oh, this guy is such a loser, or, you know, he's so ugly. So even if they succeed, if they get the girl, they get rejected.

DOUBAN: Some schools are getting fed up with the disruptiveness of it all. Recently, a Virginia teen had a U.S. Customs pilot fly over his school and drop a plush bulldog onto the football field to ask one girl to the dance. Andrew had his teacher in on his promposal. Sometimes kids enlist the entire school band or the cheerleading team. And just as quickly as promposals have become popular, some schools are already banning them. For NPR News in Birmingham, Alabama, I'm Gigi Douban. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.