May 13, 2011— -- Guys have been staging elaborate marriage proposals for decades, but the millennial generation will grow up remembering a different, increasingly momentous, event: their prom-posal.
Once upon a time finding a prom date was simple – and private. All it took was one question. Now, YouTube videos of elaborate "prom-posals" are going viral, and on this week's episode of "Glee," fittingly titled "Prom Queen," Artie asked Brittany to prom by singing Steve Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," accompanied by acoustic guitars.
The scene appeared to have been modeled after Jason Pitts' prom-posal. Pitts, a Santa Monica High School senior from Culver City, Calif. spent nearly two weeks in March planning a prom-posal for Lianna Cohen, 18, and eventually serenaded her in class.
Playing the guitar, surrounded by a capella singers, Pitts sang, "Lianna, you're so beautiful, I just want you to stay calm / Lianna, you're so beautiful, I'd like to ask you to prom."
Cohen, delighted, nearly doubled over as the song ended. At that point there wasn't any doubt: Her answer was yes.
The video made its way from the social news website Reddit to Ryan Seacrest's Twitter feed, and now Pitts has been interviewed by "Good Morning America," as well as reporters in Sweden and Norway.
"I thought these kinds of proposals were more common but I guess not because people have been telling me I raised the bar," said Pitts, whose song now has more than half a million hits on YouTube. "Some guys have sarcastically said they hate me now."
It was the second time a girl had inspired him to write lyrics, the first being for a song called "Wonderland." That relationship is over. "I don't play that song anymore."
Jessica Kim says her friend Justin Chung raised the bar at her school after he literally took the plunge to ask her to be his prom date. To her knowledge, nothing like that had ever been done at her school before.
"It was really unexpected, and it got so big. I'm so shocked at how big it got," said Kim, 18, reflecting on the sudden popularity of the 2009 prom proposal video, which has generated more than half a million views.
At the time she was a 16-year-old junior at Glen A. Wilson High School in Hacienda Heights. She and her teammates were at swim practice when she looked up to see Chung climbing up the diving board, holding a rose.
As the other kids squealed, "Oh my God!" and "So cute!" he asked her if she'd go to prom with him. When she said yes he plunged into the water, fully clothed.
"I was like, 'Oh my goodness. Please don't jump,'" Kim said. "It happened so fast and after, when I saw the video, he was so close to the lane line -- so dangerous."
Chung recalled how difficult it was to swim in clothing. "It was really heavy and weighing me down," he said. "As I was going up on the diving board I was like, 'I can't believe I'm doing this.' I tried to act as normal as possible and pretend I wasn't going to jump in."
The only glitch occurred when the rosebud he was holding broke off after hitting the water. But Chung had come prepared.
"He got another one and put it in my swim bag," Kim said.
It wouldn't be the last grandiose proposal for Kim. During her senior year, a friend asked her to the homecoming dance during halftime at a football game by running onto the field and holding up a large sign.
"Guys are pretty clever nowadays," she said.
Banned from Prom
Senior James Tate was similarly clever, but his plan backfired when Shelton High School banned him from the prom earlier this year. He had posted letters on the side of his Connecticut school that read, "Sonali Rodrigues Will You Go To Prom With Me? HMU [Hit Me Up] – Tate." She said yes, but the school said he trespassed after hours. This morning the Connecticut Post reported 90 students held a sit-in and planned a rally to protest the school's decision.
Tate and Rodrigues, however, are undeterred. The two still plan to take prom pictures together and will attend an after party.
"I did it to make her feel special and I feel like I accomplished that," he told WABC.
Planning for a 'Yes'
Although the idea of videotaping a prom proposal seems potentially humiliating, most of the guys who asked already felt confident.
"I knew she was going to say yes, she was my girlfriend, I just wanted to do something special for her -- I just felt like she deserved something cool," said Taylor Hecocks, 17, who asked Monika McKenzie to the prom last month by singing 'The Girl' by City and Colour. It may be the most-viewed prom proposal ever posted on YouTube, with more than 1.2 million hits.
McKenzie, 16, who attends Calvary Christian Academy with Hecocks in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., said, "When we started to like each other people weren't sure it would last because I'm more shy and he's outgoing. He wanted to do something to prove to the whole school that this is legit and this is going to work."
Hecocks asked a crowd of people to surround him as he sat holding his guitar, wearing a powder blue tuxedo. When McKenzie approached him, the crowd parted. And there he was.
"It was really exciting, thoughtful and sweet of him. No guy's ever done that for me before," said McKenzie, who recently moved to the U.S. from Canada, where she attended a school that didn't have a prom.
"I wasn't sure what [prom] was, and all this happened," McKenzie said.
At home, McKenzie's parents were excited as well, and began sharing the news with their relatives.
"They both really like Taylor," said McKenzie, who has been dating Hecocks for five weeks now. "I don't know how any guy would top what he did."
Surveillance Society, Reality TV Spurs Video Prom Proposals
All of these stories are impressive, but if these guys are already certain she'll say yes, why go to all of that trouble?
Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University, said it's not surprising.
There was a time when such moments were discussed among close friends, or noted in a diary, kept under lock and key. But these students, Thompson said, have grown up in a confessional society. Perhaps, he mused, it's healthier that this generation has lightened up.
"We were a little squirrelly about some of that stuff," said Thompson, who attended high school in the 70s.
Jesse Drew, director of the Technocultural studies program at the University of California, Davis, said the prom-posal trend also derives from reality TV.
Prom proposals have "a dramatic element and people see those simple dramatic elements repeated over and over again on television as spectacle," he said. "We're in a really fame-based culture. Everyday actors in everyday life doing mundane things become superstars."
Thompson noted prom has always been a dress rehearsal for marriage: the rituals, the formality, the expenditures, and a specific request: the proposal. So as marriage proposals continue to become more and more elaborate, prom proposals will follow suit.
"For many people this is one of the most dramatic acts they will have performed in their life up until that point," he said. "To them this is a big deal."
As Quinn remarked in this week's episode of "Glee," "You can get married as many times as you want. You only get one shot at your junior prom."