The “Ask”

Written by Sydney Wilburn

It’s prom season! That might not mean a lot to many university students, but because I work at a dorm at UNT that houses high-school-aged students, it’s been a buzz word around the halls for the past couple of months. But these days you can’t just “ask” someone to prom– there has to be an “Ask,” or a “promposal.” The promposal fad began blowing up on teen social media accounts around 2011. It certainly makes for a cute Instagram photo, especially if the Ask is particularly creative or funny. A 2013 survey estimated that the average promposal price was $324. A recent Beauty and the Beast-themed promposal racked up over 3,000 likes on Twitter, while another one at Disneyworld earned over 5,000 likes. Other just as viral promposals were less flashy (and expensive)– a simple bouquet of balloons and a live performance of the theme from Pixar’s “Up,” or showing up with your date’s favorite kind of chips on your shirt— it seems that the most important aspect of a promposal is the creativity and thoughtfulness that goes into the Ask.

This Doritos-themed promposal went viral a few weeks ago. 

But, there seems to be something else, too. All of these viral promposals are extremely visually-oriented– whether your date dressed up as Beast or custom-made t-shirt with a cheesy pun– it just screams “Post me! Quick, take a photo and post me so everyone can see what just happened!” Even in the “Up” promposal video mentioned above, the girl being asked to prom begins to walk over to give the ivory-tickling boy a hug, but stops in her tracks to take a photo of the scene. I’m a total supporter of taking photos to make the memories last, but for many, it seems that the idea of immediately sharing the promposal with all their followers is a priority above even officially accepting the promposal.

I’ve seen this happen often with the junior- and senior-aged residents where I work. Staff– and residents, too– can often tell when a promposal is about to happen because everyone has their phones out to capture the moment and hit “Post” as soon as it stops recording. The club planning prom offered a $5 discount to anyone who posted their promposal on social media with the hashtag #Prom2K17. With the number of signs we saw painted and photos posted, I was surprised when I didn’t see those faces smiling up from the Instagram feed actually attend prom. Many of these “promposals,” it turns out, really were just for show; many students bought dresses, rented tuxes, took lots of photos, and went to dinner in Dallas– and then didn’t go to the prom dance. But from any one of their Instagram followers’ point of view, it would seem like they had a fun night out at their high school prom.
It makes me wonder if the meaning of prom or even the homecoming dance has changed with the popularity of promposals on social media. A 2014 TODAY article explains the phenomena of fewer students attending smaller dances throughout the year, though prom was still described as a must-attend event. But has it become “uncool” even since then to actually attend prom? Is it more important now to post photos of your promposal, expensive dress, and dinner with a group of friends than it is to actually attend the dance? Though I only work with about 360 students and the sample size is pretty small, I would be interested to see a nationwide study of prom attendance compared to promposals and “prom night” photos posted on social media. The end of the prom dance could be upon us soon…

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UNT Eagle Strategies

Class members of the social media class in the Mayborn School of Journalism