During prom season, running the gantlet of parental paparazzi

Columnist

Hear it? That whir? It sounds like the beating wings of a thousand tiny insects, but it’s the motorized buzz of countless autofocus cameras.

They are cradled in the hands of middle-aged paparazzi who, knees creaking, jockey for position and shout out to their subjects: “Look this way! Straighten your tie! Hold up your corsage!”

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Yes, it is high school prom season.

I’ve just come from my younger daughter’s prom — well, not the prom itself (she forbade me) but from the pre-prom photo opportunity, a cattle call of some 30 or 40 kids. They milled about a suburban cul-de-sac in their finery, looking as if someone had pulled the fire alarm at the Golden Globes. They were giddy with excitement and amazingly tolerant of the parents who barked orders at them and tripped the shutter repeatedly.

I don’t remember such a ritual in my high school days. Back then you and your date posed for a snapshot or two at the girl’s house, forgot about it (the undeveloped roll of film is probably still rattling around at the back of a drawer somewhere), went to dinner, tried to get past second base on the bench seats of a Dodge Dart, then went to the prom, where you posed for a professional photographer who carted from dance to dance like a sacred relic some “classy” prop — an arbor covered in plastic ivy, say, or a backdrop airbrushed with a setting sun.

A week to 10 days later an envelope arrived. Inside was a cardboard folder, the prom’s theme embossed in gold on the front: “We’ve Only Just Begun.” You opened it, and there you were, staring back with your date from a 5-by-7 print, wearing a flammable tuxedo and a facial expression that even then said, “Someday I’m going to look back on this and be embarrassed.”

When your hickey faded it was the only proof that you’d been to the prom.

Not today. Facebook hungers to be fed. Canon and Nikon can turn anyone into Annie Leibovitz. A 4GB SD card holds thousands of images. And teens travel in packs. Thus the ritual of the massive pre-prom group photo session.

In my day, if you didn’t have a date to the prom, you didn’t go. You were a disgrace. You sat at home that night, stoking your resentment and creating Microsoft.

Now, though, everyone goes, date or no. You aren’t part of a couple, you’re part of a group. You go to dinner together. You rent a limo together. (Last week, I saw a photo of my nephew’s prom on Facebook. There were a dozen kids stuffed in the back of a stretch Hummer. They looked like paratroopers awaiting the jump light.)

And you pose for photographs together.

The trick is to capture for posterity the near-infinite permutations: All the boys together. All the girls together. All the couples together.

Now, the boys with the girls they wished they’d asked.

Now, the girls with the boys they wished had asked them.

All the blue dresses together. Now the red dresses. Now the white dresses.

Now, all the “frenemies,” the girls who fix upon their faces that telltale simulacrum of amity.

All the girls whose hems are a little too short with the boys whose sleeves are a little too long.

To be honest, I think the new way is better than the old way. At least it’s more inclusive. And the more pictures you take, the better chance you’ll look good in one.

Your picture here?

Speaking of photographs, on Mother’s Day, Rick Neumann was driving to visit his mother in Bethesda when he saw a camera fly off the roof of a car in the left lane of River Road. It had apparently slipped the driver’s mind that he had placed his expensive digital camera on the roof of his car. (Or her car.)

As the car sped away, Rick pulled over to retrieve the camera. “I put it on Craigslist Lost and Found list but only received some dopey political statements in return,” he said.

I know the chances are slim, but do you recognize this photo, taken from the camera? Shoot me an e-mail if you do, and perhaps we can reunite owner with property.

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