United States Academic Decathlon, which was founded in 1968, is one of the most rigorous and highly regarded academic organizations on the high school level. Founded by Dr. Robert Peterson in Orange County, academic decathlon consists of seven multiple choice tests: mathematics, social science, science, art, music, economics, and language & literature. In addition to the seven tests, decathletes, or decathlon athletes, are tested in speech, interview, essay, and a super quiz. Most of these exams revolve around the main topic of the year.
For the 2017-2018 academic year, the topic is Africa. The year before that, the topic was WWII and the year before that, the topic was India. Behind the testing and performance tests, there are months of preparation, dedication, and sacrifice for the sake of performing well and exceeding in decathlon.
Now, in the movie “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Peter Parker (Tom Holland) is the new and improved Spider-Man. You have previously seen him in “Captain America: Civil War,” and you will eventually see him again in “Avengers: Infinity War.” These new Spider-man films have gone through various changes and are completely different from the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield films.
For instance, in the new Spider-Man film, Aunt May becomes younger, Spider-Man is finally intertwined with the Avengers, and Spider-Man becomes a decathlete! Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing USAD being promoted but the movie’s portrayal of USAD is completely unrealistic.
Spider-Man is said to be saving local people while also participating in decathlon, band, and the robotics club! The level of preparation for decathlon is an enormous commitment, and no one would have enough time in the day to balance all of these extracurricular activities, not even Spider-Man.
Furthermore, Peter Parker’s high school is located in Queens, New York and is shown participating in the academic decathlon national competition in Washington D.C. Additionally, Peter’s teammates were crowned national champions, all while one of their best teammates, Peter Parker, missed the competition to save the world. Which doesn’t make sense because losing one of the best teammates to any team can crucially affect their score, which in turn will decrease their chances of becoming national champions.
If we applied this to the real world, there would be a huge discrepancy in the making of this movie as well. National champions for academic decathlon are largely from California and Texas, both states have largely dominated the competition. The filmmakers didn’t have to go to the extent of crowning Spider-Man’s team national champions. Instead, they could have said they won their state competition or something that is at least borderline realistic.
Alongside these outrageous claims is the misrepresentation of how academic decathlon works. In the movie, the competitions are illustrated as team versus team with no formal topic. (Decathletes may view this as a version of the Super Quiz, which is a part of the competition where all of the schools come together with each category answering questions that are projected on a screen, having only ten seconds to answer. But, it is still poorly represented as well.) They leave out both of the performance tests, essay, and all of the seven subject tests. Now, this is the exact way people usually view decathlon.
Most believe it’s a debate-like setting where competitors answer random questions but this is the complete opposite of what decathlon really is. Decathlon has structure to it; the testing is, as I’ve said before, based on topics that USAD assigns yearly. In media, academic decathlon students aren’t given enough representation and credit for what they do, prepare for, and sacrifice.
I know some people may argue that the movie’s purpose is to highlight the battles of Spider-Man and not document the lives of academic decathletes. But, it’s the belittling of the competition, the degradation of what it actually is, and the total disregard for student competitors.
I, myself, am a decathlete at Garfield High School. Being a first-year member, I have experienced the absence of free time and the absence of family time. But there are other members who have participated in decathlon their whole high school career, students who stay at school for six days a week, until late at night, and students who sacrifice, persevere, and succeed.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t portray academic decathlon in entertainment but if we are going to depict this academic competition in the entertainment industry, then we should represent it for what it truly is.