Picture this: it’s a Friday night in 2013. After a grueling day of basic multiplication tables and popcorn reading, you curl up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn, Hannah Montana pj’s and a blanket. After a long day of anticipation, 8 p.m. roles around and the latest Disney Channel movie appears on the screen, leading to two hours of mindless sing-a-longs and dreaming about the perfect high school relationship.
If you’re anything like me, this was the ideal way to spend Friday night. Whether alone in my basement or at a sleepover with friends, the tunes of High School Musical and Teen Beach Movie still echo in my head. Many of these movies remain among my favorites and continue to evoke corny references and random outbursts of singing.
However, one aspect of these movies remains continuously intermixed in these happy memories, ruining the overall effect they have: their inaccurate, cheesy depiction of high school.
These movies created a lasting, hopeful impression of what high school might be like one day. Radio Rebel showed popularity wasn’t everything; High School Musical and Geek Charming gave us the coveted high school relationship; Lemonade Mouth and Camp Rock promoted the arts and chic fashion.
Each aspect made me believe high school was mine for the taking. How naively wrong I was to stake my hopes on choreographed dance numbers and Zac Efron and Ross Lynch’s good looks.
For one, their portrayal of high school fashion troubles me still to this day. In middle school, I tried to model my outfits off of Teddy Duncan and Sharpay Evans’s girly skirts and cute accessories. I remember thinking I dressed so cool for my age but looking back, it’s no wonder I was socially awkward.
These movies failed to depict the true fashion sense of 2010s public middle and high school kids. In stark contrast to the vibrant pastels and fancy boots, an accurate portrayal would have predominantly been marked by Adidas and American Eagle logos.
In addition to my obsession with their fashion, I was also drawn to the art-centric pursuits of the main characters. High School Musical’s greatest disservice to me was showing an athlete would magically remain popular after expressing a love for singing and prancing around the theater. How I could not see the plot holes here. I couldn’t tell you.
I wouldn’t trade my love of writing, art and music for anything. It would be nice to avoid some of the eyerolls and sarcastic comments. If anything, the idea of popularity and its trademark traits is overrated. But that’s a topic for another day.
However, I feel the greatest error depicted in these movies isn’t the almost-too-perfect relationship or excessive wealth of the queen bee: it’s the inability to communicate the workload.
I know what you’re probably thinking and I know that showing a true high school workload would lead to 90 minutes of complete boredom. But it’s the sense of freedom and social aspects of high school that most stuck with me in these movies. The grand Sweet 16 parties and the unrealistic prom scenes left me with the sense high school would be all fun, with the only true struggle being putting up with the obnoxious popular crowd.
No mention of hours of homework, stressful tests and balance between school, sports and extracurriculars can truly be identified in these movies. They do not show the struggle to balance a relationship and friendships or even heartbreak. They promote the abandonment of the status-quo but in reality, it dictates our friend circles and our ability to be open with others.
My message to future elementary and middle school students would be this: don’t get pulled into the sirens’ autotuned songs or the promises of a big, bold social scene in high school. Enjoy the songs and understand the heartwarming themes to your heart’s content, but don’t stake your hopes on a grand high school experience. I cannot emphasize enough how much disappointment it will save you, no matter how appealing or wonderful they make it out to be.
Despite these pitfalls, Disney Channel movies truly mark my childhood with unforgettable and priceless memories. I just wish someone would have warned me that all the glamour and awe would have left me “living on a high wire” and falsely thinking the ideal experience was “meant to be.”