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Are We All In This Together?

Analise Lipari and Erin McGinn | Thursday, April 5, 2007

Some might argue that the shiny world of Disney’s modern musical classic, “High School Musical,” is a bastion of destructive fantasy that bears no semblance of a realistic high school experience. Cynics of the world seem to unite against what is commonly known to fans as “HSM,” finding joy in criticizing the overly happy bubblegum pop as uncomfortably disconnected with the real world.

Frankly, those cynics are just plain wrong.

Yes, it’s true that not all high school students will move to a new school, audition for the lead of a play and fall in love with a hottie like Zac Efron – and all within two hours, no less. It’s also true that we can’t all be like the dynamic team of Ryan and Sharpay Evans, since our wardrobes aren’t stylishly decked out with sequins at a moment’s notice. But while the “HSM” cynic might see this as an attachment to fantasy that could disillusion the innocent youth of America, HSM fans know that a little fantasy is good for the soul. Plus, imagining yourself singing and dancing with a teen idol never really hurt anyone.

The very heart and soul of Disney is founded on the idea of escapist fantasy. Walt Disney created his theme parks as a way for people, if even just for a day, to leave their lives and enter the world of fantasy.

We know when we walk into the Magic Kingdom that it’s actually steel and cement and there is a person inside of that Mickey Mouse costume, but that doesn’t make it any less magical. The same can be said for the Disney Channel’s “HSM.” We know that’s not how high school actually is, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still gain enjoyment from it – much like how we don’t watch “Rudy” thinking that we’re going to be able to walk on to the football team.

And even though the plot of “HSM” resides firmly in the world of fiction, there is still a lot that can be gained from watching it. There’s no sex, violence or substance abuse – which is a big plus for a kid’s movie, seeing as how we live in a world where fifth graders are now having sex in classrooms with posted lookouts.

Some may argue that the idea of cliques dissolving and everyone becoming friends doesn’t happen in the real world. But why doesn’t it? It’s not that such a scenario can’t occur, but that people choose not to act that way. While “HSM” is certainly idealistic, it is by no means unreachable.

“High School Musical” also promotes a surprising amount of more modern social values. Most visibly, the film works to break any and all racial stereotypes that it could possibly encounter in forming its cast. Gabriella Montez, played by Vanessa Anne Hudgens, and Efron’s Troy Bolton fall in love across the racial divide in an epic and endearing romance. Plus, the villain of the story, Sharpay, is as white as they come. Awkward? Perhaps, but we can appreciate the decision not to call attention to issues of race, at least on the surface. After all, it is a Disney Channel movie – true fans know what to expect.

In the end, “High School Musical” is nothing more than what it claims to be: a feel-good movie that everyone from starry-eyed adolescents to young-at-heart college students can enjoy. Sure, its underlying messages are couched in catchy songs and cute clothes, but what harm does that do? We all need to be reminded from time to time “that all our dreams have no limitations, that’s what it’s all about.”

So to the “HSM” cynic, we say that “High School Musical” serves to inspire all of us to “bop to the top” – and make some friends along the way.

To Wildcats everywhere, we say stand up and be proud – because we certainly are all in this together.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer.

Contact Analise Lipari at alipari@nd.edu and Erin McGinn at emcginn@nd.edu