Tuesday 16 May 2017

Why High School Musical is Anti-Growth Mindset

I loved High School Musical when I was a teenager. It had singing, it had dancing, it had Zac Efron... What's not to love? But I recently started thinking about the story line again and realised it actually has a really terrible message about talent, effort, and growth mindset.

Here's the basic plot: Troy and Gabriella meet on holiday and sing a karaoke song together. This is the first time either of them has sung. They go back to school. There's going to be a school musical. Sharpay and Ryan are very passionate about musical theatre and spend most of their free time rehearsing, training, practising and researching. Musical theatre is seen as kind of lame in their school, and they are mocked for this. Sharpay suggests that Troy and Gabriella audition for a minor role in the musical. Sharpay and Ryan rehearse intensely for the audition and even design and make costumes. Troy and Gabriella turn up late to their audition, completely unprepared. They sing their song casually, with no costumes, choreography, or pre-prepared harmonies. Gabriella and Troy get the main parts.

Sharpay and Ryan are passionate about musical theatre and really put their all into their performances. They clearly work hard every day, rehearsing, researching, and improving themselves. The film portrays this as negative. It makes Sharpay and Ryan look lame and uncool for trying so hard. Troy and Gabriella are the characters we're supposed to like and want to be like, and they are portrayed as "naturally good" singers who casually stumbled into musical theatre. They turn up to the audition late, and unprepared. Sharpay and Ryan had spent several hours preparing choreography and even costumes for their audition, which shows they have put in a lot of hard work. However, this makes them a laughing stock.

If you can't see why I'm so annoyed by all of this, let me re-tell the same story, but change all the musical theatre bits into maths. So let's say that Sharpay has been working hard to become really really good at maths and studies maths everyday and has been a member of her mathletics team for a long time. Over the Christmas holiday, Gabriella is at a pub quiz with a round that's all about maths. She accidentally finds herself nominated to answer all of the maths questions and she finds that she somehow gets them all correct, despite never working hard in her maths lessons up to this point. Back at school, Sharpay encourages Gabriella to be a supporting member of the mathletics team. Gabriella turns up to one of the competitions. She's late and she's done no revision. She goes up against Sharpay, who's spent all week revising. Sharpay came fully prepared with a pencil, calculator and even a set square. Gabriella brings nothing. Somehow, Gabriella's "natural talent" means that she gets all the answers right. Sharpay also gets all the answers right, and she showed all of her working out and added diagrams and explanations. Gabriella wins the competition, because she's just so "natural". Sharpay is seen as lame for trying so hard.

This is the exact opposite message of what we should be teaching our children. The message is: work hard and be passionate about something and you'll look lame and you'll be beaten by the cool and slightly bland kids who have natural talent. Thanks, Disney.

Sharpay is actually a really good role model for young girls, but she's the villain!

There are also some anti-feminist aspects to HSM. Sharpay is determined, hard-working and ambitious, and because of this she is seen as a bitch. Young girls watching HSM will be given the impression that working hard and being ambitious are not desirable traits for a girl to have. This is a message that young girls already get from a variety of sources, which is one of the main reasons women are underrepresented in politics and leadership roles. Also note that Sharpay wears a lot of make-up and very flashy clothes and this is also portrayed as negative, compared to Gabriella's simple natural beauty. This is pandering to the ridiculous male double-standard that women should be attractive but should not look like they're trying to be attractive. So if you're not pretty, you're screwed, because trying to make yourself look pretty would be "trying too hard" and "fake". Gabriella is portrayed as a good role model for girls because she is shy, bland, and nice. Of course, there's nothing wrong with being like this, but it shouldn't be presented as the ideal, as it is in many films and TV shows targeted towards pre-teen girls.

If you need any more convincing that Sharpay and Ryan are the ultimate growth mindset role models for young people, just read the lyrics to their audition piece (which was supposed to look lame and stupid, but let's be honest, the choreography was lit.)

(I've highlighted the best growth-mindset lines)
I believe in dreaming
And shooting for the stars
Baby to be number one
You got to raise the bar
Kicking and a scratching
Grinding out my best
Anything it takes to climb
The ladder of succes
Work our tails off everyday
Gotta bump the competition
Blow them all away
Yeah we're gonna
Bop bop bop, bop to the top
Slip and slide and ride that rhythm
Jump and hop
Hop 'til we drop
And start again
Zip zap zop hop, flop like a mop
Scoot around the corner
Move it to the groove
'til the music stops
Do the bop bop bop
To the top
Don't ever stop
Bop to the top
Gimme gimme
shimmy shimmy
Shake some booty and turn around
Flash a smile in their direction
Show some muscle
Do the hustle
Yeah we're gonna
Bop bop bop, bop to the top
Wipe away your inhibitions
Stump stump stump, do the rump
And strut your stuff
Bop bop bop, straight to the top
We're going for the glory
We'll keep stepping up and we just won't stop
Till we reach the top
Bop to the top

Emma x x x