How High School Musical 2 Teaches Kids the Wrong Lesson

High School Musical 2With all the hype surrounding the upcoming High School Musical 3 movie, I figured I’d take a moment to comment on something that bothers with the second movie. More racy pictures of Vanessa Hudgens? A scandal? The cast making unruly demands? Not at all. What really bothers me is the way the major conflict within the movie is handled: the premise that it’s more important to be liked than it is to go after your goals.

Now don’t get me wrong, High School Musical 2 is highly entertaining and the cast is incredibly talented – overall, it’s an enjoyable and refreshing change from the typical movie in this genre . But the main conflict, when taken at face value is a bad lesson to teach the movie’s intended audience – youngsters.

If you’re not familiar with the premise of the film, a group of soon-to-be high school seniors get summer jobs at a country club owned by the parents of two of their classmates. Troy (the protagonist basketball player) is dating Gabriella, but Sharpay (the antagonistic daughter of the wealthy club owner), wants Troy for herself. She uses her wealth and influence to get Troy a promotion at the club (from waiter to assistant golf pro) and connects Troy with important alumni and basketball players at the college he wants to attend. Troy (often unknowingly) shuns his friends to schmooze with the big wigs from the school. And the big conflict happens when Troy struggles about whether or not he should pursue his future at the risk of distancing himself from his friends.

Now, I know that the writers are trying to get across that you shouldn’t try to be someone you’re not and that friendship is more important than money, but there are three things in the movie that make the way they present the theme ineffective:

  1. Troy isn’t mean to his friends on purpose. With the exception of one scene (where he asks his friends to get him a different sandwich instead of introducing them to big shots from the college), he doesn’t do anything wrong. In fact, most of the time it’s interference from Sharpay and her minions without Troy knowing.
  2. Troy has a conversation with his dad about his inner struggle. His dad reminds him that he won’t be in high school forever and he’ll need to eventually move on.
  3. When Troy regains his friends, he tells off Sharpay saying that he cares more about what his friends think than getting a scholarship that he desperately needs.

It would have been more effective had the made Troy become a mean person due to Sharpay’s influence – although I’m not a fan of the premise that money corrupts everyone, it would make the conflict more consistent. Troy is the ultimate nice guy: he gets his friends jobs, cheers them up and is honestly apologetic.

The conversation with Troy’s dad should have been left out because his dad’s advice conflicts with Troy’s ultimate choice. It’s nice to see that father-son connection, but it doesn’t fit right.

Finally, had Troy changed his words a little bit during his spat with Sharpay, it could have been a stronger and more positive message. Instead of the focus being on his friends and what they think of him, it could have been on Sharpay and how she treats people. He could have said “it’s not worth it if I haven’t earned it” which is a great lesson for kids – especially this generation that demands $100+ sneakers, cell phones, iPods and other gadgets.

Given the social pressures and other challenges that face today’s teens and preteens, it’s important to remind them that their own self image is what matters the most. And yes, Troy does recover by saying that he cares about how he perceives himself (of course, it’s after he says that what his friends think is more important than impressing people that can give him a scholarship). Troy and company live happily ever after – at least until High School Musical 3 comes out – but in the real world, people aren’t so lucky.

Putting the need to be liked over achieving one’s goals is dangerous. It starts out in our formative years where kids who are smart dumb themselves down so their insecure peers don’t label them as “nerds.” As young adults, we try not to spout our accomplishments as to not hurt the feelings of those who aren’t achievers.

It’s fine to be respectful of the fact that not everyone will achieve the level of success they desire – but don’t hold yourself back just so they can have company. Be the best that you can be and bring out the best in others. Achieve your dreams so you can inspire others to do so themselves – it’ll benefit everyone more than you limiting yourself just to prevent others from being envious.

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