"High School Musical" gives false expectations of what high school is like. Photo courtesy of the Disney Channel.
Movies, especially the ones viewed during adolescence, can have a major impact on a person’s life. They can influence a person’s aspirations, expectations, and even their perceptions of the world around them. Young children often have not garnered enough life experience for them to make appropriate hypotheses about life on their own. As a result, they look to movies to conjure up their views on life.
One of the most significant changes that a young person undergoes in their lifetime is the transition from middle school to high school. Students trade in the comforts of uniformity and structure for the thrills of variation and freedom. While this is all very exciting, it can also be absolutely terrifying. Students must prepare to chart personally unknown territory, a daunting task for the general human population who fear what they do not know and understand.
One thing that does not typically aid in alleviating the anxiety that comes with the transition into high school is the excess of movies that portray high school in an overly theatrical, and frankly, unrealistic fashion. These movies paint pictures of the high school experience that can be largely inaccurate and extreme in ways that are either exceptionally positive or remarkably negative. Movies that do so frequently set kids up with expectations for high school that either lead to them being unnecessarily anxious or let down by the lack of commotion.
Take High School Musical. This immensely popular movie franchise centers on the lives of high school students Gabriella Montez and Troy Bolton. The characters in these movies do go through many of the trials and tribulations that the majority of ordinary high school students endure. They have boy trouble, get detention, and play typical high school sports. However, there is one major aspect of this movie that causes it to cross the line between reality and fiction: the singing and dancing. Not only do the characters break out into song and dance sporadically, they also do it in sync. Everybody knows all of the words to all of the songs and are able to perfectly execute the choreography. Mr. Jeffrey Bitton, a math teacher at LHS, claims, “In my 21 years teaching at Lincoln High School, I have never seen a large group of students spontaneously break out into synchronized song and dance.”
Mean Girls is yet another movie that over dramatizes the whole high school experience. In this film, the high school is divided into a clear and harsh hierarchy with a trio of mean girls ruling at the top of the social pyramid. The groups introduced in this movie are both exclusive and stereotypical with no room for variation. In reality, cliques are not nearly as strict or as significant in high school as movies such as Mean Girls make them out to be. Sure, there are different groups that are often made up of students with similar interests. The difference, however, is the social structure at typical high schools is not dependent on who is in which group. Instead, students of all groups mix and socialize as they please without making a big deal about it.
When someone from the lacrosse team hangs out with someone who does theater, nobody even bats an eye. “In high school cliques don’t even really matter anymore” claims Savanna Colpitts, a senior at Lincoln High School. “Everybody just kind of does their own thing.”
The misrepresentation of high school in the media does not stop there, either. Television shows such as Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries all feature characters that are supposed to be students attending high school. According to the Los Angeles Times, the average student in high school is given around 3.5 hours of homework each night. While the amount varies, many students are forced to take a significant amount of time after school to complete their homework assignments.
Students also get stuck with other school related tasks such as studying extracurriculars. “I have about four hours of homework each night and even more on the weekend” expresses senior Alexa Labossiere. “I don’t even know what free time is anymore.”
Despite this, the characters in the shows listed above all seem to have an unnerving amount of free time on their hands. Viewers watch episode after episode of these characters managing their own nightclubs, investigating murders, and running around with supernatural beings. How these characters manage to have such crazy adventures while keeping up with the numerous and stress inducing demands of high school is the real question. In retrospect, the average high schooler may want to take notes from these characters.
It’s possible that having enough free time to embark on such endeavors is simply a product of not procrastinating, a skill that continues to remain a mystery for many students.
High school, in reality, is not anywhere near as eventful or tragic as it seems in the movies. The vast majority of students make it through high school without breaking out into song and dance in the middle of the cafeteria or being shoved into a locker by the resident bully.
Instead, the typical high schooler goes about their day cramming for the calculus test they have next period and fuming over people who walk slowly in the hallway.