Not quite High School Musical: how the media glamourises the high school experience

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Avidly watching High School Musical at the young age of four, a musical bursting with energetic teens dealing with friendships, teamwork, and relationships, it quickly became the forefront of every child’s conversation. With Troy Bolton dancing his way into our young hearts, 2006 became a year when High School Musical quizzes occupied our break times and bringing the High School Musical rucksack to school automatically guaranteed popularity. Yet little did we know, this light-hearted musical was conditioning us to expect a fantasy that was only acted on stage and played on TV screens. And as we all know, no fantasy manifests itself in real life.

No funky outfits were in sight, no groups of singing basketballers or cheerleaders, but regular skirt-length checks, detentions if your planner was unsigned, and daily visits to the chapel.

Whilst I was aware we would not be screaming ‘we’re all in this together’ at the top of our lungs during our maths lessons, my credulous younger self hoped for a tiny fraction of the High School Musical experience. A quirky storyline to spice up my studies, a relationship like Gabriella and Troy’s, a closet and diva attitude like Sharpay’s. Yet, when I walked through my secondary school’s doors, no funky outfits were in sight, no groups of singing basketballers and cheerleaders, but regular skirt-length checks, detentions if your planner was unsigned and daily visits to the chapel. My disordered conception of reality tricked me into thinking I could be the next Sharpay, but instead I was led into a deep tunnel of disappointment, all of which seemed to be of my own making.

This innocent musical embeds these expectations, forcing viewers to expect a fantasy, a fictional experience. With the main purpose of schools being to educate, many school-orientated productions give no evidence of teachers teaching and students learning. Instead, the Netflix series Riverdale depicts the school experience as one which leads to solving a murder mystery and making life-threatening choices, suggesting that unrealistic scenarios are the only thing that makes these shows entertaining enough to watch. Filming characters studying towards their qualifications is simply too mundane to present.

Putting a sharp end to the glamourisation of the high school experience, Euphoria reflects the true experience for many – one that is not as pretty as younger viewers may have expected.

Yet, the dark teen drama, Euphoria, aims to portray an authentic perspective to student life the light-hearted musicals steadily avoid. It leaves behind the trivial matters of frolicking and sweet relationships that school-orientated shows have exhausted, instead of reminding viewers of what happens behind the scenes. Rived in emotional depth, it explores the individual mental journeys of each character in their adolescence as they deal with and attempt to overcome issues of drug abuse, peer pressure, paedophilia, violence, sexual confusion, relationship problems, and the effects of social media. Putting a sharp end to the glamourisation of the high school experience, Euphoria reflects the true experience for many, one that is not as pretty as younger viewers may have expected.

Yet, the false narratives in High School Musical and Riverdale have inadvertently contributed to the problems Euphoria explicitly covers. With most actors being in their mid-twenties yet playing the role of an eighteen-year-old student, body comparisons naturally arise. Expecting to be as developed as these actors who are nearly ten years older than the average student, it creates a standard that can never be attained. Striving to live up to something that never existed is a dangerous game to play, one which can cause mental health to plummet into the dark depths of anxiety and depression when you look ‘different’ to these fully developed actors. As more viewers interpret these shows as displaying reality, the more disappointed they will be when they discover the truth – that this reality is a lie.

By expecting the future of education to be a thrilling musical, you are simply setting yourself up for disappointment.

Even that, aiming to live up to these clouded and unrealistic standards is exhausting. By expecting the future of education to be a thrilling musical, you are simply setting yourself up for disappointment. A disappointment of what school life could have been. Yet, this mindset is damaging – it forces one to live in a world where they are left pondering on what could have been rather than what is occurring in the present. By exerting all your energy on the future, you become disengaged from the present. It is the only time we can modify our decisions and actions, the only time we can change something before it gets swallowed by the past.

You do not want your only recollections of your time as a student to be filled with the concerns of ‘missing out’ on something that was never there in the first place. Wishing you could be living on Riverdale’s set will never allow you to experience everything at the moment, to appreciate anything. These real moments become the ones that you reminisce upon as you grow older – we must cherish them, rather than let these unattainable standards destroy them.

Image Credits: Wokandapix via Pixabay

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