The Start of Something New: Ten Years of High School Musical

Ten years is a long time.  A decade.  The difference between being ten and twenty, between twenty and thirty.  Heck, most people can’t even make it to the Tenth Day of Christmas when singing the old Christmas carol.  It takes a while to get to ten.

It’s been ten years since I first watched High School Musical, and last night I watched the 10th Anniversary special (along with the movie) on Disney Channel.  It was a rollercoaster (not unlike the one in “What Time Is It?” from High School Musical 2).

I think the first time I watched HSM I was by myself.  Nobody knew it was going to be such a huge hit, but I had gotten excited about it as soon as I had seen the promo with the big, Broadway lettering spelling out the title.

I was nine years old when I first watched HSM on January 20th, 2006.  I, too, had been in a musical before: Tom Sawyer the Musical (Yes, it exists) in the third grade.  I was in the chorus because I just couldn’t bring myself to sing alone in an audition.  Still, I had seen my brother perform in two musicals, and I wanted to get in on the fun.

The year HSM premiered, though, I was in the fourth grade and had around that time auditioned to be in The Pirates of Penzance at my grade school.  All the younger kids had to be policemen, and the ones who sang the best got to be on the stage instead of the floor in front of the stage.  The only role for a younger kid (3rd through 5th grade) was the Sergeant, the chief of police.

I had decided at this point that I wanted to audition for the “stage police”; I thought I could do it, and it was one step down from the Sergeant.  No big deal.  But what I didn’t know was that when you auditioned for the stage police, you were also auditioning for the role of the Sergeant.

One day, I walked from the bus stop to my house and in through my front door.

“How was school?” my mom asked.

I looked at her, bewildered.  “I’m the Sergeant.”

And thus began my lifelong love for musical theater.

Looking back, the first performance of The Pirates of Penzance came just months after the premiere of High School Musical.  It’s curious how these events coincided; I got to watch my new heroes audition for a musical, just like I had auditioned for mine.  If only I could have had some of their outfits…

This musical connection drew me right into the world of HSM.  Troy was the dreamy jock who would never in a million years audition for one of my school shows, and I pretended I was Gabriella while singing “When There Was You and Me” in my bedroom mirror.  I was known as the smart kid at school, too, and I treasured the fact that I could “be both” the smart kid and a theater kid, like Gabriella.

I remember when High School Musical first came out, everyone was talking about it at school, but not in the way that I expected it.  I was gushing about it, of course.  I mean, how could people not love the best Disney Channel Original Movie ever created?  But I remember a lot of girls acting like they were too grown up for Disney Channel and High School Musical.  I distinctly remember someone asking me with a nasty look, “You like High School Musical?”  I replied, “Yeah…?”  like it was a no-brainer.  A lot of girls acted like they were too cool for HSM, but I knew that they all secretly liked it.  I’m sure all of them today would be able to sing all the words to “Breaking Free.”

But in fourth grade, they had missed the point of the movie.  It wasn’t about being cool and dancing and singing about togetherness.  It was about knowing that you want to do something, that you enjoy doing something, and then having the courage to do it.  So often in life we cut ourselves off from what we really want to do, and for a myriad of reasons: because our friends would judge us, because it isn’t practical, because it would change how people thought of us.  But High School Musical said, “Forget that.  Do what you love.  Your real friends will be your biggest supporters, even if they’re a little confused at first.”

I’ve carried that lesson with me throughout my whole life.  When almost all of the kids my age had stopped performing in school musicals because it “wasn’t cool” anymore, I still did it.  Because I liked doing it.  When people ask me, “Oh… what are you going to do with that?” when I tell them that I’m a creative writing major, I have to focus on the fact that I’m pursuing what I love to do.  Other people’s expectations are not important when you’re deciding your own path.

So not only was I filled with memories while watching the movie, but the whole reunion aspect was so deeply moving.  Following all of the HSM cast on social media and watching the reunion special filled me with so much joy because, like I said in relation to Girl/Boy Meets World, the cast wants to remember and enjoy the memories as much as the fans do.  Though I was sad Zac Efron couldn’t be there in person (*cries single tear*), seeing the other cast members reunite and laugh about old stories and audition tapes was just so lovely.  There’s a video that Lucas Grabeel took of Monique Coleman giving Corbin Bleu his East High class ring back from the final movie (He had lost his and was devastated), and seeing Corbin well up with tears made me want to cry for the rest of eternity.

They have all become so successful at what they do.  Zac is an incredibly popular actor, Vanessa and Corbin have both been on Broadway, Ashley and Lucas have enjoyed success on both sides of the television screen, and Monique has done some majorly awesome charity work.  It’s absolutely crazy to think that I, along with all of the fans of HSM have been rooting for these people for ten years now.  I’m so proud of everything they’ve done, and I can tell that they’re truly grateful for everything.

And the fact that they aired the reunion on Disney Channel was so important.  I can imagine some younger kids, about my age when I first watched it, seeing it for the first time, as well.  Laughing at the old phones and 2000s fashions, but also seeing for the first time the beauty of the story that captured all of our hearts.  With the next generation, it’s the start of something new.

I owe High School Musical a lot.  I’ve enjoyed many a sleepover with friends watching all three of the movies and danced/sang along to all three soundtracks a thousand times over.  I grew up with this movie, and I never really grew out of it.  Seriously, put “Bet On It” on, and I will transform into someone you have never seen before in your life.

In short, I will always love High School Musical.  I will be watching that movie in my rocking chair when I am eighty-three years old.  I won’t remember what I had for breakfast, but I will remember all the moves to “We’re All in This Together.”

I can’t wait for the 20-year reunion.  Once a wildcat, always a wildcat.

WHAT TEAM?!

(Hint: WILDCATS!)

Do you have a favorite memory with High School Musical?  What about another movie from your childhood?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!!

Advertisements

A Tale of Two Margos: Paper Towns and the Loss of Story Through Character

Last night, I went to see the much anticipated teen movie, Paper Towns, the second movie based on one of John Green‘s young adult novels.  The book, Paper Towns is one of my favorites I’ve ever read for a variety of reasons (i.e. depth of character, diverse cultural references, the message of understanding that each person is just a person and nothing more).  So naturally, when I heard about the plans for the book to become a movie, I was filled with the all too familiar combination of excitement and worry that all readers feel when their favorite books are turned into movies.  The feeling that begs the question, “Will I be disappointed?”

I’m sorry to say that I was, in fact, disappointed.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there were many aspects of the movie that worked quite well.  The casting, for instance, was almost perfect; Nat Wolff clearly had a full understanding of Quentin’s view of the world, and his friends were exactly as I pictured while reading the book.  The sets, too, were chosen as if they saw what I had imagined while reading.  Everything from the abandoned mini-mall to Margo’s bedroom were flawless representations of the book’s settings.

But so much was different from the book, and unnecessarily so, for the most part.  The most glaring and disheartening difference is the disparity between Book Margo and Movie Margo.

[There will be a few spoilers in here, so fair warning if you intend on reading the book or seeing the movie!]

Going into the movie, I was already a bit nervous about the representation of Margo Roth Spiegelman.  When I initially heard that former model Cara Delevingne was to play Margo, I was confused and somewhat upset.  Book Margo is unconventionally beautiful; she is full-figured with cropped, dark hair (as you can see on some of the earlier covers of the book).  Quentin describes her physical appearance as not stereotypically “pretty;” it’s her personality and mystique that make the boys swoon.

But Delevingne is almost the opposite.  As a young model, she is stereotypically pretty: tall and thin with long, sleek hair.  What makes her distinctive are her striking facial features and signature strong eyebrows.  But Book Margo isn’t supposed to be model-beautiful; that’s all part of her characterization.  She isn’t supposed to look conventionally “perfect,” but she seems to be so on another level.

However, I was willing to overlook this flaw as long as Delevingne accurately represented Book Margo’s personality and faults.  Though John Green seemed to believe that Delevingne had a strong understanding of Margo’s character, I don’t think that it shows on the screen.

And I don’t blame Delevingne completely for this; it was probably a combination of the writing and direction as well as acting that caused Margo Roth Spiegelman to be so poorly represented.

Book Margo is an unconventional heroine (revealed to be an anti-heroine at the end).  She is fierce and intimidating, at times mystifying and at others terrifying.  She is not only mysterious and thrill-seeking, but also forceful to the point of hostility.  The key to her miraculousness to Q is that he chooses to overlook the negative aspects of her psyche.  He chooses to see her as a two-dimensional symbol of what he wishes his high school life could be like: adventure, disregard of consequences, urban myth-like escapades.

But Movie Margo is only a shadow of Book Margo.  Movie Margo lacks not only the brazenness of a girl who paints her fingernails in the front seat, but also the aggression, the anger felt by a girl who was never understood but never fought to be.

This is revealed most obviously in one of the final scenes in which Q finds Margo.

The book ending is shocking.  For Q and his friends to come all the way from Orlando, Florida to Agloe, New York only to have Margo receive them so inimically is infuriating.  She whips out all kinds of insulting remarks, yells at Q when he calls her on her selfishness, and snaps that she didn’t want to be found in the first place.  And for Q to have been hopelessly imagining this reunion to be some kind of running-to-kiss-each-other-thank-God-you-found-me-I-love-you-type fantasy, he was angry, too.  But fierce Margo gives way to slightly-rational Margo, who talks out her problems with Q and recognizes his ignorance and concern.  Until the very end, she is fighting for something to make her feel alive and real, even against her best friends.

What should be the most compelling scene in the movie falls completely flat.  Because the reason for the time crunch to get to Agloe is to get to prom on time rather than to save Margo from potential suicide, there is so little riding on their arrival in the paper town.  And because they don’t find Margo right away and Q’s friends leave him behind, there is no uproar upon finding her.  Because Q finds her walking down the street, he doesn’t get to see that she now lives a somewhat squalid life.

Movie Margo is not fierce.  She is not alarmingly combative.  She is passionless and passive.  She has no fire.  She sees Q’s appearance as unexpected but not upsetting. Whereas Book Margo is completely aware of her power over others, Movie Margo doesn’t seem to understand his fascination with her.

Movie Margo’s reaction is completely watered down.  Rather than peaking sharply, the climax fades into the ending, leaving me irritated and bitter, when I should be having an epiphany about the human condition (which seems to be the goal of all of John Green’s books).

Margo’s anger in this scene is key to understanding Quentin’s imagined view of her and her frustration with her lack of true identity.  The whole theme of the book is that you can never know a person entirely; no matter how well you think you know someone, how you personally view them is never the full picture.  The movie expresses this theme in Margo’s apparent apathy about Q’s arrival and her lack of intention to lead him to Agloe.  But that leaves little to no impact on the audience.  The jarring nature of Book Margo’s reaction makes the reader feel how Q feels: irate and betrayed by a once endearingly mysterious girl.  The movie leads only to a sense of disappointment and blind acceptance of reality.

I do not feel anger about the flaws in the Paper Towns movie, but rather a deep sadness that I saw a story that affected me so strongly misconstrued into a saccharine unresolved love story.  I love John Green, the causes he supports, his positive attitude and belief in the strength of individual people, as well as his ability to capture moments in high school life perfectly on the page.  It is for this reason that I wish that the Paper Towns movie would have better reflected the story he created and the character that helped me to learn a vital lesson about understanding the people around me.

Did you read or see Paper Towns?  What did you think about it?  Do you think that the choices made in the movie were justified?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Growth and Skills: Hank Green’s “How to Get Good at Everything” and the Struggle to Realize Potential

I’m a big fan of John and Hank Green, who co-run the YouTube channel, Vlogbrothers.  They have earned a great amount of skill in writing and music, respectively, and they’ve created a YouTube culture of Nerdfighters based on charity, learning, and being nerdy and proud.

In Hank’s most recent video, “How to Get Good at Everything,” he shares that he is writing his first novel.  This comes with many challenges: the fear that comes with working toward a major goal for the first time, the seemingly endless time it will take to complete it, and the fact that his brother happens to be the award-winning author of some of YA’s most prominent current novels (i.e. The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns, Looking for Alaska).

Hank expresses these fears and concerns but uses them as a springboard to discuss something that we all think about on a regular basis but rarely talk about straightforwardly: how to get good at things.

In the video, he explains what he learned from a TED Talk by Carol Dweck called “The power of believing that you can improve.”  In her talk, Dweck describes the difference between the “Fixed Mindset” and the “Growth Mindset.”  People who have a fixed mindset believe that skills are innate, that if you’re bad at something you’re destined to be so.  On the other hand, people with a growth mindset believe that skills are learned and that with hard work and dedication, any skill can be acquired.

For a lot of people, including me, it’s easy to slip into the fixed mindset.  It’s easy to look at a successful person– a musician, an artist, a businessperson, a mathematician, an inventor– and think, “They’re just good at what they do.  They’ve always been that way and they always will be.”  But in reality, no one is good at anything from the get-go.  As Hank said, we aren’t even born able to communicate verbally– our most basic skill.  Some people might be genetically predisposed to learning a certain skill quickly, but everybody has to start at the beginning.

The real trouble with the fixed mindset is that you never get good at anything because you’re afraid to try.  I think that everybody’s been there; I, for one, get easily caught up in the “I am bad at this therefore I will always be bad at this” mentality.  Sometimes I think that I’ll never be good at guitar when I pick it up again, that I’ll never be able to understand chemistry or physics, that I’ll never be able to run a marathon.

But then I have to remind myself of all of the skills that I’ve learned through practice.  What I thought of immediately while watching this video was the skills I’m learning at my new job.  I’ve never had a job before, and I’ve been thrown into a retail store environment, which is a completely different position than I’ve ever occupied before.  And at first I was completely overwhelmed (and sometimes still am).  But I was surprised at how quickly I picked up the skills of a cashier: talking and bagging at the same time, pressing a million buttons on the screen, smiling and saying “How are you today?” to a complete stranger.  All it took was hard work and repetition.

College has helped me get better at talking to new people, a skill I lacked almost completely just a few years ago.  I first picked up a ukulele a year and half ago, and after countless times of having raw fingers and hand cramps, I finally feel that I’m competent at it–and still working to get better!  For a long time, my writing stayed the same, but in my college classes I could really feel myself getting a hold on the craft and learning how to write.

And maybe I’ll never be good at some things just because they don’t interest me.  I’ve never played on a sports team in my life and always felt an aversion to them.  (I still do.)  For all of grade school, I was the kid hanging around in the outfield or running away from the soccer ball in gym class.  But by eighth grade, I finally started trying a little.  And I found out that I wasn’t as terrible as I thought I was.  I just had to give it a shot.

So when I think about how little fiction writing I’ve done this summer (revision or otherwise), I feel like the end goal is never going to happen, like it’s not even on the horizon.  So I don’t try.  But I need to try.  Because like Hank said, it is massive, and it is difficult, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing.  I have to “do the thing.”  Because it’ll get easier and be worth it in the end.

What do you think are the benefits of a growth mindset?  What skills have you acquired by having that mentality?  What skills have you stuck in a fixed mindset?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!!

Boy Meets World, Girl Meets World, and the Beauty of the Old Made New

It seems like all of the millenials’ favorite shows and movies from the 90s and 2000s are coming back for everything from sequels and spin-offs to reunions of cast and crew.  Fuller House, the Full House spin-off, will be starting filming soon; there have been rumors about a possible three-quel to the 2001 film, The Princess Diaries; and casts from shows like Gilmore GirlsLizzie McGuire, and Saved by the Bell have been joining up for bowling nights and Tonight Show skits.

But I have to say that there is one spin-off that means the most to me: Disney Channel’s Girl Meets World, the continuation of the story of Boy Meets World, ABC’s sitcom that lasted from 1993 to 2000.

Warning: SPOILERS.  LOTS OF THEM.  HERE WE GO.

Boy Meets World is one of my favorite TV shows of all time.  I wasn’t old enough to watch it when it had wrapped, but one summer when I was in fifth or sixth grade, I started watching the reruns on ABC Family and fell in love.  By high school I had seen just about every episode and gotten completely invested in the lives of Cory, his best friend Shawn, and his crush/girlfriend/fiancee/wife, Topanga, chronicled from sixth grade to college.

I can’t quite explain how much I love Boy Meets World because it seems to transcend the usual experience of TV watching, but I’ll do my best.

Boy Meets World is everything you could want in a classic sitcom: humor, romance, inspiration, family, love.  Much like in the Harry Potter series, the audience got to watch the characters grow up– not just physically, but emotionally.  The storylines start off with the plights of growing up: Cory and Shawn develop feelings for girls, Cory is second-string on the middle school basketball team, Shawn pulls pranks and Cory has to cover for him.  But by the final season, the characters are dealing with real trauma like Topanga’s parents’ divorce, Shawn’s dad’s death, and Cory’s little brother’s premature birth.  Not to mention, Cory and Topanga have to deal with being struggling newlyweds.

And through everything, there is one man, a steady rock in their fast-changing world: Mr. Feeny.  He starts off as the charming, older neighbor and teacher, but he becomes so much more than that.  When Cory and his friends find themselves in the biggest fight of their lives and only Eric (Cory’s older brother) believes that they can all stay together, Feeny helps them to work out their differences.  When Topanga has to decide whether to go to Yale or to Pennbrook with Cory, she comes to Mr. Feeny to help her make her decision.  And Mr. Feeny pushes Cory to accept change and to move to New York to support Topanga’s aspirations to become a lawyer.

So if you can’t tell already, Boy Meets World is basically a part of my soul that I can hold in my hands in the form of the complete series on DVD.  So this is how I feel about Girl Meets World and why:

I’m not gonna lie; I was disappointed by the pilot of Girl Meets World.  The episode had a distinct, sugary-sweet, modern-Disney Channel taste to it, and it didn’t sit well with me.  The show’s protagonist, Cory and Topanga’s daughter, Riley, was just like any other current Disney Channel actress– over the top and unnatural.  The one-minute appearance of Mr. Feeny at the end of the episode was not enough to keep me watching.

Until my suite mate from college convinced me otherwise.  She insisted that despite the roughness of the pilot, the show gets better as it goes on.  So I gave it another try.  And she was right.

Girl Meets World features the returns of not only Cory and Topanga, but also Shawn (who is now a travelling writer), Harley (the hardcore bully turned endearing janitor), Eric (now the eccentric mayor of a town in upstate New York), Cory’s parents (who visit the house in New York City for Christmas), and Mr. Feeny (fulfilling the same role as ever).  Every time a character from Boy Meets World comes on the screen, my heart practically explodes with the joy of the old being made new.

And that’s what I love about Girl Meets World, and what I think is so important about the old shows from our childhood coming back again.  When we have spin-offs and sequels and cast reunions, we are reminded that the cast and creators don’t forget the story they created.  Just as we don’t want to forget, neither do they.  They still love the characters like we do.  They still love the inside jokes, the memories, the relationships.  They still love the show.

And I was reminded of this most importantly in the Girl Meets World episodes “Girl Meets Mr. Squirrels” and “Girl Meets Hurricane.”  In the former, Cory calls in his brother, Eric, to fulfill the role as friend-fight mediator, his best attribute in Boy Meets World.  Eric uses his old mantra from the Boy Meets World episode, “Seven the Hard Way”–“Lose one friend, Lose all friends, Lose yourself”– to help Riley and Maya (her best friend and the “New Shawn Hunter”) through their first big fight.  Seeing Eric’s legacy help the next generation was truly heart-warming.

In “Girl Meets Hurricane,” last Friday’s new episode, Shawn is finally confronted with his old love, Angela, years after she left him to go to Europe with her father.  Since then, her father has died and she has been married for four years.  But she doesn’t come to Shawn to show off her new life; rather, she comes to ask him for advice about becoming a mother (her own mother left her, which caused doubts about her own integrity).  Shawn supports her and encourages her to have children and to “put more of her” into the world.  It was the closure that a Boy Meets World fan never got to have.  And the surprise appearance by Shawn’s (dead) father (a form that he often takes in Boy Meets World to help him through his problems) caused a billion emotions for me (which resulted in crying, of course).  Needless to say, the episode was one of the best yet.

What I’m trying to say here is that when a show means so much to you, like Boy Meets World does to me, a well-done spin-off or a joyful cast reunion can mean more than just some memories resurfacing.  It can mean passing a story that has changed us on to people who haven’t heard it before, seeing the characters we love interact once again, watching a new story unfold for us.  Though Mr. Feeny said, “Class dismissed,” there’s always another school year in session.

Separation versus Connection: The Questions in “I Am”

What’s wrong with our world?

What can we do about it?

These are the two questions asked by movie director Tom Shadyac in his documentary, “I Am.”  Last night I watched the documentary for the first time on Netflix, and while I understood the inherent idealism of the film, I still gleaned a lot of useful and thought-provoking information from it.

The documentary begins with Shadyac telling his story; he was a struggling filmmaker who quickly became popular directing Jim Carrey films like Ace Ventura and Bruce Almighty.  His wealth increased in an instant, but he didn’t find happiness in his large California home.  When a biking accident left him with Post Concussion Syndrome, he felt his world falling apart.  After months of intense pain, his symptoms inexplicably lessened.  His resulting mindset was that throughout his life, he had had it all wrong.  Wealth and greed were not the answer to the world’s problems.  So he went on a search to find out what is.

Shadyac interviewed eighteen people, from his father, Richard Shadyac, one of the founders of St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was a prominent activist in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.  He interviewed scientists and psychologists, photographers and authors.  And from these various intelligent voices, Shadyac learned about the underlying problems of our world and how we can solve those problems.

One facet of Shadyac’s documentary that I found particularly interesting was the contrast of self-interest versus cooperation.  Many scientists claim that people are predisposed to competition and self-interest, which feeds consumerism and the economy.  But throughout many of the interviewed scientists’ research, they discovered the science of cooperation; empathy and compassion are as much a part of our DNA as competition and desire are.  Even animals practice democracy in their everyday lives, from deer voting for which watering hole to go to, to birds continuously voting which direction to fly with their flock.

Many of Shadyac’s interviewees went even further with that, saying that a huge problem that we have today is viewing each person as separate.  At first when I heard this, I was startled.  One of my proudest achievements in the past year has been becoming more independent and comfortable with who I am apart from others.  But the interviewees weren’t condemning independence and self-sufficiency, but rather emphasizing that everything in the world is connected.

For example, there is increasing evidence that human emotions for whatever reason affect magnetic fields.  Shadyac and scientist Rollin McCraty did an experiment that showed the magnetic field of bacteria in yogurt being affected by Shadyac’s emotions as they were talking.  And research has shown that the earth’s magnetic field increased sharply during the 9/11 attacks and other tragedies, like the 2004 Tsunami.

This seemed a bit ridiculous at first, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. It sounds idealistic, but we’re all connected.  As human beings, we’re all connected to each other by the air we breathe, the nutrients we need, and the bodies that we have.  We’re not separate from nature, but a part of it.  As soon as we realize this, the boundaries between the rich and the poor, the Global North and the Global South, different races, and difference religions start to fall away.  We’re all united by science, by anatomy, by nature.

But one thing that the rest of nature has figured out that we modern humans still lack is the understanding that you shouldn’t take more than you need.  Plants don’t take in more water than they need, and most animals eat only what is necessary.  Radio host Thom Hartmann explained that in certain Native American cultures, taking more than you need is considered a sign of mental illness.

This is the kind of philosophy that Shadyac adopted.  He sold his house and most of its expensive furnishings and moved into a mobile home.  He stopped flying privately and started riding his bike to work.  And he still firmly believes in the power of compassion and empathy in a world marked by self-interest and greed.

The documentary concluded with a few important messages.  Shadyac asks, “What’s wrong with the world?” and responds, “I am.”  Everyone inherently has the power of one.  No controllable change occurs all at once; change is a summation of thousands of little acts done by individual people.  Believing in this power of one allows us to be independent, but also aware of our underlying connectivity with other people and the world around us.

Though the documentary did seem to reiterate many idealistic views I’ve heard before, hearing the arguments from all of the scholarly voices in the film definitely made it worth watching and recommending.

Have you seen “I Am?”  What did you think about it?  How do you maintain awareness of your inherent connectivity to the world?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!!