University of Wisconsin–Madison

Keyword: Culture – and High School Musical!

The analysis I want to present today is a connection between everyone’s favorite, High School Musical, and how this represents elements from the “Culture” Keywords essay by Richard Flynn.

In this essay, culture is explained as being ambiguous in its definition and application. The etymology and evolution of this word’s meaning and use varies widely, and conversations incorporating this language must have definitions of the word, something that is difficult to do as there are no formal barriers. However, Flynn gives three foundational definitions: culture as a cultivation of land, for worship, or to describe extended uses. Flynn explains that the second definition has become more obsolete, and while the first has expanded to include any form of cultivation, both the first and third definitions are relatively widely-accepted. For the remainder of this post, I will explain why both are relevant in this discussion of High School Musical.

One of the most popular high school stereotypes is the idea of rigid and discriminatory cliques. The reality of this is subjective and varies widely. However, representation of accurate high school experiences in the media has contributed to a culture that collectively misrepresents experiences, particularly for girls. While we tend to blame society for socialization that contributes to unequal gender differences in areas where that genders would favor, society is not the sole contributor. Socialization describes the trends enforced by society, while culture cultivates emotions and perspectives.

The movie High School Musical is not alone in contributing to the trope that there are inherently evil, irredeemable girls, and overachievers. This movie depicts women as both the victim and the source of evil, where all of the men are carefree and allowed to enjoy and express themselves in any way they wish. In a singular case, this is not a problematic situation. However, when we see extended uses of this trope, media begins to manifest itself in the perceptions of experience. People are heavily influenced by media, and when a message is repeated, it resonates. Especially in literature geared towards impressionable people like children, negative roles will be reinforced, or ‘cultured’, and the message is sent that girls should be competitive rather than empowering and supportive.

Stereotypical American girlhood is heavily incorporated into the development and perception of American girlhood. Even adults are socialized to contribute to this culture by reinforcing beliefs that are learned through stereotypical representation in media. Briefly making a connection to the Children’s Literature Keywords essay, adults are heavily responsible for creating the content that children will see. This creates a cycle of reinforcing stereotypes and harmful behaviors and perspectives that prevent a sympathetic and empathetic perspective of girlhood while also preventing solutions to these problems.

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