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.

5 thoughts on “Keyword: Culture – and High School Musical!”

  1. Hi Katherine,
    Your point about culture in High School Musical was really interesting to read. I had never thought about the questionable tropes that are portrayed in the films. Now I am wondering how often this occurred in other popular culture that I have read/seen. I am also wondering if it did have an impact on me. I would like to say that I didn’t fall prey, but like you said, children are very impressionable so who really knows.

  2. I loved High School Musical growing up! It definitely was nothing like high school which I didn’t expect because I had seen so many instances of that typical “high school experience.” By repeating these stereotypes, I agree that we are giving girls the wrong idea.

  3. Being someone who grew up watching High School Musical, it is interesting to take a step back and reflect on how this film depicts it’s women characters. As a young girl at the time, I myself use to idolize these characters, so to say media had an impact on my upbringing is not a lie! Luckily as I got older I was able to recognize that things portrayed in the media are not always the “right” thing, but as a young girl this can be a challenge being that a movie as popular as High School Musical was reinforcing these negative roles in girlhood, which at the time I didn’t recognize as a problem.

  4. Thank you for sharing, Katherine! I agree with you that too many of these depictions may serve to perpetuate this harmful culture for young girls and women. However, I would argue that the use of this in High School Musical is a critique of society as we ultimately see the advocation/call for the transcending of these barriers and for people to simply be who they are and embrace their differing identities and interests.

  5. Growing up, the “High School Musical” trilogy was my favorite. My friends and I still know every word to every song. But, I’ve never thought about the ways in which the movies contribute to the idea that women can be both the victims of and the sources of evil and how, on the contrary, men are permitted to be themselves and do whatever they want without a second thought of what the consequences may be. The exemplification and repetition of this trope contributes to creating culture, It’s influential in the lives of so many, especially high school kids in the midst of their teenage experience. The idea that such a universally-adored franchise reinforces and cultures negative roles is a little shocking, but is certainly warranted.

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