Friday, November 14, 2008

High School Musical 3: Big Enough For 2 Sequels, Latino Teens, Black Teens, Overweight Teens, Jocks, Nerds, Rich, Poor... But Not A Single Gay Teen?!?

Oh, "High School Musical 3" was yet another frolic with

Zac Efron as Troy,

Vanessa Hudgens as Gabriella,

Ashley Tisdale as Sharpay,

Corbin Bleu as Chad,

Monique Coleman as Taylor,

Olesya Rulin as Kelsey, and...

Lucas Grabeel as Ryan.

Oh, Ryan.

It's 2008. Do we really have to have the "wink-wink-he-might-be-gay-from-all-the-clues" character?

Some "clues:"

Ryan dresses nattily. (And he'd know what "nattily" means - he's got his own style.)

Ryan's a "dancer/choreographer."

Ryan's pretty much always a smiling, trying to do the right thing, nice gay.
I mean, "guy." Nice guy. (He can't even go along with his mean sister, he's just too aw, shucks... nice.)

And in this episode - whoops- sorry about that - in this sequel, Ryan ends up taking lovable, bespectacled composer Kelsey to the Prom.

And it was at that moment that I wanted to SCREAM.

Okay, this movie has so little conflict, that I think if you timed out the moments when we were really concerned things might go wrong (the Wildcats might lose the game, Gabriella and Troy might not "work it out," the senior musi-cal might be a huge flop) I think you'd be hard pressed to find 10 minutes of tension in the entire 14 hour epic. (It wasn't 14 hours long? Really? I could have sworn...)

All the conflict (such as there was) was internal.

Inside me.

Watching this.

Wishing, hoping, that Ryan would come out, kiss the goofy is-he-going-to-graduate-or-not boy, and we could experience some actual diversity that included us.

I wanted to love this movie as much as my five year old daughter next to me, jigging and jiving and dancing along to every musical number.

But all I got to watch was the reheated leftover conflict of Troy's basketball dreams versus his theatrical ones, and the same old heteronormative love story:

Will Troy and Gabriella find a way for their love to survive moving away from home and going off to different colleges?

The Big conflict for me was, and remains: Will Disney ever include us - Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, or Gender Non-Conforming Teens - in the defining stories of our age?

Now, don't get me wrong. When I say "the defining stories of our age" I don't think they're defining love for Teenagers. That was done by the Princess mafia - you know, the stories Teens today (and adults today) grew up on.

Belle's opposite gender Beast,

his transformation into a handsome Prince, and their happily-ever-after.

Jasmine's up-from-the-gutter Aladdin, and their magical adventure to boy-girl happily-ever-after.

Cinderella's from rags to riches love for her Prince, and their happily-ever-after.

Need I go on, or can you fill in your favorites yourself?

These patterns are BURNED into our psyches from the time we get our first Disney stuffed animal.

And even the animals are part of the heteronormative march-in-step!

Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse.

Donald Duck and Daisy Duck.

Chip and Dale (HEY! Wait a minute... Just what is their relationship???)

Now I know that the main audience for High School Musical 1, 2, and 3 is basically girls between the ages of 3 and 9 - I'm not sure how many 4th grade or older girls were in the audience, but I can tell you the Kindergarteners were in FULL attendance!

Would it have destroyed their franchise to let Ryan be gay? I'm not asking for some half-naked wrestling session in the school gym that ends up in him having wild gay sex. It could be as sweet and "G" rated as Troy and Gabriella's love:

which basically has them kiss with barely any physical parts of their bodies touching except their lips.

I could have been happy even without a guy-on-guy kiss, if there had been a romantic interest for him and some shared looks, a sweet flirtatious smile - anything but the closeted "beard" move of taking the nerdy girl with glasses to the prom.

And doesn't Kelsey deserve someone who will love her for herself???? Is it any girl's dream to go to the Prom with the closeted gay guy? Isn't that kind of a nightmare scenario?

Doesn't Ryan deserve to be gay???

And if Ryan isn't gay (a question perhaps only Lucas, the actor playing him,

would know for sure), don't we Gay people deserve a little inclusion in this technicolor musical of High School Life today?

Does East High have a Gay-Straight Alliance?

Don't you wish they did?

Don't you think, maybe, we should help them form one?

Sing with me...

Wild-cats! G-S-A! Some-one here has gotta be Gay! Wild-cats' G-S-A, Let's show the world - Whoop!


Tricia said...

I sat through this opening weekend with my 7-year old son, who was dancing along with the rest of the girls in the audience. The best part of the movie for me was the preview of the Coraline film.

I would love to see Disney embrace the diversity that exists in this world, but I don't see it happening, and that's unfortunate, since their shows reach so many kids in America. It not only sends that message to gay teens that they don't exist, it sends the message to straight kids that everyone else is just like them.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Get a grip, Lee. It's Disney. Ya know - behind the Orange Curtain and all that. ;-)

*sigh* I do wish we would see what really exists in this world, especially in what is made for children. But then I look at myself and realize I'm not including gay characters in my books either and that needs to change. Change begins at home, I suppose.

Have you ever looked at things like Rudolph and realized how racist and sexist they are? We have come a long way. We just need to go a bit further.

Hayden Thorne said...

You know, this reminds me so much of the first season of Heroes, in which we had this unspoken acknowledgment from NBC that Hayden Pannetiere's (sp?) best friend, Zach, was gay.

Then at the end of the season, NBC decided that he wasn't. I was fit to be tied. What a cowardly thing to do.

Needless to say, I stopped watching Heroes after the second episode of the second season. (bad, pointless writing did me in)

Dawn said...

Clearly--if Prop 8 is any indicator--homosexuality seems to be the last bastion of openly accepted prejudice today. It is so unbelievably frustrating!

Thank you for your note yesterday - I'm a longtime reader of your blog but I guess I've just lurked until now. Keep fighting the good fight -Dawn

Anonymous said...

@Dawn: Homophobia is far from the last openly acceptable prejudice. Even just the recent presidential election itself shows the many circles in which violent racism is openly and offically allowed. Disabled people and fat people experience violent prejudice every day, as do trans people. Class discrimination and age discrimination still run rampant. Nothing is the last acceptable prejudice -- yet! -- and I think the liberation movements work best together without rankings.

@Lee: Hi! Since you sounded yesterday perhaps open to the idea of fat politics, may I suggest rethinking using the word "overweight"? "Overweight" holds a negative judgment inside the very word, because the person is OVER whatever "ideal" weight is implied. In the fatpol movement, we're reclaiming plain old "fat," because the word itself is pure description. (Of course it carries lots of baggage, but the baggage isn't inherently inside the *word.*) Not having seen HSM, I'm not sure how fat any characters are, or whether they're likeable more than stereotypical, but if you don't want to say "fat," you can also start with "not thin."

:) Cheers

Jen Robinson said...

I haven't seen HM3 yet. But I have to say that in watching the first two movies, I always assumed that Ryan was meant to be gay, even if Disney wasn't ready to be completely up front about it. I find the prom thing in HM3 very disappointing.

Unknown said...

I always thought this series was more about making money than anything else. (I admit, I've never seen any of them, so who am I to judge.) An openly gay character would probably cut into the profits.

In defense of Disney, they have taken heat over their pro-gay policies over the years, such as gay days in Disneyland and some of the stuff Touchstone, which they own, has produced.

Still, they could do better.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Hey Rebecca,
I have to admit, I hesitate to use the word "fat" to describe people who are, well, fat, because given that I'm more on the thin side, it comes off sounding nasty and judgemental, like I'm throwing around insults. I guess maybe it's in HOW it is said, sort of like, I don't mind if straight friends use the word "queer" as long as their tone makes it clear that it's not a slur. Hmmm. But how to handle writing about it? Clearly, the "N" word is one that only Blacks are socially "authorized" to use - and there's a lot to be said for claiming what had been an epithet and making it a rallying cry.

So, as a thin man, can I say someone is fat? What about that hip-hop spelling I've seen, PHAT, or does that mean something else completely?

I absolutely hear what you're saying about "overweight," and I'm glad to know that, but is there a P.C. word equivalent to "fat" that is less charged? (Kind of like "gay" is used by those over 30 and "queer is used by those under 30.)

curious, and grateful to be having this discussion,


Anonymous said...

Hi Lee,

You’re right, this terminology’s a sticky issue. The word “fat” has been used so damagingly for so long that it’s hard to predict which people will feel a sting when they hear it and which people won’t. Outside of the fatpol movement, more people will than won’t. I wish there were a failproof answer – a fat version of “gay,” if that makes sense -- but there’s not, so I guess the answer is to tread thoughtfully and be aware of context:

In explicitly fatpol contexts, such as the fat acceptance blogs, anyone who’s friendly can freely say “fat.” It doesn’t matter if you’re fat or thin, it only matters that you’re an ally.

With people in real life who are standing right in front of you, it’s hard to know. You have to know that person. Sometimes you can avoid choosing a single adjective, and instead casually inject an opinion that fatness isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

In terms of our shared field, children’s lit, I personally hope “fat” becomes a plain-old-descriptive adjective; but I want this to happen along with a growing awareness of people as an oppressed group. Children’s lit has a terrible entrenched habit of using character fatness to imply inner character flaw (fat bully; fat victim; fat sympathetic character who has yet to learn what s/he needs to learn; etc). We need to address those stereotypes as we reclaim the word fat. “Fat” should mean only what it means – it shouldn’t be a symbol of inner character faults.

Sorry for being long winded, and thank you so much for being interested!

Becky said...

[I am an idiot and can't tell if I'm not typing the captcha correctly or if it's in moderation. Deep apologies if this goes through multiple times. :/]

(Hi, I am a totally different Rebecca and a lurker to boot.)

I definitely wish Ryan had been out -- I spent the run up to HSM3 dreading the awkward Kelsi subplot (in as much as you can have a subplot when you have no plot, and the subplot itself is, like, two scenes where nothing happens, but that's not the point), so it actually wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. It smacks to me of an interference from somewhere up in the Disney machine, because despite the whole Kelsi...thing...the character was not toned down or played straighter than the first two movies, as far as I saw.

(While disappointed, I am heartened a little because, in the stage show based on the first movie, the character IS out; Ryan still doesn't have a boyfriend, but he has pictures of boys in his locker and a crush on Troy, according to the director. It isn't much, but it's a baby step...)

(PS: My best friend, who is borderline-freakishly knowledgeable about all things Disney cartoon-related, says that Chip and Dale are brothers.)

MotherReader said...

I got your point and the seriousness of it, but the cheer made me totally laugh. Now I'm going to think about that every time we play HSM Sing It! on PS2

Bibliovore said...

Lee! Have some pity on poor Disney. If they had gay and lesbian characters, then the costume designers who shill nylon costumes to our kids would get SO CONFUSED! Who wears the pretty ballgown and who wears the handsome satin pants?

Less facetiously, this is very annoying. I saw the first one and like you, I saw a veneer of diversity but underneath that it's all the same flavor of vanilla. Disney makes, at a conservative estimate, squillions of dollars by peddling the most "normal" childhood they can think up, but the downside is that kids who live in different situations see "normal" on the screen and look around, thinking, "I'm not normal, and that's not good."

I wonder about my cousins, who see Gabriella on-screen as a Latina and think, "My heritage is acceptable, but only if my handsome prince is white and I never betray my roots while melding as seamlessly as possible into this white world."

Michele Thornton said...

I think it's commonly accepted that Ryan is gay, at least for the middle schoolers and older. But this movie (I just had the, er, pleasure of watching it last week with a theatre full of elementary kids) is really attracting the 1-5th graders, and a small number of middle schoolers. NO high schooler worth their salt would admit to watching it. Given that, I was ok with the portrayal of Ryan. More detail might've been lost on most elementary kids.

BUT, on Disney couples: you left out my favorite couple. Mualan and Captain LI Shang. She saves her father's life, and her boyfriends, and all of china. Never gets rescued by the prince, but she is rewarded with a happy ending. Mulan rocks.

Lee Wind, M.Ed. said...

Michelle, you're right. Mulan Totally ROCKS!


Chocolate said...

I refuse to watch HSM because I think their portrayal of high school life is so stereotypical that it makes me want to cringe.

I also think that the problem is, for most straight people, being gay can only mean writhing together on a naked gym floor. There isn't allowed to be romance, and sweetness, and innocent, G-rated kisses, because that would mean it was normal.

It sucks, and I do hope we can change it.

Ali said...

Interesting post. I haven't seen any of the HSM movies because my boys have zero interest in it (it's one of those "girl things" they don't get). I can understand (though don't agree with) why Disney wouldn't want to have a boy-on-boy romantic scene, but I don't see any reason why they couldn't have subtly portrayed a gay teen without undermining it with a prom date.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Just an update that while my WIP still does not have a gay character, it does have a father/son casual chat about whether the MC likes girls or boys. And putting that in also gave me the reason why the father sent him to this other school. Thanks for this post. It pushed me in the right direction.