Say this for the wholesome teens of Disney’s “High School Musical” franchise: there are worse things they could do.
At first glance, there’s not much difference between the halls of East Side High and those of Rydell High, the school attended by the students of “Grease.” Each school has impossibly bubbly teens who break out into song with little warning. And somehow, everyone knows the words to every song, along with the accompanying dance moves.
But the similarities pretty much end there, especially if you’re a parent. I think if my mom and dad had really listened to the lyrics of the “Grease” soundtrack, they would have banned it from my house. Oh, sure, “Summer Nights” was harmless enough on the surface (although when Danny said “She was good, you know what I mean,” I didn’t). But did you ever listen to the lyrics of “Greased Lightning”? How on earth did we get away with playing that song and dancing to it in the presence of our parents?
Ah, but in the late 1970s, Grease really was the word, wasn’t it? It had groove. It had feeling. It had… well, it had a little bit more than young children should see and hear, no? Because Grease really wasn’t a high school musical. It strikes me that Grease was produced in the 1970s for people in their 30s who were in high school during the 1950s. With a wink and a nod, it mocked truly clueless adults along with the unrealistic expectations of wholesome perfection. We all knew what Troy Donahue wanted to do. And when Rizzo was in trouble, we worried with her.
What was the message of Grease, anyway? Was it that you need to be a floozie (or just look like one) to get your man or to fit in? Or was it that you need not be ashamed of your sexuality?
And what is the message of High School Musical? Looks to me like the message is to be true to yourself and to your friends, and have a little fun in the process. They are a wholesome bunch, aren’t they? Even the villainess of the piece, Sharpay, ends up being so darned nice when all is sung and done.
The world of High School Musical is an innocent one, a world free of cynicism, a world that almost screams, “please, let kids be kids just a little while longer!”
Here’s the big difference: HSM is for people looking forward to high school. Grease is for people looking back on it.
Or maybe I’m just thinking too hard. As a stepparent to two teenage girls, I hope you'll forgive me forgive me for applauding HSM a little more than Grease. At least while my girls are still kids.