Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Feel Old

I just came back from the live show of "Disney's High School Musical  - on Tour!"

(And, no, I didn't actually pay to see that.)

And I didn't feel old because of all the perky teenaged kids (or, more precisely, the perky folks in their 20s playing perky teenaged kids) and the hackneyed plot and the fact that the audience actually went "Ooooooooo" when the stars kissed at the end.  Which is to say, I know I wasn't this show's target audience.

What made me feel old was when I thought about certain ways in which I thought Disney was underestimating its target audience.

Look, I remember -- when I was in Elementary School -- the first time my class was racially integrated.  Which, in this case, meant there were two black kids mixed in with all us white kids.

And I also remember growing up, and hearing about "interracial romances" as something you whispered about, and it certainly wasn't in the mainstream.

And I remember watching the first interracial kiss on TV (although, by the time I saw it, it was in reruns).  But the fact that it was, in fact, the first interracial kiss was actually pointed out to me, because that sort of thing was still significant, even by the time I watched it.

And I remember how things slowly changed.

How we'd started to see black people show up in films, TV shows and plays that weren't only geared toward black audiences.

How this generally started with tokenism, where we'd start to see maybe one or two black people in a show, and (surprise!) they'd end up with each other.  (C'mon, we all remember the "black couple" that seemed to be added to all the soap operas.)

And I look back at my own High School class, which was completely integrated.  (Indeed, I remember one day in 11th grade, looking around my Social Studies classroom and realizing I was the only white student in the class.) 

And I remember how things evolved to the point where you'd go to see Rent on Broadway, and one of the main relationships was not only between a white person and a black person, but both of those people were women.

And then I saw "High School Musical" tonight.  And the leads are a white guy and a Hispanic woman.  And each one has a best friend who is black.  And the two black characters (who were pretty much the only black people in the show who had lines) ended up with each other.  How very tidy.  And while many of the other characters also paired up at the end, the guy who was gay didn't end up with anyone.

And the whole thing just took me back, and not in a good way.  Because, whether by design or the fluke of an actual color-blind casting process, this was exactly the sort of result that would have happened in a show geared to me back when I was in school -- it would have been considered progressive to put black performers in the supporting roles; it would have been considered natural to have them end up with each other.  And they probably would have included a gay character, too -- and it would have been an overly-effeminate guy who provided comic relief and ended up alone.

I really question, though, whether this is enough for kids now -- or if kids today are going to look at this cast of mostly white people, and think, "That's not what my school looks like."  If it will strike them as almost notably odd that the two black people in the school end up together.  And the gay character, too, might seem a little less than real.

I can't fault Disney for making a show where the express theme is that everyone should be who they are, and follow their desires, and not judge each other, and be friendly and supportive and all that other good stuff.  I just wish it didn't look like a 1970s show saying exactly the same things.

1 comment:

helmswondermom said...

This was really interesting.  I wonder if I would have noticed the same things if I'd seen it.