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Television: You Can Run but You Can’t Hide

I don’t remember exactly where I was when I became aware of High School Musical. The name and a vague idea of what it might be drifted in and out of visible line at grocery stores or while browsing the online cable guide. I thought, whatever it was, it wouldn’t last, and I could just ignore it and hopefully it would go away. I certainly wasn’t going to let my nine-year-old daughter get anywhere near such an obvious money grab. They indoctrinate our kids young to identify with brands. They are little advertiser’s machines. You can’t go into Toys “R” Us without having to deal with the five big brands that rule our kids’ lives, lunches, pajamas, and even toothpaste. If it’s got Winnie the Pooh on it it must be okay, more than okay – like spending time with an old friend.

Naturally, I wasn’t interested in following up her brand-saturated childhood with the next phase of tween-luring garbage High School Musical appeared to be. There were already backpacks and clothing lines with the name on them. Why didn’t anyone else get turned off by such manipulative sales tactics?

My daughter knew I disapproved and begrudgingly accepted my condemnation of all things High School Musical. But of course, her friends at school had seen it and seen it again and then seen it one more time after that. Not only that, but there was already a High School Musical 2 and they had also seen that again and again and again.

My daughter checked out the novelization from the library and secretly read it in her bedroom. She started getting to know the songs and singing them. She even knew the names of the characters and the actors who played them. She knew Vanessa Hudgins had gotten a naked picture of herself all over the Internet but that it wasn’t her fault and she wasn’t a bad person. She knew all about Zac Efron, whose face is everywhere.

At some point I figured out that High School Musical was a Disney original movie and not a TV series. I was convinced it was another Hannah Montana, one of those brain-eating shows that seem to be conspiring to turn girls into Lindsays and Britneys. If it was a movie, how could I refuse her desire to see it? How could I be censoring something from my daughter just because I winced at the thought of her becoming loyal to yet another brand? Those weren’t the reasons I finally caved and let her watch it, however. It was that she was so unbratty about my wishes. She never complained, but just accepted her lot as the one kid whose mom objected to High School Musical.

When finally we watched it together, I found it to be mostly harmless fun. Aside from the hideous branding that goes on, High School Musical had surprising benefits. For one thing, they have made it appeal to as wide an audience as possible. By casting Hudgens in the lead, an obvious Latina with dark hair and dark eyes, they are stepping outside the comfort zone of always having a fair haired white girl in the lead. In fact, the fair haired girl in this film is the villain.

High School Musical, it’s safe to say, is a worldwide phenomenon. The young actors pull the film off like seasoned professionals, especially the two stars, Hudgens and Efron. Is it any wonder kids love it? It is almost old-fashioned in its sincerity and good cheer. The songs are catchy, and no character is left out in the cold by the end.

As for my daughter, she is under strict rules not to watch the commercials and never to buy a High School Musical cheerleading outfit. It’s her mother everyone should be worrying about. I’ve already got plans to transform her 10-year-old birthday into a High School Musical-themed extravaganza. I’m even secretly looking forward to High School Musical 3, set for airing in 2008. If you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join ‘em.

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