Why I Still Love (Fake) High School Drama

So the Times didn't like it. Whatever. I'm still DVR'ing the latest Disney Channel musical teenybomp crapfest Camp Rock because, well, I love that stuff. Yes. I am a (slightly shameful) fan of High School Musical and its silly sequel. As I hope you're well aware by now, I have a minor obsession with Gossip Girl. It's a slightly embarrassing truth: my tastes never evolved past fifteen. Well, OK, that's not exactly true. I mean I love the good, challenging stuff. I like weirdo avant garde plays and Terrence Malick movies and I love a good Frontline, but I also lurrrve Degrassi. I'm not exactly sure why some part of my brain still lingers in the dim, echoing halls of high school, but it does. And even though people make fun of me for it (I believe my esteemed boss's words were "ha, freak"), I think it's OK.

Most kids are obsessed with high schoolers. From 4th or 5th grade on, the teenagers who roam those hallowed halls are mythic and magical. They're your baby sitters, the beguilingly surly lifeguards at your local pool or beach, they disinterestedly shove ice cream cones into your hands while wearing stupid hats at the Baskin Robbins. They're so full of feelings and experiences that, as a child, one (or at least the people I knew) can't wait to be one of them. To drive cars! To go to proms! To experience all the giddy thrills of feeling angry and lonely and jittery in first love! And we are aided, all the way along, by young adult material that is always within our reaches. Whether it be the Wakefield twins' split-level ranch, the bright zigzags of the Max, or the leafy Eden of John Hughes' Chicagoland, some imaginary place, full of fascinating teenagers, is always close by, calling to us. And then, yeah, you get to the high school years and they're nothing like you dreamed. They manage to be both stultifyingly boring and absolutely terrifying, all at the same time. They're gross, they're awkward, they're unbelievably sad. Obviously things never wrap up on any last page or at any closing credits. They just sort of ramble on until, suddenly, you're 18 and high school is about the last place in the world you'd ever want to be again.

Or, you know, at least it was that way for me. And during that time, my interest in this other version of teendom, that one so immediate on the other side of the looking glass, never waned. It may have even gotten stronger. My sister and I scraped the bottom of the video store barrel trying to get our fix. (Ever seen the Will Friedel/Love Hewitt masterpiece Trojan War? I have. Twice.) And when I stumbled off to college, these movies and TV shows (and to an increasingly lesser extent, books—though I've read the Sloppy Firsts series and Prep and other things since) became even more enjoyable, even more hilarious. Because, finally, I could see, with complete clarity, what a total fiction they are. Though there's still something about that world — with all of its silly rules about right and wrong, its placid depictions of sex, its ideas about who boys are and who girls are — that comforts me. Of course there are different levels of quality at work here. My So-Called Life was just brilliant TV that happened to be set in high school. High School Musical is by all accounts bad and honestly a bit dull in parts. But I enjoy them both.

And, I don't know, maybe my reasons for enjoying them are a bit therapeutic, in a way. Struggling to come out in high school was terribly alienating. Yes I went to prom, but it never felt quite right. I furtively drank with friends in darkened parks and smoked joints in playgrounds like all the other kids, but something always felt off. And it did well into college (and maybe still does). Escaping back into this world of imagination, seeing what high school was really supposed to be like is silly and laughable and yet a little bittersweet, too. Call it masochism, but I enjoy that pang. I guess it's like getting pinched to see if one's dreaming. I watch High School Musical and chuckle into a sigh and say "Oh, wouldn't that have been fun." And then I feel it, that little curdle of dread, that whiff of years spent treading water, and it reminds me that I made it through. I made it through just fine. It's over (mostly) and now I can just look back and laugh. These fake people are stuck in high school forever, while we get to move on and do other, more exciting things. Isn't the real trick to surviving those years constantly reminding yourself that they'll soon be over? So I guess, really, I watch this shit — the Gossip Girls and the Camp Rocks and the Degrassis — as a benediction. Once I'm finally exorcised of all the high school trauma (that happens eventually, right?), I imagine I'll pack it in and turn my full attention toward Charlie Rose. For now, though, I'm still having fun. Awkward, delirious fun. See you at 8, Camp Rock.

Or, all of that is nonsense and I'm just an unbelievable dork. Your call.

Emo!