Last week, I watched High School Musical for the first time. I know. According to the overwhelming consensus of my friends who grew up cheering for the Wildcats and hating Sharpay, I did not have a childhood. Unsurprisingly, I loved…hating the movie. The plot is derivative and meandering. The acting is amateurish and unconvincing. Even the significant charms of Zac Efron’s dimples cannot save us from his puppy-dog earnestness. But he is so conflicted, my friends protest when I complain about his acting. I interpreted the same scenes as Troy suffering from a mild stomachache. Thus, there is no point in seriously analyzing High School Musical. Sometime in the first decade of my life, a train of adoration passed me by and I will never have a chance to board it. There are some pleasures that are restricted to specific periods of our life. In the case of this movie, it was probably during the span of time before I read Romeo and Juliet, before I had any comprehension of story structure or character construction. It was when I could appreciate a plot where Troy and Gabriella’s friends cause more damage than the ‘antagonists’. It was probably a more care-free time. Alas, it is inaccessible now.
I envy the people who can return to that point in their lives endlessly through the lens of this movie. They gain as much enjoyment from the candy-coated plot as when they first watched it. It is a sheer joy that my cynical heart secretly envies. Many of my childhood loves seem to have aged particularly badly, transforming before my eyes into reductive clichés. It makes me reluctant to return to any of those shows that I enjoyed in the past, even things that I have watched more recently. It is simply impossible to recapture the initial shock of The Good Place season one finale or the devastation of every Bojack Horseman episode. These, too, were shows that were specific to one moment, one place. Would I have enjoyed them if I had watched them in different circumstances? Probably not. There was a unique chemistry to each moment, each element contributing to the perfect emotional reaction. Yet, although I cannot replicate those feelings, media allows me to recall them in flawless detail. In this era, we are allowed to endlessly visit the past. We do not even need to wait for reruns. All we need is a Netflix account or a friend generous enough with theirs. Then, we can shamelessly watch the things that have touched our hearts before. For me, it wasn’t High School Musical. But it was SpongeBob and Avatar: The Last Airbender and even Arthur. I can remember the moment that I fell in love with all these things and I can feel a faint echo of it all these years later. I am glad that my friends can watch Troy and Gabriella and collapse into the long-sold sofa of their childhoods. I guess I will have to settle for simmering disgust instead.