High Art Versus Entertainment: A Biased Rant on “High School Musical” and “Grease”

Two teens meet while on school break only to find that the girl then moves to the boy’s high school where he does not act the same as he did on break. Don’t you love High School Musical- uh, I mean, Grease, I mean, um..? Two movie musicals with very similar plot lines created for two completely different target demographics. However, their few differences create a world of difference. To put it bluntly, High School Musical is the higher quality film. Sure, this is an objective take on a subjective topic, but isn’t that what art reviews always are? Is this article biased? You bet- this is a millennial that grew up in the shadow of Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens writing after all, so take this all with a grain of salt, but the reasoning behind this statement is because the two movies should be grouped in different genres. While one is aiming to wake the nostalgia chemicals lying dormant in the hippocampus, the other is meant to inspire. One looks to the past, the other looks to a future that could be. Yes, they are both coming-of-age musicals, but High School Musical can (and should) be considered high art while Grease is entertainment. But before we get into the details, let’s define what is meant by ‘high art’ here.

In this case, high art does not relate to the western idea of Greco-Roman or Renaissance based art. It has nothing to do with the wealth or status of who is creating it. Anyone can create art, and by that logic, anyone can create high art. It has to do with the art’s intent: what is the message and what is it striving to do? High art seeks to make humanity better. It aims to ignite something in the core of every person to make them want to strive to be better than themselves. Good art invokes an emotion, or at the very least a response from the consumer, but high art invokes a better emotion, a better response, from the consumer. High art inspires. (Sorry, too much? I’m just trying to get a point across.)

High School Musical is high art. It’s about two teens fighting the status quo to try something new and find who they really are. It’s about the pressures that parents put on their child and the child being too scared to speak up against it. It’s about teachers giving students a chance. One could call this cliché and overdone, but they are necessary themes to include. Why? Because they still happen every day. Sure, we’d like to think we’re getting better as a human race, but sometimes we are absolutely nowhere. High School Musical aims to make the world a better place. A place where teens are allowed to be who they are and to try out something new; where kids are allowed to chase their own dreams instead of the dreams of their parents. A place where students aren’t shut out before they even get an opportunity to try. The final moral is the same philosophy as the Audioslave classic, “be yourself, it’s all that you can do.” At the end of the day, don’t try to be something that you are not. And by the end of the film it all works out. It gives hope for a future without cliques- where brainiacs, basketball players, and thespians can all get along.

Grease, on the other hand, has no such moral agenda. The initial purpose of the broadway show, which the film is based on, was to show the social issues that teens in the fifties were dealing with, but with a slight twist. It was meant to subvert common tropes. That is creative and entertaining, but it does not qualify as high art. It does not deliver a good message for humanity. It displays the social issues and then ends happily without addressing any of the problems. In this way, and with the praise of the nostalgic consumers, it leads to the glorification of the very problems that plague teenage-hood. It quite literally gives the opposite lesson of High School Musical: girls should change who they are to get the guy. It buys into the social issues saying that it is the way the world works, the way it has always worked, and your only chance at success is to capitalize on it. That is terrible. It’s creative, it’s original, and it’s entertaining, but it’s not redeeming.

Please do not misread this- by no means does all art need to be redeeming. But the art that we, as a people, lift up should be analyzed under such a scope. Because without this classification, both High School Musical and Grease are put under the same umbrella. And when that happens, Grease is given the upper hand because it came first. And this leads to a new generation who are taught by their parents that such a movie is laudable, leading them to mimic such behavior and thrusting teen life back into another cycle dealing with the same social issues when, instead, there was a chance to evolve into something greater. Those who long for the ‘good old days’ complain of more modern media, and the social issues that entail, as gentrified, boring, and campy. “Back in my day, [insert some kind of something that older people say to take innocence and power away from a younger generation].” Yes, sir or madam, that sucks that your high school experience was like that, but please don’t subject your children and grandchildren to the same torture when they instead could be given plans for hope and a future.

What am I trying to say here? I don’t know. I guess I really just don’t like Grease that much, okay? It barely makes sense to me and it makes me feel bad when I watch it. High School Musical is at least aiming to try and make the world a better place instead of glorifying the raw and edgy world of greaser 1950s. In short, High School Musical should be considered more favorably than it is and Grease does not deserve as much credit. But to each their own, if you prefer Grease then, “shoo-bop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom.” I’ll just be home watching Zac Efron lip sync “Breaking Free”.

(Cover Photo: Screen Rant)

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