Groupthink: Superbad vs. High School Musical 2

Two pieces of vastly different, youth-marketed media ruled this past August weekend.


Or, if you’re talking about Superbad: OMFG

Superbad, the latest from Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, and the rest, surpassed everyone’s expectations and made $32 million dollars in it’s opening weekend.

High School Musical 2 obliterated all previous records and cemented itself as a full blown pop phenom, becoming the highest rated basic cable program of all time, and the second highest rated television program (cable or not) among 9-14 year olds, behind only the 2004 Superbowl. Yay for my bank account.

I had a few thoughts.

  • Although both films are marketed at different audiences, (tweens for HSM2, older teens and early 20s for Superbad) there will be scores of young people who see both, and for whom both pieces of media will be internalized and mimicked. We can expect random outbursts of singing, dancing, frivolity, as well as bad McLovin impersonations for months to come.
  • Youth media has both matured and gotten soft all at the same time. People saying that HSM2 is the new Grease have forgotten how sexually provocative and naughty Grease was. They’ve also forgotten that the actual story of Grease is pretty dumb, lacking anything even resembling a genuine emotion. The kids occupying the alternate universe of HSM2 are actually given real things to think and feel, and sing about, albeit perkily. The writers and producers are actually making an attempt (in a mass market, squeaky-clean way) to give their young audience something to process. In the real world, the Wildcats would be singing about the first time Gabriella gave Troy a blow job. It would be soaring ballad, no doubt.
  • At the same time regarding the evolution of youth media, Superbad is (on paper) more disgusting, immoral, filthy, explicit, and deviant then anything John Hughes or Amy Heckerling put on screen in the 80′s and 90′s. In practice, I think it’s a sweeter movie (and more honest about how life actually works) then any of those PG and PG-13 rated farces where all parents are idiots and jerks and the kids know everything. John Hughes movies weren’t really about growing up, they were about declaring a state of perpetual immaturity apart from your hypocrite parents.
  • One of the recurring themes in Judd Apatow’s canon is the delayed maturation process of men in this culture. Knocked Up, which I adored, actually made me weep due to the loving, honest, painfully funny depiction of what happens when a man-child actually has a child. The crassness serves as a backdrop to explore this really interesting idea of what happens when men deal with each other, but refuse to actually deal with women as equals, and deal with sex issues with people who are equals and not objects.

So here’s my groupthink question: Has media aimed at kids gotten generally better or worse? Or both?

P.S. I am not actually recommending Superbad, if you were wondering. The language and situations are… really foul. I laughed at some of it, and I was actually quite moved by the simplicity and honesty of the ending, but there were not enough laughs between squirms for me to sit through it again, or tell you that you should go see it.

P.P.S. You should see Knocked Up, however, as the emotional payoffs are as big as the laughs. If you have a problem with honest observations of how single heterosexual non-Christian men living together behave, give it a second thought.

P.P.P.S. I am heartily recommending HSM2, but actually on DVD would be nicer for me… what with the royalties and all. My interests are conflicted, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

7 thoughts on “Groupthink: Superbad vs. High School Musical 2

  1. Daniel Semsen

    I don’t have data to back this up, but I heard that the actual audience for Superbad contained more 30-year-old dudes than high schoolers.

    And even my 6 year-old loves HSM2.
    Good for your bank account. Not so good for mine.

  2. michael lee

    I don’t know what direction the trend is heading, pound for pound.

    I think some of what we’re seeing in the themes of high-school and college movies is an extending adolescence at both ends; kids are dealing with grown up issues like sexual identity and substance use at a much younger age, but they are also neglecting adult roles (financial responsibility, family, career) until later in their 20′s.

    I’m concerned with the themes of these movies – I agree that the John Hughes movies were by and large not positive messages, but that was also true of a lot of kids movies in the days of yore.

    What’s the driving theme of Snow White? Little girl, if you’re pretty enough, a man will come with a magic kiss to carry you away from any problem. Cinderella? Little girl, if you work hard enough at your housework, someday a man will marry you, and carry you away from all your problems. Bambi? If you love somebody, they’ll probably get shot.

    You see my point.

  3. aly hawkins

    Yeah, I’m six one way on this question. I edited a book by a young woman (early 20s) not long ago who at one point waxed nostalgic for the good ol’ days when families watched Leave It to Beaver and I Love Lucy together, shows which, in her view (I quote) “portrayed happy, healthy families dealing with real life issues in a comedic way.”

    I almost wept with laughter. Not that I don’t love Ricky, Lucy, Fred and Ethel and the Cleavers (and Eddie Haskel)…but “real life issues”? Come on.

    On the other hand, I don’t think you can accurately call current entertainment “real life” either. Ash and I were talking the other day about The Dawson’s Creek Years (which spawned the postmodern teen dramedy), when every show on the WB was high school kids experiencing “real life” while everything coming out of their mouths sounded like it was written by a team of 40-year-old marriage and family therapists. I wish I were as wise as Pacey when I was 15. A lot of therapy dollars might have been saved later.

    Those of us experiencing “real life” don’t have story artists to get us into wacky situations at 3:27 and dialogue writers to help us verbally process them at 41:39.

  4. Christy Semsen

    Sooooo…our car CD player has broken WITH High School Musical 2 soundtrack inside it. I now know all the words to all the songs, and Nathaniel is in love with it. Seriously, good songs- getting a bit repetitive after a week, but good stuff.

  5. Aaron Poladian

    I am truly glad a found this BLOG, I have been looking for a contrast between HSM2 and Super Bad for a long time now… I have a request to see one between Little Women and the Sixth Sense…

Comments are closed.