Boasting of attractive young actors and catchy musical numbers, Disney’s teen romantic comedy High School Musical was a cultural phenomenon when it was released in 2006 and garnered a huge teenage following that spawned two sequels of the same name.
High School Musical follows a Romeo-and-Juliet-esque love story between Troy Bolton, the captain of the basketball team, and Gabriella Montez, a scholastic decathlon competitor, whose cliques don’t mesh well together and instead push toward the mutual exclusivity of the different social circles in the school. And as if the love story weren’t enough, Troy and Gabriella also decide to try out for their school’s winter musicale, and consequently crosses onto the territory of theater club members Sharpay and Ryan Evans.
In the most basic form of structuralism, there exists a concept called binary oppositions, which refers to the universe being comprised only of the two basest categories existing on different poles. In the case of High School Musical, these binary oppositions come in the form of the basketball team and the science students—Troy’s best friend Chad and Gabriella’s friend Taylor. However, in the same vein, there is also the idea of anomalous categories, which are elements in a culture that don’t subscribe to the prescribed norms of the binary oppositions. These anomalies are either taboo or sacred, depending on the case, since they go against the natural order of things. We realize that both Troy and Gabriella fall under this category—they straddle the boundaries between these oppositions and flout their disregard for the rules, and this causes the conflict in the social food chain of their high school.
What usually happens with anomalous categories both in stories and in society is that either the rule of binary opposition wins out—in this case, if Troy simply stayed with his basketball team and Gabriella retreated into scholastic decathlon—or the world expands to accommodate this new category. In the end, High School Musical ultimately rearranges the social structure and ideologies in that high school to make room for the changes that Troy and Gabriella instigated.
The aim of structuralism is to uncover the conceptual bases that make up a text and to discover how people make sense of the world. If we were to take this into consideration while keeping the plot of High School Musical in mind, we can conclude that the directors and writers perceive the world as a continuous struggle between opposite poles and the universe’s attempt to maintain equilibrium by preventing anomalous categories from forming.
High School Musical carries with it the concepts and ideologies of the producers of this text with regard to the state of actual high schools in America, the complications of friendship and relationships when different social classes come into play, and transfers to us as viewers and critics an entire cultural language system to identify with, regardless of the differences in the norms and mindsets we might have—after all, “we’re all in this together!”
Damo, A.(2014). Structuralism. Report. Diliman, Quezon City.
Ortega, K. (Director). (2006). High school musical [Motion picture]. USA: Walt Disney Home Entertainment.