I’ve been writing a lot about embarrassing tween/teenage moments this year, and I’ve decided to give it another go. Recently, I’ve decided to stop being embarrassed of all the weird things I did during junior high and high school. Instead, I’ll just own up to all of them. Including the thing I’m about to reveal right here.
The longest stretch of my youth took place during the very early twenty-first century. While I didn’t wear Ugg boots or layer my clothes like everyday was the Kids’ Choice Awards, I was a little aware of what was hot and what was not. For instance, even I, the soda-fountain-bubblegum-pop addict, understand that I just made a reference to Paris Hilton. And do you want to know what was hot when I was in junior high back in 2006?
Actually, Disney Channel wasn’t just hot some eleven years ago. It was absolutely on fire. We were essentially past the semi-maudlin original drama flicks like “The Cheetah Girls” and “Motocrossed.” Shows like “That’s So Raven” were wrapping up and falling into the background. Disney Channel was the stomping grounds for “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” “Hannah Montana,” and especially, the “High School Musical” franchise. There were crossovers and meta-fiction moments that would make postmodernism beam with pride. Disney was filled with song. Every female TV star put out her own album in that decade. Some of the male stars followed suit. Disney has always been a kingdom, but in that first decade of the century, it was truly an empire.
If you grew up around the same time I did, you might be nodding and smiling. There’s a really good chance that you loved all of these shows and Disney Channel Original Movies (DCOMs, they called them, as every generation needs its own glossary of absurd acronyms). Maybe you were filled with glee every time a new music video dropped on a Friday night filled with new episodes of your favorite shows. Maybe you logged onto the Disney Channel website (with or without a parent’s permission) and voted for what you wanted to see in “High School Musical 2.” Maybe you lived on Disney Channel as much as you lived on food and water.
But you probably weren’t ready to admit to any of that in public.
Does that ring any bells for you? Liking Disney Channel was one of the most common things you could do as a tween in the very earliest twenty-first century. Admitting that you liked Disney Channel was about the lamest thing you could do. Somewhere, around the age of twelve or thirteen, you realized that because none of these TV shows and movies featured swearing, partying, or teen pregnancies, they were “babyish” and something to be embarrassed of. But you weren’t necessarily ready for the ranks of “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” or “Pretty Little Liars” on Disney Channel’s older, worldlier sister, ABC Family (present-day Freeform), quite yet. Even if you felt like you should be ready for all of that drama, you still felt exceedingly more comfortable watching Miley Stewart (Miley Cyrus) and best friend Lilly Truscott (Emily Osment) get themselves into crazy antics about shopping, boys, and international fame on “Hannah Montana.”
And who could blame you? “Hannah Montana” was awesome. Just because the juiciest thing that ever happened was an unexpected kiss between Miley and superstar Jake Ryan (Cody Linley) didn’t mean it wasn’t funny. My own father still quotes the show on a semi-regular basis (Just today, I heard him shout, “RUN!” in Miley Cyrus’s voice.). In my family, we still know all the songs from the “High School Musical” soundtracks. That was all we did. We ate. We slept. We watched the Disney Channel. Even when we went to dance class, at least one of our recital routines was set to a song that originated on the Disney Channel. It was everything, and if you confessed to that, you were a loser.
Except you weren’t! You were just like almost everyone else around you! But it seemed like you were falling far behind because you were already going into eighth grade this year. That’s almost high school, and high school is basically adulthood with a mortgage and a nine-to-five job. You’re too old to be counting down the days until “Camp Rock” premieres. Right?
I can’t explain this “too cool for Disney” problem that a lot of us had even if I try. Part of me wonders if the reason why we liked to lie about it was because at twelve, thirteen, and fourteen years old, it is generally considered “cool” to like as little as possible. Liking things makes you vulnerable. Liking things makes you a dork, and no one wants to be a dork. Dorks eat in front of the garbage cans at lunch and get tossed into lockers. They are always picked last for kickball in gym class, and they never get dates to any of the hottest school dances.
You know where you learned that, don’t you?
I actually didn’t lie about liking the Disney Channel for as long or as often as I think many of my peers did. See, I’ve never really had a problem with embarrassing myself in front of large groups of people. It’s one of my specialties, along with “most chicken nuggets consumed in a five-hour period” and “fabulous Taylor Lautner impression.” If I wanted to sing “Bop to the Top” on the field trip bus, then I would find someone, and we would perfect the duet together. I’ve never been too afraid to look like a total loser.
But then around eighth grade, I made this friend. Although she was a grade below me (and actually about two years younger because birthdays and school years are weird in America), she was about 394 times cooler than I was. She had read almost every fantasy book known to man—even the ones that looked too big or too stuffy for me. She had long, almost black hair and a voice like Morticia Addams, which is the highest possible compliment I could ever pay to a human being, living or dead. She was offbeat. She was cool. Despite the fact that we actually had quite a bit in common, I knew she would find a way to mock the Disney Channel.
Actually, she couldn’t stop at just one. Of “Hannah Montana,” she complained that the jokes were too predictable, and why would you like something that all of the other girls in school love? It was conformist to watch Disney shows, she ruled. Since I was terrified of being a conformist, I nodded my innocent little head and told her that I agreed. We were all lemmings! Well, they were lemmings. She and I were the purest souls in the whole school, or at least, that’s what we liked to tell ourselves as we ran the slowest mile in the entire gym class.
But just because my new friend was obviously way too cool for plots like “Miley’s evil identical cousin wants to expose Miley’s identity as Hannah Montana!” it didn’t mean that I gave up on what I loved. I didn’t. When we weren’t hanging out, and I had a free moment, that’s what I would do. I would catch up on my Disney shows. I would listen to my Disney CDs, and they would make me happy. Because that’s the place I was at in my life. I was at a place where I had moved beyond cartoons, but I wasn’t quite ready for the heaviness that a real teen drama would bring. Disney Channel was that fun and safe middle ground.
But you already knew that. You might even go back and visit it today. We make Tumblr posts about the shows that we perhaps secretly grew up with. We celebrate the tenth anniversary of “High School Musical” with a widely circulated and hilarious bad lip reading. These are the pieces of history that we hold beloved. And now that we’re a lot clearer on who we are, it’s not embarrassing. When we see people about our age singing “Bop to the Top” in public now, well, there’s one thing we can guess.
Those must be good people.