[My blog posts, "How Gay is 'High School Musical?'" and "'High School Musical 2': Chock Full of Gay," garnered an unexpected and unprecedented amount of worldwide attention and "controversy" via online viral buzz. The 1,800+ comments on the latter article is a testament to that—it's the most discussed post ever on AOL's (now defunct) QueerSighted blog. So it was inevitable that I would write about the inherent gayness of "High School Musical 3: Gradu-Dancin'." (Please Note: I refuse to refer to the movie by its actual subtitle, "Senior Year," because its "Gradu-Dancin'" working title is far more fabulous—and, my dear friends, as you know, "I want fabulous! That's my simple request!")]
Disney's High School Musical franchise has always been embraced by tween girls and by gay men—gay men because they delight in the movies' queer subtext, which happens to be conveniently told in the gay language of musical numbers; and tween girls because they subconsciously know that they will be the trusted "f*g hags" of the future and the HSM phenomenon is the perfect primer of the gay mind. Oh, and also because Zac Efron is so freaking hot—even my straight male friends tell me that they'd temporarily drop to their knees and switch teams for Zefron. ("Hey, batter, batter, hey, batter, batter, swing.")
Well, I'm happy to report that High School Musical 3: Gradu-Dancin' is so gay that audience members could actually end up bleeding appletinis from their eyes. If HSM is gay and HSM2 is gayer, then HSM3 is certainly the gayest of them all.
Gay Allegory. The gay allegory of the first two movies—the masculine jock "comes out" and embraces his love of theater—continues in this third installment, but on a grander scale. Troy Bolton (Efron), the high school basketball star, must choose between two colleges: his father's alma mater, University of Albuquerque, where he will play hoops and be the manly man his dad expects him to be; or New York's prestigious performing arts school, Julliard, where he will be able to revel in the fabulousness of singing and dancing to his heart's content.
University of Albuquerque (a stand-in for heterosexual identity) represents a life that's being thrust upon Troy against his will. "It's hard to admit," he pleads with his father. "U of A sort of chose me." Later, he continues to struggle with what his dad (society) wants for him because it's not necessarily what he wants for himself. He muses, "Maybe I don't see my life as a ballgame anymore." That's because, frankly, he's starting to see his life as a "balls" game.
At one point, Troy confides in his drama teacher, "I'm confused." Indeed. Every young man who has ever struggled with his sexuality has needed someone as understanding as Ms. Darbus to nudge him in the right direction. Sensing Troy's longing for outside approval, she says encouragingly, "The stage can be a wonderful partner in the process of self-discovery"—the theater once again being a stand-in for gay identity. (A character earlier even makes reference to a "theater fairy" that submitted Troy's application to Julliard.)
Throughout the movie, Troy tests out the gay waters. Early on, he pranks a couple of freshman by stealing their clothes from their lockers while they are showering. The towel-clad lads have to chase Troy all around school to get their underwear back. Troy's partner-in-crime, Chad (Corbin Bleu), might see it as harmless practical joke, but Troy, at least subconsciously, sees it as a cheap homoerotic thrill. And during a musical number later in the movie, Troy dances with both Sharpay Evans (Ashley Tisdale) and her twin brother, Ryan (Lucas Grabeel). Troy admits to Ryan, "You're easier to dance with than she is."
So everything has been set up for Troy to wholeheartedly seize a life in the theater (his gay identity). But guess what? Because it's senior year and the stakes—his entire future—are so high, Disney decides to pull its gay punches, as not to totally upset middle America.
[BEGIN POSSIBLE SPOILER.]
In the end, Troy surprises everybody and decides to go to UC Berkeley, where he can play basketball and do theater.
[END POSSIBLE SPOILER.]
Disney betrays the promise of its gay subtext by morphing HSM3 into a half-assed bisexual allegory.
But don't worry. There's plenty of gay to go....
The Gay Nature of Musicals. Look, gay men love musicals. I'm sorry, but, if you're queer and have no interest in showtunes, then you need to give back your toaster. Cheesy ballads aside, HSM3 has some of the best musical numbers in the entire series, even if the songs aren't as catchy on a first listen. The film's bigger budget paved the way to more elaborate set pieces (a junkyard, rotating backdrops, etc.); multiple, eye-popping costume changes; a cast of (seemingly) thousands; and amazing, aggressive choreography that must've taken weeks and weeks to rehearse. Not only that, HSM3 pays homage to the musicals and icons of yesteryear, allowing gay men to play a guessing game that will test their queer cred. We get shades of West Side Story, Grease, Footloose, Stanley Donen, Esther Williams, Busby Berkeley, and even a vaguely Dirty Dancing climax (the latter film was choreographed by Kenny Ortega, who directed all three HSMs).
Zac Efron also gets a hot and sexy solo number comparable to "Bet on It" in HSM2 (remember how gay that is?). It's called "Scream"; features a revolving hallway that has him dancing on the walls and ceiling; and requires him to writhe around on the ground in existential agony and kind of do a pole dance (with ropes instead of a pole) that had my packed theater audience of girls literally screaming in prepubescent ecstasy. Seriously. I'm not exaggerating. They. Were. Screaming. (And so was I.) You won't believe your eyes (or ears) when you watch this video clip:
Gay Characters. First of all, HSM3 introduces a new freshman character, nicknamed "Rocket Man," who is probably being set up to star in the inevitable HSM4 (the primary cast will be absent). Rocket Man (whose underwear was stolen earlier) is obsessed with Troy, is an amateur stalker, and manages to keep interrupting Troy's intimate moments with Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens). "Can I have your gym locker?" Rocket Man asks Troy. "I think it'll help me out with the guys."
Later, Rocket Man is designated as Troy's understudy in the spring musical and even gets to perform, throwing together a makeshift costume, the centerpiece of which is a pink wife-beater.
His one attempt to flirt with Sharpay fizzles, as it should, because a gay guy hooking up with a straight woman is like Jews and pork rinds. (However, Sharpay really is the closest thing to a drag queen that the HSM series will ever have.)
Now let's talk about Ryan Evans, who's been the franchise's overtly gay character starting from movie one. The body of evidence:
* His wardrobe should raise pink flags: flamboyant pants with crazy patterns, long black boots, fancy hats, polyester jogging suit, tickle-me-pink scarf (or was that an ascot, which is even gayer?), and a collection of various sweaters (V-neck, crew neck, sweater vest) that would put any self-proclaimed queen to shame.
* He unleashes a series of fey gestures, glances, and swishes, but manages not to be offensive or particularly stereotypical in all that gayness (a welcome paradox). His most telling move is his very curious double take at a handsome black guy whose unbuttoned shirt reveals lots of luscious skin.
* At the beginning of the movie, we see that he does not play basketball. He, instead, is the school mascot, a wildcat. (No need to guess who would be the bitch in a relationship with him.) Troy says to Ryan, "Hey, watch that tail, man. It's dangerous." Ryan exclaims proudly, "You know it!"
* He rides a moped.
...Lastly, Ryan is someone who can embrace his love of theater (his gay identity), gladly taking the role of choreographer and prancing proudly to make sure everybody follows his steps perfectly. And in the spring musical, when the other guys do a dance in which they try on tuxedos for the prom, Ryan joins a Rockette-like kick line of girls in black and pink.
[BEGIN POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT.]
Disney's betrayal of its gay allegory earlier can be forgiven here because in the end Ryan, who is comfortable with being who he is (gay), goes to Julliard, along with the nerdy but talented Kelsi (Olesya Rulin).
[END POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT.]
Ryan, like Rocket Man, also flirted with heterosexuality, by courting Kelsi. That subplot quickly disappeared (written in the first place, I presume, to trick conservative parents into thinking that Ryan wasn't really "that way"), allowing for the notion that being totally gay is acceptable after all. The homosexual and his f*g hag are going to the big city together, and they will surely live happily (gayly) ever after.
As for Troy and Gabriella, they too could eventually have the same kind of relationship and the same kind of freedom as Ryan and Kelsi if Troy ever figures out that, for him, bisexuality is just a gateway orientation.
...But, overall, yes, High School Musical 3: Gradu-Dancin' is really really really really really gay. And I have always—always—meant that in a good way.