This article has been corrected since it was published in the print magazine.
In case you haven’t noticed, millions of girls are in the midst of a cultural insurrection. Armed with the pocket money that has made them a powerful consumer force since the 1920s, girls have set their communal sights on a particular kind of entertainment, and when they find it, they transform it into a commercial phenomenon that leaves even the creators and marketers of that entertainment dumbfounded. What do these girls—with such different backgrounds and aspirations, foreign to one another in so many respects—demand right now? The old story, the one they were forced to abandon for a while, but will be denied no longer: the Boyfriend Story.
They find it in High School Musical and in the Twilight series; in the music of Taylor Swift, and even in Glee, which goes to the greatest lengths to prove itself a convention-defying, diversity-championing instrument of the Now, but which only proves, episode after episode, that the reason many teenyboppers and gay boys form such fast friendships is that their hearts are in the same place: in the gossamer-wrapped quest for true and perfect love. Rachel may have two daddies, but when she crushes hard on her dreamy chorus teacher and expresses it in a duet of “Endless Love” with him—and when an equally besotted guidance teacher airs her own feelings for the man in the form of “I Could Have Danced All Night”—well, when that happens, we are definitely back in Kansas. Taylor Swift’s songbook, filled with lyrics composed by the enchantingly shy 19-year-old, might have been written for Doris Day. One of her biggest hits is about unreturned love for a boy who has fallen not just for the wrong girl, but for the wrong kind of girl—a Veronica, not a Betty; a Ginger, not a Mary Ann:
She wears high heels, I wear sneakers;
She’s cheer captain, and I’m on the bleachers.
As for High School Musical, you have to chew through four solid hours of the trilogy—and an imagined year and a half of the main players’ secondary education—before the star-crossed lovers even share a kiss. It is supposed to be a modern version of Romeo and Juliet, but in the 400-year-old original, the main characters take only four days (and, theatrically, three and half hours, tops) to fornicate, initiate a murder spree, run away from home, break their parents’ hearts, secretly marry, and then off themselves. Compared with High School Musical, Romeo and Juliet is a Tarantino spectacular.