I just spent two hours of my life watching Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam, a Disney Channel movie starring teen sensations Demi Lovato and the three Jonases (Jonasi?). It’s not just that it was a Disney Channel movie – there have been some decent ones in the past, though I’ll just leave that statement general – but Camp Rock (the original) was pretty bad and then they had to make a sequel. Not everything is High School Musical, Disney Channel! And even HSM wasn’t high art. But I suppose they don’t make backpack and notebook merchandise tie-ins to grainy art films.
I really have no excuse. No 11-year-olds were in sight, yet the thousands of pre-adolescents around the world were with me in spirit while they eagerly awaited their mom’s permission to turn on the television, texting their friends the entire time. Or however it is that small girls watch television these days. Me, I watched Camp Rock 2 in its entirety alone, in my apartment, on a Friday night. While wearing stretchy pants. I didn’t think I’d reach the epitome of pathetic so early. And this offering was pretty awful, even by Disney Channel standards. They should have just put the Jonas Brothers in front of a white wall and filmed them sitting there and breathing for two hours. The same amount of people would have tuned in, and then we wouldn’t have had to pretend to care about the poorly constructed story.
I couldn’t help but feel old while watching 14- to 18-year-olds (playing 12- to 16-year-olds) prance around like summer camps where well-functioning rock bands were instantly created are the absolute norm. It doesn’t seem too long ago that I was their ages, saying good-bye to summer and the memories that it contained once the air started crackling with a chill and school supply lists came out. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I went to camp, though my camp was less focused on dance-offs and more focused on chapel, gross-out games, and spending nights cowering in a storm shelter (good old North Dakota summers). Even so, it’s obvious how much has changed in a fairly short time – just look around at the expected cell phones and social networking sites. These media outlets are the teen’s main form of communication. Back when I was in high school only a short few years ago, passing notes were still considered kosher.
In addition to feeling terribly old and out of touch, though, was the sobering realization that I missed out on some experiences that the “normal teen” (whoever she is) has, and I’ll never get the chance to have them. Summer love, for instance: meeting a boy at a camp, falling deep into “love,” holding hands by the campfire, tearful good-byes, and in 11 months repeat. Or even the fleeting high school relationships that come and go with each breath, each more dramatic and devastating than the last. Those are things that I have seen in Disney Channel movies and in the lives of my friends, but never had touch my own story.
Unsurprisingly, I found that those relationships often fell apart with the slightest jostle. And my friends didn’t grieve through a 30 second montage set to the bridge of a powerful and popular ballad (probably by one of the child labor network stars). They grieved with their whole hearts – with tears in their eyes, and doubts in their tongues, and fear in their eyes. Even when a good-bye is said from one child to another, there is a brief flicker of mortality, of finality, of ending that is understood and that nearness scares a teenager — unaccustomed to anything but life and beauty — to death.
My heart is whole, despite a few dings in the paint, and I am thankful for that fact. I have seen death of “love,” happen to those I love, and I have seen lifelong love begin. I know which one I’d prefer to have, so I won’t covet that which I cannot have. For now, I’ll just watch Disney Channel stars pretend to navigate through true love, which they probably cannot yet touch. Maybe I’m wrong in assuming they do not know love; I do not know their places in life, and some may be far beyond my maturity in this area (I mean, Kevin Jonas is married and having sex already; I’m going to pretend like the rest of the Mousketeers have no experience with either of those things).
I do know that, regardless of where they – and I – are now, before long we will stop pretending to navigate, trying instead to find our way through this mess of life. In doing so, I hope to discover a dear traveling companion who, instead of stopping and resting with me for a brief while, will begin to clear a way with me, so we can go together.