Just before Zac Efron’s We Are Your Friends movie debuted to the third lowest release in history, he pretended he couldn’t identify a song from the High School Musical franchise that put him on the map. What he thought was attractive cool-guy nonchalance was received instead as snide, condescending “I’m sooo above the Disney earnest innocence” douchebaggery. That’s why I didn’t go see it. I liked the trailer and thought the movie looked inspiring. (For more reasons than Zac’s abs.) But when I heard him shit on earnest innocence in favor of playing the playboy prick who only plays because he’s sooo damn hurt, I was over it. Prepare yourselves for this shocking statement, for it will defy everything Disney stars presume about defining adulthood: Earnest innocence is more attractive than vapid sexuality.
We see Disney girls in the same boring cycle as Zac Efron — “Look at me! I’m not that good little girl in Disneyland — I’m an ADULT who has sex. Yes that’s right, I said sex. Sex, clit, vagina, penis, nipple, side-tongue, smile– look at me, look at me, look at me! I’m not that innocent.” They may not be innocent, but they certainly are childish and desperate for attention. While I love sexually charged pop songs, sexual awakenings, self- improvement, I am bored by their obsession with defining themselves sexually.
Whenever I hear Miley Cyrus’s past hit, “Party in the USA,” I am struck by how likable Miley Cyrus was in that song; she’s an earnest fish-out-of-water worrying about fitting in, but then gains comfort and confidence after hearing her favorite song on the radio. It’s a simple song, but yet it’s much more likable and compelling than her singing, “It’s our party, we can do what we want, say what we want, kiss who we want.” In her eyes, she grew up as an artist with the latter song, but I bet it’s the former song that people will karaoke in years to come. It’s easy to take off your clothes and repeat “Come and Get It” (old Selena Gomez song). It’s much harder to make people laugh (Amanda Bynes in childhood) or to write a song that evokes an emotion beyond infectious lust. But despite their talent, Selena Gomez, Amanda Bynes, and Miley Cyrus insist on being defined sexually first and foremost.
It’s not that I don’t love a good sexual romp or baring skin. Indeed, I love “Come and Get It” and Selena Gomez’s latest “Good For You.” Hell, I even love a provocative naked album cover, but I want these stars to understand that sincerity is sexy. Earnesty is appealing. You’re an adult when you stop shitting on your past innocence and value yourself beyond a sexual being. Relying on sexuality to assert your so-called adulthood only exposes your immaturity. It’s with age that you miss and revere that earnest innocence you had when you were young and idealistic.
And while we easily recognize the stomping on innocence cycle with Disney girls, there’s a masculine pressure to play the cool-guy sex object as well. “I want to take on more mature roles than High School Musical,” Zac Efron has been saying since 2007. I find High School Musical’s Troy Bolton far more mature, decent, and compelling to watch as a character than the playboy prick who’s quick to assert how much he hates musicals, tequila shot in one hand, nipple in the other – threesomes to ponder. Indeed, the plot of High School Musical centers on the cool athlete who likes to sing but conceals that interest in fear of seeming uncool. How human. How relatable. How universal. If only Zac Efron could get back in touch with earnest, dimensional characters like that. Then I’d not only see him as an adult actor, but I’d like him again and go to his movies.