This article has been written by Capucine Barcellona and Sam Volante
Camp Rock is one of those Disney Channel movies everyone remembers as having “been their childhood”. The catchy songs, relatable plot, and chemistry onscreen make it a heartwarming celebration of friendship & music. Let’s not forget the setting – who wouldn’t want to spend the summer on a beautiful campsite full of talented, passionate people? But beyond the tender moments and the feeling of being part of something, Camp Rock sends out important messages for people of all ages. Whether it’s being yourself, putting authenticity over commercialism, or avoiding petty fights, Camp Rock deals with it all. It has a great positive influence on young viewers – it’s much more than a simple feel-good movie. Two of us, Sam and Capu, are going to share what Camp Rock has meant to us growing up and how its main themes matter in real life.
This sounds extremely cliché, but the most important lesson Camp Rock taught me as a shy 10 year-old was to just be myself. Entering middle school, popularity contests and trying to be part of the “cool” group seemed as important as ever. I definitely saw myself in Mitchie, who was prepared to do anything to be part of Tess’ friend group. She spent the summer lying to everyone, humming in the background and taking orders from someone she didn’t like just to get the reward of popularity in return. She could have had a great time with people like Caitlyn, really bonded with Peggy and Ella, or focused her energy on getting to know as many of the campers as possible. Instead she confined herself to an exclusive and toxic “friend” group that didn’t make her happy.
As I grew older I saw the issues of toxic friendships and exclusive cliques pop up more and more in my life. I can’t say Camp Rock helped me deal with that as a high schooler, but the message it sends out to young people about staying true to yourself is so so important. Changing to fit in is just going to make you unhappy. “Popularity” is a meaningless concept – after all, no one even liked Tess because of how mean she was – so you might as well spend time with the people you genuinely enjoy being around. When Peggy and Ella finally break away from Tess, they’re brave enough to admit that they deserve more in their friendships. When Peggy embraces herself and emerges as the unexpected star of the Final Jam you can’t help but feel proud. Just like that, Camp Rock teaches you the importance of taking a step back from toxic relationships. It reminds you that standing up for yourself against friends is completely valid – something I wish I’d kept in mind in my high school years.
Another important takeaway from Camp Rock is that bullies are often just dealing with their own issues in an unhealthy way. Tess’ difficult relationship with her mom, as well as her jealousy over Mitchie’s talent and relationship with Shane, proves she’s not a typical brainless “mean girl”. She’s plagued with insecurity and personal challenges that she won’t open up to anyone about. Tess isn’t a great person, but her constant need for validation emerges from being neglected at home and wanting to feel appreciated. She’s using unhealthy coping mechanisms to cover up her issues. By the end of the movie you almost feel bad for Tess; like other bullies, she’s suffered a lot herself and feels like there’s something missing inside. Camp Rock reminds kids, who themselves might be victims of bullying, that even the worst perpetrators are also human. But it doesn’t justify Tess’ actions (just as real-life bullying should never be justified) – it simply explains them. In the final scenes Tess manages to rise above her difficult home life and cope in a more positive way. Kids who see themselves in her get the message that, with some help, they could also start dealing with their own sadness without hurting others.
Camp Rock is one of the few Disney movies where most characters are flawed in some way. That’s probably what hit me the hardest when I first watched it. The Camp Rock characters are all far from perfect, making them more realistic than the average Disney movie. Shane is sent to Camp because he’s losing touch with the “real world”; he has trust issues, doesn’t let people in easily… He generally isn’t the perfect guy most campers picture him as. Peggy and Ella are genuinely good people but choose popularity over valuable relationships. Tess is beautiful and talented; inside she’s a good person, but copes with her personal issues by hurting everyone around her. Mitchie lies to get ahead and be accepted. She doesn’t stand up for herself or her friends against Tess; she keeps lying to Shane even after he confesses his fear of being used; she takes many wrong turns in her relationships with other campers. You rarely see a protagonist so flawed. Regardless, you end up rooting for all these characters and liking them despite their imperfections. Instead of seeing idealized, unrealistic people you realize each has their own story. They all have problems to deal with. They all can be mean or selfish or weak. But although they all make mistakes, they find each other in the end; they manage to stay friends after becoming better people at Camp. If that doesn’t send a message of hope & acceptance in the face of imperfection – of unapologetically being yourself and your life being better for it – I don’t know what other Disney movie does.
Growing up in an area full of fairly wealthy families, I seriously identified with Mitchie. I didn’t have nearly as much money as them at the time, and as a child, if you had asked me about it, I would have told you it wasn’t a concern of mine. In fact, I didn’t even consciously think of it very often. However, when you’re young and impressionable and you’re the only kid at primary school who doesn’t have 5 ‘American Dolls’ and doesn’t go to Barbados every half term, it can be difficult to relate to everyone else and you can feel a quite isolated. In fact, I sometimes used to pretend to have watched Disney Channel episodes so I didn’t embarrass myself in front of the other kids when they talked about it, even though I didn’t have it because it was quite expensive. Similarly, Mitchie is surrounded by people who have a lot of money in the film, and she worries that she won’t fit in or that the other kids will make fun of her or consider her inferior for not being wealthy like them. These concerns lead her to lie about herself and her identity because she thinks it will get her accepted among the other kids.
Although we learn that in the end, Mitchie pretending to be rich when really she wasn’t was the wrong decision because everyone found out that she lied to her friends at Camp, we also discover something about the financial gap between kids and how they could respond to it. When Mitchie’s friends abandoned her, they didn’t refuse to spend time with her because she wasn’t wealthy like them – they were angry at her because she didn’t tell the truth, and didn’t trust them with the knowledge of her life. This can teach young kids that they shouldn’t be scared if they have less money than the people around them, because it probably won’t be a problem – but lying is usually a mistake, because when people find out, it can make you feel more isolated than you already feel by the financial gap that is between you and your peers. When I was a child, this concept definitely eased my worries about not being able to talk about the things the other kids in my school could talk about, or play with the things they played with, even if it was subconscious and I didn’t even realise at the time; kids don’t really pay attention to how you have less money than them unless you pay attention to that yourself.
In Camp Rock, like most Hollywood films, there is a clear enemy for the main character. For Mitchie, this is the ‘popular girl’, Tess. Although Mitchie and Tess tell everyone they’re friends and try to act like they are, they often find themselves getting caught up in petty disputes over reputation or a boy. At the end of the film, though, Mitchie and Tess make up and decide that they’re better when they’re friends. The fact that they can overcome their arguing helps young people to see that pitting girls/women against each other, fall outs over romantic interests and even internalised misogyny can be overcome for people in the real world, too – Mitchie and Tess realise that they no longer have to conform to the toxic stereotype of teenage girls caught in cat fights, and come together despite their differences in opinions, backgrounds, experience and rivalries. Similarly, young girls in school and celebrities alike are constantly forced into situations where it is clear they are being pitted against each other, or are in some sort of competition; here, Camp Rock can teach us that women can overcome this idea that they have to be petty and compete for reputation or a love interest, and elevate each other as fellow women instead of bringing each other down.
There’s something else we can learn about women from Camp Rock, especially when it comes to relationships. In the second film, a female character called Dana is constantly encouraged by a male character called Nate to indulge him – a character she barely knows. Nate is one of the famous band members who attend the Camp, making him appear cool, rich and desirable to the majority of his peers. Despite this, Dana insists that she won’t let him in just because he’s rich, famous and popular – she has to get to know him first. In response, he performs the song he wrote himself ‘Introducing Me’ (which, with no regrets, I still know all of the words to), well… introducing himself, which lets Dana know that really, he’s just like a normal person, with strange likes, weird comments and witty lines. In consequence, Nate learns that he has to show a part of himself in order for Dana to do the same, and has a good time doing it. Dana’s attitude presents a good message – whether they’re rich and famous or not, some men act like a woman owes him her time, interest or anything else purely because they are men. Dana can prove to women that she can say no, and you never have to indulge a man in his pushy and self-entitled advances if you don’t want to. On top of this, Nate being surprisingly ordinary in his quirkiness also indicates that celebrities are people, too; they’re human beings with thoughts and feelings and likes and opinions, like ordinary people, and they should be treated like they’re anyone other normal person, not like they’re above everyone else, or alternatively that they deserve to be exposed to unnecessary hatred and hurt any more than anyone else.
Finally, Camp Rock 2 has a very inspiring and accurate message to take away that can be applied to many situations in life. Camp Rock, a humble and authentic Camp full of kids who love music and the other kids at Camp compete with a rival camp, Camp Star, a massive, commercial place of a very different style to Camp Rock for kids who also love music. In this, the commercial Camp Star win the competition for best song performance. At first, this is shocking for people who watch the film… after all, isn’t the heartfelt, original group supposed to win as opposed to the rude, mainstream, doing-it-for-the-fame one? Upon thinking about it again, though, we can all realise that often, commercialism will win against more humble or friendly approaches. This does sound cheesy, but as long as you like what you’re doing, it doesn’t matter who gets more votes on an app or public approval. This is something Camp Rock can teach young kids and people of any age really who maybe don’t have the public’s support or conventionality on their side.