You think I'm exaggerating the impact but the view and follower counts don't lie. The story is on many huge accounts, some that have one, three and even five million followers. Then there are the endless I HATE ZAC tweets and memes with him blurred out of HSM pics and screenshots of that fictitious headline.
"T for Troy?"— Typical Girl (@SoDamnTrue) May 27, 2016
"Nope T for Traitor" pic.twitter.com/9j64KOt7fw
Side note: T for Traitor is actually quite clever and how did nobody think of that as a line for HSM2.
What's funny is, I actually started this essay a few days ago and had said "I wish he would leverage his social media position to address this." And then he posted a photo last night.
Which was good. Though I maintain that he really needed to say "Hey, you know what? This site saying 'Zac regrets HSM' lied. Find a quote of me saying that. I never said that. I appreciate the opportunities HSM brought me and loved my time doing it."
He needs an actual correction because for one, this is different than normal b.s. gossip. People view this as a personal attack because they love HSM, they grew up with HSM. That's worse than just him doing something dumb. Secondly, he's already fighting a losing battle but without setting the record straight, all he's getting is:
not @ zac efron's fake ass BASHING his involvement in a series that created him, then pretending he's HSM's biggest fan after the backlash— Anthony Quintal (@LOHANTHONY) May 28, 2016
But as incredibly frustrating as a fan (and as a logical person) as all this bullshit is, I wanted to examine the issue of what Zac says and doesn't say and how we relate to it, because I think it has many facets and this goes further than just the headline a site made up that spread like wildfire.
It's been a long time since I've re-read many of Zac's older features. My mind was always such a steel trap for Zac details but, you know, I'm getting old (sob). And frankly, he's getting old. It's been seven years, seven, since the last massive HSM-induced bullshit PR cycle — Nylon Guys, November 2009. Do y'all remember that? The pull quotes were massively deceiving.
One is actually the second quote that nefarious site uses, though they, to absolutely no one's shock, claim the quote is from March 2016. Because that is how lazy they are. They couldn't even source a quote to properly slander Zac. Perpetuating the cycle of bullshit.
But in order to address the current HSM bullshit whacked out carousel we're spinning out of control on, I felt I kind of had to go back to the beginning and re-read. And in doing so, I started laying out some of the fundamental problems of the tense relationship between fandom with Zac (or really any celebrity).
Many of the most basic problems come from reading comprehension. And really this has more to do with any topic, not just fandom. Like I've been shocked by the people who fell for the most click baity of shit. Like that "article" by The Cut.
There are several issues in that article, unrelated quotes and out of context quotes among them. And it is wrong of readers not to do their due diligence and figure out if this secondary source is abusing its primary source. Hint: YES, it is abusing it.
The Cut author does not help their case when they include very unrelated "evidence"… like how does Zac being a "firm believer in not eating chemicals" have anything to do with the author's assertion that Zac is "full of blind, indiscriminate rage"? Like hooray you have another bullet point but what teh fuck? And god help us all that someone wants to attack life (which isn't even bad on its own but even tamer when you look at the context from Elle, May 2016… where he means by being active and doing a triathlon), and that same someone had a zen moment with sharks.
So, seriously, take all that garbage out and you are left with two quotes that make total sense in the context of the article and the audience.
Firstly, the one about his strength:
Efron sips his drink and grimaces a little. This is something to tolerate, not enjoy. And the payoff is a body that, he says, feels as good as it ever has. “Right now I’m probably the physically strongest I’ve ever felt,” he says. “Not in terms of bench press or how much I can squat, but in how quickly I could get out of this room and destroy everything in my path.” He looks around the room—at the parents with kids, the willowy young women and men eating in sunglasses to disguise their hangovers—and laughs. Maybe this isn’t the boldest pronouncement he’s ever made.
“If the zombie apocalypse happened right now,” he says, “I’d definitely be able to defend myself.”
His laugh especially makes it just so Zac.
In Men's Health from May 2012 he actually says something similar to that strength quote:
Efron was lifting weights he'd never been able to lift before. "You get this strange sense of power as those weights increase," Efron says. "By the end of the movie I didn't recognize myself.
I don't know, for a guy who wants to be a ninja and shit, none of this sounds that crazy. Or 'roidy' as the haters love to fling around like monkeys playing in their own shit.
Secondly, the one about hating himself (also used by Nova), with a little more surrounding text:
And yet, Efron is nowhere near ready to declare this transformation [to respected] complete. “I step back and look at myself and I still want to kick that guy’s ass sometimes,” Efron says of his former self. “Like, fuck that guy. He’s done some kind of cool things with some cool people—he did that one thing [Neighbors] that was funny—but, I mean, he’s still just that fucking kid from [High School Musical].”
We know he's said these types of things for quite awhile. The hating himself thing, we know he's basically said this to Seth Rogen (and probably a lot of other dudes). And he said this:
Blackbook, September 2014
Around the time CStC came out, I was confused. I wasn't here for the money; I didn't need any more of it. I wasn't here for fame; I wasn't enjoying it. I was here for art. As a man watching Zac Efron, I don't necessarily like me yet. So how can I like Zac Efron? Maybe, if that guy shook things up, did what I didn't expect him to do, if he wasn't afraid to be a dick, if he wasn't afraid to fall on his face, if he hung around long enough and did the grunt work, one day I might respect him.
None of this self-disparagement has anything to do with how he views HSM intrinsically. It has to do with him wanting to accomplish so much, to want to try new things, to be of value (to quote Teddy Sanders), to be the best, to earn a place among the people he admires. There is nothing wrong with this. On a related note, he's also talked, though mostly in video interviews, about kind of coming to hate himself as promo goes on, having to talk so much about himself.
This kind of talk also has a lot to do with his audience… adult male gym rats (or not-gym-rats in the case of Seth). This is exactly the situation where people had issues with things he said in Nylon Guys (and also GQ and even Rolling Stone). Audiences full of people, mostly guys, determined to hate Zac. These are exactly the people who think of him as "that fucking kid from [High School Musical]." And Zac is very aware of his audience and he is going to say what he needs to say to try to relate to them and get them on his team. That aside, most of what he says is even totally understandable.
Rolling Stone, August 2007:
"If I had to hear the High School Musical songs anymore," he confesses, "I probably would have jumped off something very tall."
GQ, March 2009:
You get the feeling he knows he should be saying this, to the men's magazine. That he knows a career built almost exclusively on the squealing ardor of preteen girls, on choreographed dance numbers set to expository pop tuneage so perkily inoffensive it makes early 'NSync sound like Howlin' Wolf, is something a man has to live down before you can, y'know, call him a man. He seems like he wants to pass a test.
Nylon Guys, November 2009, the other Nova quote, in fuller context:
I ask Efron whether he was surprised by the extent of the brand extension and merchandising undertaken by Disney for the films, "I try not to look at all of it," he says. "You can't enjoy it or celebrate it; it's not a real thing. The face on the lunchbox and shit — you can't share that with your friends."
Funny how clear when the context and date are added that it becomes irrelevant to Nova's headline inference. But why worry about the details when you are
You take enough stuff said out of context and you can make anyone say anything you want (see Barack Obama singing Hotline Bling… though for the record I don't think I've ever heard Zac utter Seahawks, so I can't string that together with "I love the…" but thank god I have photoshop to help me out there).
Anyway, how convenient that all these sites and tweeters and aggregators spreading a hot story ignore that not only has he not said he regrets HSM, he's said dozens of times that he is grateful for HSM, a few of which are here.
Nylon Guys, ibid.:
Efron's break — the thing that has made him one of the most famous people on the planet and ensured his image is on lunchboxes and almost every other accountrement imaginable across the world — was, of course, High School Musical…. The thing is, they're actually not that bad at all. They have their place, and that is front and center in the most wholesome possible vision of the American Dream… "Put your mind to it," they're saying, "and you can achieve anything."
"That was how I felt, and I wanted to share that with the world: You don't have to live inside the box," Efron says. "Growing up and hearing that and believing that is the reason I got here. That's what High School Musical is about. And man, you should see the faces on the kids. It's priceless, and I don't look down on, or think badly about, those films. I have no regrets at all. I'm extremely proud of those movies, and will be forever."
THR, May 2014:
"I'm grateful for every bit of that early success [from HSM], it was hands down the most honest, carefree and passionate experience of my life."
Glamour UK, June 2014
"Some [of his previous films] were better films than others, but was the continuous work ever an attempt to put distance between himself and HSM? "No, never. I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for HSM. I love every fan. And to this day, I sign more HSM stuff than anything else. Would I do another? Absolutely." and "Getting HSM was a dream come true."
And even just recently… cheating a little using a non-magazine source here but… at the roundtable for Neighbors 2 (post Men's Fitness interview, ftr):
[HSM] was an enormously fun whirlwind. It set the stage for having an open mind and being free. Kenny Ortega was a brilliant mentor.
For me, at that age, “High School Musical” represented love and being free to express who you are, regardless of what people think, and whether in music, art or something people consider to be nerdy or not cool, who gives a f***? Just be you. And that was very exciting. And we did it through song and dance. So, I look back on those days and cherish them. I remember that time as an enormous fun whirlwind. It set the stage for having an open mind and being free.
Ok, so aside from just bad journalism and poor research, we need to address some personal issues here and how fans interact with celebs, and I don't mean like @ing them on Twitter, I mean like on a fundamental level. I hit on it a little above, saying that most of what Zac says, is totally understandable. I understand why Zac would be fucking tired of hearing HSM songs. I understand why he wants to do new things and be respected and not just be the musical kid.
At the end of the day, The Cut author wants Zac to stay a baby faced musical theater boy or maybe she wants the romantic drama guy. Not totally sure, but it's clear she has her own idea and agenda for what Zac should be. We all project (e.g. again Seahawk!Zef), that is understandable. And we all like Zac in specific ways and doing specific things.
I've had my fair share of like wtf moments with Zac and him really surprising me and what I had thought of him. Ranging from silly stuff (all denim outfits, not putting his shopping cart away properly) to more serious (smoking). Some stuff pleasantly surprises me too, like I'm over the moon when he shows up with good outdoor gear, lol. Most of our differences I come to understand in the context of his strange, unrelatable and somewhat isolated existence. Also I just get, he is not me, nor is he someone I actually know.
But it almost never has to do with career choices or understanding that he'd rather not do anything related to High School Musical or another movie like The Lucky One. Probably because he's never been shy about wanting to challenge himself and to do good work with good people. And, re-reading all his features, he's been surprisingly consistent in this philosophy, among others, no matter what the audience or how aware he is of who he's talking to.
GQ, March 2009:
I never halfass anything. And every time I do, it always comes back to haunt me. Whatever I'm focused on is what I will succeed at. When I was in school, I told myself I'd get good grades, and I got great grades. And when I started doing this—you learn. You can't help but recognize what the people that are better than you do. Every film is a challenge. You have to acquire new skills. You have to put your ass out there. And that's what I wanna do next.
Guardian UK, November 2009:
But Efron says he wasn't consciously choosing a break–out role. "I didn't think of it in those terms at any point. Like any actor, anywhere in the world, I was looking for something that's at once transitional and a new challenge, and something different that would be surprising to myself but also to my audience. Something that would be a bit more mature. It kind of spoke to me. I didn't really think of it in terms of a move."
"A lot of people ask: 'Will you play a psycho to really change your image and prove you can act?' But that's not what I'm about. I don't want to prove that I'm … I'm not trying to ... Ah, I can see... " He pauses, weighs up what he's saying, tries it out for spin and misinterpretation. "I just want to make great films and be good in them. And I think that my perception of what's great in a film is constantly evolving. It's growing up, so I'll want to try different things. But I'm not going to do anything for the sake of changing my image. It's just not that important to me. I think that will come with time. I think you earn respect."
Men's Health, May 2012
There's something about me that's always search for the more challenging route, and the actors that I really admire are always picking things out of their comfort zones, trying to stretch to see where they can go. It just seems like the road less traveled.
And it's clear it ain't about the money (money money) or the fame. Looking at his career thus far, it's fairly easy to see how for a long time he was taking the option closest to his goals… challenging himself, working with good directors, working with good actors and working towards the type of characters he wants to play. Admittedly I would say there are more instances recently where the roles he's taken aren't a challenge. But still in those cases you can see he does for a specific part of the opportunity, as in Dirty Grandpa where he clearly did it to work with De Niro.
He's made his personal preferences on movies and actors he likes very clear many times. And I think it is also clear from the projects he's trying to set up at NRW what he wants to be doing. Unfortunately for him, 9 out of 10 times the story still isn't up to what he deserves, whether it is an NRW project or otherwise. But he's making progress. We see that with every movie that comes out, he wins more people over.
The final comment is let's not forget that Zac's experience of a project is very different than ours. This is why, for him the end product of Dirty Grandpa matters less than that opportunity to work with De Niro. But it's also why he doesn't obsessively memorize facts about HSM or 17 Again or whatever else the way we do. This strikes me as nothing unusual because Gillian Anderson (one my always and forever stanning subjects and one half of my Original OTP Mulder and Scully) can't remember a damn thing about the X-Files. If her life depended on it, she probably couldn't remember 99% of what went on (e.g. nsfw) and then she gets delightfully confused about what was on screen vs just on set (e.g. also nsfw). But to a lot of neophytes, Zac not knowing the title of "Breaking Free" was a really big deal. But I don't know why. He probably knows the song as "the talent show song [that I didn't really sing]" or "the song we did on stage where I moonwalked [but didn't really sing f.u. Disney]". He gets the weeks and weeks of making and then weeks of promo and we get the distilled two-hour product and soundtrack to memorize. That whole experience was his memory not the song, not the lines, not the title. It's just totally different. So idk, cut him some slack? Imagine life from his shoes.
And that's the basic point of this whole thing. We should understand that Zac Efron is a human being. He is not, however much he looks like it, a life sized Ken doll. Zac wants things out of life and they aren't going to match up with your things or my things or his parents things. But that's okay. He's not a bad dude and we've established he doesn't hate HSM. He deserves support and respect and kindness.
He's not perfect, no. Far from it. But I admire his dedication and commitment. He gives 110% even when what he's doing is so ridiculous as an angry dance on a golf course or the macarena mostly-naked. I admire the self-awareness and seeing how people's close-mindedness is as a challenge to overcome not a defeat. I admire that he wants to learn about the world around him and travel to new places. I admire that there is a kindness in him that hasn't been crushed, despite the worst that Hollywood has done to him and the worst he has done to himself. And I hope he can hold on to all of those things while finding his things.