“Lemonade Mouth” Lied to Us, Or: You’re Hypersensitized, Not Desensitized

By Jaime Ryan

If you’ve seen Lemonade Mouth, you’re probably between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two. You also probably know Lemonade Mouth is one of the best movies the Disney Channel ever put out. Superb music, talented cast, good script, a well used production design budget — this one hit the nail on the head. More than that, we love the spirit of Lemonade Mouth. The outcasts fight for equality with the cool crowd and stand up against the powers that be with music. Five spunky protagonists spit on jocks, sneak around basements, have shouting matches with their uptight principal, brawl in pizzerias (don’t let this disconcerting description stop you from watching Lemonade Mouth if you haven’t), and ultimately become superstar activists who save high school arts programs. Hallelujah.

Anybody else think it’s weird that Disney of all companies is promoting a stand against the status quo? Disney, the people monopolizing the entertainment industry, manipulating the government into exempting itself from copyright laws, robbing cultural and artistic artifacts of their original character and sanitizing it for mass consumption, etc.

Here’s the conspiracy, folks: you don’t go organize a rally at your school after you watch Lemonade Mouth because Disney had five spunky protagonists do it for you.

Watching a story unfold triggers an empathetic experience for our brains. We as viewers become invested in the narrative even if we don’t necessarily see ourselves or our experiences portrayed on screen. The act of taking on another character’s perspective visually tends to be enough to draw us close to that character’s emotions. However, seeing yourself on screen doesn’t hurt. In fact, relating directly to a character in a movie or TV episode heightens our already strong empathetic reaction. That’s why we see five bandmates with very different personalities in Lemonade Mouth a la The Breakfast Club — the more characters available for a viewer to latch onto via relatable traits, the more likely it is that the media will be enjoyed, therefore increasing sales. This empathetic reaction, because of its power over our conscious experience, gives us access to the world of our characters’ emotions: we’re lost, we start a journey, we’re scared, we’re brave, we find our path, and we live happily ever after in the course of an hour and a half. The key to this chain of events is, as the lovely endings that Disney and most mainstream media give us, the happily ever after. We’ve already psychologically experienced the satisfaction of triumph via these characters, and therefore we don’t need to see that realized in real life. By allowing us to live vicariously through the rebellious characters Disney concocts, young people are placated into inaction. No renovated performing arts centers for the real world.

This sentiment applies to a belief I’ve held about media for a while now that goes against what I often hear in conversations about the consequences of entertainment. I argue against the popular belief that TV and film desensitize people from violence, sex, etc. and therefore are more likely to try to fulfill those fictional things in real life. In actuality, evidence seems to point toward the opposite of this. People are so consumed by the virtual world and the experiences that media give us that we feel less and less of a need to realize those experiences in reality.

A great but X-rated example of this that has been recently popularized is research surrounding the effects of pornography on people’s emotional and physical health. Many people who report frequent use of pornography also report a decrease in sex drive. The same sample of people also report a decrease in arousal from sexual partners. It makes sense that a limbic system rewired into virtual reality will overtime stop responding to stimuli in other contexts. This goes for all other emotional responses: fear, pleasure, pain. If we’re getting it from our screens, we’re probably not getting it as potently from reality. Maybe after a while, not at all from our real lives.

Have you seen blood lately? I know you saw plenty on the last episode of Game of Thrones, but when was the last time you saw a major, or maybe even minor, injury in person? How did you respond to it?

A couple summers ago, I worked as a Dental Assistant. Not a bad summer job by any stretch, but definitely a bloody one. On my first day of training, we had a patient come in for an extraction. I saw things come out of their gum socket that I remember vividly. Beyond disgust, I felt something stronger and more concerning at the sight of this carnal procedure: offended. An uncanny rejection of what was right in front of me settled on my psyche, alarming me, this doesn’t belong here. I was so accustomed to getting my gore from behind glass that seeing it in real life was a shock to my system.

These conclusions raise many questions for me as I reflect on my own media consumption habits and those of my fellow TV fans who spend maybe a tad too much time on Netflix. Are we training ourselves into mental defenselessness? Into dissatisfaction with reality? The rise in clinical depression among young people suggests so. Is our entertainment replacing our joy of living? Are we becoming more satisfied with changes in a fictional character’s arc than seeing changes for the betterment of our world? Is a social media fast enough to reset our perception of the world, or will we eventually reach the point of no return where we are forever unprepared for our own lives?

I hope most of you don’t relate at all to this. I hope you’re a butcher or something, immersed in blood and guts every weekend. I’m jealous, really. You might appreciate life more than I do.