Alluding to conversation isn’t starting it

Buried among other straightforward have-faith-in-yourself, we-can-all-be-friends type of messages embedded in ‘Bring it On,’ is a story about the way opportunity is correlated with race and economic stability.

On its surface, it’s about a cheerleader named Campbell who is forced to transfer schools after her neighborhood is redistricted. It is later revealed that this is orchestrated by the show’s antagonist, Eva, who has her mom, a member of the school board, redraw the district lines so that Campbell no longer attends the school and Eva can be the Head Cheerleader, essentially gerrymandering for cheerleading advantage as opposed to political advantage.

When Eva discovers that her new, racially diverse inner-city school doesn’t have a cheerleading squad, she forms her own to compete against her old white suburban school, to get revenge on Eva, and to fulfill her cheerleading dreams. What’s key is that beneath the competitive spirit in the foreground are tensions between the schools’ racial, economic and opportunity differences.

The play ultimately resolves the conflict when Campbell’s team loses and is forced to reconcile by proclaiming that the true victory lies in friendship and working together. But those underlying tensions, while clearly not solvable throughout the course of a single cheerleading competition, are never addressed adequately at the conclusion of ‘Bring it On.’

After her school loses the competition, Campbell is awarded an honor for “first place for everything that matters,” implying friendship and perseverance, which overshadows the injustice of the situation and suppresses any indication that these underlying factors at play– race, economic status, neighborhood– really do matter.

The musical also sets up a problematic white savior complex where minorities can only succeed through the aid of a benevolent white person, which is the role that Campbell plays in changing the norms of her new school and starting a competitive cheerleading team.

While the show does address these factors, the lack of conclusiveness and true excavation of the issues can’t possibly create the true and thoughtful conversation that it is said to bring.

Ultimately, this isn’t worthy of a self congratulatory pat on the back for raising awareness and “starting conversations” about opportunity afforded by race and economic stability– a characteristic New Trier response evident in seminar day and the response to the racist graffiti.

Because of their relevance to this community, these messages are the most poignant and as a result are deserving of more self-aware discussion than is permitted by its positioning as the underlying context.

They warrant more consummate analysis within our school that can’t be addressed in one-and-done instances where we pat our backs for surface level acknowledgment. Alluding to a conversation isn’t the same as starting it.