Jen Juneau
July 31, 2015 9:33 am

Happy Wet Hot American Summer day, gigglers! In honor of our beloved cult movie’s new Netflix series, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp dropping today, we’re running our favorite summer camp stories. 

I’m one of those kids who never went to summer camp. I did go to a drama day camp one summer, but never a traditional marshmallow-roasting, “Kumbaya”-singing camp, with bunks and spiders and whatnot. Whether it was because it was too expensive, there weren’t any good ones near enough to where I lived, or it just wasn’t a “thing” in my family. I was never that upset about it – I could always watch movies about summer camp instead and pretend to be there from the comfort of my living room, with a working toilet and a freezer full of Capri Suns just a few steps away. Best of both worlds, indeed.

Fortunately, there were a lot of summer-camp-focused movies for me to choose from in my adolescence, because summer camp seemed to be a pretty cool thing in the mid-’90s. Even Mariah Carey got on board with the romanticism of summer camp as she swung on a tire swing throughout her music video for “Always Be My Baby” in 1995. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first song I slow-danced with a boy to. I’m 99 percent sure it was extremely awkward and 99.5 percent sure I was wearing a denim vest. How I remember that, I cannot tell you.

My favorite summer-camp movie was probably Camp Nowhere. In case you aren’t familiar with it, it’s about four friends—two cool ones, two not-so-cool ones—who end up blackmailing an Ernest P. Worrell type (played by the always likable Christopher Lloyd) into running a secret alternative summer camp with no rules so they don’t have to go to their respective parents’ camp choices for the summer. For our protagonist, Mud (yeah, IDK), this means computer camp. (Except I would’ve loved to go to computer camp and play Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego? all day. Is it just me? OK.)

Aside from its less-than-realistic premise, Camp Nowhere did teach me some pretty cool things about growing up, while simultaneously allowing me to stare at the Teen Beat-worthy face of Andrew Keegan for an hour and a half. Here are a few.

The people who matter (including yourself) know you’re beautiful

One of the main characters of the movie, Gaby, has parents who want to send her to “fat camp.” Yeah, not cool, parents! Body acceptance, much? Teenagers are already going through enough. And while her parents do want what’s best for their daughter, Gaby rebels and sees the new alternative camp as something she’s going to do for herself, parents be damned. She gains her own sense of confidence, and falls in love in the process with someone who sees her as the beautiful girl she is. Self-acceptance for the win.

Living in the moment is so important.

Summer is a time to relax, reflect, and give up your worries. When school’s out of the equation, the biggest challenges are which cereal to eat and which cartoons to watch on Saturday mornings. For three months. As adults, we don’t get that luxury.

There’s a Camp Nowhere scene where all the kids at the new camp realize they’re free—at least for the time being— and they jump in the lake, roughhouse, etc. with “Party at Ground Zero” by the ska band Fishbone playing in the background. This simple scene reminds me that life is short, and even as an adult we should take time to jump in a lake now and then. The paperwork can wait— most of the time.

Getting to know people different than you broadens your perspective

The main characters in Camp Nowhere have really different personalities. Gaby and Mud (whose real name is actually Morris, which begs the question, “Why?”) are typical nice kids who do well in school, while Zack and Trish are the popular, somewhat rebellious kids. But by the end of the movie, the four of them have a mutual respect for one another, and each is a little more well-rounded because of the summer experience they shared as a team and the vulnerability it took to do so. It’s so much easier to put up walls, especially as a teenager, and these kids taught me that maybe I don’t need to all the time.

Getting out of your comfort zone is the only way you’re going to grow

Speaking of growing (which is necessary), play-it-safers Mud and Gaby take risks by going to this camp and having the time of their lives, even sharing a kiss at the end of the movie. *swoon* The lesson here is that doing things outside your comfort zone is the only way you’re going to grow as a person—and that includes making mistakes along the way. Some things are worth being grounded for—because when you’re old and telling the story, you won’t remember the grounded part, but you will remember the kiss.

 Related:
The time I accidentally instigated a summer camp prank war
Swapping camp stories with Hailey Sole—the real-life teen from ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’

[Image courtesy Hollywood Pictures]

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