Let’s talk about Glee, which for the moment is almost everyone’s darling show.
I hate Glee. I watched the screening of the second episode at Outfest 2009, when it was not on anyone’s radar yet, and I thought it was moderately offensive but extraordinarily campy and funny. So, I decided to watch the new season on Fox. Unfortunately, the episodes got progressively more problematic, and by episode 7, Throwdown, I decided I was done.
That episode really made me detest Glee. But normally, I’d just accept that it was a problematic show glumly, like much of television, and move on with my life. The problem was that my friends wouldn’t let me move on. Many of my friends adored the show unequivocally, many of my other friends saw problems with it but treated it as their ultimate guilty pleasure. Many of my online friends had a total obsession with the show, to the exclusion and abandonment of other fandoms. As a result, I still managed to learn most of the drama going on Glee even after I stopped watching. I couldn’t understand the fervor. Why? WHY?!
Glee has the fingerprints of a white gay cis-gendered able-bodied male’s privileges all over it. It gets a pass from many critics because it does “all” the stereotypes, contains offensive material for “everyone” in a surface way, and features an incredibly diverse cast. Underneath though, the gay storyline with Kurt is treated delicately, and the campiness of the show screams HOMO, but everything else? Trashes minorities like it’s going out of style. And I can’t get with that.
First, the whiteness. Who are the main characters on the show? Mr. Scheuster, of course, Emma Pillsbury, his romantic love interest, definitely Sue Sylvester, Rachel Berry, Finn, Quinn. Could it be that they’re all white? Why yes, yes it very well could be.
Now, there are Mercedes and Tina, clearly second fiddles to Rachel Berry. There’s Santana, sidekick of Quinn. There’s Matt and Mike who are both POCs and can barely be called sidekicks, more like cardboard cutouts to fill out the football portion of the Glee club. The principal of the school. There are quite a few people of color on the show, which is more than you can say for many other shows, but none of them are main characters. They all just don’t have the chutzpah to share a star with white people, apparently.
Most US shows don’t feature main characters of color. But Glee has been hailed as progressive by a large number of blogs and news publications, including Feministing, ABC, etc. (can’t find the links to any of the specific articles, sorry, but you can Google “Glee” + name of publication to get a sense of the gushing praise) And the way Glee treats people of color in its episodes? Really doesn’t cut it as progressive. You know, the first season of Grey’s Anatomy featured a similarly diverse cast with Sandra Oh as a main character of color, ish, maybe the main sidekick, but no one ever mentioned that Grey’s Anatomy was incredibly diverse, maybe because no one pretended that show was supposed to be progressive.
Second, the gayness. We have Kurt Hummel. He had a really good coming out episode. He then proceeds to get a storyline involving difficulties with his father, who seems to love Finn as a son far more than he ever did Kurt. This spans some number of episodes and culminates with Kurt’s father proving that he’s still a father by beating down Finn for using the word ‘faggot’ to his son. What a tender story. What about everyone else’s?
And yes, Kurt is also the only explicitly queer character on the show – Santana and Brittany have had implied sex, and Sue Sylvester, well – but no other “token” character gets the amount of background and the kind of treatment he does.
Third, cis-genderedness. When Kurt has his coming out episode, his dad utters the line, “I knew you were gay ever since I saw you walking in your mother’s high heels at age 3.” or something approximate. There’s also the ridiculous Beyonce song Kurt sings all the time, prancing around like a faerie. Now, this show is all about campy stereotypes. And of course not all transwomen wear heels starting from age 3 and sing Beyonce, actually I don’t know any, but. First conclusion upon seeing son wear women’s clothes is gay and not trans implies ignorance. Let’s not forget that in such a diverse cast that prides itself on being such a diverse cast, there’s no transgendered character at all.
Fourth, able-bodied. Case in point: Artie as a token character. It’s hard to wage a tirade against Glee sometimes, because they do have several good points, especially compared to other TV shows. For example, they actually thought of a disabled character with a personality. But they hired an able-bodied one to play him. “It’s hard to say no to someone that talented,” they said. I’ve heard that countless times. It doesn’t endear me to you. I also heard that in a future episode after I stopped watching Mr. Scheuster has everyone get into wheelchairs for a day because then they can experience what it’s like to be disabled. Because a single day in the life of a minority gives you a real understanding of what it’s like to be a minority.
Fifth, maleness. Who’s a good female character on the show? Has some outstanding positive qualities and some less visible negative ones. Let’s see. Sue Sylvester is a queen bitch if there ever was one, so is Quinn, Terry is a bitch AND dumb, Rachel Berry is disgustingly self-absorbed and arrogant. Santana is also a bitch, Brittany may literally be dumber than a rock, neither have much of a personality beyond that. Tina has been faking her stutter and has no spine. Mercedes and Emma Pillsbury are pretty solid. That’s uh, 2/9. When I first started watching this show, I remember thinking, “OMG, aren’t there ANY female characters that are fleshed out and likeable?”
By contrast, Mr. Scheuster was definitely created to be the amicable foil to Sue Sylvester, though I hate him. Kurt and Artie are also supposed to be likeable. Puck tries to be a good person too.And Finn, though he may only be brighter than Brittany, is just an incredibly earnest All-American guy. Matt and Mike are barely there, but they’re perfectly bearable. So that’s, 7/7.
There is something wrong with this picture, seriously. At first I thought maybe I wasn’t getting it, that there was some underlying message the creators were trying to get out through that woeful trap known as comedy that I didn’t have “enough” humor to understand.
Then I saw the 7th episode, Throwdown. It features the students of color breaking away and singing in a different group in competition against the white students, who have too much screen time. Meta? Internal reference to the lack of main characters of color? Maybe! But evidently not.
Because the concluding line in the episode was offensive post-racial thinking in a nutshell. All of a sudden the students are united by Mr. Scheuster cheerfully saying, (paraphrased) “You’re all minorities! For example, you can’t tell your left hand from your right, you can’t tie your shoe…” And then they all laugh and hug and resolve their differences.
Fuck you, Mr. Scheuster.