Event/TV: Glee—The Right & Wrong of It.

In lieu of a new episode of Glee last week, I attended a debate about the pros and cons of McKinley High and its glee club.

I was super excited, because I assumed the debate would entail a for Glee side, and an against. And it did. But while I thought the against side, consisting of Clem Bastow and Jess McGuire, would discuss the blatant sexism, racism, homo/transphobia, ableism, fatism and the many other phobias and -isms the show incorporates (feel free to add them in the comments), both panelists ultimately praised Glee for it’s inclusiveness and handling of the tough issues.

I’ve heard this rationalisation about Glee before. When my tuba-playing gay friend finally got into the show this season and fell hard for it, he thought I would sing its praises with him because he knew I watched it. (Evidently, he does not read this blog as he would know the main reason I like Glee is because I know I’ll always get a blog post out of it!) When I invited him to the debate, he had something else on but wondered what they would be debating, exactly. I referred to the list of problems I have with it (above and elaborated on below) and he replied, “But I thought Glee was about acceptance.” That’s what it wants you to think, and it blinds you to all the other issues with Katy Perry songs. As panelist for the “pro-Glee” side, Mel Campbell, said, “It’s best not to ask questions.”

While McGuire did touch on Glee’s pro-gay stance, and perhaps its best, and most underutilised, storyline of Brittany and Santana’s forbidden love, I was expecting SlutWalk Melbourne organiser and noted feminist Bastow to knock Glee out of the park for its anti-women portrayals. I was also sorely disappointed, as Bastow, a keen musical aficionado, chose to focus on the shows’ butchering of classic musical numbers.

So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to write about the issues I wished the panel had discussed last Thursday night.

Sexism.

I’ve written about feminism in Glee before, specifically as it’s embodied in the character of Rachel Berry. It annoys me to no end that Rachel is deemed “ugly” (though Lea Michele is anything but) because she’s annoying. And she’s annoying because she eschews traditional gender roles that are perhaps embodied by Quinn by being ambitious, voicing her opinions and unapologetically going after what she wants.

In a clip shown at the debate of the inaugural Glee mash-up in which Mr. Shuester separates the girls from the boys, Kurt attempts to join the girls’ side. Since when did being a gay man amount to the equivalent of a straight female?

Finally, I wouldn’t say sexism is the main problem in Mercedes’ perpetual (okay, she seems to have a boyfriend this season, but more on that later) bachelorettehood, rather some other issues I will address later in the piece.

Racism.

Now is as good a time as any to discuss Mercedes’ aforementioned singleness. Was she literally the only character in season two who didn’t have a significant other because she’s black? (Or because she’s fat?) Sure, she dated Sam for all of a few minutes in the season two final, but before that the only action she got was Kurt condescendingly suggesting she should date one of the guys on the football team because he was black and, like, they’d probably have heaps in common.

If that’s not enough proof of Glee’s insensitivity to race, all you need to do it look at any one episode for a myriad of references to Tina and Mike’s “Asianness”, Roy Flanagan’s “Irishness” (or leprechaunnes, as Brittany might refer to it) and Puck and Rachel’s “Jewishness” (though that also falls under religious prejudice as well).

Homophobia & Transphobia.

Sure, Glee’s pretty much a vehicle for Kurt and, increasingly, Blaine, to showcase their voices, fashion sense and flamboyance. McGuire chose to speak at length about how sensitively the show handled Kurt coming out to his dad and Kurt and Blaine’s first time, and I have to agree with her. And yes, seeing two men make gay love (okay, the implication of them making gay love) on primetime network television without a stink being kicked up is pretty groundbreaking, as panelist for Glee and MC, Tim Hunter, noted. But they still single out Kurt for his gayness (“Single Ladies [Put a Ring on It]” and “Le Jazz Hot!”, anyone?), not to mention how Finn went about outing Santana in “Mash Off”.

They’ve handled the Brittany/Santana thing the best out of every relationship in the show, so that’s one point for lesbianism, but at the expense of other sexual orientations and gender identities, perhaps?

Just look at “The Rocky Horror Glee Show”, for example. Not only to Mike’s parents make him pull out because they don’t want him associated with a “tranny” musical, but the show even substitutes the lyrics “I’m just a sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania” for “sensational Transylvania”. Pardon me, but I don’t see what all the fuss is about in using the word “transsexual”.

Finally, we can’t forget Coach Beiste. When she debuted on the show, her sexuality and gender was thrown up in the air, when she’s really just an unconventionally attractive, masculine straight woman who happens to coach a men’s football team. But of course attention is drawn to her 40-year-old virgin status every time there’s a virginity-themed episode. Because, you know, she’s old and funny-looking and has never been on a date! Riotous!

Ableism.

Where do I start? There’s Emma’s OCD, which is made fun of by everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Holly Holiday to her own parents (not to mention Will trying to come to her rescue by attempting to “cure” her). Artie’s wheelchair-bound way of life, which was even pointed out during the debate, only for the panelists to laugh at Artie wanting to give Blaine a standing ovation, “because he can’t”, and a whole episode, “Wheels”, insensitively dedicated to his disability.

I will applaud the show for their inclusion of, and remarkable sensitivity to, Down’s syndrome sufferers. But then they go and use undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome as an excuse for anti-social and selfish behaviour. Cutting off their nose to spite their face…

Fatism.

Puck’s rendition of “Fat Bottomed Girls” was a clip played at the talk, and was received by audible groans. To see Lauren so uncomfortable as Puck serenaded her was awkward for the audience, and the patronisation was palpable. Like, oh Glee has a plus-sized girl who doesn’t hate herself and is being chased by the hottest guy in school; we’ve come so far.

But when Mercedes is relegated to backing vocals in favour of the slim lined Rachel, can’t get a date and suffers from an alleged eating disorder which is swept under the rug with some sage advice and a granola bar from Quinn, it’s all just tokenism.

So there you have it: the debating of the issues I wished had’ve been brought up by the panel. As my friend, housemate and fellow debate-goer put it: “It was just like Glee: it slightly touched on the issues, but ultimately didn’t add anything new to the discourse.” So feel free to add anything I, or the panel, didn’t cover in the comments.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Original Song” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Brown Eyed Girl.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Duets” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Glee: T.G.Inappropriate.F.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Slutty Stride.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Rachel Berry as Feminist.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Is Lea Michele Too Sexy?

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] In Defence of Rachel Berry.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Boys Will be Boys, Revisited.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Glee Season 2 Final in Pictures.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Asian F” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “The First Time” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Glee: Santana is Forced Out of the Closet.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The (Belated) Underlying Message in Glee’s “Never Been Kissed” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Glee “Sexy” Review.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Glee Back in Full Force.

Elsewhere: [Bitch Magazine] The Transcontinental Disability Choir: Glee-ful Appropriation.

[Xhibit P] Fat Girls Singing Backup: Body Images in Glee.

[TV.com] Is It Okay to Find Glee’s Plus-Sized Character, Lauren Zizes, Gross?

[Jezebel] Why Won’t Glee Give Mercedes a Boyfriend?

Image via Meg. All Things Me.

TV: Gwyneth Paltrow Addresses Tabloid Culture & Her Haters.

Normally—bar her inaugural appearance as Holly Holiday on Glee—I can’t stand Gwyneth Paltrow, but on last night’s Glee, she made some valid points.

When addressing the glee club’s hecklers, she admits that “we live in a culture that bombards us with images of these people who are richer than us, and happier than us and have more interesting sex than us”. Perhaps she could have factored in a Goop reference, instead of talking inappropriately about sex to 15-year-olds? Like, “… People who drink more free range, organic goats milk chai lattes with fair trade cinnamon than us.” Or, “… People who own more $53 fly swatters than us.”

She takes aim particularly at the “internet haters”, which take the form of Becky, as an Entertainment Weekly chat-room member, Azimio, as a NCIS blogger, and Jacob, as a Tweeter who helped take down Mubarak.

Jacob says, “The internet has allowed us to be brutally cruel without suffering any consequences”, to which Gwyneth responds with a knowing smile.

As Jezebel notes,

“Online commenters definitely mock celebrities because they’re totally jealous, not because stars often say condescending things that are simultaneously obnoxious and rife for parody.”

[Jezebel] Gwyneth Addresses the Internet Haters on Glee.

[New York Magazine] Reasons to Love New York 2010: Because We Love Gwyneth Just the Way She Is.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Big Issue Review, 1–14 March, 2011.

TV: Glee “Sexy” Review.

Never before have I been so offended by Glee. They’ve gone wrong a lot in the past season and a half: “Duets”, where everyone but the token gay Kurt got to sing with a partner; Mercedes’ eating disorder cured by Quinn giving her a granola bar; and the Justin Bieber episode in general, which I actually liked, but several of my friends voiced their concern over it. But this episode was so ignorant in addressing the theme of sex amongst the New Directions members that it made me want to hurl.

Firstly, Gwyneth Paltrow’s return as Holly Holiday was unnecessary, but obviously they’re going to milk the character for all she’s worth. She was derogatory, snarky and just plain annoying; worlds away from her first appearance on the show.

Holly insults guidance counselor Emma for still being a virgin four months after her marriage to Carl the dentist, when clearly the girl has intimacy and bodily fluids issues, amongst many others. Plus, she’s still in love with Will Shuester, which Holly takes pleasure in rubbing in her face by hooking up with him.

She heads up the celibacy club, which she makes a mockery of, even more so than Santana’s recent membership.

When Emma leads Carl, Puck, Quinn and Rachel in a rendition of “Afternoon Delight”, Holly Gleefully points out that an afternoon delight is a romp in the PM, not a dessert as Emma thinks it is.

She leads the kids in a leather-clad performance of “Do You Wanna Touch Me”, which completely undermines Mr. Shue’s previous efforts to protect the kids from singing songs by such risqué artists as Britney Spears. But, you know, this is Glee, where the storyline takes a back seat to big names and bigger songs.

But the most offensive part of the show was Holly and Will massacring one of my favourite Prince songs, “Kiss”.

The only redeeming quality of the episode was Santana’s heartfelt, yet obviously tormented, declaration of love for Brittany, who turned her down in favour of Artie.

 

 

 

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Blame it on the Alcohol” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] How to Make a Woman Fall in Love With You, Glee Style.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Glee “Silly Love Songs” Review.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Furt” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The (Belated) Underlying Message in Glee’s “Never Been Kissed” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Duets” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Grilled Cheesus” Episode.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Britney/Brittany” Episode.

Images via YouTube.