TV: The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Makeover” Episode.

With the U.S. presidential election taking place one day before Glee’s “Makeover” episode—in which McKinley High’s class presidential election occurred—aired in Australia, Glee showed that it is capable of some self-awareness and social commentary every now and then.

Shades of Brittany’s bid for last year’s class presidency can be seen, but where that episode dealt more with the feminism of both the 2008 and McKinley’s elections, last night was about the celebrity culture that surrounds voting.

Blaine tries to make this clear when he admonishes Brittany for using her popularity to influence the glee club members to vote for her. “This isn’t a popularity contest; it’s about who’s got the best ideas.” That may be so, but the creators saw fit to milk this angle for all it’s worth with a “Celebrity Skin” by Hole montage.

While Brittany chooses to run with “part-robot” Artie, whom she forgot she dated several seasons ago and broke up with because he called her stupid, as her vice presidential candidate, a category which Sue Sylvester points out has been introduced “for no discernible reason whatsoever”, she suggests Blaine pick Sam as running mate. Sam assures Blaine he’ll bring in the “sympathy” and “not-gay vote[s]” because his family is on food stamps and he’s not gay: kind of like John McCain picked his “granddaughter” (according to Brittany) Sarah Palin as vice presidential candidate in 2008 to seemingly ensure the “female” vote to no avail.

Brittany’s influence on her opposition seemed to work to her disadvantage, as at the end of the episode we see Blaine and Sam (“Blam” as they are collectively called on the congratulations banner) celebrating their victory. Blaine is experiencing some self-doubt and displacement at McKinley when Kurt is more focused on his new intern-career at Vogue.com with guest star Sarah Jessica Parker (who herself is heavily involved in politics and the campaign to get Obama reelected, serendipitously enough) than him, but Sam says being the school’s “first gay-guy president” whose place of birth is brought into question by Brittany is something to be proud of, just like Obama was America’s first black president whose birthplace was also called into question by a fellow “celebrity” perhaps bitter about Obama’s influence in Hollywood: Donald Trump.

Related: The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Asian F” Episode.

Image via AllMyVideos.

TV: The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Britney 2.0” Episode.

Did Glee really need to do another Britney Spears episode? As Artie pointed out, “we’ve scraped the bottom of that Britney barrel” but Britney’s made a comeback as judge on The X Factor broadcast on the same channel as Glee—Fox—so both shows are running with the Britney theme no matter how uninspiring she’s become.

Apparently New Directions “really came into your own during the last Britney week”, according to Mr. Shue, and what he says goes. Coincidentally, Brittany S. Pierce is undergoing a meltdown the same week the glee club resurrects her idol and namesake’s back catalogue. She’s feeling rejected by her long-distance lady love Santana, was kicked off the Cheerios and subsequently lost her high pony. Channeling Britney circa 2008, Brittany says if she can’t have her high pony then she doesn’t want any hair at all, and attempts to shave it off before attacking McKinley High’s resident paparazzo, Jacob Ben Israel, with an umbrella.

I appreciate the satire Glee is trying to undertake here, revealing that Brittany’s crisis—which culminates in Brittany getting busted for leading New Directions in a lip-syncing rendition of “Gimme More”, replete with Britney’s junk food of choice, orange soda and Cheetos—was her “intentionally hitting rock bottom… so I can make a comeback like Britney”, but they either push it too far bordering on racist, ableist, homophobic, sexist, inappropriate crap (case in point: resident Jesus-lover, Joe, singing Britney’s song about a threesome, “3”) or not far enough, as with last night’s episode as a whole.

Britney Spears’ tragic life is ripe for the picking—the recent revelation from former paparazzo turned Britney’s manager turned collaborator with Courtney Love on a musical about her and Kurt Cobain’s life together that Britney used to do crystal meth—so much so that Christie Whelan’s turn in Britney Spears: The Cabaret was the exemplar of how to do a Britney satire. Glee’s “Britney 2.0” was not.

Related: The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Britney/Brittany” Episode.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “The Spanish Teacher” Episode.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Yes/No” Episode.

Glee: The Right & Wrong of It.

Glee: T.G.Inappropriate.F.

“This is a Story About a Girl Named Britney… I Mean Lucky!” Britney Spears: The Cabaret Review.

Images via Ch131.com.

TV: The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Prom-asaurus” Episode.

 

Three episodes before the end of the season, the issue of Brittany’s class presidency is finally addressed, because she the show seems to have forgotten she was elected earlier in the season. Brittany addresses this herself, when she says she’s been a bit out of the loop this year, and “even stopped speaking” for a period.

In her first prom committee meeting, for which the board has sent Brittany ten prior memos, she fires the team and monopolises the choosing of the theme (she did like the unicorns featured in the diorama for the original Castle in the Sky theme): dinosaurs.

When explaining her choices to New Directions, she compares her presidency to the corrupt nature of the U.S. government, and is determined hers won’t turn out that way. She also imposes a ban on hair gel, sending Blaine into meltdown!

Last year, Kurt was humiliatingly crowned prom queen, a memory he still struggles with in this episode. It seems Glee has learned nothing from the tokenisation of gay people as somehow not being of the gender they identify as, as Brittany is nominated as prom king. Maybe it’s that undercut that had people confused…

Also troublingly, the show pitted the two “disabled” girls, Becky and Quinn, against each other. Becky was sure she’d get a nomination as prom queen, but when Quinn gets one in place of her, Coach Sylvester tells her there’s only room for one “sympathy vote”. Helen Mirren’s voice (shoutout to The Queen) makes another cameo as Becky’s inner monologue, adding to the “difference” between her and the other characters on the show. (That Quinn manages to walk at the prom after months of intense physical therapy widens this gap.)

Becky wonders why no one realises that not all prom queens “have to look the same; they can be different.”

And Glee tries to tie Becky’s concerns up nicely in a bow of equality with Puck crowning her “the anti-prom queen” and the boys of New Directions crooning One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful”.

Related: The Underlying Message in Glee’s “I Am Unicorn” Episode.

Glee Gets Down on Friday at the Prom.

Image via Gleerific News Stop.

TV: The (Belated) Underlying Message in Glee’s “Choke” Episode.

 

As someone who has witnessed her mother being choked by her father, using that action as a metaphor for intimate partner violence on Glee is sick.

Not only that, but in desperately trying and dismally failing to, for some reason, raise awareness of domestic violence (actually, I’ve decided I hate that phrase, so I’m taking to using the more all-encompassing “intimate partner violence”), Glee has gone back to its old ways by being especially misogynistic and racist.

The intimate partner violence storyline opens with Santana observing Coach Beiste’s black eye and remarking that “it looks like Mr. Beiste went all Chris Brown on Mrs. Beiste… [Did] Cooter put the smackdown on [her] ’cause [she] wouldn’t let him be on top?” Troublingly, women of colour Mercedes and Tina, and LGBTQ woman Brittany, all snicker. I wonder if the writers were aware (oh wait, this is Glee: of course they weren’t!) that African American women are 35% more likely to experience intimate partner violence than white women, 60% of Korean women have been beaten by their partners, and violence in same-sex relationships is gravely underreported and misunderstood.

Enter Cheerios co-coach and “black Sue”, Roz Washington, who overhears Santana’s bad taste musings. She tells the girls that “violence against women” and “men hitting women” is never okay, buying into the perception that women are the only victims in intimate partner violence. Granted, women are the overwhelming victims, but that’s not giving equal opportunity to non-heterosexual relationships (for shame, considering the abundance of LGBTQ characters on the show) and the fact that a woman can hit a man. Instead of insinuating that it’s intimate partner violence only that we should be concerned about, how about violence against women in general? Including rape.

Anyway, I’m sure the writers wanted Roz to mean well, but her racial and sexist slurs directed at Mercedes (“Lil Oprah”), Tina (“Asian Horror Story”), Sugar (“Rojo Caliente”) and Santana (“Salsa Caliente”) undermine this.

In a following scene, Sue coins the aforementioned nickname, “Black Sue”, for Roz, telling her that “ivory poachers could make a fortune selling your enormous white teeth on the black market”, and refers to Coach Beiste as John Goodman, perhaps insinuating that Beiste’s masculinity should have prevented her from being a victim. This way of thinking seems to be adopted by Santana, too, when she says she doesn’t think Coach Beiste actually got hit because she’s “a wall”. What if the roles were reversed and Beiste had hit Cooter, who is considerably smaller than Shannon?

The racial stereotyping continues when Roz admonishes the girls for their joke. As Autostraddle points out, Glee gave the “‘my aunt got beat up by her man’” monologue to the one black woman on the show,” claiming it took her five years to escape the relationship. It took my mum nigh on thirty to get out.

Shannon initially denies her husband hit her, but uses her experience to inspire the girls, who—up until this point— have never really had anything to do with the Coach, to sing a song about empowering women to leave abusive relationships. According to Sue,

“The American songbook is chock full of songs making light about men hitting women.”

Chris Brown, anyone?

Beiste is so moved by the girls’—who, again, she’s had nothing to do with up to now—apathetic show of indifference to intimate partner violence, that she confesses to them—jeopardising her reputation at the school (remember what happened the last time she got too close to McKinley students?)—that she was actually the victim of intimate partner violence, and that they effectively “saved her life”, because she forgot to do the dishes all weekend. Yes, perpetrators of intimate partner violence can be set off by the slightest thing, and we all know that beating the person you love isn’t the means of someone who’s mentally balanced, but dishes?! Glee, really?! If you’re going to make one of your characters, perhaps the most underutilised, exploited and maligned of them all, the victim of a serious issue like intimate partner violence that will never be addressed again, can you at least make it for a reason less trivial than dishes?!

Two realistic things to come out of the storyline, though: that Shannon stays with Cooter and gives him a second chance, and lies about it to Sue and the girls. And finally, that Beiste fears that if she leaves him, “no one else will ever love me”. Painfully sad, true to actual victims of intimate partner violence who are made to feel worthless and unlovable by their abuser, and ties in with a past storyline on the show!

Related: The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Never Been Kissed” Episode.

My Thoughts on Chris Brown.

Elsewhere: [Women of Colour Network] Domestic Violence Facts & Stats Collection.

[Autostraddle] Glee Recap: Choke-a-Joke.

Image via Putlocker.

TV: The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Yes/No” Episode.

 

Wow, where do I start? Last night’s episode of Glee focusing on Becky’s newfound interest in Artie and Mr. Shue asking Emma to marry him was one of the most offensive yet.

Let’s begin with Becky: I found it weird that Becky’s internal monologue was spoken in a British accent (Helen Mirren’s to be exact). She claims that it’s her head and she can sound however she wants, but how many “abled” characters have a different voice in their heads and make that justification for it? I though it was singling Becky out because of her disability.

She and Artie go on a date and, at first, Artie feels uncomfortable with it, but begins to get to know and like Becky. It came across as platonic on Artie’s end, but his fellow glee clubbers gave him the third degree about what kind of message he was giving Becky.

They urged him not to lead Becky on or give her the wrong idea, and Artie called them out on their hypocritical ways: “You guys talk a good game” about acceptance, but at the end of the day, they’re just as narrow minded as the rest of McKinley High, which pretty much sums up Glee. They think just because they’ve got black and Asian characters and characters in wheelchairs and with Down’s syndrome and characters who are gay they’re being “inclusive”, but really, they show is just using them as token gestures.

Take Kurt, for example: he hasn’t been the focus of many storylines of late, and the writers seem to just slot him in to the background. In the opening scene, Mercedes and Sam channel Sandy and Danny of Grease, while the rest of the glee club stand around imploring them to “tell me more, tell me more”. Kurt belongs to the girls’ group in this instance while his equally gay boyfriend, Blaine, is hanging with the boys on the bleachers. Furthermore, when Puck, Finn and Blaine act as backup singers to Artie, Will and Mike in their rendition of “Moves Like Jagger”, mashed up with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, Kurt is nowhere to be seen. Is it because he’s not sexy or masculine enough? Let’s remember that this isn’t the first time Glee has ostracised Kurt from the gender group he belongs to because of his sexuality. Didn’t Glee get the memo: gender and sexuality are not the same thing.

But back to Becky: when Artie takes into consideration what the rest of New Directions are trying to tell him, he asks Coach Sue, of all people, for advice.

It is revealed that Becky sent Artie a sexy photo and he feels weird about it. Sue asks if he felt the same when Brittany, no doubt, sent him similar pictures of herself. Artie replies no, but those were different circumstances. So even Artie, a man with disabilities himself, thinks someone with Down’s can’t be sexy. Hypocritical, much?

The other storyline driving this episode is Will and Emma’s relationship being taken to the next level in the form of marriage. Emma is so desperate for Will to propose that she fantasises about doing it herself. Funnily enough, Coach Beiste and Sue become her bridesmaids in the dream sequence, wearing Princess Eugenie and Beatrice’s royal wedding hats, respectively. They called Kate Middleton “Waity Katie” and I think that’s what the writers were playing into with Emma’s patient wait for Will to propose.

Will finally decides to propose and asks Finn to be his best man as apparently he has no grown up friends and because he thinks Finn has showed him what it means to be a good man. Pah!

Finn is the whiniest, most cowardly and simpering character on the show! He feels sorry for himself, has an unrealistic idea of what Rachel and women in general should be, is (or has been) embarrassed by Kurt’s sexuality and only stands up for those he loves after the fact. He also thinks that joining the army will fill the void that college football has left and make him more of a man.

To further illustrate Finn’s insecurity, he decides to ask Rachel to marry him because he’s got nothing else going for him!

I was also a bit disturbed by Sam’s inclusion in the synchronised swimming team, called the “Guppies” and lead by bronze Olympic medalist, Roz Washington, who is of African American descent. She also comments that Sam’s “trouty mouth” is one she’s never seen on a white kid. This, in addition to Becky’s dig at the possibility of dating Mike Chang (“I’m no rice queen”), makes “Yes/No” one of the worst episodes of Glee yet.

Related: Glee’s “Sexy” Review.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Duets” Episode.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” Episode.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Furt” Episode.

Image via The Dam Nation.

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 Underlying Message in Glee’s “Original Song” Episode.

Brown Eyed Girl.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Duets” Episode.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” Episode.

Glee: T.G.Inappropriate.F.

Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Slutty Stride.

Rachel Berry as Feminist.

Is Lea Michele Too Sexy?

In Defence of Rachel Berry.

Boys Will Be Boys, Revisited.

Glee Season 2 Final in Pictures.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Asian F” Episode.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “The First Time” Episode.

Glee: Santana is Forced Out of the Closet.

The (Belated) Underlying Message in Glee’s “Never Been Kissed” Episode.

Glee “Sexy” Review.

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: Glee—Santana is Forced Out of the Closet.

 

What was a fairly mediocre episode of Glee, trying to capitalise on the Republican Presidential nominee debate by staging a class presidential debate of McKinley’s own, seems to be leading into the second multi-episode story arc about bullying, homophobia and acceptance.

While Santana says some really horrible things to Finn about his physical appearance, he decides to out her, saying the only reason she’s so horrible to everyone else is because she hates herself for her sexual orientation.

I don’t think this is completely true (it’s high school in a small town; you do the math), but word eventually makes its way to a campaign video of one of Sue’s Congressional opponents and, thus, the whole of Lima. Finn poignantly says that yes, everyone knows, but no one cares.

Glee’s next episode is entitled “I Kissed a Girl”, so we can only imagine it’s going to deal with Santana’s lesbianism/bisexuality/non-straightness and perhaps her relationship with Brittany. I hope it handles it in a caring and understanding way. But then again, it is Glee

Related: The Underlying Message in Glee’s “The First Time” Episode.

Glee: T.G.Inappropriate.F.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Asian F” Episode.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “I Am Unicorn” Episode.

Glee Back in Full Force.

The (Belated) Underlying Message in Glee’s “Never Been Kissed” Episode.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Born This Way” Episode.

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Furt” Episode.

Image via VideoBB.