Event: The Golden Age of Television.

I thought a panel about how great American television is was a bit of a misnomer for the Wheeler Centre’s “America” week. I mean, has anyone seen Here Comes Honey Boo Boo or any of the Real Housewives series?

But once the panel, consisting of pop culture expert Jess McGuire, television reviewer Debi Enker and producer Amanda Higgs and emceed by the director of the Wheeler Centre, Michael Williams, got started on their favourite American feats of TV, I warmed to the notion.

I mean, don’t get me wrong: American TV is the type I consume the most. I usually only watch Aussie shows in case I can get some blog or freelance fodder, and British television? Fugedaboutit! But the shows the panel named as their top idiot box must-sees are some real high-brow shit, most of which I’ve never seen an episode of in my life. Think Mad Men, The Soprano’s, The Wire, Six Feet Under. I like my TV a bit fluffier.

Having said that, though, the panellists got me thinking about my favourite shows. While they struggled to whittle down their favourite to just five, I realised I can only count two faultless series: Grey’s Anatomy and Law & Order: SVU. Most of the other shows I watch (Glee, for example) infuriate me to no end with their racist, sexist, classist, ableist and homophobic undertones. Grey’s and SVU don’t always have happy endings, at least, and aren’t afraid to push the boundaries, get rid of popular characters if it strengthens the story (or they cause trouble on set, like Isaiah Washington, or can’t settle their pay disputes, as with Chris Meloni’s departure), and portray really real characters.

I love the way Grey’s has unlikeable characters who still get as much screen time and storylines as the title character, and their personality quirks are those that people in real life actually have. For example, April’s uptight, shrill virgin character bordered on stereotype, but at the same time everyone else’s obsession with her sexless existence is what you would expect from unenlightened real people. Alternatively, you have Cristina, who always looks out for number one and refuses to discuss the possibility of having children with her husband. Ordinarily that would make for a hateful character, but Sandra Oh portrays the nuances of Cristina perfectly. The medical storylines always have a synergy with the doctors’ personal ones, and while it sometimes gets a bit after-school special-y when Miranda has to give a “long speech” or a patient makes a doctor realise something, I don’t think it never not works. Except for that whole Gizzie/Izzie sees dead people thing…

In terms of Special Victims Unit, though, you’d think watching a weekly police procedural about sexual assault for fourteen seasons would be morbid but, for me, I find it one of the most enjoyable shows to sit through. I love how the beginning of an episode is set up so that the audience thinks it’s going to be about one crime but, oftentimes, there can be two or three criminal storylines by the time the forty minutes is up. While it’s almost always about the crime first, character storylines second, you never lose sight of Munch’s conspiracy theorist paranoia, Elliot’s (when he was still in it. Sob!) fiery temper and Olivia’s feminist heroics. And they have some top notch guest stars portraying the lowest of the low and the creepiest of the creepy. Some memorable performances include Cynthia Nixon as a fake sufferer of multiple personality disorder, John Ritter as a distraught husband who attacks his pregnant wife when he finds out the baby might not be his, and Chloe Sevigny as a bored housewife who cries rape.

Both shows deal with things like disability, sexual politics and mental illness in a sensitive and true way which they have to be commended for.

In terms of what television does wrong, though, the discussion turned to Aussie networks. We seem to have a penchant for “flogging” successful shows to death, as both McGuire and Higgs noted. The success of Underbelly meant copious amount of spin-offs with links so tenuous to the original premise that they might as well be standalone shows. And using the success of an overseas import, like Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, Two & a Half Men and, earlier, Friends, to flog the show to death in double-episode reruns is another hallmark of Aussie networks.

There was also talk of our modern viewing habits. While Vanity Fair may have declared movies usurped by television in a recent issue, which served as the jumping off point for the panel, not a lot of people sit down at the same time each week to watch their shows ritualistically. McGuire admitted to watching “box sets” illegal downloads and streams of her favourite shows, because Australia still has a ways to go when it comes to airing shows consistently and on par with American air dates. I liked it last year when Ten aired Glee the same week it premiered in the U.S., however with events like Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Superbowl interrupting the schedule north of the equator, this means that repeats and “returning in two weeks” promos take the place of consistency Down Under. And don’t even get me started on the treatment of SVU: new episode followed by repeat followed by months of nothing followed by new episode without promotion so most loyal viewers miss it. No wonder there’s an epidemic of illegal interwebs watching: the networks are just so unreliable.

So while it may be the “golden age” of television, it seems to be edging closer to a golden age of twenty-to-forty (or fifty for HBO productions) minute feats of film to be watched on the laptop or iPad, not so much the silver screen.

Related: Glee: The Right & Wrong of It.

What’s Eating April Kempner?

The Underlying Message in Grey’s Anatomy‘s “Superfreak” Episode. 

Cristina Yang as Feminist.

Grey’s Anatomy Final Asks “When Does Life Begin?”

On the (Rest of the) Net.

 

The Dolly model search is back and seeking 13-year-old girls for their looks. Oh, and, like, a great personality and stuff. [MamaMia]

We need more men like THIS, who speak out about the blatant turning of blind eyes to violent and entitled footballers. [MamaMia]

Gloria Steinem urges voters to re-elect Obama, as he’s the only candidate who really cares about actual women’s rights. [Jezebel]

Rick Santorum used to work for the WWE?! Yikes! [Mother Jones]

Bristol Palin writes about President Obama and Sandra Fluke. I hate to say this about a Palin, but she makes a good point… [Bristol’s Blog]

Forced pre-abortion transvaginal ultrasounds, from a doctor’s perspective. [Jezebel, via Whatever]

Following on from last week’s article by Gala Darling on feminism and high heels, Jenna Sauers voices her own concerns on our sartorial choices dictating our political stances. [Jezebel]

On lady writers profiling “tall, brooding famous men with lots of money” for men’s magazines. [Gawker]

Jess McGuire on Jackie O’s Sunday Life profile. [The Vine]

The beauty politics of Snog, Marry, Avoid. [MamaMia]

What it’s like to be an executioner. [MamaMia]

Image via Perth Now.

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.