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.

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Just a short one this week, as I haven’t had a lot of time for reading. L

Rabbit White ponders the things she learnt about her own sexuality from the men at Mr. International Rubber:

“It is being put in a sexual situation when you are non-sexual. It’s being introduced to a new world all at once. But it’s not long before I feel comfortable here, basking in male sexuality that is totally not directed at me. I think I finally getting the draw to being a ‘fag hag’or ‘fairy princess’. I get to gawk and join in the lust without fear of being pulled in or anxiety of protecting myself. In the view from here, human sexuality is a celebration and male sexuality is valid and uniquely cool.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve read advice columns where girls write in, worried about their smell or unable to enjoy sex because they are self conscious. Perhaps it’s because girls are taught to please everyone else, putting themselves last, but there just seems to be something in female sexuality that is uncomfortable with receiving pleasure. Look at all the women’s mags, obsessed with ‘how to please a man’.

“But maybe the ‘pig’ concept could lessen fears around receiving pleasure. What if your partner liked you sweaty, smelly, just the way you are right now? And just wanted more and more and more of that.”

Sady Doyle, of Tiger Beatdown (lots of feminist goodness from them this week) discusses “The Fantasy of Girl World”:

“The fantasy of girl world often feels like the feminist imagination taken to its most self-indulgent, hypocritical extremes. We stand for tolerance and egalitarianism, whereas the people who disagree with us are IGNORANT WIFE-BEATING MONSTERS. Women, if left on their own, would eliminate war, poverty, heartbreak and pets that are not cats. But, here’s a question for you: Why shouldn’t it look like this? What’s wrong with a wish-fulfilment fantasy that tells women they could do well with power and without oppression? What’s wrong with girls geeking out over the idea that they’re special?”

Glee’s Rocky Horror episode failed to touch-a, touch-a, touch-a, touch Garland Grey at Tiger Beatdown:

“Early on in the episode Mike volunteers to play Dr. Frank-N-Furter, but a few scenes later he says his parents won’t allow him to play a ‘tranny’. Mercedes takes the role, delivering a show stopping version of ‘Sweet Transvestite’, but the word ‘transsexual’ is replaced by ‘sensational’. For Glee, transpeople are punch lines, not anyone the show needs to fucking think about. While doing Rocky Horror Picture Show, a musical whose entire message is about accepting people’s sexuality and gender.

“Can we just cut out losses and rename this show Chord Overstreet in Tiny Gold Shorts? Clearly, he is fanservice and I don’t even care… However, as much as I appreciated seeing his abs, I didn’t care for the oddly-specific diet regimen he blurts out before showing them or the comically small weights Artie was holding. Artie’s a paraplegic, pushing himself everywhere in his wheelchair, lifting himself in and out of it dozens of times a day, and THAT is the biggest weight he’s lifting? That weight is a clear signal to the audience that Artie doesn’t belong in the locker room and is only there to provide comic relief…”

The four types of Facebook friends, according to Susan Orlean.

The Pervocracy on the “Slut, Deconstructed”:

“I’m 25. I lost my virginity at 15. So 26 partners is only two or three a year. It’s hardly going home with a new guy every night. To break it down further, 6 of those partners were serious romantic relationships, and you can’t call a girl slutty for sleeping with her own boyfriend, right? So now it’s 20 casual partners over 10 years—a raging, wild, man-eating two per year. I’m so cock-crazy I need it every six months, baby…

“Oh, and a woman in ‘my god, you can see her everything’ clothing dancing on tables and flirting with every guy in the bar might be a virgin for all you know about her.”

It’s the wrong time of year here, but there’s not many things I love more than trawling through the gossip magazines in summer, style-stalking the celebrities in Aspen and New York, longing for cool weather again to break out the beanies, woollen cardigans and shearling coats (okay, wrong continent for shearling!).

On the (Rest of the) Net.

Indeed, “What Is the Difference Between Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan?”

Again, in the wake of Sheen’s “drug-alcohol-and-woman abusing” bender, Girl with a Satchel asks if men’s mags focussing on UFC and, alternatively, retro Mad Men style sensibilities is a result of the “soggy” men’s mag market trying to inject some much needed zest:

“In the current socio-cultural context, where women assert more power and influence, the ‘reality’ may be why more men are turning into Don Draper lookalikes and turning to UFC. It doesn’t take Two & a Half Men to work [sic] out that in magazines, men need escapism, inspiration and style tips, too. The appeal of men’s magazines is to service wants, needs and desires; I just wonder what men really aspire to.”

Tiger Beatdown’s response to Beyonce’s “Why Don’t You Love Me?” video is, in a word, hilarious (more on it to come next week):

“A blog post, we hear, should be short, and timely, and probably pegged to some manner of news item. This ensures that it can be part of the blog conversation on the Interwebs. Where immediate response is king! And that, of course, is why we write 3,000 to 5,000 word posts about long-running TV shows, and movies we rented from iTunes, and also, albums that came out when we were twelve.

“However, sometimes it only takes us weeks to respond to something! For example, a music video, of the sort that the kids enjoy today. A music video like this one!”

Joan Holloway’s Mad cartoon curves are poured into a Little Miss book.

In other Mad Men-related news, The Washington Post writes in defence of the show’s alleged sexism:

Mad Men’s writers are not sexist. The time period was.”

Feminist Themes on Lady Gaga and Beauty.

Slate asks “How Long Has the ‘Dumb Blonde’ Meme Been Around?”:

“The poet Propertius, for example, wrote: ‘All beauty is best as nature made it… In hell below may many an ill befall that girl who stupidly dyes her hair with a false colour!’ So while he didn’t connect blondeness with idiocy exactly, he implied that wish to be blondes, and contrive to be blondes using artificial means, don’t have much going on.

“As for why the dumb-blonde idea resonatesone idea is that it’s basically Propertius’ logic at work. It’s a fairly well-known fact that few adults are naturally blond[e], and that many apparent blondes actually die their hair. If you die your hair, you must be superficial or vapid, Q.E.D. There’s also a theory, outlined in The Encyclopedia of Hair, that blondeness connotes youth, since children are far more likely than adults to have naturally blond[e] hair. Blondeness, then, seems innocent but also naïve.”

Steve Pavlina discusses which aspects of your life are worthy of your attention, and which aren’t.

Organisational Post-It porn at MamaMia.

From The Awl, “How to Lose [Facebook] ‘Friends’” and alienate people:

“Christopher Sibona… explains the top reasons fro defrienestration: updating too frequently about boring things, posting about controversial subjects like politics or religion, and writing racist or sexist stuff. It’s a lot like life, although in life these people are actually friends and not some random body count you’ve assembled through networking or total availability.”

Godammit, I’m Mad profiles “Bloggers With Influence”, and has some particularly scathing words to say about Gala Darling. Ouch.

Along the same lines, The Feminist Breeder says not to “assume that more ‘fans’ or ‘followers’ means they’ll all be adoring. The truth is, the more people who read you, the more bullshit you’re going to have to put up with…”

In the wake of those controversial GQ photos and last week’s Rocky Horror episode, Glee is questioned as to whether it has a “Body Image Problem” or not.

As Halloween is swallowed back into the underworld for another year, Gawker has some All Hallows Eve etiquette tips on how to tell if your costume is racist:

“… When the entirety of your costume is ‘I am a person of a different race, LOL,’ that qualifies as a racist costume.”

But is it racist if, like, you’re of Native American descent? (FYI, I actually am.) Paris Hilton, take note.

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

 

Who would’ve thought that an episode of Glee centring around The Rocky Horror Picture Show could be a catalyst for discussing male body image?

Not me, but that seems to be the underlying message in this week’s episode.

When Mr. Schuester announces to the glee club that they will be performing Rocky Horror after Emma tells him she went to see it with her new beau Carl, Rachel is quick to announce that she and Finn will be playing Janet and Brad. Finn is all for this until he realised he’ll have to perform much of the show in his “tighty-whiteys”. Santana and Brittany comment on this, saying they can’t wait to see Finn’s “hot mess” of a body as a result of eating sloppy joes for lunch everyday, in comparison to Sam’s rippling abs accompanied by gold hot pants in his role as Rocky. (If Cory Monteith had put on weight to give Finn an actual “hot mess” of a body, it might’ve lent his storyline more credibility.)

Finn voices his concerns to Rachel who, in her usual selfish ways, tells him that she doesn’t look like Brittany or Santana, but she’s still stripping down to her underwear, and she loves his body just the way it is.

In the locker-room, Finn broaches the subject again with Sam and Artie. As Sam is donning hot pants, he obviously doesn’t have many body image issues (until later in the episode, when Schuester suggests he play another character as the role is too risqué for a high schooler, which Sam misinterprets as him being too fat to pull off his costume), however Artie blames porn for warping females’ perceptions of male bodies:

“I personally blame the internet. Once internet porn was invented, girls could watch without having to make that embarrassing trip to the video store. Internet porn altered the female brain chemistry, making them more like men, and thus, more concerned with our bodies.”

Sounds an awful lot like Naomi Wolf’s argument about porn and its affect on the male brain chemistry, making them more concern with the female body and what it can do for them.

Elsewhere, at the beginning of the episode when the kids are choosing their roles, everyone thinks it would be fitting to have Kurt play Frank N. Furter, to which Kurt replies:

“There’s no way I’m playing a transvestite in high heels and fishnet wearing lipstick,”

as apparently being the only gay man in the club means automatically defaulting to play the tranny. This is particularly poignant, as there is still a lot of misunderstanding in the mainstream about gay, bi, trans etc. people and what exactly their gender roles entail.

Related: Is There Really a Beauty Myth?

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

The Underlying Message in Glee’s “Grilled Cheesus” Episode.

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

Elsewhere: [MamaMia] Male Models: Inside Their Straaaange World.

[Jezebel] Glee: Sexy & Scary In All The Wrong Ways.

[Boob Tube] Glee in Pictures: Rocky Horror Glee Show.