I want to like Glee. I really do. But I am having some serious problems with it. I am having so many problems that I took a full page of notes while watching “Showmance.” The last time I took notes while watching television was during the debates, when I was taking notes so that I could write a coherent analysis later. Taking notes during recreational television viewing feels very alien to me, but it was definitely necessary here.
I was really hoping that the problematic material in Glee would get addressed after the pilot, since several months went by in which some of it could be dealt with. But right there in the opening sequence we had a classic othering, with the white and minority characters being neatly split into two groups: here are our white, conventionally attractive leads talking with the teacher (another white lead), and here are the minorities shuffling offscreen now that they’ve had their moment in the sun and they’re done. They’re just the backup. The sidekicks.
It all went downhill from there.
I am having a really tough time with the treatment of minorities on this show, and with the pushing of really hateful stereotypes. Let’s start with Terri, Will’s wife. She’s portrayed as pushy, greedy, demanding, and now, “crazy.” I had an inkling in the pilot that she would end up having a hysterical pregnancy, and that’s exactly what happened (how convenient, so that when Will leaves her for Emma, we will be able to sympathize with Will instead of hating him for leaving his wife). The scene where they are looking at the house they cannot afford and she’s pushing for the costly extras? Yeah, that was classy. Like, yes, let’s make his wife totally greedy and unable to think ahead into the future, moneywise, and let’s make sure that viewers will hate her so that they will be ok with Will straying from her. And, of course, it was an affirmation of the stereotype that it’s the women in relationships who want to settle down by buying a house, and that women are, of course, clueless about money, so they will push to buy a house which is too big and too expensive.
Emma’s irritating me too. I don’t like that they’re making obsessive compulsive disorder something laughable and grossly exaggerated with her. I don’t like that they’re acting as though an untreated psychiatric condition is fine, and kind of quirky and cutesy, instead of what it is, which is a serious untreated psychological condition. And, of course, I am not a fan of the “pathetic older woman teacher lusting after the married man” thing.
Especially because we also have Rachel as Emma’s counterpart: hypercontrolling, viewed as quirky and a little off by everyone, also lusting after a partnered man. Because, folks, we all know that ladies lust after men in committed relationships, that men never lust after women in relationships, and that women will of course stop at nothing to get what they want. Oh, and also, the only relationships which exist? They are straight ones. You might think you’ve heard of things like homosexuality, but you aren’t going to see them on Glee, although they might occasionally be talked about.
Speaking of homos, let’s talk about Sue, the cheerleading coach. She’s clearly supposed to be lesbian, although I assume we will never meet her partner because she’s not a young, hot, sexually titillating lesbian, therefore there’s no reason for viewers to need to imagine her having sex. She’s also a feminist, of sorts, and the show seems to be going for the “feminazi” stereotype, full bore, no apologies. It’s fucking disgusting.
Speaking of fucking disgusting, I’m also infuriated that the show is demeaning janitorial work and manual labor. We are supposed to see Will’s work as a janitor as a mighty fall. We are supposed to go “ew, he’s a JANITOR!” This is the work, of course, which he is taking on to satisfy his demanding wife, which is supposed to make it doubly demeaning: not only is he working as a janitor, but he’s also totally whipped by his wife.
Also really disliking the catty cheerleader stereotype in the form of Quinn. Every time I see her on screen, I think “really, you had to go there?” And how awful was it when she ungendered Rachel while she was complaining about “it” touching her boyfriend? That could have been a great moment, for me, except that I was so infuriated with Glee at that point that it just felt like nasty stereotypical cattiness with no actual introspection or examination.
And, of course, the abstinence club makes me squirm. I happen to be a fan of comprehensive sex education, but I think that if high school students want to belong to abstinence clubs, more power to them. [Edited to add: I do not think comprehensive sex education and abstinence clubs are mutually exclusive. In fact, I think they can dovetail well: children should receive comprehensive sex ed, but if they decide to opt for abstinence, there should be a supportive environment for them, including the chance to talk with other people who have made that choice. Abstinence is a tough choice, and it’s easier to commit to it when you have supportive friends to lean on.] Why do we need to make abstinence something laughable and pathetic? Why is abstinence/virginity always treated in this way in the media discourse? It’s totally bizarre, seeing as how television pushes sex on us while society tells us we shouldn’t be having it unless we are married, straight, and making a baby. Sort of makes my head spin.
Let’s talk about minorities. Like the fact that all of the leads on this show are white. That the only love interests are white. Like the Indian principal with his American flag stationary, which, you know, again, unbelievably classy to caricature the very real fears which many Middle Easterners and Southeast Asians experienced in the United States in 2001. Those people bought American flags and pins and stickers and stationery because they were afraid for their lives and they wanted to affirm their existence as Americans, because they were being persecuted by white Americans. Seeing that turned into a joking matter? Not very funny, actually.
And why is it that the black character needs to be a fat girl with sass? Being fat, of course, she poses zero threat to the white lady characters, whereas a thin black girl could be an “exotic” love interest. And why does she need to be a totally caricatured and stereotyped black girl? Why does the Asian girl need to be a silent token? Why does the character in the wheelchair keep getting pushed around the stage like a fucking prop?!?!?! Why oh why could they not have consulted a SINGLE wheelchair user or disability rights activist to talk about how to characterize him?
In short, Glee had better clean up its act. I like the concept, but I am not impressed with where the show is going. At all.
Oh, wait, one more thing: stop with the @#$*(!@#$&@(ing autotune already!!!!! Seriously!!!!!! My notes have “AUTOTUNE! GACK!! WHY?!?!?!” written in huge letters in multiple places.