Glee: Hairography

I made the probably unwise decision of watching Glee first thing in the morning today. And happened to mention on Twitter (sorry, merideth, I swear it’s relevant!) that I thought it wasn’t possible to be any more infuriated by Glee, and I was wrong. And was promptly told that I am entirely too sensitive and why can’t I just settle down and enjoy the nice fun television show?

Well, I’ll tell you why I can’t settle down. Because Glee is filled with fail.

Four things really stuck out in this episode for me, and I’m going to bulletpoint them for your convenience:

  • Making fun of “weird” Black names
  • The handling of Kurt
  • The epilepsy jokes
  • The Deaf choir

Let’s take these one at a time. The Black name thing was a quick throwaway right at the beginning of the show, so Glee pretty much led with pissing me off this week. We’re introduced to a Black teen in the “school for bad girls” named Aphasia. Ha ha, those Black people pick the weirdest names for their kids! Let’s all chortle together, shall we? (And don’t even get me started on the framing of the school for juvenile offenders, I am trying to  keep this review short.)

The handling of Kurt. Kurt, as we know, is in love with Finn. Which makes him GAY! GAY GAY GAY! GAY! So, how does Kurt deal with this? He tries to sabotage Rachel, who is also in love with Finn. This came complete with a scene in which it is made clear to viewers that Kurt is manipulative and mean and…just like a girl, basically. Yes, folks, it’s true: Being GAY! makes you exactly like a girl. The stereotypical trope award of the episode goes to Kurt, guest starring as Catty Bitch.

The epilepsy jokes. Now here’s the part where people tell me I’m being “oversensitive.” Another throwaway moment; someone uses the word “spazzing” to describe the sort of movements which should be made in the hairography number, and then goes on to say “It’s like cool epilepsy.” What the forks?! And, you know, I get it, this is the character who is supposed to be “dumb” and maybe we are supposed to laugh because “she said something not ok,” but here’s the thing, people use “spazzing” all the time and they also make fun of epilepsy. This isn’t some sort of cleverly embedded commentary on how ableist language is used in our society, it’s just…icky.

Finally, the Deaf choir. Now, I have seen numerous quotes from people (able people, mostly) about how Inspiring this number was. Look at them, singing “Imagine” together. People actually said that they bawled during this scene.

I had the opposite reaction. But maybe not for the reason you think.

Here’s the thing. I saw the Deaf choir start to perform, and I thought “gee, it’s funny how when you are Deaf, you cannot move while singing/performing.” But, you know, whatever, this show is so faily at this point that I just sort of swallowed it. Especially because I was also thinking “ooh, exciting, Glee is finally allowing us to see the Deaf choir performing, I may have to give them some points for trying even though they are doing it very badly.”

And then, to my shock and horror, someone from the glee club started interrupting the Deaf choir to sing. Ok, now, I have not sung in a choir, but I consulted a real live person who has performed in choirs, and I was informed that, no, it is not actually conventional or acceptable to interrupt a choir while they are performing. Choirs do indeed have jam sessions and mashups where they sing together. But when you are performing, it is definitely not ok for someone to just jump in and start singing.

Why was it ok here? How was it inspiring to watch the Deaf choir’s performance being interrupted and co-opted by the glee club? Because the Deaf choir were doing it wrong? Because “the poor impaired folk need normal people to fill in their defects,” as Lauredhel said when we were chatting about this episode?

I wasn’t inspired or moved by watching the two choirs perform together. I was PISSED. Because it was framed as perfectly acceptable for the glee club to just jump in on another performance. And for this to turn into a Special Learning Experience, look at how they can all sing together and be happy! Yes, folks, totally erasing people with disabilities and not allowing them to perform is Inspiring!

The Deaf choir has been a running joke in this series. (Because everyone knows that Deaf folks can’t sing, or dance!) And now, in the scene where we finally had a chance to see them performing, they were treated with complete disrespect and condescension. They were framed as a failure, until the nice glee club came in and rescued them. But, you know, nice try, Deaf choir!

The one bright spot in this episode: Tina actually being allowed to solo in the final number.

Incidentally, check out Gallaudet Dance if you want to see actual Deaf people actually performing and being amazing in the process. Further reading over at Adventures of a Young Feminist, where Laura also reviewed “Hairography.”

ETA: Read the comments before commenting on this post. Especially this comment, which discusses Kurt’s characterization in detail. (Hint: I’m saying Kurt is “just like a girl” in the context of how the show depicts women.) Seriously. If you leave a comment which clearly indicates that you have not read the comments, or in which you use violent and offensive language, it will not be published. No matter how valid you think your “point” is.

20 Comments on Glee: Hairography

  1. Glee is full of fall. I won’t touch it. Anything hipsters adore pretty much guarantees it’s going to be mad problematic. Still, I like how you’re hammering home the point with your posts. You’re a much more thoughtful than I am.

  2. I view watching it as a sort of public service; I think it’s important to watch and criticize stuff like this, because they are so much a part of our culture. And people are praising this show for its diversity and handling of issues.

  3. My aunt told me I should watch Glee the other day. I told her I had zero interest, and explained some of the reasons.

    She played the ‘satire!’ card. I gave up.

    It’s just. Uggh. All of my musical-theatre fan friends love it! And I try and explain why I ABSOLUTELY DO NOT WANT, and it is difficult. Bah.

  4. I couldn’t get over the running “joke” of the deaf principal who didn’t know he was deaf! Ha ha ha! Wasn’t it funny, how he couldn’t hear what people were saying but kept insisting he could! Wasn’t it hilarious how he kept telling people he was deaf in one ear, and then saying something to indicate he hadn’t hear anything they said? I thought it was hilarious! HA HA HA HA HA.

    So witty! So original! How awesome!

    Also, the Very Special Lesson We Learned Today was “be your true colours”, which the nice crippled children had to teach us by bravely being so brave!

  5. Heh. I like Glee, and I really appreciated the many of the points in the Wheels episodes (you can still be a jerk even if you love someone with special needs, don’t talk about or for people who are disabled as though they’re not there, complete omission of the word “retarded”), but Hairography made me barf. I was going to write what you wrote but you already wrote it so I quoted you instead. Thanks for laying it out, especially highlighting that the Deaf choir didn’t need to be “rescued.”

  6. Word up to your comment, Anna. Both of those things were things I wanted to talk about in this post, but ran out of room for.

  7. Sorry to hear that Kurt and Rachel are not getting along. I met one of my best medical school friends when we were both in love with the same guy. As a matter of fact, I knew he was gay long before any of our other classmates did (wasn’t as accepted then). We would sit around and talk about our crush and which one of us he liked. (We figured it would be one or the other.) Eventually, we both got over him and moved to SF together where we both fell in love with another guy (I got that one briefly but he wasn’t worth it.) Seriously, whether you are both girls or both guys or a mix, guys are hardly worth fighting over. I mean, don’t they have a little self-determination? Are they truly just objects to us?

  8. Sasha_feather // 27 November, 2009 at 5:56 pm //

    This post has been included in a linkspam at Access-Fandom. Thank you!

  9. I was really bothered by the half Deaf choir director. The message seemed to be that disabled people are too stupid to even know they’re disabled ha ha ha. It’s like the opposite of reality where every way you differ from white, male, able, cis, and straight you feel starkly and are acutely aware of.

    I hated that ASL was treated as choreography rather than singing.

  10. Yes, Gnatalby, that character was…quite upsetting.

  11. I watched exactly one episode of Glee and was so disgusted that I had to keep a running commentary of all the things they were doing wrong to be able to even finish it. I think it was a later episode, but regardless, they should have just named the whole thing Fail instead and be done with it.

    On the other hand, I ranted about it the next day to my friends during Thanksgiving preparation, and they were horrified, too. That was a bright spot, though it doesn’t make up for the many people who don’t see the problems with it.

  12. on the subject of kurt, there was an article in newsweek recently that really summed up his treatment, i thought. (http://www.newsweek.com/id/222467) it talks about how kurt perpetrates the detrimental tv stereotype that gay men are by nature effeminate, and also just how important it is that we have positive depictions of glbt people on television. a key factoid: “A survey by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation found that of the people who say their feelings toward gays and lesbians had become more favorable in the past five years, about one third credited that in part to characters they saw on TV.” with motifs like the petty competition in “hairography,” it’s really questionable what kind of impression kurt is making.

    that said, the way you explained their treatment of kurt was kind of puzzling to me, or at least problematic. you say that “This came complete with a scene in which it is made clear to viewers that Kurt is manipulative and mean and…just like a girl, basically.” …but doesn’t this, at least on a literal level, say that girls are manipulative and mean? i don’t disagree with the point i believe you are making, and i understand you’re working off a stereotype, but on a nitpicky level i still find it off-putting to read in this blog that glee’s women are too manipulative and bitchy, only to read later that being those traits makes kurt a woman.

    …seriously, it’s nitpicky, i know, but it’s the kind of thing i notice so i thought i’d point it out. : P

  13. meloukhia // 2 December, 2009 at 5:29 am //

    sara, I should say “like a girl, within the context of the show’s framing of women.” I, obviously, do not believe that all girls are manipulative and mean, but that’s definitely the way that they are being depicted on Glee. Maybe a better way to word that would be “just like one of the girls.” For me, the characterization of Kurt’s character is clearly supposed to be evocative of the female characters, with the added implication that being gay makes you a secret girl.

    Also, a note: Saying “it’s nitpicky” if you’re going to say something anyway is annoying (it’s exactly like “I don’t mean to be rude, but…” or “I don’t want sound [something], but…”). If you have a valid criticism of something, just present it. Don’t hide behind prevaricating language. People can decide for themselves whether or not a criticism is nitpicky.

    That sentence you quote can indeed be read two ways, as a comment about Kurt’s characterization within the context of the show, or within the context of the world in general. I think it’s pretty clear, given the context of this post and the rest of this website, which meaning was intended, but that doesn’t mean that alternate readings are not open for discussion.

  14. Mother of a stutterer // 4 December, 2009 at 6:09 pm //

    You missed one: The definition of Aphasia is “One in a group of speech disorders in which there is a defect or loss of the power of expression by speech, writing, or signs, or a defect or loss of the power of comprehension of spoken or written language”

    That character was named for a brain defect.

  15. meloukhia // 4 December, 2009 at 7:52 pm //

    Mother of a stutterer, I sort of assumed my readers would know what aphasia is, but, yeah, it bears expanding upon; “weird” Black names in literature/film/television (when the goal is clearly to make fun of how “weird” Black names are) are often medical conditions, which I find…very…interesting.

  16. Mother of a stutterer // 4 December, 2009 at 8:29 pm //

    Oh yes, good. I only mentioned it because my husband didn’t catch the meaning when we saw it until I mentioned it. So often, they come up with names like “LaFondaShalonda” type of thing as a way of mocking the names, so when they chose Aphasia, it seemed like they may as well have named her “Broken.”

  17. “Hairography” was the first Glee episode that I saw, and I have to say that it pretty much turned me off completely from the series. Fans (who hadn’t seen it yet, being in different regions) told me that maybe I just tuned into a bad episode, or that the type of comedy isn’t aimed at me (though I love black comedy and satire). I was watching it while chatting with some of those fans, and I mentioned several times how uncomfortable I was with the show, and how absolutely the opposite of funny some things were, but I’m not very good at putting words to why I have the reactions I do to things (I have an autism spectrum disorder), and could only say that the treatment of the deaf students was appalling and I had absolutely no sympathy nor wish to learn more about the white characters, and, in fact, it looked like the show as only white characters with some token minorities (which, to me, is worse than no minorities at all).

    So I want to thank you for this write-up, and others of this series, because you put into words the feelings I had about this episode, and have helped me articulate to other people why I was so uncomfortable with the show, and why I don’t plan to watch it again.

    The obviously dubbed-over/fake singing for the glee group was like icing on the cake of fail. If the show is about students in a glee club, at least make the singing more realistic!

  18. Coming from a hard-of-hearing family, I was excited to see the deaf choir perform! I thought about going to find my little sister, who is profoundly deaf. As it is, I didn’t have to bother getting up. Why? Because the episode wasn’t closed captioned.

    I’ll let that sink in. Their oh-so-inclusive episode about some Very Special Disabilities…was unwatchable for people with the exact disability being discussed. At first I thought our captioning was just on the fritz again (old tv), or that the whole network’s CC wasn’t working. Imagine my horror when I realized that the commercials were CC’d. The news afterward was CC’d.

    Basically, everything was closed captioned except the show about deaf kids. Classy.

  19. The episode was CC’d on my viewing (standard-def television, cable, Buffalo area) – I distinctly remember this because the CC made sure to point out that the deaf singer was “off-key.”

  20. I distinctly remember this because the CC made sure to point out that the deaf singer was “off-key.”

    ….

    …..

    Classy.

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