Well, Hell-O indeed, Glee. Glad to see you are back to your usual tricks.
Since crazy ladies on television seems to be a bit of a theme this week, let’s talk about Glee and mental illness, because, boy howdy. We’ve got Emma in full-on troped, stereotypical mode here, as if to make sure that viewers understand that she is crazy in case they had forgotten at some point during the hiatus. We’ve even got her and Terri calling each other ‘crazy,’ ending with her sacrificing her budding relationship with Will because she’s ‘too crazy’ for him.
Crazy crazy crazy. Ok, I think I’ve got it out of my system.
So let’s unpack this a bit. The fact of the matter is that many women with mental illness feel that they are not worthy of their partners and do not deserve relationships or love. They think this in part because it is stressed by society, and also because of internalised ableism. ‘How can anyone love me if I have depression?’ ‘My anxiety makes me too high maintenance, I can’t ever have a partner.’ And so forth. So, it’s kind of interesting to see an astoundingly irritatingly stereotypical character actually embodying something which is very real.
Of course, Glee didn’t mean it that way, I suspect. They didn’t want us to think about how internalised ableism makes women with mental illnesses feel that they do not deserve relationships. Makes them tolerate abuse (as Terri did) because they afraid of losing their partners. Twists views of intimate relationships beyond all recognition. Glee chose to do this because having Emma tell Will they needed time apart provided a neat way to make Will look like less of a cheating asshole. Because, yeah, uhm, Will cheated on her.
They had this great scene where Emma confessed her lack of experience and Will took it really well and I thought ‘hell yeah, Glee, things are looking up here’ and then they went and ruined it with the makeout scene with the rival choir director. Because, of course, when you find out that your partner is less experienced than you are, you run out to make out with…wait, what? What am I saying? No. Will is an abusive cheating asshole.
And this man is the hero of the piece. Stick that in your oven and bake it.
Speaking of cheating, let’s talk about the scene where Finn is confronted with the ‘two lesbians want to go on a date with me’ fantasy. Ah, stuff of ladmags the world over. How does Finn react to this? Does he, perhaps, say ‘thanks but no thanks, ladies.’ No, he breaks up with his girlfriend, whom the show has made a point of making all self-absorbed and whiny and boring in this episode to provide Finn with a convenient excuse to…wait, didn’t I already write this paragraph? Oh, no, wait, wrong male name. Where was I? Right, so Glee made Rachel into an annoying clingy ‘crazy1‘ girl so that Finn would be, of course, perfectly justified to cheat on her to go hang out with an attractive lesbian couple who made suggestive goo-goo eyes at him.
Speaking of sex and sensibility, let’s talk about that hi-larious rape scene, shall we?! Yeah, the one where Sue slipped something into the Principal’s drink and then dragged him to a hotel somewhere to humiliate and embarrass him while tricking him into thinking he violated his religious and ethical beliefs? Boy howdy, that scene was a hoot and a half, I tell you. What will this show come up with next?
Speaking of which, I see people referring to this scene as ‘the date rape scene.’ I don’t like the phrase ‘date rape.’ To me, it trivialises the crime and underscores the myth that rapes are primarily perpetrated by strangers, so a ‘date’ rape is an unusual thing. No, it is not. Most rapes are committed by people known to the rapist, including intimate partners. It’s not ‘date rape,’ it’s rape, full stop, do not pass Go, do not collect $200.
Sue’s violation of bodily autonomy doesn’t stop there, of course. We also see her assaulting a student in the hallway and cutting his hair off. Again, hilarious, right? No one ever does that in real life, right?
And, you know, I get it, this is Sue’s characterization. She rapes people (or simulates rape), she assaults students, she makes racist comments in the hallway. We are supposed to view this as over the top and not appropriate. Some of us do. But a lot of people who watch this show think that the things Sue does are hilarious. There are people who laughed at the rape scene. There are people who thought the hair scene was hilarious. There are people who are probably going to be using that wok line sometime in the near future.
And it’s not a very far reach to go from laughing at something, from finding it funny, to doing it. Glee doesn’t provide anything to offset what Sue does and people internalise these things that she does. People think Sue is funny. People celebrate Sue as a ‘brilliant’ character. And, yes, she is brilliant in the sense that she is very well done and brilliantly acted. Her note, as a character, is pitch perfect2. But, as a character, she is deeply troubling, and the public reception of Sue is especially disturbing.
Aside from the mental illness issue I discussed above, Glee featured two outstandingly vomitorious disability references this week. If you blinked, you might have missed them. The first was the reference to the ‘autistic children’s centre’ and their presumably hilarious attempts at performance which Rachel and Finn were supposed to go ‘enjoy’ together. The second was the scene in which Finn slapped the hand of everyone in the glee club after a number. Except Artie, who raised his hand to meet Finn’s, only to have Finn pull his hand aside at the last moment.
Where was Artie this episode, other than being ignored by Finn and shunted to the end of the chorus line? Good fucking question. Did Artie say anything this week?
And, you know, before you go telling me that I’m ‘just looking for things to get offended about’ and ‘it’s just television’ and ‘can’t you say anything nice about this show,’ seriously, just spare me. Media criticism is a valid thing to do. Especially when it involves a hit show which is being widely hailed, praised for its depictions of disability, and excitedly discussed. I write about what I see in Glee because I think that many other people see these things, and that these things are read in different ways by different viewers. Some viewers are internalising some very damaging things from Glee. Shows like Glee contribute to how people think about race, disability, gender. They are part of the public sphere. What we watch (read, listen to) matters because it shapes us on some level or another. And I’m going to damn well keep talking about representations in pop culture until the day I keel over.
You don’t like people talking about pop culture? Then don’t read it. But don’t you dare tell people to shut up about it.