Glee: A Night of Neglect

So, I confess, I’d been putting off watching Glee this week, for a variety of reasons, so I apologise to the people who wanted to know where my review was; there are only so many hours in the day and I have many, many things to do in them, and honestly watching this show tends to fall to the bottom of my priority list. Hence, sometimes my reviews will be, you know. Late. And sometimes I have trouble mustering up that much to say about the show.

The theme of this week’s Glee appears to have been ‘marginalised people being rescued by people who know better than them.’ I think that the show was trying to present this in a positive light, showing characters empowering themselves, but it kind of soured when they were only capable of doing so through the guidance of others. Some cases were more egregious than others, though, like Will on the cure mission for Emma’s OCD. I’m kind of shocked the show didn’t have her unpeeling bananas barehanded by the end of the episode, saved by the power of the nondisabled intervention. There’s definitely been a kind of buildup here, with the assumption that Will must eventually ‘cure’ Emma’s case of classic Television OCD, and no examination of the dangerous dynamics of his relationship with Terri, another mentally ill woman who, rather than getting compassion and hand-polished grapes, received domestic violence. Interesting that the show seems to be reluctant to explore this, isn’t it?!

Then we had Lauren ‘saving’ Mercedes by appointing herself her manager, with, again, no real examination of the questionable aspects of that dynamic. As a young Black woman, Mercedes gets a lot of racially charged and gendered messages about watching her ‘tone’ and playing nice and being compliant. Having her ‘rescued’ by Lauren was not really a great message to be sending, that Black women can only assert themselves when given permission by white women, that white women must act as mediators for the voices and experiences of Black women. Way to go on that one, Glee.

The scene with Santana, Kurt, and Blaine was a bit more complex, showing again that while Glee tends to fall down on the job in general, it can be pretty good with gay and lesbian issues. Yes, Santana takes over that interaction and drives the bully off, but she feels like they are working together, and she’s speaking for herself as much as the men in that scene. She’s advocating for them as a group, rather than saving them, and that scene consequently had a much better, richer feel that really contrasted with the more one dimensional ‘rescue’ scenes happening around other characters.

At the core, Glee is supposed to be a show about underdogs, about people who are marginalised and ignored and thrust to the side. It’s the stated mission of the show, and the focus is, you know, on a group of students who enjoy low rank in the school, who are often ignored not just by their peers at large, but by each other. This episode turned the lens in a bit more there with the random introduction of the academic decathlon and the point that many members of the glee club don’t really know each other or what they do, but the idea of a ‘night of neglect’ seemed just as self-serving and dull as the show itself.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s character (whom, thankfully, it seems like we will be seeing less of after this week) was right on board with the endless throwaway -isms, whether talking about Will’s ‘crazy ex-wife,’ positioning Will as the deceived and miserable victim in this scenario, or making a snide comment about Wallis Simpson as a ‘hermaphrodite.’ I note that the show decided to run with that and chose to include a lovely ‘Hermaphrodite Nazi sympathizers’ line in the decathlon tournament that closed the episode.

For a show that claims to be socially progressive and educational, you’d think by now that Glee should know that ‘hermaphrodite’ is a deprecated, outdated, and offensive term1 that maybe shouldn’t have been carelessly thrown around for viewers to internalise. Many members of the general public are not aware of the complexities of intersex identities and self determination for intersex people, and don’t understand how and why that word is offensive. Glee‘s decision to play it for laughs, here, as part of an overall bigoted character where we are supposed to find the bigotry funny, was a further slap in the face to critics.

  1. Though some people may choose to identify with it in a reclamatory way.