This week on Glee, the glee club (gleeksters?) endured a series of auditions to determine who’d headline at Nationals, only to have Will throw the whole idea out and decide to go with original ensemble songs. Because they’re a team, you know. Meanwhile, in B-plot land, Jean Sylvester passed away and the glee club helped Sue hold a funeral. Because nothing says ‘we love to include people with disabilities’ like killing them off, you know.
So, here’s the thing. Very, very few things in this world are sacred.
This is one of them:
People, I can’t really fully explain my relationship with this cinematic masterpiece. Suffice it to say that it is one of my favourite films, and Glee covering music from it was really not on my agenda for, well, ever. Granted, I view this show with extreme bias in the best of circumstances, but I’m pretty sure no one could cover a song out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and please me. It just ain’t gonna happen. I actually had to insert the movie into the DVD player to make the bad taste go away.
Ok. Deep breath. Moving on.
So, uhm, you might imagine that I have thoughts about the shuffling of Jean Sylvester offstage. Mainly it feels like a really cynical move now that the character has outlived her usefulness as a plot device, so Glee wants to move forward with a final ‘humanising’ storyline to make us all feel just so, you know, touched by Sue Sylvester’s grief and sudden feelings of guilt about being such a bad person.
The episode played on a lot of stereotypes about people with Down syndrome, like that Jean ‘touched a lot of lives’ and other such things, but it didn’t make much of a point of humanising her. She was ‘interesting’ and she liked being read to. Oh, and she liked Willy Wonka, which, good taste, Jean, I commend you for that. But that doesn’t leave much of a legacy of a life, you know? If that’s all people could say about me at my funeral, I’d be pretty pissed, and you can damn well bet my mangy-ass shade would be hanging around blowing raspberries at everyone, even if they couldn’t see it.
I was also very uncomfortable with the Becky storyline in this episode, where, again, she wasn’t really an agent of her own destiny. Sue kicks her off the Cheerios, she tries to go out for glee club and despite the fact that the club takes everyone, Will turns her down and doesn’t really get called on that at all. Instead, he uses the opportunity to lecture Sue about what a bad person she is, and of course she ends up letting Becky back on the team after all the fuss. In all of this, Becky was primarily a plot device, not a person, a reminder of Sue’s past, rather than a human being.
And, of course, we had Sue’s sudden bizarre interest in systemic problems; uhm, maybe the Glee creators are reading me after all? I’m not really understanding why now all of a sudden the show decided to slip in a random reference to the rampaging benefits cuts going on globally, including cuts to disability living allowance and other forms of assistance for people with disabilities. I hope they’re not expecting a cookie for that because they sure as shooting aren’t getting one from me. That was such a fly by night moment I don’t know how many viewers caught it, let alone actually gave it any consideration or thought ‘ah, I ought to look that up and find out more about it?’ But now Glee can say it’s performed its token social obligation and it can wash its hands of the matter.
I really don’t think I need to restate the problems with Glee and disability at this point, but suffice it to say that if the show wants to do something for the disabled community, it might want to start with reframing its representations of disability, rather than throwing in random references to social issues. Glee doesn’t have to be an issue show. No one really wants it to be an issue show. It could be a fun musical show with enjoyable numbers and that’s all it would really need to be. And along the way, it could integrate authentic depictions of lots of different lived experiences, and that would be pretty revolutionary because it would already be doing far more than most television shows are doing. It can really just stop with the trying. And I really hope it does, next season.
The finale isn’t until next week, but I’m just going to go ahead and say that my big hope for Glee when it returns in the fall is that the show stops taking itself so seriously and focuses on entertaining viewers and sucking us in with fun, interesting storylines and fun, interesting characters rather than moralising episodes where it tries to Make A Statement. And that the creative team spends some serious time this summer researching the lived experiences they want to depict, and enriching the characters so that they really blow us away next season. Maybe that means introducing some new characters, maybe that means consulting people about how to turn the show’s minority characters around in a way that will stay true to their existing characterisation. That would make far more of a statement than anything the show has aired thus far.