First, a brief note about last week’s Glee, since some people asked why I didn’t review it; I didn’t have time to, but I will note that it featured some pretty painful poverty porn. The episode centred poverty as a personal, individual problem rather than a systemic one and proposed personal, individual solutions rather than institutional ones. I was pretty unimpressed by that particular creative decision. This is a show with significant class problems and it hasn’t done much to address them, overall.
So, on to this week, where we learn that abusive bullies can atone for their actions with some crocodile tears, and that young gay men shouldn’t ‘stir up trouble’ by existing. It’s, you know, what Glee said about gay teens this week was really, really damaging. So let’s break this down a bit, since I bet it’s gonna win another GLAAD award and I would like it on the record that I think some of the messages Glee sends about gay teens are not good ones to be sending.
I have a big problem with the idea that abused people need to forgive their abusers. I think that experiences of abuse are different for everyone, and that there are many ways of dealing with abuse, and that not forgiving your abuser is a valid choice. But, socially? The message people receive is that they owe their abusers forgiveness if their abusers make any kind of overture at all, and that is a really dangerous thing to reinforce when you are talking about situations where abusers may be engaging in life threatening activities.
The thing is that people constantly receive the message to forgive their abusers. To be, as Satah points out in eir post, ‘the bigger person.’ That message leads to things like people returning to situations where they die; ‘gosh, Cindy, your boyfriend SAID he was sorry for pulling a gun on you, AND he gave you roses, why won’t you go back to him?’ Karofsky may not have posed a threat to Kurt’s life, but let’s not forget that he engaged in a consistent and sustained bullying campaign so intense that Kurt was starting to develop symptoms of PTSD. And that Glee chose to frame that as internalised homophobia, and now suddenly Karofsky is being redeemed; he’s anti-bully now! He sobbed a bit at Kurt! Everything’s cool. Gather round and sing happy campfire songs with your bullies, kids!
And you know, again, everyone has a different journey and this narrative is one that plays out in the real world, I’m not denying that. But I would have liked to have seen a storyline on television where someone did not forgive his abuser and wasn’t punished for it. Because I think that’s an important lesson for young queer folks to be taking away, actually. Hey, young queer folks, you know what? You don’t have an obligation to forgive the people who abuse you. You can decide to do that if you want to, but you don’t owe them redemption, or snuggles, or storytime, ok?
Let’s talk about stirring up trouble, because, boy howdy. I actually think that this storyline was included in a critical way; we are supposed to see Kurt’s father as the well-meaning gay ally who just doesn’t get it, and that was underscored by the fact that Kurt was crowned Prom Queen by votes cast before anyone even know he’d be wearing a kilt. But, does it read as a critical storyline? Because Glee is such a mess, it’s hard to tell. The Karofsky redemption storyline certainly isn’t being presented critically. We are very much supposed to read that as a positive journey for everyone involved.
I don’t think this episode set out to say that gay teens shouldn’t attract attention by being too flamboyant; in fact, I think one of the overall themes that Glee has been really pushing at is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with being like Kurt and people who think that people like Kurt are a problem are not good people. And I think the episode did a good job of balancing that out in terms of how it was presented and how people reacted to it, but that’s because it’s an issue I am sensitive to. How many folks watched that episode and came away with the idea that, you know, Kurt’s dad is kind of right, and Kurt’s really asking for it, you know?
One snide aside didn’t escape me; in the scene at the prom where Kurt and Blaine are talking and the ‘there’s someone for everyone’ comment was made, and the camera cut to Becky dancing with another character. I…uhm. Well. A lot of people believe that disabled people can’t or shouldn’t be sexual, don’t deserve sexual relationships or even loving ones. So you could have read the comment as disbelief that anyone would want to date a woman with Down syndrome. Or you could read it as a reference to the fact that 70% of women with developmental disabilities report rapes, and exploitation of women like Becky is very, very common. But I doubt Glee was being that meta.