The criticism about Glee’s inconsistent tone is growing. It’s not just me who is asking what in the heck is going on with Glee, but a lot of critics. In a nutshell, a show that started out positioning itself as satire and parody is straddling a strange divide between the humour that marked the start of the series, and the Serious Learning Moments earnestly inserted into each episode.
I have a secret fear that these moments were inserted to address criticisms of the show. That Glee perhaps thinks it is off the hook now, because it adds Learning Experiences into each episode to lecture viewers. Yet, in the ‘humour’ sections of the show, really problematic stuff is routinely presented, and it’s not confronted or addressed with these Learning Moments. So at the same time that people are lectured about how, say, being a pregnant white girl is exactly like being a fat Black girl[1. Uhm, not, good one, Glee!], they’re missing the egregiousness of Quinn referring to Mercedes as ‘racist’ because she resists appropriation.
Setting aside the issue that some of these Learning Moments are really just fucking awful, like the Wheelchair Users Can’t Dance Learning Moment and the ‘Photo Negative of the Oppression Olympics’ Learning Moment, they feel like a bad parody of an after school special. And I don’t mean that in a flattering way. I don’t think Glee is making some kind of meta commentary on after school specials here, I think it just doesn’t know what to do with itself and is thrashing around on screen while it tries to figure it out.
I can think of lots of dramas, and even melodramas, that are alleviated with moments of comedy. Take Buffy, for example. It struck a good balance of tones to stay fresh and not overwhelm viewers. Yet, I can’t think of many comedies that insert drama well. I think there are certain expectations about comedy, and that this strange blend of tones like what’s going on with Glee just doesn’t work. I mean, I am not amused by the humour/’snark’ parts of Glee, but I notice the clash pretty clearly. The ‘snark’ is unfunny because it’s oppressive, and the melodrama is unfunny because, well, it’s not meant to be funny.
I believe that Glee is trying to make some sort of social criticism, and that’s why the drama is being inserted. But, here’s the thing. It’s possible to embed social commentary into comedy. I have seen it done. I know it can be done. The problem that Glee appears to be having is not that comedy can’t be used as a vehicle for commentary, especially dark/satirical comedy like Glee is attempting to make, but that it doesn’t really know what it wants to say, and often wants to say really shitty things, especially when it comes to race, gender, and disability issues. Quite frankly, I would prefer that the show stick to silly musical numbers and not try to comment on things it doesn’t understand. Nothing about us without us, Glee.
Shifting gears a bit to talk about the actual content of this episode, I have some thoughts about the characterisation of Sue Sylvester. She’s someone who is really suffering as a result of the inconsistent tone problem, but there is something about her that I think is very interesting.
The show makes a joke/parody out of the fact that Sue owns her awesome. I may not like her character (we’re obviously not supposed to), but her character accomplishes things. She is a really talented cheerleading coach. Yet, the show makes fun of this. It’s supposed to be an object of derision. Look at that, a woman, proud of accomplishing something. They make her life seem empty and pathetic, like she will never find sexual partners because her confidence makes her undesirable.
Sue is not a good person. Unlike Will, whom the show depicts as ‘flawed,’ but is clearly supposed to be on the path to redemption or some such nonsense, Sue is straight up not nice. And a big component of her not niceness is her confidence. Which is, you know, really a terrific message to be sending, Glee. As we all know, confident women don’t encounter any pushback or obstacles in their lives, and it’s, like, totally ok to be a confident woman in this society. Rachel, too, is depicted in a negative way because of her confidence. We’re supposed to see both characters as arrogant and self absorbed and full of themselves, and sure, they are, a little, but they are also confident. They have talents and they know it.
And the fact that Glee seems to think it’s necessary to undermine them for being proud of their talents tells me that the show isn’t all that committed to fighting oppression.
Like that comes as any surprise.