So, here’s the thing. I hate Glee. I don’t celebrate Christmas. I cannot stand Christmas music. And I really hate ‘cure the crip’ storylines. So, pretty much, there was no way on earth that I would not hate this week’s episode. On those grounds, one might reasonably ask why I should review it at all. Because, really. Yet, I soldier on, because, here’s the other thing: I watched this episode from start to finish, it was excruciatingly painful, and there’s no way in hell I’m enduring that for nothing.
I knew this episode was going to be bad going in, because numerous people told me not to watch it. What I didn’t realise was that Glee, once again, would manage to surpass my expectations. Every time I think the show cannot possibly get any fucking worse, it pulls something new out of the hat. The next time multiple people take time out of their days (one person even called me) to advise me not to watch something, I am heeding their warnings.
Here are some observations I made during this week’s episode:
I think it’s interesting that they chose to have the desexed gay boys sing ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ as a duet. There are pretty solid grounds for thinking of the song as a rape anthem, considering that it involves lines like ‘Say, what’s in this drink’ and ‘Beautiful, what’s your hurry’ (to someone who expresses a desire to leave, and is then told to drink some more) and ‘Baby, don’t hold out.’ The show has yet to show us any serious nonheterosexual making out although it’s happy to show us het people rolling around on various beds, but I guess it’s fine to use the gay characters as a vehicle for…yeah. I don’t even know.
This episode cracked out the fat jokes early, with Lauren saying ‘you can eat that, you know!’ in response to a comment about faking slushies with food colouring and snow. Because fatties, you know, we will eat anything. What really pisses me off about this character is that whenever she opens her mouth, she is either eating, or talking about food, or saying something sour and bitter because she’s fat and has no love. Which, fuck you, Glee. Fuck you for saying you’re all progressive and shit and for embodying the worst stereotypes about fat people. (Although I do note that she has rockin’ fashion, but, of course, no one ever talks to her about fashion or treats her as a fashion authority, I guess that’s Kurt’s job.)
Of course, the main event of this episode was the miracle cure. My jaw actually dropped when Brittany asked for Artie to walk again for Christmas. (And you know how people say ‘my jaw actually dropped’ when really they mean ‘I was metaphorically astounded?’ Yeah, I don’t mean that. My jaw. Fell open.) I’d been warned about this storyline, but the reminder that yes, they really were going to do this, was a little more than I could handle.
This series has spent pretty much its entire existence reminding us that it’s tragic that Artie uses a wheelchair, and that the only thing Artie really wants in life is to be able to walk again. We’ve already been subjected to a dream sequence ‘safety dance’ episode, and now this, where Artie is gifted a very expensive piece of experimental equipment FAR beyond the reach of most people with spinal cord injuries, all so the show can have a feel-good Christmas miracle.
Glee tells us, all the fucking time, that it’s a progressive show exploring social issues and really honestly depicting important things. It wins awards for it. People praise it pretty much constantly, and have taken special time to single the show out for it’s ‘sensitive,’ ‘honest,’ ‘realistic’ treatment of disabilities. Most of these people, I note, are nondisabled. Most of the people with spinal cord injuries I know who watch Glee find it every bit as enraging as I do, because Artie’s characterisation is so very far from their lived experience.
Glee is disability through a nondisabled lens, served up for the nondisabled gaze. Which doesn’t make it stand out from most other depictions of disability in pop culture, except for the fact that it claims to be saying something about disability, and many nondisabled viewers believe this and speak about the show as if it is an honest depiction of disability and they are taking away things from it. This week especially, I am reminded of the role Tiny Tim plays in A Christmas Carol; much like Artie, he is an object of pity and sorrow. Critically, he is an object. He is not a human being. He is a projection of disability, sprinkled in saccharine, for nondisabled viewers to pat themselves on the back over.
To depict disability honestly, to show real lived experiences, is apparently too messy and scary, and might cause people to reconsider the way they think about disability. Obviously, we would not want that, so instead most depictions of disability are like this; they are fantasies of disability, they are things that nondisabled people think they know about disability, and they are incredibly harmful.
I’ve been ranting about this show for a good long while now, but Artie’s handling in this episode was outstandingly bad, even for Glee, and I just…I see all these people talking about how great the show is, and specifically about how great it is on disability, and most of these people are nondisabled, and I just want to scream. I want to actually scream. While people praise Glee to the skies, we are are being murdered by the scores. The government is slashing our benefits to the bone. Disabled students are being bullied to death.
And it’s things like Glee that make the continued dehumanisation and marginalisation of people with disabilities possible. Because nondisabled people can turn to a sanitised version of disability tidied up for their consumption and made accessible for them, for people who think that having a spinal cord injury is their worst nightmare and who are convinced that wheelchair users spend their entire lives longing to walk again, because nondisabled people can always tune out our voices and listen to other nondisabled people telling them about disability, telling them what we need, telling them about our lived experiences, because of this, we face discrimination at every level of society. Because of this, we live in a world where ableism and disability hatred are so embedded into the socialisation of most citizens that people find it entirely unremarkable that abuse against people with disabilities is structured into our very government policy, our educational system, our health care system. Because of this, I am reminded every single day that I live in a world that wants to kill me.
But you keep right on joking about ‘holiday hoarders,’ Glee.
P.S. Confidential to Sue Sylvester: My Lai jokes? Never funny. Ever. Ever.