Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This show is getting Gleeking offensive

I'll start this post by admitting that I watch Glee. I enjoy it. I find it fun. Mostly, I love the music. But lately, something about it has been bothering me: namely, the way the show has been handling (heterosexual) teen dating.

Take, for example, the conversation that occurs between two of the show's male characters, Puck and Arty, during a recent episode entitled "Never Been Kissed." When Arty expresses disbelief in Puck's plan to help him get a girlfriend by ignoring her, Puck explains, “The thing about chicks is that you only have to be a fraction as nice to them as you were mean to them to get them to like you again.” To prove his point, he then invites Brittany and Santana out to dinner via the following conversation:

Puck: You two show up at Breadsticks tomorrow night around 7 and if we don't find hotter chicks to date, we might show up.
Santana: You are so cool.

When they're not using sleight-of-hand insults to ask out the female cast members, the males do a lot of one-liners and voiceover monologues about chicks, boobies, and how hot someone is or isn't (their vocabulary). In fact, one of the driving storylines in "Never Been Kissed" is the guys' use of the female football coach to "cool their jets," so to speak, while making out with their girlfriends. Of course, the guys frame this as the girlfriends' faults because "they won't put out." Never mind, of course, that one of them did in the first season and had to deal with pregnancy in a very isolating way.

I'm getting sick of this ridiculous downplaying of the female characters. Aside from one half-hearted attempt to address the issue by having the male characters whine about singing "I Am Woman" in the first season, the show doesn't seem to care that its portrayal of male-female interactions has gone from amusingly parodic to simply sexist. When Finn is told to find his groove in the episode "Hell-O," his music video of him singing "Hello I Love You" while the school's female students fall all over themselves to touch him is applauded. When Rachel tries something similar in "Bad Reputation" with "Run Joey Run," the entire Glee club comes down on her for being manipulative and self-centred.

So often in the early parts of the first season, the parody humour that was used to highlight problematic thinking became fodder for challenging that thinking later in the episodes. But those moments of lessons learned or thinking challenged are increasingly being passed by in favour of shinier costumes, more objectifying dancing, or expanding the unchallenged humour to hurt even more characters and images(did anyone else notice that the entire "Grilled Chesus" episode involved Finn being unbelievably self-centred and never realizing he should be thinking of Kurt's dad?).

I know that this show takes place during high school, when for many people hormones rule the day and reputations are more important than doing the right thing. I've been there- high school can be a really hellish environment for adolescents, because one of the side effects of puberty is being obsessed with the way peers perceive you- but really, why is the show's primary voice of authority- Will Schuster- willing to let so much slide? His character sees and hears a lot of the things I'm talking about during the course of Glee rehearsals. As Kurt points out him during "Never Been Kissed," Will isn't particularly good at reining in the club's homophobia. I'd argue that Will isn't particularly good at reining in any of the discrimination that happens right in front of him.

So what are we supposed to do? The show is receiving a lot of acclaim for (imperfectly) addressing things that really need to be addressed in the public sphere, such as bullying in schools, but at the same time it's doing very little to de-normalize the kinds of sexism that have held everyone back for a very long time. The people who watch Puck and Artie's conversation and don't entirely disagree with its message, for example, wind up teaching their friends, children, and others that this is an acceptable way to interact. And what kinds of relationships do they have with each other? How is this going to affect the dynamics of demanding sexual equality, particularly when the onus for everything- from the success of relationships to the success of the football team- is put on the willingness of girls and women to have sex unquestioningly and accept abusive behaviour from the men in their lives?

The show hasn't been the pinnacle of socially responsible TV, but it used to try a lot harder. And its lack of effort is making me madder and madder.


  1. I just watched last night's episode, and I logged on to complain about a different issue in Glee. It makes me more happy than I can express to find that you beat me to the punch.

    (Though a post on this topic will be forthcoming tomorrow - so as to avoid overshadowing AIDS awareness).

  2. I've had issues with Glee from the start. I wanted to like it, especially after the extremely catchy version of Don't Stop Believin' but I couldn't get past it. Even viewed as parody...

    The issue of sexuality in the show (and fan reaction, which admittedly the writers/producers have nothing to do with) have troubled me. Particularly around Emma; the reaction around her virginity, if I recall, was fascinating. The same feminists who spoke approvingly of teen girls not 'putting out' for the jocks thought she was unenlightened; as if at a certain age some switch flips and holding out for whatever you need to feel safe/comfortable/whatever isn't cool anymore. But that's my pet issue, and I could be reading a lot into it.

    After reading things like this, I think it's good I didn't keep watching; I'd be yelling at the TV too much.

  3. Ivy, I completely agree with you about how unfair it is to accuse Emma of being unenlightened for her decision to wait until she's comfortable before having sex. I actually thought that the way the show treated her decision not to have sex was one of the highlights of the first season. Actually, I was impressed by how the episode "Like a Virgin" dealt with that issue altogether - when Finn had sex with someone he didn't love, he walked away feeling like crap, and Santana was suddenly humanized when we saw how lousy she was feeling too. (Not as bad as Finn was feeling, but still - it seemed that the experience had left her feeling empty too). And then Rachel decided she wasn't ready either, and Will was very supportive when Emma decided she wasn't ready...

    It's too bad that the show has undone all that good work with the second season. It had problems from the start, but now the show has lost almost all value.