Friday, December 3, 2010
Feminist TV Review: Apparently Glee Hates Big Women and Men in Wheelchairs
Through some strange but delightful twist in fate, Erica and I are both mad at Fox's once great but now ridiculous show, Glee - but we're each mad for different reasons. Or rather, we're particularly angry about different components. It's pretty hard to choose just one issue when glee increasingly marginalizes minorities of all sorts, while also promoting sexist attitudes and objectified views of women.
I shouldn't be surprised anymore - not with all the jokes about "Asian salads," and "Asian couples therapy," or the fact that so many actors returned for the second season noticeably thinner (Lea Michelle, in particular). And I really shouldn't be shocked after they spent an entire episode on a tribute to Britney Spears. Or after they kicked the one black glee guy off the show, only to replace him with a pretty white boy. Sure, the black football player who's a huge jerk is still pretty prominent, but this season even he is overshadowed by the white football bully who's in love with Kurt. And I really shouldn't be surprised after their continued dedication to stereotypes about gay men and bisexual women (disclaimer: Kurt is one of my favorite characters. It's just ridiculous that the show doesn't also include straight guys who love show tunes and fashion or gay guys who don't. Maybe the football bully fits into that category, but will we ever find out?).
So, I shouldn't be shocked. But this week's episode reached a record low - all while pretending to rise above discrimination and marginalization. Let me recap: as The New Directions prepare for their Sectionals competition, Emma urges Will to go with a new direction (no pun intended), by putting Quinn in for the main opening solo, rather than Rachel, who would usually get a solo. Will then announces that Quinn and Sam will be the main event, followed by another number that will showcase a few less-seen cast members.
Sounds reasonable, but wait - who doesn't get a solo? Britney and Mike Chang get recognized for their dancing prowess. Considering how phenomenally talented both actors are in that arena, I approve that move quite a bit. Then, of course, Quinn and Sam get solos. If they had amazing voices or somewhat shorter solos, I'd approve. But Quinn's voice is undeniably whiny, and neither she nor Sam really nailed "Time of My Life." In fact, they've ruined both the song and Dirty Dancing for me. Then they move into Amy Whinehouse's "Valerie," where the main solo goes to Santana. Considering how often Santana's voice was overlooked during the first season, I again approve.
But wait - what about Mercedes and Tina? When Will first announces that Rachel won't have a solo, Mercedes says, "Great! What am I singing?" as if the club has such a history of handing solos off to her that she has become a mini-Rachel who simply expects leads. But how justifiable is that? If you've been following the show as long as I have, you'll remember that when Rachel temporarily left the group in Season 1, Will subbed in Quinn for all of her parts, even though she was too exhausted from Cheerios and her pregnancy and didn't want the solos. That's right - when they took out one of the few white girls in the group, they automatically subbed in the only other one who can sing (no offense to Britney, but that's clearly not her forte). And nobody even questions why Mercedes and Tina aren't getting the female leads now.
So why, oh why, are they getting ignored again? I couldn't understand it, and then - as I watched all the actors and actresses dancing around the stage, I noticed something about each woman who wasn't getting a solo: with the exception of Rachel, who had been pulled back from the spotlight because she's always in it, they all had one big thing in common. They weren't skinny. Mercedes is a character who's big and proud of it, and Tina certainly isn't big - in fact, she's downright petite - but next to Santana, Britney, and Quinn, (and now, unfortunately, Rachel) she looks almost pudgy. Even the silent last-minute wrestling champion sub was a big woman.
And while the show tries to make it up to them by giving them a duet in the end, it doesn't change the fact that Will, the adult character who is supposed to guide the younger characters as they make responsible choices, has deliberately cut them out of even minor solos in one of the incredibly rare competitions that takes place on this show. And nobody even mentions the fact that Arty, who has an amazing voice, also gets overlooked. When Puck is a bit overlooked, it's a little understandable - he has at least had solos in competitions. But Arty is consistently overlooked, in favor of the actors who can dance without breaking into a dream sequence.
Glee is already under fire from critics who find it insulting and patronizing for an able-bodied actor to play a character in a wheelchair, so why intensify that negative situation by ignoring someone with an amazing voice? The camera tried to make up for it by zooming in on Arty as he danced with his arms, but he was still missing or marginalized in most shots, particularly since his voice wasn't heard in even a small solo.
If Will or another character were to at some point recognize that a grave injustice has been done to minority actors and actresses throughout both seasons or that those injustices are only increasing with Season 2, maybe the show could rectify the situation. As things stand, Glee is at great risk of losing my viewership.
Its current Feminist Friendliness Grade is a resounding D. Let's hope it doesn't go any lower.