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.


  1. After reading Erica's post yesterday, I went onto Hulu and watched a couple of episodes. I agree with you on all your points. I think that the show is incredibly shallow and inappropriate for any audience that is marginally aware of social issues. I don't like anything about this show. I watched five episodes and one of the main theme was the promiscuity and sexuality of heterosexual relationships of the perfect couples. I mean there are conversations all over the place about who has had sex with who, who has cheated, who has put out, etc but if there is this incredible forward theme of heterosexuality then why can't there be the same conversation about homosexuality. I don't think the conversation is appropriate to begin with. I don't think promiscuous relationships are indicative of the high school experience, but if we are going to turn the conversation towards sexual relationships in high school then why give only lip service to homosexual relationships. The only male to male or female to female relationship is with Kurt and that other boy from the Warblers but even that is so uncertain after Kurt doesn't get the solo that its hard to say if they were anything more than gay friends. The only kiss was clear sexual abuse. Anyway, I am not a big fan. Every time I watch, I get a really mucky feeling. It feels sexist, racist, discriminatory, and simply ridiculous.

  2. i just think it's a great show, why look into it that deep when you could just enjoy it

  3. I agree with the above anonymous, and you nicely did not mention that Tina and Mercedes did sing, and it was one of the best songs of the episode - it was the finale, the closing song, it was great.

  4. Part of the reason we look more deeply into popular shows like these is because they play a role in both showing us where we are in terms of our social thinking and help shape the directions in which we go. When a show does so much to marginalize particular groups of people, it affects the way we as viewers interact with those groups. Just sitting back to enjoy the show is inaction in the face of something inappropriate and wrong.

    Furthermore- does getting one solo every now and then justify being ignored or mocked the majority of the time? To me, it's almost tokenizing, it's such an obvious attempt to placate the character or viewer who might otherwise complain.

  5. I think Rachel gets most of the solos on the show because she is one of the main characters. tina and mercedes are not as important as rachel is: remember back to the first episode when it opened on rachel talking? i dont think its really that racist at all.

  6. To the second anonymous commenter, thank you for your comment, but here's a direct quote from the post that addresses the very issue you point out:

    "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."

  7. Most shows that marginalize minorities justify it by saying "well, so-and-so is the main character, who just happens to be played by a man/white person/able-bodied person." But when a show as popular as Glee consistently reveals patterns of casting people of color in minor roles and white people in leading roles - well, that reveals a pattern in the casting, writing, and directing that involves race - whether or not fans like me are happy to admit it's there.

  8. Woww thank you for this post-- it definitely voices some of my concerns I've been having this season-- and I'm a pretty dedicated Gleek. I was literally JUST talking about this yesterday--how Quinn is a terrible singer, that Arty has an amaazing voice, that Tina and Mercedes get left by the wayside too often, etc, and how they're each getting treated unfairly, not according to how they merit. And also, it's great that the show is attempting to address the homosexual issue through Kurt, but they've been devoting soooo much time to him in the past several episodes that other equally important issues are getting ignored! I feel myself being disappointed with Mr. Schue, but then I realize that duh I should be disappointed with the show's writers and producers.

    PS Have you seen the GQ shoot with Rachel, Quinn, and Finn? If you haven't... prepare yourself for further infuriation.

  9. A few things... I watch the show minimally, usually by accident, I can't stand the characters, I think the show is doing a terrible job imitating high school, and I absolutely can't stomach the fact that this show is one of the most popular shows on TV. ugh. And there is nothing I can do about it but complain.

  10. I'm curious as to what you think about the Show Ugly Betty?

  11. Some disclaimers : I am a female who as worked in the entertainment industry, as such I will say that yes, it is a very sexist business and has issues with people of color. It is at heart a business, and they sell what sells; what the public wants to buy.

    I have major issues about how Glee writes and treats it's female cast.

    But I disagree with many of your points. Glee was cast pretty well; it is a band of misfits chosen for voice and acting. The plain fact of it is that Tina and Mercedes were always small support roles and will never be front and center. Not everyone is a lead. Glee is not an ensemble show. It isn't everyone gets a solo day. There is plot and story going on (except for the second season which is an unstructured crapfest)

    Quinn got to sing season 1 for a good reason; the main plot concerned her and Finn, and they needed to support the conversation that was happening about the baby and the inherent secret keeping. It wasn't race, it was plot. Kurt/Puck/Artie didn't get chosen as lead male either even though they are better singers than Finn. It was plot. The actors service the story.

    The story always should come first, and I really didn't have an issue with the first season in that regard. Glee was the story of Will and Rachel primarily, and Finn and Rachel symbolize the merging of the different high school worlds. Those are (or were) the leads. It's the structure of the show.

    There is also the issue of the different levels of acting ability amongst the cast. Some really would not do well with larger more complex roles. I really don't want to single anyone out as they all haven't actually trained or worked as actors. That is an honest assessment.

    All casting is about how the actor looks. That has been a fact since the beginning of showbiz, and all actors/actresses know this. 99% of being an actor is being rejected. Paul Giamotti, though white, is never going to get the roles that Will Smith does.

    In the second season , the writing has been a mess. I don't even want to get into everything thing that is a problem, there is just too much, but the overall issue is that they are just not writing for the girls. Any of them. Even the adult women have disappeared, except for Sue, who is written as a man, and Coach Beiste, who is a new toy. None of the girls have much story.

    They need female writers, or someone who can write for a character that isn't male/white/gay.