Barbara Kay: As a social educator, Glee makes a good musical
Wednesday May 2nd, 2012
It’s not targeted to my demographic, but I love the TV series Glee.
The talent is dazzling, the production numbers gloriously executed: It’s like watching a mini-Broadway show in the comfort of your own home every week.
The only problem with the show is what goes on between the musical numbers. Sure, I get it that with millions of high schoolers watching every week, the producers want to max out their unique opportunity to exploit the sturm und drang of teenage life for teaching moments in ethics and human dignity. It’s wonderful that the physically disabled, the mentally, the psychologically and genetically challenged, the economically deprived, the overweight, the foreigner, the sexually different or “seeking” are all portrayed as lovable individuals, moral and social equals to the more conventionally attractive and advantaged members of the McKinley High “family.”
I have no objections to didacticism artfully tucked into a plotline.
But if writers want to use their show as a pedagogical soapbox, it does no good – and in fact does harm – when they manipulate the trajectory of the story, from crisis to triumph, to accord with trendy theories based in ideology. Glee does precisely that in order to present “solutions” to human dilemmas that can’t be translated into action in the lives of real teenagers. In Glee, the moral growth of the characters doesn’t spring from anything resembling human nature, but from the utopian dreams and magical thinking of social engineers.
One of the worst scenarios in this line is the narrative thread following gay Kurt Hummel’s journey from lonely outcast to bullying victim to determined fighter to triumphant gay pride “queen” of the prom, adored and supported by his fabulous boyfriend.
Okay, it’s not beyond possibility that a gay boy can evolve from isolation to integration, or from shame to pride over the course of his tenure at high school. But the vehicle driving Kurt’s evolution, the closeted football player David Karovsky, who first harasses Kurt, then kisses him in a reckless self-outing moment, is wildly out of sync with reality. In real life, vicious bullies may repent of their deeds, but they don’t go from bullying to self-immolation, as David does when he not only accepts his gayness but flaunts it, sharing the prom “kingship” with Kurt. That was a cringe-inducing moment that should have come with the warning, “Kids, we’re professional actors, and this is a fantasy, so don’t try this at home.”
The May 1 episode went beyond magical thinking and into the realm of misandry. After first insisting that a horrible black eye is the result of an encounter with a punching bag, the female football coach, Beast, outs herself as the victim of a vicious attack on her by her husband, Cooter, his nugatory excuse that she’d let the dishes pile up.
This comes as quite a shock for a few reasons. Cooter has so far been presented as a very nice and unusually mature guy who chose the lifelong wallflower Beast – a fine woman, but built like a Mack truck – for her inner beauty. You wouldn’t consider him the type to be violent, nor would you consider her a candidate for physical victimhood.
That of course is supposed to be the point – that domestic violence can happen to any woman. The girls soberly listen to a lecture on the horrors of domestic violence, with the redoubtable cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester warning them that their own boyfriends might at any moment turn on them as Cooter did on Beast.
Nothing makes sense here. Beast has not been presented up to now as the type to take crap from anyone – in fact quite the opposite. That she should submit to such an assault when she is more than capable of defending herself because “I am not a violent woman” just doesn’t make sense. You don’t have to be “violent” by nature to defend yourself.
Moreover, in real life, physical violence of that magnitude does not spring itself on a woman without a history of discord. In real life, most domestic violence is bilateral, and a quarter of it is unprovoked violence against men by women. In real life, intimate partner violence doesn’t happen out of the blue; it is a result of personality disorder or other psychological dysfunction with regard to intimacy issues. No such background was ever suggested here.
And furthermore, in real life more teenage girls are physically aggressive to boys than vice versa. In real life domestic violence is more elevated amongst gays and lesbians than amongst heterosexuals. In real life…
Yes, I do know that Glee is just a TV series. But it is a series that routinely deals with social issues as though it had something to tell us about real life. Magical thinking is irksome. Whole-gender libel in the service of feminist myths is a more serious entertainment crime.
Enough already with the “teaching.” More singing and dancing please.