Not So Glee-ful Representations on “Glee”

Hi everyone!

I should probably start by saying that Glee used to be one of my favorite TV shows. I’m definitely excited to be the resident Glee semi-expert for the purposes of providing context during our upcoming class discussion. That being said, it’s a real task looking back on a show I wholeheartedly adored and learning to criticize it. Back in 2009, I was originally floored that the show represented minorities in the relatable setting of a public high school. But in retrospect, I’m beginning to realize why I needed the show in the past versus why I can’t be satisfied with it in the present.

A commonly expressed complaint about Glee’s format by critics and the general viewership is that it tries to accomplish too much. That is to say, its cast has a host of “token” characters that act as monolithic representations of their respective narratives. The main cast is an eclectic ensemble of identities, with one or two characters that are uniquely of a certain race, queer identity, or other disadvantaging characteristic (for example, there’s a boy in a wheelchair, a teacher with OCD, and a cheerleader who has to deal with her teen pregnancy). The show is flawed in attempting to flesh out every single character, instead of having less dimensional roles to support the multi-faceted principle storylines. Though the show offers representation for a lot of groups, it falls flat of satisfactorily developing any of the characters. That’s just what I’ve taken away from my own long-term experience with the show.

This connects to my thoughts after rewatching the episode, “The First Time”, which primarily follows Rachel and Blaine’s decisions to have their first sexual experiences with their respective partners. It’s problematic for Kurt and Blaine to be the only established gay couple in the show, who are strung along the more immoral path of the two narratives to get to the title “first time”. Leticia already pointed out this disparity between Rachel and Finn’s story and that of Kurt and Blaine. The fact that the sanctity Kurt and Blaine’s relationship was threatened by a competing gay, Sebastian, as well as by the “impurity” of the gay night club and nonconsensual advances, is especially scandalous when paralleled with Finn and Rachel’s less sinister misunderstanding. To see these two stories against one another strongly implies a difference in expectation of how *The Gay Relationship* and *The Straight Relationship* are meant to play out.

So, a little about queer comedy. One thing I found interesting about the comedy aspect of both the Glee episode was the tendency for humorous one-liners to be mere supplements to the overarching drama. It seems more necessary for the characters to be treated with serious storylines in this show, and much of the satisfaction in watching it comes from watching them overcome their unique problems. For example, I chuckled at Coach Beiste hastily evacuating the room when Artie suggested more sexual passion to his actors, but this comes back later as the key point that Beiste has never felt sexually attractive to anyone. The Take My Wife episode was a little more successful in providing comic relief separate from the main conflict; in this, it felt more natural in contributing a queer narrative to a mainstream genre.

I wish I could write more about Take My Wife but I feel like this is getting long, so I’ll save my other thoughts for the class discussion!

peace out,
Martina

One thought on “Not So Glee-ful Representations on “Glee”

  1. Hi Martina!

    You said so many interesting things, and I can’t respond to all of them. One aspect of your post I found really interesting was talking about the narrative of the “first time.” In class we didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the narrative of virginity, and what it has to do with queerness.
    First of all, it’s important to understand the concept of virginity at all. It’s completely constructed and not based in a reality of our bodies or what it means to have sex or anything like that! Want to be very clear about that!!! I think when Glee talks about “losing virginity” it speaks to an audience’s understanding of what that means. The choice to omit any specific discussions about what it means to have sex, or show anything more than kissing, also connects to the show’s investment in purity, like we talked about in class. As viewers, we are supposed to know that Finn and Rachel are going to have penetrative vaginal sex—but would never say it! As for Blaine and Kurt, gay sex is represented in more complicated ways. It’s represented in media as evil, or disgusting, but also represented as not real sex (if it’s not a cis man and a cis woman it doesn’t count) and barely shown at all.
    So I wonder what young viewers are supposed to assume about what it means for Kurt and Blaine to lose their virginity. How can virginity be lost when it is the supposed woman’s vagina, and innocence, that is lost. I think the show normalizes gay sex in a way that tries to bring it in to a normative liberal narrative—virginity is something that was constructed to maintain Christian, capitalist, white, power structures, and a gay couple losing their virginity seems to purify the act. But it also leaves gay sex in its cloud of mystery, still an undescribable act.
    I know that in my life, narratives of virginity have de-legitimized queer experiences and erased experiences of assault. Glee puts forward a very specific narrative around virginity in this episode.

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