This post contains spoilers through the Glee midseason finale, “Sectionals.” It also got really long, so I am breaking it up into multiple parts so that it will not be an impenetrable Wall of Text. This is part one of four!
Now that the midseason finale is officially over, we think it’s an appropriate time to write about where Glee is going, what it’s going to do when it gets there, and what we all think about it, since the show has attracted a great deal of attention in the disability community. Please note that the views/feelings discussed here do not necessarily reflect those of all FWD contributors, just mine (as always with posts which are not authored by “Staff”), and that comments will be tightly moderated. This is a place to talk about the problematic aspects of Glee, and we want to keep it a safe space for FWDers. There are lots of places on the Internet for Glee squee. This ain’t one of ’em.
One of the most common criticisms leveled against people who critique television is “relax, it’s just a television show.” This is frustrating and curious when it comes to Glee because many people are praising the show for “breaking boundaries” and “drawing attention to social issues.” Fans apparently want to have it both ways; they want to be able to defend the show on the grounds that it’s “just a television show” while patting themselves on the back for watching such a progressive, insightful, inspiring television series.
Critiquing television (and any media) is important. Thinking about the things that we engage with and the ways in which we internalize the values they depict is critical. We absorb messages from all the media we interact with, and we have an obligation to think about these messages. When it comes to Glee, some of the messages being depicted are extremely problematic. For all the song and dance, Glee is actually a very dark show, and it takes readers into some very dark places, even if they don’t necessarily recognize it.
Glee is a television show with a very particular type of humour, which involves referencing prejudices, stereotypes, and marginalizing tropes for humor. I refers to it as “hipster -ism,” inspired by Carmen Van Kerckhove’s discussion of hipster racism at Racialicious (more on hipster racism, hipster sexism, and hipster ableism). The idea behind it is that it’s supposed to be hip and funny because of course “no one really thinks that way.” Only, they do, that’s the thing, and that’s where hipster -ism falls short; it relies on an assumption which simply isn’t true, which is that racism, sexism, ableism, and other -isms don’t really exist any more.
What’s interesting about this kind of humour is that it tends to be leveraged in spaces which people think of as safe; with fellow white people, fellow hipsters, fellow able people, and so forth. This raises the question of whether or not it’s really all that funny. If jokes can only be told in a certain context because “some people might think they are offensive,” would that not seem to suggest that they are, in fact, offensive? Indeed, such humour seems to act in a very insular way; people are allowed to continue being racist, sexist, ableist, etc because they can hide behind the shield of “humour.”
If viewers don’t recognize that what they are seeing is troped and problematic, can they really be said to be viewing a critique or takedown of prejudice? Or is it more likely that they are nodding along with these tropes and having their values reinforced? The deleted comments on Glee posts over at this ain’t livin’, my personal website, would seem to suggest that the latter is the case.
“Get a sense of humour.” “Just settle down.” “Can’t you tell it’s supposed to be a joke?” These lines have been thrown over and over again at people who criticize Glee. Apparently, we just don’t get it, perhaps because we are all humourless feminists. It’s worth exploring why it is that shows like Glee are such a big hit, and why people are so resistant to examining their problematic aspects.
Numerous marginalized groups appear in Glee: women, people of colour, people with disabilities, and gays and lesbians. I’m going to examine the handling of each group over this series of posts and then speculate on where Glee might be taking us. There’s a lot of material for discussion here, so hopefully each post will be a jumping off point for a larger conversation.
Coming up next: “Women and Race on Glee.”