Lessons to Unlearn From Glee

I have heard rumors that “Glee” has actually gone ahead and hired some writers. As depressing as it is to think that you can have the kind of phenomenal success “Glee” has had without a writing staff, it’s not like the lack didn’t show in the episodes, and it’s nice that there’s an acknowledgement of that and an effort to improve things.

Still, we’ve had the last two seasons in which to learn terrible things from “Glee” about the way the world works and the way that people work. And before you get all, “It’s a TV show! It’s not supposed to be teaching us anything!” let me say a) it doesn’t matter if it’s supposed to be or not; stories do get into your brain, and b) it’s been fairly explicit about wanting to teach lessons.

So what lessons should we erase from our collective subconscious?

1. You’re either a Star or a Loser. If you’re not a Star, it’s because everyone unfairly maligns you and is evil and needs to be taught to see you as a Star.

This is a theme that plays out in the show over and over again. Rachel deserves for everyone to love her because of her talent; those who don’t are mean. Quinn deserves to be captain of the cheer squad even though her pregnancy might actually make some cheerleader stuff dangerous for her, for the fetus, and for the squad.

Santana, Quinn, and Lauren all deserve to be prom queen because if they’re not then their entire high school career is one of oppression and invalidation and nastiness. Yeah, Santana actually says that. Santana, one of the most popular girls in school, thinks if she doesn’t get elected Prom Queen, it means the whole school hates her because they know she’s secretly a lesbian, and getting elected Prom Queen is the only way to know, in her heart, that she’s an acceptable person.

And what’s more, not WINNING at Nationals, when you were still writing songs THE DAY BEFORE, but merely coming in TWELFTH out of FIFTY, means that your whole year was a waste of time and you are horribly misunderstood and maligned LOSERS and also it was all the fault of Finn for kissing Rachel. Not the fact that you wrote your songs yesterday.

The Truth: Logically, it cannot be that not being elected Prom Queen automatically makes you the most hated and loser-y person in the school. Because only one person gets to be Prom Queen. And on this show, that one person was the biggest Loser of all that week, because the whole school voted him Prom Queen in order to shame him for being gay. Or something. (Yeah, that didn’t make much sense to me, either. But that’s why #5, you need writers!) But even if, say, Quinn had been voted Prom Queen, that wouldn’t mean that Santana and Lauren were the ultimate in Loser-ness, because there are two of them. Both of them can’t be the ultimate. And there are hundreds of other students who didn’t even run. They can’t all be the ultimate in Loser-ness.

Just about everyone in the world is neither a Star or a Loser but in fact a totally Acceptable Person. And just about everyone in the world at least sometimes thinks or fears that s/he might be a Loser. Even Stars. Because Stars know that there are always bigger Stars, and most Stars don’t get to be Stars for their whole lives, anyway. Acknowledging the existence of Acceptable Persons, and acknowledging your membership in their ranks, is possibly the entire key to happiness in this day and age.

2. In artistic endeavors, “heart” is more important than “work.” 

This is another lesson that comes up repeatedly. Mercedes and Rachel frequently represent “heart” and “work,” respectively, and if it isn’t obvious to you which of these characters the show producers like more, I don’t think you’ve been watching the show.

In the first season, Vocal Adrenaline would sometimes represent “work” while New Directions represented “heart.” Obviously, Vocal Adrenaline were villains and New Directions were misunderstood, unfairly maligned losers. Only you know what? Vocal Adrenaline rocked.

And the justification for the kiss that (did in no way) cost them Nationals? Rachel tells Finn art is all about expressing what you’re feeling, so great.

The truth: Art is not all about expressing what you’re feeling. Your diary is all about expressing what you’re feeling. Art is about taking what you’re feeling and making it something that others can relate to, appreciate, enjoy. And doing that takes WORK. Without work, feelings are meaningless and boring. Furthermore, even outside of art, no one can get by on pure, raw talent. Everything requires work.

3. If you are a young, beloved-by-fans gay male with a killer singing voice and stage presence, everything negative that ever happens to you is a result of homophobia. Even when it’s coming from your very loving father who may not be the most progressive guy on the planet but loves you and just doesn’t want your crush object sleeping in the same bed as you.

The truth: I know gay teens frequently have it hard. I know Kurt specifically has it hard. He gets bullied a lot, sometimes quite violently. He has very little in the way of a gay-friendly support network. He’s only met one other (out) gay teen (who just happens to be dreamy and talented and into Kurt, so that’s lucky).

But his dad has actually been fairly awesome, on the spectrum of how dads might react to gay sons, and yet Kurt freaks out at him all the time. And the show does very little to indicate that maybe he shouldn’t. The most egregious example in my mind is when Kurt goes ballistic on his father because his father quite reasonably states that Kurt’s crush object cannot sleep in the same bed as Kurt. And because nearly everything Kurt says or does on this show is given full approval from the narrative of the show, it seems we’re supposed to take at face value that Kurt’s dad only has a problem with this because he doesn’t understand his unfairly maligned gay son.

Teens, you’re not allowed to have members of the sex to which you are attracted sleep in your bed unless your parents are very liberal about it. Note to Zoe: I’m not. I’m firmly of the belief that teens should have to sneak around if they want to have sex while they’re still in high school. If the backseat of a car or the bathroom with the semi-functional lock at the party you’re attending is not good enough for you, you’re just going to have to wait to have your very own twin long and sleeping roommate before you have sex. Sorry.

(Another note to Zoe: But still please tell me if we need to get you on the Pill, okay?)

4. Bullying is bad. Unless the victim is annoying. Making fun of poor, misunderstood, unfairly maligned gay Kurt? EVIL. Making fun of annoying, overambitious Rachel? Awesome. When Kurt is threatened with violence by another student, he transfers schools and all the other Glee kids rally to protect him and even get him back. When Rachel is threatened with violence by another Glee Club member, it’s hilarious and a well-deserved put-down of her.

The truth: Bullying is bullying. Victims of bullying are frequently less-than-lovable; that’s why they’re being bullied. It doesn’t make it okay. It’s really not okay on the part of the show to portray the bullying of Kurt one way and the bullying of Rachel another way, because in this case, the show’s creators have been explicit about using Kurt’s story to teach teenagers that bullying is wrong. Well, bullying gay boys is wrong. Bullying annoyingly ambitious girls is fine. Because girls who have ambitions beyond being prom queen are just awful, aren’t they? They deserve all the hatred they get.

Listen, I already hate what they’ve done to Rachel’s character. I think in the pilot she had all her flaws in tact – over-ambition, self-centeredness, the whole Tracey Flick kit and caboodle. But she was also sympathetic and relatable. Well, apparently, people didn’t relate, and because this show is responsive to fan feedback to a fault, they turned her into a hateful caricature of herself as quickly as they could.

And it’s not like this show is particularly kind to women to begin with. The characters on this show who most often represent the reasonable, the sympathetic, the port-in-a-storm-of-crazy are all male. Will Schuester, Finn, Kurt, Kurt’s dad, Blaine. The crazy are all female – Rachel, Terri, Sue, Emma, sometimes Mercedes, the various female guest stars.

It’s one thing when other shows do this. Shows that are either explicitly promoting more conservative values or are explicitly not value-laden (even when they implicitly are) are routinely pretty bad for women. But this show is explicitly progressive, especially in terms of being pro-gay. And generally pro-misunderstood-loser. And it’s still shit for women. It’s a common theme, I find, that the most liberal guys are still misogynists, but I don’t have time to get into that now. This is already too long.

5. You can write a hit television show without writers.

The truth: Okay, you can. If you can capture a nascent zeitgeist and bring it to full flower, if the show’s production values are high enough, if the cast is talented and gorgeous enough, and if you do these phenomenal musical numbers that just blow everything else on TV out of the water like wow, your show can be a hit.

But it will still suck.


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