Robert Hsu | Not so Gleeful after all
The Casual Observer | 'Glee' may not be making much progress for the LGB community
March 13, 2012, 10:37 pm·
The Casual Observer
Every Tuesday at 8 p.m., millions of viewers eagerly tune into Glee to listen to its flawless covers of the latest hit songs, to follow up on drama among the characters and to catch the latest details on the budding romances between Kurt and Blaine as well as Brittany and Santana.
If you’re unfamiliar with the show and wondering if I made a mistake in the previous sentence, I did not. Two guys, two girls — and yes, people do want to know what happens between two people of the same sex. Many critics have lauded Glee for unabashedly portraying gay and lesbian characters that are key to the storyline, along with its inclusion of sensitive topics such as coming out, homophobia, bullying and sexual identity.
Although progress has been achieved on the surface, the show’s unrealistic and incomplete depiction of gays and lesbians detracts from the visibility and understanding it seeks to bring to the LGB community.
Viewers have witnessed two characters officially come out: Kurt and Santana. All of their classmates and parents accept them wholeheartedly without question.
They do suffer some resistance through Dave Karofsky who bullies Kurt, and Santana’s grandmother who painfully rejects her. But Dave only appears at intervals in the show and the scene with Santana’s grandmother just lasts only a few minutes, making the homophobia that does exist in the show seem inconsequential.
In the latest episode, Dave attempts to commit suicide after he is outed by his peers. But the fact that he appears inconsistently leading up to the tragic event, fails to show viewers a complete picture of a teen struggling to accept his sexuality.
The portrayal of Kurt and Santana as strong and empowered gay teens may have been written to influence viewers positively, but it significantly downplays the gravity of homophobia in our society and makes coming out seem unrealistically simple. Sexuality is not an ephemeral guise. It is an integral part of one’s identity.
Furthermore, the relationship between Brittany and Santana is made to seem less important than Kurt and Blaine’s. Their relationship is borne out of romance while the lesbian relationship appears to stem from a brief sexual encounter that took place before Santana even acknowledged her sexuality.
A skeptical viewer might even see how Brittany and Santana were choreographed to tantalize the eyes of straight men. Their relationship develops abruptly and is often inconsistent, allowing viewers to forget that lesbian relationships based on love and commitment do exist in real life.
When critiquing Glee, we must first think about why we watch TV in the first place. We watch TV because it makes us feel less alone on a rainy Friday night, because it allows us to laugh uncontrollably when the stress of a midterm sits in the pit of our stomachs and because it causes our hearts to beat quickly as we watch a crazy fight scene. TV is candy for our eyes and ears.
Bob Schoenberg, director of the LGBT Center, reminded me that Glee, after all, seeks to entertain. “As a show, Glee is unrealistic, and you can’t watch it like a documentary,” he said. “How is it realistic that the characters suddenly break into song in the middle of the hallways, while singing and dancing perfectly? There needs to be a certain degree of suspension of disbelief when it comes to TV.”
Does Glee have to become an “after-school special?” Do we watch it because it provides educational value or do we watch it for pleasure? With this in mind, perhaps Glee should not be expected to live up to high standards.
As much as we think we can ignore what we see and hear every day, we cannot. Our society is teeming with evidence of the media’s influence. Magazines tell us that we need to be a certain size, weigh as little as possible, dress in the latest fashions and work out excessively. The media has altered our perception of beauty and has the same power to shape our understanding of gays and lesbians.
As Glee gains a larger following, it will have to consider the potential effects it has on its viewers’ understanding and perception of the LGB community. The show’s success to date gives it the potential to reverse ignorant views of gays and lesbians that plague society.
But unless the show thinks twice about how it portrays its characters, Glee could easily become just another show with gay and lesbian characters.
Robert Hsu, a College and Wharton freshman from Novi, Mich. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The Casual Observer appears every other Wednesday.