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Glee Loves Gays? Oh, Puh-leez, Mary!

For a show supposedly dedicated to the importance of people being themselves, Glee doesn’t push the boundaries of sexual orientation and gender identity/expression. On this week’s episode, “the boys” play songs by Kiss, and the girls (and Kurt, the “faggy” guy, as described by Finn, one of the boys), praise Gaga.

As in the other three episodes I’ve watched, there’s way too much auto-tune punctuated by after-school-special moments of lesson-drenched monologues. In the most annoying one, Finn gets lectured by Kurt’s father, who won’t allow Finn to stay with them because of his homophobic attitude. (Okay, I’ve got to give the show a few points for that.)

But at the end of the scene, the father touches Kurt on the shoulder, literally at arm’s length, and the second Kurt touches his hand as a sort of reply, his father pulls his hand away. After such an impassioned tirade against homophobia, the gesture suggests, “I care about you, Kurt, but I’m not sure I love you.”

Overall, Glee doesn’t seem much different than other shows that have exploited gay characters in the last ten or so years. These shows have attempted to make grand statements in support of equality, but the gay characters are usually outsiders, portrayed as either too special or too troubled to integrate into the core group of friends and family.

Although I don’t know Glee well, I’m pretty sure Kurt is the only gay character. He serves as lead fashion critic and charms the others with his soft-spoken fierceness, but he’s a flimsy paper doll among a dramatis personae of cardboard cutouts.

When two jocks threaten him near the end of tonight’s episode, he proclaims that he will never change from being “different” and gets ready for them to rip him apart. The other “freaks” in the glee club, led by Finn in a, frankly, really ugly red dress, come to his rescue.

It’s telling that characters in this episode use words that indicate lack of acceptance. Kurt describes himself with a vague term (“different”) and Finn uses a slur (“faggy”), but neither uses the oh-so-common, straightforward descriptor “gay.”

Some of the Gleeks I know have explained that it’s just a silly TV show playing with stereotypes. If that were true, I would love this show and watch it faithfully. What I see is a common, Disney Channel-style mix of bland stereotypes excused by cold politically correct lectures. It reeks of tolerance, not acceptance. I want something more daring (and sassy and ironic yet fleshed-out) than that, and preferably without auto-tune.

I just chipped a nail while depleting my quota of hyphens, so I’ll stop there, sweetie.

3 Responses

  1. As you know, I enjoy watching Glee.

    I would never say, as some of your other Gleek friends have, that it’s only “playing with stereotypes.” Stereotypes do abound on the show (Kurt’s character is not the only one), but they are not played with. They’re frozen. Take a look at Slutty & Stupid Cheerleader Girls or Voluptuous Self-Accepting African-American Diva. Those characters, too, keep performing their stereotypes. (And what about F**ked Up Guidance Counselor Virgin?)

    I think that if Glee actually *played with* stereotypes, as your other friends claim it does, the show could develop interestingly. Realist that I am, however, I doubt that they will: Glee seems to have worked out its formula for success, and why should the producers or cast mess with the status quo?

    Interestingly, “Stick to the Status Quo” was a song in Disney’s hit High School Musical series. It was supposed to be ironic. 😉 Here’s a verse:

    No, no, no, nooooooooooo
    No, no, no
    Stick to the stuff you know
    If you wanna be cool
    Follow one simple rule
    Don’t mess with the flow, no no
    Stick to the status quo

    As Disney goes, so goes Glee, as you point out, j3.

  2. Jimmy,

    Sorry to be so long getting this response to this post. I started reading it before I watched the episode you talk about, so I stopped so I could watch the episode first.

    I’ve shared some of the concern you express in the initial couple of paragraphs, I thought I’d throw my interpretations out there.

    I don’t know if you saw the episode where Kurt tried being straight, but his father hugged him at the end of that episode. The Kurt “arc” (not to suggest for sure there’s any growth or movement happening there) has had a lot of focus on Kurt’s relationship with his dad. Kurt has tried hiding it from his dad, only to find out his dad knew all along,

    I took the arm’s length shoulder-squeeze as his father being too ashamed of himself, as he just admitted in front of Kurt that he used to say those same hateful and hurtful things when he was in high school. In past episodes he’s made it clear (and even said so) that he loves Kurt, and has not been afraid of hugging him in past episodes.

    I think Kurt calling himself “different” is also part of his growing into who he is. While there are teens today who are very comfortable coming out, I don’t know how many of them are in rural Ohio.

    Yes, it would be nice if he could have a love interest (maybe even someone on the football team, but you know that would have to be super-clandestine if it were to be true-to-life), and it would be nice to see a bit more growth in everyone… but then again, how much to people really grow and change in this world? Yeah, it’s ideal, but I think it happens a lot less than we see on television or in the movies.

    Personally, I think Elmer Rice had it right in The Adding Machine: Some of us actually get worse!

    Anyway, been wanting to throw that in. I’m not trying to sell you on the show. I enjoy it, but I’ll watch just about anything. Just wanted to defend Kurt’s father… I think they’ve been doing great things with that father-son relationship this year.

  3. […] Then I started really paying attention to how Kurt is portrayed. Many of my friends are thrilled by the appearance of a fun, flamboyant, talented gay kid on a major TV show, but… but why is he always counted as one of the girls? In episodes dealing with slushies to the face and school picture day, Kurt preps in the girls’ bathroom, with his female Glee-pals. When he dances for the football team, his inspiration is Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” not a more unisex (or gay male, for that matter) song (someone should give Kurt some Communards, maybe). Like I said, others have dealt with this issue better – my friend James Black, for example, on his blog. […]

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