Sunday, April 14, 2013

Talking Points 10--Glee Extended Commentary

For this post I intend on providing extended commentary on Julie Kessler’s post on Glee. I will utilize not only Julie’s post but also the episodes (Pilot, Never Been Kissed, and Furt) themselves.

Before I dive in I just want to point out some of the things that I noticed. The first episode alone was filled with moments that spoke to concepts we’ve discussed and meditated on throughout the course. We were particularly able to see these concepts come up when the students were speaking about
themselves. With Rachel she talks about how she doesn’t have much time for outside friends because she’s too busy with her networking online. This immediately made me think about the first media artifact group and the Toyota Venza commercial they used. Teenagers being so disconnected from reality and subsumed into the world of hyper-reality of the internet. We also got to see a bit of Kimmel (in all of the episodes but we first see it in the episode) with the footballers harassing Kurt, and later Finn when he joins the Glee club. In the case of Kurt it was homophobia as homophobia, but with Finn it was homophobia in the way that the Kimmel article described---misogyny projected as homophobia. He had failed to be a “proper man” and they had to try and put him in his place.

Speaking of Finn, in his end scene (starting with telling Puck that he’s not quitting until the end), we see a lot of the discourse of “becoming” that Raby discusses. Finn seems incredibly conflicted with trying to be someone, with being on a journey to becoming a “man” that his mother and others could be proud of. This discourse of becoming serves as motivation for Finn throughout the series (we also see this in Furt when he’s clearly struggling with doing the right thing and being particularly hurt when Rachel says that she’s disappointed in him).
Now, on to my extended commentary. I’m basing this off of Julie’s comments/questions for class. She asks:What do you think of Glee’s overall messages? Positive portrayal of characters? Bad writing aside, do you think it makes a difference?

As I mentioned in my comment toJulie, I have a really big issue with Glee, particularly when it comes to representation. I understand Glee’s message which is basically “We’re all different and weird and come from different backgrounds with different skin colors, sexual identities, preferences, etc. We’re diverse! And that diversity is beautiful. Our differences make us special”. However, I wonder sometimes if Glee even understands its own message as often the way in which the show operates tends to contradict with this idea. Glee preaches tolerance, but the way in which it is so dependent on flagrant stereotypes is anything but tolerant. It highlights ignorance. It’s a big problem I have with Glee and, even moreso, its creator Ryan Murphy. He seems to think that because he is in a marginalized community he has some sort of skeleton key that allows him to make fun of other marginalized communities and prey on stereotypes as if they are his to “reclaim”. He’s able to use a form of hipster ignorance (which presents itself as hipster racism, hipster sexism, etc) to hide behind so that he never has to truly take accountability for the messages that he puts out in to the world. It’s as if he thinks we’re so beyond certain topics that we can joke about them in a way that simply recreates the oppression/marginalization. Casting the main Black girl and making her into some sassy diva isn’t a huge stride when it comes to Black female representation. Mercedes (the name alone preys on Black naming stereotypes). In the very first episode we see her neck-snappin’ and sassy-talking. Her and Kurt are THE sassiest characters, which is a stereotype of Black women and gay men (the sassy Black woman, the sassy gay friend). Speaking of racial stereotypes…Mike Chang?! He gets pushed to the sideline most of the time but when we do get to meditate on him we’re given  the same old tired Asian-stereotypes. It’s hard to think that it’s coincidental that he’s the one man from New Directions whose girlfriend needed to think about Bieste to cool down and not take things too far sexually. It feminized Mike in a way that Asian men have been, and continue to be, feminized and emasculated in American media. Do I think Ryan Murphy did these things intentionally? Not necessarily. Some things, such as Mercedes’ characterization, are too obvious to think Murphy didn’t know what he was doing. But other, more subtle things (like the Mike Chang example), are probably simply symptomatic of a secret education Murphy himself received overtime and is continuing to spread to others who are taking in his messages by watching his show. 

What were the things that stood out to y'all throughout the episode(s)? Which reading that we've done so far did you find yourself mentally turning back to while watching? Were there any previous texts that we've encountered that seemed to speak more to your experience viewing the Glee episodes, and if so what were they? What stereotypes did you pick up on while watching the show? Do you think that the intended message of Glee is still able to be effective even though the show and its creator continues to perpetuate various forms of marginalization?


  1. The asexuality of Merceides. The Sapphire stereotype, as well.

    1. The Sapphire is certainly described above as the Sapphire trope is, to be reductive, the sassy/angry neck-snappin' ball-bustin Black woman.
      The asexuality of Mercedes is a good call, and it speaks to Murphy hearkening back to the mammy trope (which is exemplified by her weight as well. Bigger black women with little to no sexual desires are quite common in Hollywood. They're often in servile positions. We can make the argument that Mercedes, by being a side character who is mainly there to hold up her friends and to help the New Directions win competitions/do well, is also in a servile position). It's not unusual to have multiple stereotypes in one character. The sapphire mammy is certainly what we have here.

  2. Hi Andrea! I'm glad you enjoyed my post! I read your comments, but I haven't had time to go back and respond yet ('tis crunch time), but your comments were wonderful as always. As you know, Glee and I have a difficult relationship; it went from a kind of love-hate to more of a hate-hate over time. It sort of comes back to the class discussion of representation, but at what cost? I'm always happy to see more diverse characters in mainstream media, but I definitely have issues with how they are presented, and I liked your response (to either my post or to someone else's, I think), where you noted that minority characters are only utilized in the show when the writers need them for a stunt, or for some random, forced storyline; I noticed that too, and played it along with the sloppy writing.

    Anyway, the reading I saw most blatantly was the Kimmel, and I clung to that. But I also saw that Glee was attempting to combat the dominant ideology noted by Croteau (amongst other readings).

    Fantastic job on your post! See you in class!