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Glee: Does It Get Teen Life Right?

Glee: Does It Get Teen Life Right?

Have you seen Glee? Admittedly I have seen it (more than once, or even thrice) and, up to this point, have been putting off the inevitable, which is writing about it. Not because I dislike the show, but simply because it is just such a lightning rod of controversy and speculation, along with being enormously popular, that I figured one less blog post about Glee might be a good thing. Regardless, I have succumbed to pressure, or maybe just simply the allure of writing about a show that endeavors to rewrite the conventional TV approach to teen angst and existential panic.

For those of you that have not been sucked in to the world of “Gleeks,” Glee is an hour-long musical/dramedy of sorts that revolves around a fictional glee club choir at a fictional high school in Lima, Ohio (read: middle America). The glee club is comprised of, what is billed as, high school outcasts or oddballs (a subgroup previously investigated by the wonderful Freaks and Geeks), which consists of one wheel-chaired bound boy, a punky, stuttering Asian girl, and most notably an effeminate and semi-flamboyant homosexual teenage boy (this is where much of the controversy resides) along with a revolving cast of others odd, and not so odd. As all of these teens are aware, to sign up for glee club is to fling oneself to the bottom of the caste system, and transform yourself from anonymous nobody to target for ridicule and reproach. But each of these characters, along with the glee club teacher and hero, Will Schuester, understand that the complex, and sometimes conflicting, emotional landscape of a teenager is best addressed in song, like any conventional musical. However, Glee is smart, sarcastic, absurd, and somewhat charming, while being, at times, overly earnest, and flaunting an overwhelmingly positive moral message – good work, tolerance, and acceptance get you everywhere in life.

But despite these attributes, Glee courts about as much controversy as it does appreciation and fanfare. Most recently for an episode that aired this week, which takes its title from a popular Lady Gaga anthem, “Born This Way.” The episode (and the same could be said for entirety of the show) was about acceptance of both who you are, as well as your imperfections, and focused closely on Kurt (the out and out teen gay character) and a closeted gay football player who had continually bullied him in previous episodes. Without spoiling anyone’s enjoyment of the show who hasn’t yet seen the episode in question, let’s just say it all ends up with the cast gleefully singing Lady Gaga’s pride anthem, “Born This Way,” much to the chagrin of conservative critics and organizations across this land. The shows treatment (some would say endorsement) of issues around the acceptance has garnered a lot of attention for the show, but also mired the show in so much controversy that it threatens to turn the show into a social platform, rather than simple entertainment.

Much, much more could be said about Glee, from its rejuvenation and reinterpretation of the American songbook, to its dealings with teen sexuality (heterosexuality as well as homosexuality). Some parental groups find the themes and issues that the show continually deals with to be too mature and racy for younger viewers (under 13 years of age) whereas some other cultural critics find that Glee doesn’t go far enough in representing a “true” and “genuine” high school reality (this is, after all, a show in which people settle disputes by randomly breaking into song). Are you a fan of the show? Does the show push these issues beyond the level of your comfort, or is it a pioneering and progressive voice for all teens? Is there anything about the show that rubs you the wrong way, or is there some aspect of teen life that has been sadly ignored and urgently needs to be addressed?

Read more: Children, Family, Love, Parenting at the Crossroads, Sex, Teens, , , , , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

77 comments

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7:13AM PDT on Sep 5, 2012

thanks

2:17AM PDT on Aug 31, 2012

Glee sucks.

2:10AM PDT on Aug 27, 2012

thank you for sharing

7:11PM PDT on Jul 16, 2011

I really enjoy the show. I think it's fun and refreshing. I'm so tired of seeing vapid teen shows like Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill popping up everywhere. This show is a unique gem and I believe you have to be as unique as the show to fully appreciate it.

5:39PM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

I watch Glee (not as an avid viewer) and at times I have a difficult time myself watching the show. Its not bad its just not even close to reality. One of my favorite "gripes" about the show is if any teenager would walk through the hallways in school inging she/he would be sent to the principals office. I know the its supposed to be a fun show but I just do get the humor most of the time either.

5:31PM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

Amy:

She (jane Lynch) is the standin (she is gay herself) for the "uncle scrooge" of the show in other words they use her to get ideas across that many people are too dumb to get otherwise.
My mind is a blank at the present as to how to describe her other than she is a stand in for a really bad person that inhabits schools across the country.
She blackmails the principal and does other bad acts. She is a focal point so the show can use her to get ideas across as to what other gay people (and non gay) run into in schools. I guess strictly saying she is a protagonist for the show that casts her as a villain.
I don't know if you have ever watched 2 1/2 men but on that show she plays a psychologist and every once in a while 1 or more of the 2 1/2 men show up in her office with problems and she is terrific in that role. In that role she is not a villain but sort of a story straight person (not sexually) who tries to explain problems to Charlie (and others). She is wickedly funny and if I recall correctly was nominated for an Emmy in the role. I laugh so hard at her part as she is such a great straight actress that her part is just plain hilarious.

5:40AM PDT on Jul 8, 2011

Glee's got great music, but the Gym coach acts so horribly and says such insensitive things that I get put off the show sometimes.

10:55AM PDT on Jul 3, 2011

thanks

3:34PM PDT on May 5, 2011

I like that Glee sends a message of support for the GLBT crowd because there are not many that do

11:46AM PDT on May 4, 2011

Never watched it. Sounds un-likeable to me. Watched a 'South Park' ep that said something along the line of...parents should stay home and teach thier own kids not let the media or others do that for them. Made sense to me.

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