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?