Leader of the Pack

You’re so nice, you’re not good you’re not bad you’re just nice’-Stephen Sondheim, Into the woods

One of the defining aspects of Season 3 has been the notable absence of Will Schuster as choir director. We’ve seen him in his private life but his place in the kid’s lives has become increasingly redundant. They’re growing up and no longer need him but, more importantly, are starting to reassess the sort of things he preaches which in the past they have either blindly or grudgingly accepted.

The first hint came when he stated he would not be directing West Side Story, passing it over to Emma and Coach Beiste. Yet we never actually see them directing. The writers even make a point of having them disappear when there’s actual directing to be done — leaving it to Artie’s clumsy hands. The second was Finn actively taking control of the Lady Music week lesson, even going so far as to invade Will’s territory-yes I am talking about the whiteboard.

Leadership has been a constant theme of this season, and more subtly in the last two; the elections for Student Presidency and Ohio Congress representative have been actively explored. Also on the other end of the spectrum-who will win the coveted role of the ‘lead’ in the school musical? The victors and the leaders we have seen have all fallen into popular preconceptions of who a leader should be but their suitability is one of great debate. At the centre of these coveted positions have been people to whom leadership positions are constantly denied; the homosexual, the handicapped and the black woman.

Kurt Hummel, despite being more than able, has been denied leadership all throughout the series. In Season One he had the nerve to covet the lead in the extremely ambitious Defying Gravity solo. His father had to threaten the school with legal action to even get him an audition with the ‘ever tolerant Mr Schuster’. In private we see Kurt easily hit the note and his decision to flub it is on his own terms. Yet Schuster has never offered him the male lead in competition or even in rehearsal. In Season Two we saw him organise a wedding for his father on a limited budget, whilst incorporating school and the daily torment from Karofsky. This shows that he is a brilliant co-ordinator. In Season Three we have seen him covet and lose the positions of male lead and school president. Of course the song he auditioned for Tony with was inappropriate, but then again so was Mercedes’. Yet she was offered a callback for her ‘radical re-interpretation of the part’. Not once did we see the audition panel offer him any direction as to how to read for Tony, as we also saw in Season One he is more than able to butch it up if he has to. His loss of student presidency speaks volumes about the term ‘popularity contest’, which I found to be an amusing call back to Rachel’s fear that her Diva off against Kurt would be rigged because he was more popular than her. He stood no chance against cheerleader Brittany despite the fact he was the only genuine candidate with a clear agenda and the leadership skills to actually pull it off because at the same time he organised his father’s winning campaign. Once again it’s Will Schuster who tries to usurp a position he assumes he’s appropriate for. I would be very interested to see Brittany as President though or the show having proven it’s point just drops it.

Finn Hudson consistently tries to maintain his position of leader because his social position all but entitles him to it, as quarter back and male lead. Yet Season Two highlighted two insights into these positions — Jesse says that the rest of the guys in glee club sing better than him and Mike can at least dance-so what right does he claim to male lead? Also he also only wins back his position on the football team by default after Sam gets injured. As Season Three arrives, reality is slowly creeping into his privileged world as he realises that what he holds has very little weight — he gets his first competition in the form of the all- round talent Blaine and is passed up for a football scholarship. Also, as a sidenote, he can’t help but forget that Rachel initially had romantic designs on Blaine and they now have a close friendship not to mention terrific vocal chemistry. Yet while Blaine may have won Tony he has still thus been unable to lend his leadership abilities to the Glee club and  — given that he clearly knows what he’s doing — New Directions is losing a valuable commodity. Surprisingly the one that has most stood in the way of victory has been their own director Will Schuster.

It has always been clear that Will is using the Glee Club to relive his own high school days and as we see in a brief flashback he was clearly unpopular and an ensemble member in the Glee Club-as far as I can recall he was never the male lead. He constantly sides with Finn and makes sure that his ego is stroked as both a man and performer. There are two possible reasons for this a) Will sees himself in Finn and is trying to relive his own glory days or b) he is still that young gleek pandering to the popular kids in desperate hope that they’ll like him. The areas he has failed as a teacher have been discussed heavily by other essayists and Sue Sylvester so I need not elaborate to further. But for all his talk of inclusions and the supposed master of the misfits he is clearly more comfortable with two attractive middle class white kids as the representation of the club.

Sue Sylvester, on the other hand, has always been a clear foil. One of Glee’s favourite devices is to play with people’s preconceptions of people by casting them in certain roles. It’s never been about whether Sue is a villain or a danger to the Glee Club we must judge her on her actions. She is an eccentric and proven champion, not just of her team but of the misfits. She is one of the few people to actively try and help Kurt when he was being bullied but she found she was not a match for the establishment. Also her two leaders couldn’t be more different-a Latina Lesbian and girl with down syndrome. Yet these two, under her guidance, have proved themselves to be two of the strongest, most able and fiercely independent characters on the show. All three have a quick and biting wit and all three have at one point been called ‘mean’. They may have said or done things people would classify as ‘unkind’ but you can’t deny they get the job done. Sue was not showing favouritism when she hired Becky; the girl has proved time and time again she can hold her own.

I’ve often maintained that Glee has one of the slyest grasps on social satire in pop culture. Unlike many other tv shows I don’t believe it is not exaclty motivated by plot but more of a stunning insight into individual character and/or a particular theme.

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5 thoughts on “Leader of the Pack

  1. Interesting post. Thinking about leadership…there’s also the fact that Shelby, who has always been the champion show choir director, is for some reason not able to replicate her previous successes at McKinley with the Troubletones. Perhaps because she now has different priorities and is more devoted to motherhood than she is to winning competitions?

    I like your theory about Will still trying hard to suck up to the ‘cool kids’…that could totally hold up…I haven’t ever thought of that possibility before, but it does kind of make sense.

    I also completely agree with this: “Glee has one of the slyest grasps on social satire in pop culture. Unlike many other tv shows I don’t believe it is not exaclty motivated by plot but more of a stunning insight into individual character and/or a particular theme.”

    The Glee plotlines are sketchy at best…but the plot is not the point of it all. In fact, the plot is pretty much just a hanger to hold up the rest of it. That’s one of the things which makes Glee routinely infuriating to watch….but always fascinating to engage with.

  2. Exactly—the thing about ‘glee’ is that while it appeals to such a wide audience, a majority of it don’t get what it’s trying to do; personally I’m shocked that the show has reached the heights it has, it seems like the kind of show John Waters would write. What I love about blogs like this is that people have a grasp about what the show is trying to do and actually take the time do the sort of analysis that the show demands. It does what theatre does; it demands that you look at their world on their terms, anything goes really. The writers are so delicious in that they only really use corny dialogue when they’re trying to make a point and it’s often so tongue in cheek I start laughing and they usually give it to the most clueless characters.
    I loved your point about Shelby; i didn’t write about her because I want to devote an entire piece on her character (when I get a spare moment) and you’re so right about her different priorities.

  3. I’m now wondering how Sebastian fits into this theme as well; wasn’t there a comment in 3.11 that he was now the leader of the Warblers? I am so interested to see what the next episode with him (Regionals, I believe) shows and tells us.

  4. I’m a little confused by the conflation of “lead” as in “lead role in a performance” and “leader” as in “leader of a group”, here. It’s a conflation that Glee occasionally contributes to, but the two are actually distinct things–Rachel is the “female lead” of the glee club, but has also been it’s “leader” as co-captain in seasons one and two; Artie’s role as director is distinctly different than taking on the lead role in a production, etc. So, particularly when it comes to Finn’s leadership, his inadequacies as male lead don’t have much to do with his leadership of the glee club–a lot of this season has seemed to be about him proving his leadership in other ways (recruitment, choosing set lists, giving pep talks, etc.) just as in last season’s Superbowl episode he proved his leadership of the football team by organizing the team and assigning them different roles according to their strengths, which won them the game.

    //at the same time he organised his father’s winning campaign. Once again it’s Will Schuster who tries to usurp a position he assumes he’s appropriate for.//

    I’m also a little confused by this, because once Schuester took the reigns of the campaign, Kurt’s role as manager just kind of dissolved–he wasn’t involved in the planning meetings in response to Sue’s ads, Schue was. So while *I* think Schuester was trying to usurp a position he assumes he’s appropriate for, it seems that Burt didn’t find his participation inappropriate or a usurpation, and his strategies were shown to help Burt win the seat. It wasn’t at all portrayed as inappropriate or as bad leadership.

    //It’s never been about whether Sue is a villain or a danger to the Glee Club we must judge her on her actions. She is an eccentric and proven champion, not just of her team but of the misfits. … Also her two leaders couldn’t be more different-a Latina Lesbian and girl with down syndrome. … They may have said or done things people would classify as ‘unkind’ but you can’t deny they get the job done.//

    I think you have an interesting point about the configurations of Sue’s cheerleading team as opposed to Schue’s glee club, but for the first two seasons of Glee–when the Cheerios were winners–the cheerleading captain was actually Quinn, the straight white popular Christian good girl. When Quinn failed at that role, Sue rejected her, taking her back only when she appeared to be conforming once again. This season, Sue’s Cheerios aren’t actually winners who get the job done–Sue didn’t even make it to Nationals last season for the first time in years, so she has to play her way back from an incredible loss. Now her job is under threat because Figgins fears that she can’t get the job done. I agree that Sue is willing to recognize talent without giving a fuck for other people’s preconceptions, but the configuration of her team right now isn’t actually “winners who get shit done”. It’s “underdogs who are willing to fight their way to the top,” which has also nominally been the configuration of New Directions.

    And in terms of Sue’s actions…well, some of them are villainous and dangerous to the glee club, and specifically to the members who are the misfits of a misfit bunch. She threw sticks at Mercedes and put dirt in Brittany and Santana’s lockers. She appealed to have Tina’s name changed to “Tina Cohen-Loser.” Her actions include trying to frame Bieste for sexually harassing a student. I could go on, but you get the point. Sue is totally a villain, except for when she’s not. Sue totally supports misfits, except when she doesn’t.

    And as a leader, she’s forced her cheerleaders to starve themselves and tried to shoot one of them out of a cannon–it might get results, just as Vocal Adrenaline’s insane rehearsal schedule gets results, but I don’t think we’re supposed to think it’s worth it.

  5. I think people have a tendency to overstate Will’s favoritism toward Finn. Other than choosing him as his best man(which was weird), I don’t think Will has taken Finn’s side over others since maybe season 1.

    I also think it’s important to remember that the writers established Finn/Rachel as the leads of ND in the front 13. It didn’t have much to do with Will as a character so much as it was part of the narrative structure of the show. Plus, Finn/Rachel became the captains because no one else wanted the job. It’s not like Will gave them the position, and none of the other kids got a say.

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