AfterElton: The Glee kids aren’t losers anymore

Give Up on the Idea that the Glee Kids are Losers

It made sense in the first season at least, and it provided an interesting back-drop for the show. But at this point, Kurt has won the football season, Karofsky is coming around, and the whole school has gone nuts over the latest break-out performance far too many times to count. New Directions won. Unplug the slushy machine, admit they’re at least semi-popular and figure out the next mountain to be climbed.

via Dear “Glee”: What You Need to Do to Make Us Keep on Loving You | TV Show Recaps, Celebrity Interviews & News About Gay & Bisexual Men |

Changing this would alter the show immeasurably, but the dudes have a point.


25 thoughts on “AfterElton: The Glee kids aren’t losers anymore

  1. It’s an amusing article, but it continues to confuse multi-faceted characters (a sign of good writing) with inconsistency, and seriously, are we still believing that Rachel is the queen bitch here?

    And, since I’m me and I have to–it actually doesn’t matter if Brittany has an intellectual disability, she still gets to have all the sex she wants, sorry.

    It was nice to have someone finally define what they mean by poor continuity though! It seems to refer to Glee’s habit of bringing someone in for an episode or two and then dropping them when they aren’t needed anymore–rival choir directors, friends, etc. That’s an interesting complaint…it’s just not unique to Glee, or, um, indicative of anything except the surrealistic, focused-on-the-kids storytelling and worldbuilding they use. So I’m confused as to how it’s a legitimate criticism?

    As for the glee kids not being losers…it would, like you say, fundamentally alter the shows’ world. Emily has an amazing post about why that element is critical.

    I think there’s a certain amount of contempt for teenagers in that kind of criticism, actually.

  2. Yeah, I never really “got” Rachel as bitchy. Insecure, bossy, yes, but not bitchy. And yeah, I figured you’d pick up on the thing about Brittany… I actually have related thoughts mostly inspired by another fandom that I’ll have to explore elsewhere.

    I found their argument about poor continuity interesting — especially because I felt the Finn’s sudden “best friend” arc was jarring and awkward.

    I’m going to go have a read of Emily’s post there now. I think there’s only so far you can go with the “they’re teenagers, of course it lacks direction!” argument, but I also use that argument quite a lot.

  3. Mmm. For the record, “going in a direction I didn’t expect/want” does not equal “lacking direction!” Season Two had a direction, which Brittany sums up at the end of New York. Fans might not have considered it legitimate, but it was clear and there.

    And since Laryngitis was all about stealing voices, and intersections with disability, Finn’s Sudden Best Friend was straight out of a Very Special Episode, and that plot was an *amazing* deconstruction. People didn’t like it, because you’re Not Supposed To Do That, and who cares about disabled people, anyways–but, yeah. I was a fan. And it certainly is an interesting definition, in the article. It just feels to me like people don’t quite know what genre to put Glee in–maybe Glee itself doesn’t know, or doesn’t want to–and it annoys them, and that gets labelled as “poor continuity.” In a lot of show formats, characters show up for one or two episodes and then never again. It has a lot to do with expectations, I think.

    I’m curious about the related thoughts, though!

  4. My issue with Finn’s friend is that he never existed before or since, and presumably never will again. I dislike the use of any underrepresented group as a plot device. It just felt cheap.

  5. (rage spamming XD)

    I found this article rather frustrating, because it-gah, most of fandom does this-contradicted itself a lot (whilst telling us Glee contradicts itself a lot).

    They take things at face value and say “well, x character trait is different and a bit opposite to y character trait of the character A, IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE RARGH LAZY WRITING”, rather than saying “x and y are a little contradictory, hmm, I wonder WHY/what they tells us about character A” or “x and y are a little contradictory, I guess that makes character A a human being”.

    Plus I don’t really get how Emma’s favourite musical would be anything BUT Rocky Horror, or that Rachel would be anything OTHER than a leading character (no, seriously, what even).

    Not even going to go there with the Brittany thing, or “Brittany’s bisexuality is one of the most interesting things about her” (plus Julia said it perfectly). Nor am I going to go there with Blaine, because I figured that maybe AfterElton would have, you know, gotten that…

    *off to go be angry somewhere else now, or maybe even study*

  6. I think making the entire Glee club popular (or even not despised) isn’t necessarily what they need to do. The fact that joining Cheerios or the football team didn’t really raise Kurt’s cred, and that winning a singing contest doesn’t get Rachel or Tina any props, that makes sense. It’s hard to for people to go from loser to cool, and none of those characters fit the popular mold, or even try to. What doesn’t make sense is that characters like Quinn and Finn and Santana and Brittany are simultaneously the most popular and least popular kids in school. Finn can get every girl in school to kiss him without catching loser germs, but no sad little freshman joins Glee club just to be near him because it’s just too geeky? Really? Finn and Quinn and Santana are all on prom court, despite being juniors, yet nobody shows up to cheer them on during the Night of Neglect? Really? Everybody looks to Brittany as the epitome of cool fashion, to the point where she can cause trends overnight and be highlighted in a national magazine, and yet she’s really just a loser? Yeah, okay, Glee.

    The first season was all about Finn and Quinn losing their popularity, trying to maintain it, mostly failing, and being okay with that. In the second season, they were popular kids (and not just popular, but the most popular) or unpopular losers, depending on what the show needed them to be. If it was a case of, as Green argues, being beloved for five minutes and then everybody losing interest, maybe I could buy it, but it isn’t. Finn is consistently popular, and Quinn is consistently popular (to the extent that even when she quit cheerleading, she was still the leading candidate for prom queen), except when they need to be the most derided kids in school. They want the story to be about “underdogs”, except for when they want it to be about the ideal high school experience, which is why more than half the glee club are popular jocks and cheerleaders. They’re all “underdogs” the same way Will said they were all “minorities” in season one—because ignoring systemic discrimination is easier than dealing with it, and because telling stories about popular pretty white kids with problems is what TV does.

    As for the consistency issue, for me the issue is less characters acting “out of character” and more the way storylines get resolved in one episode and then treated like there was no resolution in the next, the tendency to resolve storylines and then repeat them in their entirety, and the tendency for characters to forget what happened all of an episode earlier. In “Rumours” Schue thought about going to Broadway with April, broke down crying after realizing how much the kids meant to him, and then decided that he was going to stay. Two episodes later, in “New York”, he had completely forgotten about his revelation and repeated the storyline almost exactly, except this time it was Goolsby and not Emma who prompted the revelation that teaching was his real love.

    In “Blame It On The Alcohol” Kurt talks to his dad about sex and tells him to do some research so that Kurt can talk to him about it. In the next episode, Burt tries to initiate a sex talk and Kurt is not only surprised, but is so weirded out by it that he puts his hands over his ears. (Which makes it pretty obvious that the person writing BIOTA knew that the sex talk was coming in the next episode, and tried to set it up, but then the person writing “Sexy” just didn’t bother to read the set-up.) Kurt and Blaine do a duet as a possible contender for Regionals in “Sexy”, and then in the next episode Kurt is shocked and humbled that Blaine would ask him to do a duet for Regionals. And then there’s Rachel’s “I’m obsessed with Finn and I must have him!” / “No, baby, I’m a firework, I’m going to concentrate on myself” attitudes and the way they vary from episode to episode, depending on whether or not her stalking Finn needs to happen for the plot.

    Really, the issue for me is less characters acting out of character, and more lack of consistent or linear characters, because everybody forgets what happened in the last episode, kind of like in a cartoon. I do think the tendency to go for comedic exaggeration right next to realism leads to characterization that is jarring, though, like Finn being dumb as a post one minute and wise the next. Not necessarily out of character, per se, but a really jarring change from one mode of writing to another.

  7. I think in order to successfully skewer it, the show itself would have to satirize it. If in the next episode, someone asked Finn about his friend and he said “Who?”, that would be satirizing the trope. If anybody ever brought up how they all forgot him, that would be commentary on the trope, or commentary on the characters. Instead the disabled character conveniently disappears from the narrative once he’s done his requisite inspiring, just as he always does, which makes akes it not actually different than any other time a show does it.

    I think the fact that you saw Glee get called out for using that plot device first probably has more to do with rising disability awareness than anything that Glee actually did with it.

  8. The lyrics to One, sung at the end of the episode, do that skewering quite effectively in my opinion. That, and the way the scenes are acted, edited, and shot. There is nothing inspiring about it–Finn is shown very clearly to be in the wrong from the start.

  9. Oh, and re: the “bitchy Rachel” thing. I never saw Rachel as bitchy, but a big part of her character is that she does the same thing that “bitchy” characters like Santana and Quinn do, for basically the same reason–she’s so desperate to claw her way to the top that she (sometimes deliberately, sometimes unintentionally) hurts people. There was the time she insulted Tina because Schue gave her “Tonight”, and the time she insulted Kurt because he wanted to audition for Defying Gravity (and also the time she deliberately hurt him by reminding him that no matter how far down on Finn’s list Rachel was, she would always be higher than Kurt—in retaliation for him humiliating her, but still deliberately hurtful), and pretty much every time she’s implied or outright said that she’s the best and nobody could possibly be as good as her, they couldn’t possibly win without her, etc. Like Santana, she thinks she’s just “telling it like it is”, but she ends up being callous and hurtful. Like Quinn, she wants so badly to win that she ends up hurting others in order to do so.

    That said, one of the things I loved about this season was Rachel’s attempts to empathize with others, reach out to them, and recognize their talent. In A Night of Neglect, Rachel specifically criticized herself for wanting so badly to win that she ends up not caring how it affects other people. The writers are actually aware of the fact that Rachel can be really unlikeable sometimes, and have attempted to write her character growing and changing. I can understand people getting sick of it, though, when she keeps learning the same lesson over and over, and then returning to the same behavior. And it really doesn’t work as criticism of her character if they keep beating her down for acting too entitled to solos, and then giving her a bunch of solos because she’s the most deserving. At the very least it makes Schue look dreadfully inconsistent if he keeps realizing that it’s unfair to just hand Rachel solos, corrects his behavior, and then in the next episode hands Rachel a solo without apparently thinking about it. It’s another one of those things that’s only a conflict when Glee needs it to be.

  10. Rachel was the one who Sean was there to inspire, though–not Finn. And he did–she realized that she wouldn’t just curl up and die if she ended up losing her voice, because Sean didn’t curl up and die when became paralyzed. It’s been a while since I’ve watched the episode, but my reaction to it both on first watch and rewatch was that it was meant to be successfully inspirational. Rachel learned the lesson she was supposed to learn.

    I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree about “One” doing the skewering. Maybe I need a line by line explication or something, but both in the episode and re-reading the lyrics, it seems like standard “serious issue is serious, but also inspirational!” fare to me. It doesn’t actually address the fact that after Sean has done his job and inspired Rachel, everybody forgot about him.

  11. Regarding Laryngitis….I linked to something I wrote about it above, if you’d like. Basically…what you’re describing is when a viewer comes in to a scene with a set of stereotypes already in their head. Rachel isn’t inspired, she’s horrified. Finn coaches Sean in the script, and Sean does not appreciate it, and Rachel knows exactly what is happening and tries to get out.

    Seriously. Read the lyrics. Finn’ first line: Did I disappoint you? Or leave a bad taste in your mouth?

    Yes. The whole point was that Finn was bringing him in and putting him into a script, because that is how these stories go. And it wasn’t shown to be a good thing. He didn’t come back, because he and Finn were shown to not actually be friends–he was just a prop, and that was showcased and skewered.

  12. But Rachel *was* inspired. That’s why she came back–to tell Sean that he had inspired her! “Thanks for showing me that, just because I’m not good at anything besides singing, I’m not no good if I can’t sing. ” Her discomfort in the original scene seemed more about Sean than it was about Finn–perhaps at the inappropriateness of comparing laryngitis to paraplegia, as that author (you?) read it, but honestly, I read it as horror at him bringing up the possibility that her laryngitis could be permanent the way his paralysis is. That’s her character arc in the episode was about. She can’t deal with the idea of her loss being permanent until later in the episode, and Sean’s inspirational example is part of what helps her realize that she could survive after permanently losing her voice.

    The stuff about there being a script and it being an implicit criticism of Finn’s character is…not convincing to me. Sean didn’t go off-script, and Rachel didn’t seem uncomfortable with Finn’s behavior. She seemed uncomfortable at the things Sean was telling her, which turned out to be exactly the things Rachel needed to hear to convince her that she was being self-involved, making too much of losing her voice, and that she could survive losing what was most important to her.

  13. Oh, sorry–I missed in your comment that you were, in fact, the author. Sorry for reading too quickly there.

  14. You can’t cut lines off in the middle.

    “That sounded like something off a terrible greeting card.”

    That matters.

    The fact that you are referring to Sean as inspirational kind of proves my point, to be honest. Of course you don’t see the script–you’re using it. He goes off-script multiple times, joking with Rachel, being sarcastic, not wanting to talk about the injury, and Finn guides him back every single time. Rachel is uncomfortable the instant she realizes what Finn is pulling, and she comes back *without* him.

    I would urge you to rewatch the scene and attend to who says what when, and what the consequences of each line are. In particular, Rachel saying, disbelieving

    “Are you telling me you’re happier now?”

    and Sean saying “Hell no.”

    and then Finn quietly pushing him to, with a sigh, get back on script.

    A viewer not paying attention does not mean the writers didn’t write something. Sorry.

  15. I will definitely rewatch the scene at some point in the future, but for now: okay, I agree that Finn was pushing Sean to tell a very specific story with a very specific moral, and that Sean resisted that easy narrative in some ways. However, the story he did tell was still *exactly the story that Rachel needed to hear*, and once she thanked him for inspiring her, he was out of the narrative, never to be heard from again once he’d fulfilled his purpose. That’s really the point I was trying to make. If the writers were criticizing Finn’s “script”, they ended up just rewriting it, not throwing it away. Rachel may have been aware that she sounded like a bad greeting card, but the greeting card sentiment was still there. She needed to learn a Very Important Lesson, and Sean taught it to her.

    I will definitely say that it was done with more *awareness* of how sentimental and cheesy that particular disability trope is than teen shows usually have, but I still think it was more repetition of the trope than commentary on the trope.

  16. Also, just to make it clear: just because it’s a reading I disagree with or a reading I don’t see doesn’t make it wrong. When I bring up points, I’m trying to get you to expand on your reading and explain things that I see as inconsistent with your reading, not trying to argue you down from your reading. One of the reasons I enjoy media criticism is because of a multiplicity of views, and I’m glad you’ve been able to read a very complex message in that episode, even though I see it as rather simplistic. It is quite possible that this time Glee was just way too subtle for me and a lot of other viewers.

  17. Hmm. I’m with you on the first two paragraphs, up to a point–I’ll even agree that “telling stories about popular pretty white kids with problems is what TV does” while reserving the right to talk about all the ways that isn’t what Glee does (it does that too, but part of the excellence of Glee is that it doesn’t just show the problems of the pretty white kids, and it doesn’t just show the problems of everyone who _isn’t_ pretty and white, it shows that EVERYONE has problems no matter what), but that’s a much longer discussion for another time.

    What I’d like to address is your points about continuity and characterization, because I think you do have a really good point–if you ignore the fact that, in Glee, people don’t always tell the truth, and they don’t always say what they really mean.

    You can take Kurt exactly at his word and say that, right on the heels of an argument, he dropped all his guard, went genuinely vulnerable, and asked his dad for something he really wanted. You could also believe that, when Kurt told Burt to go do some research, he _didn’t actually mean it_–he was trying to derail an uncomfortable conversation. He was feeling upset and defensive and awkward (pretty obvious, I think, in that conversation), and so he shoved the most awkward and uncomfortable thing he could think of right at his father, to make Burt feel off-balance and uncomfortable, too–without really thinking about the consequences. To me, the second one fits a lot better, not just with the next episode (if Kurt really can’t handle thinking about sex to that extent, of course it would be the worst thing he could think of to make his dad deal with), but also with the character of Kurt as I know him. Kurt, when he’s feeling defensive and unhappy, doesn’t go all vulnerable towards the person he’s talking to. He gets mean. Sometimes, sneaky-mean.

    Of course, if you take the characters at their word at all times, they’re going to contradict themselves. If you took me at exactly my word at all times, I’d contradict myself. People change their minds, people react to the moment they’re in, and people sometimes _lie_.

    You can believe that Blaine’s characterization is all over the place, or you can believe that the Blaine we first meet in NBK is a guarded, careful person who acts as best as he knows how, and that as Kurt–and by extension we–get to know him, we get to see other sides of him. You can believe that Rachel’s entire attitude about Finn changes at the blink of an eye, or you can believe that Rachel, like most people, can actually want two things at once–to be with Finn, and not to want so badly to be with Finn. When something’s going on that lets her feel like she has a chance of not wanting so badly to be with Finn–Blaine gives her the opportunity to concentrate on wanting somebody else, the Night of Neglect comes up and distracts her–or when she NEEDS very much to believe she doesn’t want so badly to be with Finn, like after he gives her a necklace and tells her she’s awesome but he refuses to date/be with/even kiss her, then she puts on her Fireworks face and works on not caring. Which doesn’t mean she _doesn’t care_. It means she wants not to care badly enough that she distracts herself with another set of affections, for Jesse when he shows up, for Blaine, for the show/Mercedes, for all the other girls in ND who she’s actually singing ‘Firework’ TO. It’s another kind of lie. And yeah, you can try to make sense of Rachel as a two- or three-dimensional character who always shows exactly what she means and feels, but it’s going to contradict itself. I honestly just find it easier to read her as a three- or four-dimensional character who thinks and feels enough different things that she can only ever show a couple of at once.

    (Also I think we may have different interpretations of Will’s breakdown in Rumors? In Rumors he breaks down because, even though he thinks he _ought_ to stay at McKinley, he wants to go to Broadway so, so badly. Emma’s obviously pushing him towards Broadway hard, he and April part on friendly terms, so even though we don’t see him make the decision, seeing him go for the thing he thinks he really, really wants in New York makes sense. Then he decides that he doesn’t want it after all. Deciding to do the thing you _should_ do instead of the thing you badly want is very different than deciding you want something entirely different from what you thought you wanted. Even if it’s still a choice between the same two options, and the real-world outcome is the same either way.)

  18. Oh, I definitely agree that Kurt wasn’t earnestly asking for a sex talk in BIOTA, and that he was trying to make Burt uncomfortable and deflect the focus from his behavior to Burt’s discomfort. Most definitely. What makes me think it’s an actual continuity issue, though, is that it doesn’t flow naturally from one episode to another. Nothing from the first conversation carried over to the second conversation, and nothing from the second conversation referenced the first conversation. Burt doesn’t say, “Hey, you asked for this” in response to Kurt’s reluctance to talk about sex with him. Kurt didn’t put his hands over his ears and go “la la la” when Burt mentioned the sex scene in Brokeback Mountain. One conversation did not lead to the other. Instead, “Sexy” could have occurred exactly the way it did even if BIOTA didn’t happen, which isn’t really continuity.

    I do think Rachel’s back and forth about Finn is somewhat realistic (and I do think Rachel is a three-dimensional character in general). Where it becomes another continuity issue for me is, again, when previous revelations aren’t just reversed, they’re erased. Nobody—not Kurt, not Mercedes, not Rachel—mentions that entire conversation the three of them had where they all decided together to focus on themselves instead of romance. As with Kurt and Burt’s first sex talk, that conversation could have never happened, and proceeding events would have occurred in exactly the same way (except, possibly, for Mercedes and Rachel’s duet in “Comeback”, which I think was a nice follow-up to their closeness in the previous episode. That pretty much could have happened the same way even without “Silly Love Songs”, though).

    Events happen on Glee, and then don’t affect anything else. To use some other examples: Kurt winning Nationals with the cheerleading team? Might as well never have happened, because it had literally zero consequences, and was never mentioned again. Quinn living with Mercedes? Apparently didn’t affect their relationship whatsoever, because once Season Two started they were back to basically being strangers.

    Of course, I could fanwank it that Sue dropped Kurt from Cheerios for whatever reason immediately after Nationals, and Kurt and Rachel already had it out over the summer over whether winning a National competition with your vocals should even count towards future Glee solos if what you won was a cheerleading competition and agreed never to speak of it again. I could fanwank that Quinn was so obsessed with getting her popularity back that she dropped Mercedes entirely because she thought Mercedes would bring her down (which would be supported by her fighting literally tooth and nail to get her head cheerleader position back in the first episode of season two), and Mercedes is too proud to bring up how hurt she is. It’s perfectly possible to draw coherent characterization and plot out of everything that happens on the show, and to figure out why characters make sharp emotional left turns, but in my opinion, doing so requires a lot of fanwanking and a lot of viewers filling in the blanks. It’s not all there on the screen, which is why so many critics and viewers react to events as out of character or as out of nowhere. I shouldn’t have to make up half the show in my head for it to make sense.

    I did just rewatch the Will scenes of Rumours, though, and on rewatch I actually agree with you. At the end of the episode, he doesn’t actually say he’s not going to Broadway. He just reassures the kids that he’s going to Nationals with them, and that that’s his top priority. He was deliberately ambivalent. However, the structure of that subplot plays out almost exactly the same way in both episodes—Act 1: Schue performs onstage and is enervated by it, Act 2: Schue talks to Emma/Goolsby and they remind him of how important teaching is to him, Act 3: Schue talks to the kids and reassures him that he’s taking them to Nationals/that he’s staying with the Glee club. It felt like a retread instead of a continuation to me, but that really is a matter of interpretation.

    I do think a lot of the problems with storylines feeling unresolved, resolved and then picked up again, discontinuous, etc. probably has a lot to do with Glee having so many characters that storylines will be ignored in one episode only to be picked up again in the next–that is, it *feels* less continuous than it actually is–but there are definitely some things that are just the writers not paying attention or deciding to ignore previous events for the sake of a new plotline or a joke.

  19. Oh, and yes, it’s definitely a much longer conversation that’s probably better suited for a different thread, but I don’t want to make it seem like I think Glee is *entirely* devoted to just pretty white kids with problems (which is a Mad TV joke about teen shows, btw, not just me being dismissive), or that the problems of pretty white kids are inconsequential. I really only have a problem with it when, say, Will equates systemic oppression with being disliked for one’s hobbies, or when Mercedes asks Rachel why she gets all the solos (read: screentime) and her race just sort of awkwardly hangs there in the silence, or when the episode nomnally devoted to neglected characters (all of whom just happen to be characters of color) ends up getting a sizeable subplot devoted to Rachel, because Tina can get an (interrupted) solo but not a subplot. The way Glee does and doesn’t portray “underdogs” as opposed to “just pretty white kids” is definitely a much more complex topic than I probably portrayed it in my original comment.

  20. What I think the piece was keying into on the “popular” front is the fact that on TV, unpopular kids are good-looking and have friends. For those of us who were _actually_ unpopular in high school, it seems dishonest when such characters are framed as losers (see: Buffy and her cohorts as another example of same). But they are losers in the environment in which they are placed, which isn’t actual high school, but TV high school. It’s a thing where we have to put aside our own pain and run with it. It’s why Glee is often hard for me to watch, but I don’t think “admitting these kids are popular” is the solution, because they aren’t.

  21. I sometimes wonder if the answer isn’t — as you say — admitting that the kids are popular, but maybe admitting to ourselves that we, even if we were unpopular, were sometimes, even often, amazing.

  22. I suspect that that is a part of it. I think, though, that they’re also making a deliberate point by grouping in “popular kids” with underdogs, implying that even the people who seem so perfect and happy and in charge are really anything but.

    The original tagline was, I think, about how Glee was for “the underdog in all of us.” It’s also the kind of…darker? theme that Ryan Murphy is infamous for.

    And, well, it’s kinda the theme of season two. Everyone can be taken apart–no one is safe, not even Quinn Fabray. Etc.

    I think it’s a compelling idea, personally.

  23. To Kate: You make sense. You do. God knows, I’ve spent enough times in enough different fandoms (*cough*Merlin*cough*) to realize that ‘with enough effort, a fan can find a logical flow in here somewhere’ is not at all the same as ‘this show has a well-written logical flow’. I just think that maybe there’s a step we’re missing, for Glee?

    Let’s accept right off the bat that there’s a difference between a show, or a story, or whatever, that skips around and looks like a mess and forgets things and leaves things out because the author(s) didn’t bother to pay attention, and a story that skips around and looks like a mess and leaves things out but the author(s) always had a consistent plan, thread, vision that they believed was going on underneath. It’s the difference between saying, ‘this show gave us these disparate pieces because it didn’t give a damn, but if I move them around enough I can find a way to put them together and make them say this,’ and, ‘this show gave us only these pieces which seem disparate, but the writers always intended that if we moved them around enough, they would say this’. That’s a really different kind of thing. Right?

    The second one isn’t always good writing, but the first one is always bad. That doesn’t make it not enjoyable, god knows, and it’s kind of the foundation of fandom, but a story where the author doesn’t actually know what their own implications are, is a badly written story.

    I tend to think that Glee is the second one. And of course, it’s really hard to tell, right? Did RIB _mean_ us to come to these conclusions, or are these just the conclusions we manage to come to? Is ‘Quinn dropped Mercedes in her desperate quest to regain popularity’ actually “fanwank” (which…is not actually any definition of fanwank that I’ve ever heard, but it’s the internet, who knows) or is it, “Well of course that’s what Quinn did, that’s obviously the conclusion anyone will draw, we don’t need to say every single thing explicitly, they’re going to know it anyway”? Since the lines of characterization _do_ always make perfect sense, with a little bit of thought and some extrapolation, I’ve really always erred on the side of ‘the writers have a plan they’re not conveying very well, because big ensemble show, lots of things going on, etc etc’. (I think you would probably agree with a particular post I wrote ages ago– –more than with most of my argument now?)

    Where my mind has changed over the past couple of months is that I’ve kind of started suspecting that the writers are leaving the gaps a lot more intentionally and with a lot more thought, because the closer you look, the more you find clues. They’re never textual clues, but everything from song lyrics to parallelism to costumes and lighting always sort of pop up to ease along the process of ‘which way do these pieces fit’. You’ve still got to do the work, but there are little signposts. Which could be accidental, but the exact same signposts keep popping up again and again. (Example: anyone wearing bright blue is the vulnerable person in a scene, anyone wearing bright red is in power. Episode 9 is always about being shamed by your peers because you’re only allowed to stand out/be special if you stand out in one certain way. Song lyrics _always_ have meaning, no matter how random they seem. Yes, even ‘Bills, Bills, Bills’, which was the song where Kurt officially stopped putting Finn on any kind of pedestal and relegated him to the role of ‘my idiot brother who doesn’t tell me things’.) They’re just not the kind of clues we look for in most shows–you don’t need to analyze the lyrics of the background music in The Vampire Diaries to figure out what’s going on in Stefan’s head, the lighting and wardrobe choices in Doctor Who aren’t expressions of anyone’s inner emotional state. The kind of clues we look for in most shows, textual clues, somebody actually saying, “Do you remember that time when?”, or “I’m just so unhappy because”, those don’t happen at all. Which makes for kind of a confusing story-watching experience, if you’re trained in doing it a certain way, but an interesting one, I think.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is…I give credit to Glee for absolutely _intending_ you to come to the conclusions that you come to. How well they actually accomplish the goal of bringing people to those conclusions, well, yeah, that’s a complicated question, and I don’t think they always really succeed. I do think they succeed way more often than people give them credit for. After all, if you’re going, “well, I _guess_ I’ll just pretend Quinn dropped Mercedes like a hot potato over the summer because she wants to be re-popular,” and that’s what RIB wanted you to think, how much does it matter whether you realize that’s what they wanted you to think all along or not?

    (Just a side note: Burt absolutely _does_ say to Kurt, ‘you wanted me to educate myself, so now we’re going to talk about this’. I don’t remember the exact quote and I’d have to rewatch the scene, but the line is in there.)

  24. I think there’s a lot more evidence of the writers flying by the seat of their pants than there is for a coherent plan. For example, Shelby Corcoran wasn’t originally planned to be Rachel’s mother, but critics picked up on the resemblance and fans lobbied for it, so Ryan Murphy ended up shifting the plan to fit that storyline in, which is why, imo, those two storylines (Jesse connecting Rachel with Shelby, and Jesse attempting to seduce Rachel for humiliation purposes) end up being so unconnected even though they’re orchestrated by the same person. Ryan Murphy was also really upfront about the fact that Quinn’s storyline with Finn was completely unplanned—yes, a storyline that played the entire second half of a season and affected three major characters was completely unplanned. The writers found Sam/Quinn boring, so they decided to ditch it and revisit the Finn/Quinn/Rachel triangle from season one, because that worked pretty well.

    Sam was originally conceived as a love interest for Kurt. The bullying storyline that dominated season two was a decision made once the season was already underway, when the high rate of gay teen suicide due to bullying became a national issue. Blaine was originally intended to show up for only three episodes, but the media and the fans latched onto him, so he started to shift from mentor to love interest. The fact that the writers are willing to respond to fans and to real-world events is great in some ways, but it’s also really counterproductive to long-term planning.

    And yeah, the writers are outside of the diegesis of the narrative, and the author is dead. But the reason I bring it up is that these decisions—to drop storylines; to not follow through on the consequences that would reasonably occur from a storyline; to do one thing or another with a character for the sake of a plotline or a joke, even if it contradicts something that happened earlier—makes the writer’s machinations feel really, really obvious. Instead of paying attention to the story, I’m tracking the writer’s decisions: “Oh, I see. This character is doing this now because this plot needs to happen. This storyline has been dropped so the writers could do this instead.”

    To use an example from the most recent episode, apparently Glee club coach is a paid position now! Schue tells Sue that her attempt to shut down school arts programs is a threat not just to his passion, but to his livelihood. Now, conceivably, of course, Figgins could have turned Glee club director into a paid position (why and with what money is unclear—two years ago Will had to pay Figgins in order to keep Glee alive because it isn’t a class, it’s a club; last year Will was still teaching Spanish and Glee club had no budget for a salary for Will or for anything else, and Glee still isn’t bringing any money in and never has, so why it would be a paid position now is beyond me), and Will could have quit his job teaching Spanish in order to devote all his attention to Glee club.

    The fact that all this apparently happened offscreen, and is a MAJOR shift in how the Glee club operates within the school, and in Will’s life, and a dozen other things, means that instead of paying attention to what’s actually happening onscreen, I’m:
    a) reacting with shock to something I’m apparently not supposed to find shocking
    b) searching my memory to see if I somehow missed some mention of Will not teaching Spanish anymore, Glee club director becoming a paid position, Glee becoming a class rather than a club, etc.
    c) finding in my memory only things that are completely contradictory to what is now happening
    d) realizing that Glee club director is a paid position now because the writers want to raise the stakes, turn Glee into a full-fledged arts program so they can put on the musical that previously was the purview of the drama club, and return Will to his season one state of finding his dream job threatening his life plans of marriage and family, and then
    e) either making up a complicated reason for why and how this is now happening, or else rolling my eyes at Glee.

    And meanwhile I’ve missed an entire scene.

    Things like the dissolution of Quinn and Mercedes’ friendship tend to be a slower build to “hey, wait, what happened there?”, and are somewhat easier to explain away, but my explanation, whether or not it’s the one the writers want me to reach, still isn’t canonical. (And, frankly, is incomplete. Why ditch Mercedes but not New Directions as a whole? Why not avoid her between classes and hang out in Glee club? Did they have a fight, or did Quinn just ditch her? Or did Mercedes’ sympathy and interest dry up once Quinn wasn’t pregnant and wasn’t in immediate need? Hey, look at that, there are like five different fanfics in there, all of which would come to different conclusions about the characters. But there’s only one show, and one version of the characters, and the show should, you know, know what it’s doing with those characters instead of leaving it up to the viewers to do their character work for them.) I could come to the conclusion that they all inhaled some sort of strange gas and got selective collective amnesia, and it would have the same amount of textual support as any other theory about what happened, which is to say, none.

    And just so it’s clear, I don’t think Glee drops every plotline, or that it’s entirely incoherent and ridiculous and transparent. Some storylines it follows through, and some storylines it does in a really great and extended way. Sometimes it’s subtle, and sometimes it’s surprising and nuanced. Sometimes decisions they make because they got bored or because of fan reaction are integrated really well into the flow of the show and into past events, to the point where if I didn’t know better I would think they were planned from the beginning. Sometimes even the plots that are obviously thrown together or contradictory are still really fun or really touching or really meaningful. Its overall themes, which I think are responsible for those little signposts that you mentioned, are generally consistent.

    I don’t think they’re just throwing words on paper and don’t care at all about any sort of consistency, but they are clearly willing to forgo consistency and continuity sometimes for the sake of doing something they find more interesting, or in order to explore a particular message or plot. They care more about whatever they’re doing now than what they’ve done in the past, and that’s their prerogative. But it’s not surprising that the majority of critics and, I’m fairly sure, the majority of fans find this way of writing often sloppy, frustrating and incoherent.

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