You may have noticed I have more or less stayed out of the comments on the posts about/by the Glee Equality Project (GEP).
My views on the aims of this group, I believe, are widely known, and I felt it unnecessary to contribute further, especially since I’ve been interrogated on Tumblr non stop by people who turned out to have other agendas.
But this does concern me, because I believe it seems to represent a very clear divide in a community of people who are queer and who are yearning to see their stories on television. I don’t know whether the divide is age, or rural/urban, or experience? But it’s very real, and I don’t think it needs to be as bitter as it is.
Let’s be clear here: I have no interest whatsoever in listening to straight people tell me that Ryan Murphy is homophobic. Or that Chris Colfer is a corporate shill for FOX. I have no interest in straight people who tell me I’m homophobic and that they know how gay characters should behave in relationships for it to be real. The only person who can point to another queer person and call them out on homophobia is another queer person. The moment people started shouting accusations of a gay writer being homophobic, it became an in-community discussion.
This conversation is for the queer people who are looking for their own story, not straight people. Obviously, this is the Internet, where nobody knows you’re a dog, so you could lie, but seriously? Grow up. Get a life. Have your own conversation about whether Finchel really is how you want straight characters represented or something. Or go make out with your opposite-sex favourite person in the hallways at school. All straight kids do that right?
Comments may be heavily moderated if that becomes necessary.
Now, business. Several arguments I’ve been presented:
Art Vs Commodity
I’ve been accused of treating Glee as though it is a worthy work of art. Well, ok, I think it is, so I’m guilty of that one. I do think writing is an art. I think acting, set design and props and costume design are arts. I believe, and have studied it extensively, so I should know, that music is itself an art. So yes, I do put Glee under the heading of “art”. And art isn’t easy.
This is the thing about telling stories. You think it’s easy. You think that the lies you tell your friends and family are “stories”. They’re not; they’re just lies. Fanfiction is often nothing but a fancy daydream, and you honestly wouldn’t read most of it if the characters weren’t already skillfully established for you.
Storytelling requires work, practice, careful thought, observation, structure and several concrete actual skills. You want them to tell a different story and that is sort of your own tough luck. They have a story to tell and they’re telling it. You can either glean from it what enjoyment and edification is in it, or you can go find another story you like better. You can complain, (hey, I sure do!) but starting a full on campaign feels like telling an artist what to do.
And then, the argument follows that it is not just art, but a commodity, and that viewers are patrons, who pay for it, so they should have a say in it. That’s not strictly true. First, the advertisers are the patrons. We are the product they’re paying for, and the show is quite simply bait. Stop flocking to the bait and the advertisers will stop paying for it, and it will disappear.
The problem inherent in that scenario is that you will delete about 80% of queer representation on television if you get rid of Glee. Why do they pat themselves on the back for being progressive? Because they are.
Who gets the most airtime?
A lot of people complain that Brittany and Santana and Kurt and Blaine don’t get enough airtime. Finn and Rachel get too much. Or who cares about the Wemma wedding? The thing is, the actual main characters in Glee have always been Rachel Berry and Will Schuester. They, and their love interests will always attract a disproportionate amount of screentime. It’s not subjective. Finchel and Wemma are the story. Brittana and Klaine are not.
In fact one of these couples was an accident. Writers noticed that the Brittany and Santana couple were popular, so they went beyond the “hot lesbian cheerleaders” gag they’d been running with and gave the two girls feelings. To me, it was clever and subversive and while Brittany and Santana do not represent my own experience of queerness, I certainly don’t have a problem with them being on it, and I’m delighted that others find representation there. Kurt and Blaine speak somewhat more to my own vision of queer, so I’m more invested in them, and according to the GEP, they get almost as much screentime (20 vs 34 minutes dialogue) as Finn and Rachel, and Rachel is the female lead. I’m confused as to how that isn’t amazing.
Clearly, my expectations are lower. I’m 36. My only early representation of homosexuality on my television was Caitlin Ryan on Degrassi Junior High wondering if she might be (gasp!) gay. The happy ending is that (whew!) she’s not! Literally, that was it. And that was considered progressive and controversial in Canada in my teenage years.
The first stream of research looks at physical affection. We absolutely recognize the importance of other measures of equality on the depiction of relationships on television, but we believe first and foremost that equal amounts of physical affection are important. Why? So that gay kids watching can see that they’re normal and natural and not “inappropriate for family hour”. So that gay affection can become normalized for straight people too. We don’t believe that there is equal treatment on Glee, and we believe it needs to be fixed.
I think this quote here represents a fundamental disconnect between the expectations of this group of fans, and what the show actually is. Glee, in itself, represents a kind of heightened reality. It is not a fantasy program, or a dreamlike utopia. While the things that happen in Glee aren’t entirely realistic (complex musical numbers, sets and lighting happen out of nowhere, etc), it is more real than real, with the effects like this hilighting the truest emotions and realities even while being so obviously not real.
This means that the characters are not political action figures.
As far as Glee showing gay kids that they are suitable for pre-watershed life, Kurt and Blaine lost their virginities to each other in the show and it’s well established in canon that Brittany and Santana have been having sex since Season 1.
Because the show represents a kind of heightened reality, try and imagine a show that has a character whose primary plot point is that she’s poor. And yet, in the show, people open doors for her at every turn. She doesn’t even worry about university because she knows she’ll get a scholarship or a grant. She looks good in the amazing clothes she somehow finds at the thrift store. Her teeth are perfect as is her dye job. She always wears something fabulous to the parties she gets invitied to and always manages to come up with a present to bring too. Now imagine you’re poor, and you’re watching this on television. Wouldn’t you mostly be disgusted?
Agency and Respect
This is where Jacq gets angry a little bit. Because there’s this:
Our third stream of research for the campaign looks at more qualitative issues including agency. This is of course a more subjective and fluid area for consideration and discussion, and tends to focus more on the lack of respect afforded to LGBT couples. This stream is characterized by observations, such as the fact that Santana and Brittany never once talk about Santana’s forced outing (including what it may mean for Brittany) in “I Kissed a Girl” or elsewhere, or the fact that Kurt and Blaine do not talk about what to do with the evidence Santana collected against Sebastian following the slushy incident in “Michael”. We don’t believe the straight couples on the show were treated so dismissively.
A specific example concerns conflict resolution among the couples. In the episode “Saturday Night Gleever”, each of Finn, Mercedes, and Santana had storylines to do with being uncertain about their futures and were helped out by their significant others in this regard. All three storylines were resolved in that episode. Finn/Rachel and Sam/Mercedes both kissed as part of their resolution, while Brittany and Santana hugged in front of Sue Sylvester in her office.
This is not equal treatment.
In the episode “Dance With Somebody”, Kurt and Blaine had a fight that was resolved. Like with Brittany and Santana in “Saturday Night Gleever”, however, they were not given the privacy or opportunity to share a kiss as part of this resolution. They hugged in front of Emma Pillsbury in her office.
This is not equal treatment.
We believe there is a problem, and we’re going to keep fighting for that problem to be rectified.
Murphy acknowledges recent controversy over allegations that “Glee” has shown far fewer romantic gay scenes than heterosexual ones over the past TV season: “I really understand how important it is for so many young people to turn on a show and say, ‘Oh, I’m like that character and I wish I had that bravery.’ When I was growing up, I didn’t have that. I get it. I appreciate it. I commend the passion … but there is no other show on network television that has done more for gay characters and stories than ‘Glee’ and I’ve fought hard for that.”
Can we sit back and think on these words for a moment “… and I’ve fought hard for that.”
So, my opinion is that the divide between the queer people who support the GEP and people like myself who do not:
- The show is about Rachel and Will, but a lot of people wish it wasn’t.
- Gay kids cannot safely be affectionate in public schools, and a lot of people wish they could.
- The LGB experience is not one experience and it changes over time, too. Glee clearly does represent well, for a lot of people, myself included, what life is like when you’re queer. For others, it does not. Clearly, for the gay people involved in the show, they believe they are representing a progressive picture of gay youth. While this should be respected, it would be interesting too, to see a show set somewhere more accepting than Lima, Ohio. Like, maybe New York City. And see how that changes what can and can’t happen.
- There’s a lot of suspicion that FOX has been censoring the show of queer content. To be perfectly honest, when one of the actors involved spoke up at Comic Con without being asked and denied that, that settled that in my mind. Now that Chris Colfer has dismissed the claims as well, I don’t even feel like it’s worth suspecting anymore. Am I naive?
What do you think?