I admit it. I’m a Gleek.
Glee is the one television show where I catch every episoide. It is the one show where I keep favorite episodes on my DVR so I can re-watch the most affecting scenes. It is the one show for which I read spoilers and for which I read viewer discussion the following day. And it is the show I most miss when it is on hiatus.
However, the evolution of the Gleekdom universe of which I am a part has gone in directions that I find disconcerting, even disturbing. Many or most of these problems relate to a basic misunderstanding of what the show is and what it is trying to do.
Glee is not Shakespeare. Rather, it is a fun little television show based around singing and dancing and hilarious one liners. It augments that with engaging characters about whom it is easy to care, and a basic sensibility that highlights people who are often marginalized, often on the outskirts of popularity – gay people, nerds, artistic types, overweight people. And then it occasionally tosses in serious topics like bullying, spousal abuse, feelings of inadequacy, etc. But at its core it remains a fun, light hearted singing and dancing show with likable people.
It also, and this is vital, exists in an alternate reality where the rules and conventions that apply to our “real world” are, how shall we say it, “flexible”. A world where the choreography to a song and dance number is perfect even though the participants do not know the number is coming. A world where the cheerleading coach plans to shoot a cheerleader out of a cannon. A world where a full slate of musicians – people obviously with no lives of their own – magically appear whenever a song is needed to explain a character’s situation. A world where a few guys, a few girls, and a couple of empty spots can compete to win a championship football game.
Clearly, this is a fantasy world, a Wizard Of Oz type world, a Picasso vision of magically distorted reality. Not a world meant to be taken at face value, not a world to be micro-analyzed for conformity to how we in the real world live our lives.
So how, specifically, are my fellow Gleeks going wrong in their reactions to my favorite show? Let me count the ways:
1. Some Gleeks are always lamenting the lack of consistency in the show and the characters. Beyond the fact that a show with strong fantasy elements has more leeway with consistency, one of the best things about Glee’s characterization is that the characters are NOT consistent. They DON’T act and react in the same ways from episode to episode. In this regard they are like real people. Cardboard television characters can be consistent because writers make them so. Real people have ups and downs, good days and bad. They are kind and considerate one day, short tempered or unpleasant the next.
I’ve never met a single person who didn’t have both a good side and a bad side, who didn’t have the capability of seeming to be two different people over time. That is human nature. So Rachel might be utterly self-centered in one situation, and then caring and helpful in another. Finn might be dumb as a post about something, but then share words of genuine wisdom. Sue might be dismissive of Kurt one day, but then defend him the next.
Glee’s characters are MORE real, not less, when they show us both their good and their bad. When they are vulnerable and lovable one day, but then make us dislike them another day. That is one of Glee’s strongest attributes.
2. Some Gleeks bring their own personal biases to the show, and they interpret it on the basis of those biases. People who like Tina and dislike Rachel think she should have had the solo for Nationals, despite the fact that that idea makes no sense when Rachel is the better singer and a senior. An alarming number of people rabidly dislike Will, and so they hate any plotline he’s in and anything he says or does. Lesbians view Santana in a one dimensional way, completely overlooking her cruel and bitchy side. Others hate her for her bitchy side, and are unable to see the caring human being beneath the surface.
A large segment of the viewership literally worships Kurt, and is upset with anything that keeps him in the background at all, or any plot line in which he is anything but triumphant. On the other hand there are those who dislike Kurt for his flamboyance and effeminate side, and so are prejudiced against anything he does. Those who dislike Christians marginalize Joe as “Teen Jesus”, while those who resent the straight Damian McGinty for besting the gay Alex Newell in The Glee Project dislike Damian’s Rory character.
I’m wondering if Gleeks react to the real people in their lives in this way. Is everyone in their lives one dimensional, a hero or a villain? Does one negative act or comment lead to a lifetime of resentment? Wouldn’t we enjoy the show more if we brought open minds to our viewership, if we saw people and the world they live in as complex and multi-dimensional?
3. Some Gleeks try to analyze Glee with a realistic standard that the show doesn’t even try to meet. By now everyone should recognize that Glee doesn’t exist in a normal reality. And yet they take umbrage with the fantastical details. Consider the episode where Sue put an official in the hospital by pushing him down the stairs. “She should have been arrested and fired,” people whined. Well, of course, in the real world. But this is not the real world. Intentionally so. The music in that sequence betrayed it as an act clearly not meant to be taken at face value.
Or consider the common complaint that New Directions didn’t even write their songs last year for Nationals until the night before, or that they prepared very little this year compared to “real” Glee clubs, or that they were sewing their own costumes. In the real world these things, and many, many others, would be as grotesque as shooting a cheerleader out of a cannon. But when we’re in Gleeville, like Oz, we’re not in Kansas anymore.
4. It’s become de rigueur for people to complain the writing sucks. I completely disagree with that assertion. Essentially, people are blaming the writing when the show does something with which they don’t agree. Finn did something we don’t approve of? Hey, it’s bad writing. Blaine kissed Rachel even though we can’t abide the idea of a gay guy ever kissing a woman? Well, it’s just bad writing. Characters don’t act like we think they should, Kurt doesn’t get enough screen time, etc. To all that and more, our coping mechanism is to blame the writing.
However, viewers should ask themselves the following questions. Does the writing produce interesting characters that you care about? Does it create interesting plot lines that are intriguing or challenging or that make you think or make you feel? Does it make you laugh when it tries to be humorous? Does it create a rich, multi-layered experience that makes you want to tune in the next week? If so, it’s good writing. So stop complaining that it sucks.
5. Most importantly, fans are taking the show far too seriously. Following each episode, Gleeks take to their computers to micro-analyze each scene, each character motivation, each plot development. Some inspect the show on a frame by frame basis, looking for clues, such as when they supposedly discovered a condom wrapper in one frame during the Kurt and Blaine sex scene. The discussions go into such minutiae and such depth that you’d think people were discussing the implications of Platonic philosophy in the modern world.
People analyze to the nth degree all of the character motivations, citing specific scenes from episodes of prior seasons to make their cases. They rage against characters whom they don’t like, or who cross one of their favorites. They feel intense pain when one of their favorites is seen as failing in some way.
To me, the most head-scratchingly bizarre example of this phenomenon is the meme that Kurt has been portrayed as a loser, that the writers are somehow intent on making him suffer and fail. The people who feel that way must have lived high school lives infinitely better than mine. Kurt is an extremely talented singer and dancer with a prominent place in a now championship Glee club. He has a wonderful father, and new family, a cute and sensitive boyfriend, and a wide assortment of other friends. He was a serious candidate for senior class president, and he just had a successful audition to get into his dream arts school.
And yet many Gleeks moan about how awful he’s been treated by the show, and they seem to feel the pain they think that he must be feeling himself. I don’t consider myself to have been a failure in high school, but I would have just about sold my soul to have the life that he is living.
In an earlier era, the original Star Trek generated a fan reaction similar to what Glee generates today. Instead of Gleeks there were Trekkers (or Trekkies to those who didn’t know any better). Fans studied the episodes, analyzed them for motivations and explanations for later actions, and became fixated on the characters and plot developments.
In December 1986, William Shatner was guest host on Saturday Night Live, and he played himself in a sketch that has become both infamous and iconic. (You can see it here). Addressing a group of fans who obviously took the show too seriously, he said, exasperated by their questions, “Get a life, will you, people. For crying out loud, it’s just a TV show”.
Reading some of the fan reactions to Glee, I sometimes feel somewhat the same as Shatner did about Star Trek. It’s just a TV show. It’s fun and funny, it makes me think and feel, it gives me pride that gay characters are more prominent there than on any other show. But in the end it’s still just a TV show. Gleeks (yes, myself included) really need to get a life.