Glee doesn’t always make me happy
Yes, I confess that I watch “Glee.” Every week I punch that show up on Hulu because I like musicals and I love the idea that there is a weekly TV show that is a musical.
Yeah, they mercilessly edit the songs and use autotune way too much.
Yeah, they have great broadway singers like Idina Menzel and then give her one solo in a half season.
But it is a musical! On TV! Come on! How is that not awesome????
If you are looking for a show with what are quite possibly the worst female stereotypes imaginable, though, “Glee” provides one of the best examples this side of the Playboy channel. Pretty much every female character on the show is a bundle of neuroses and bitchiness that wouldn’t be so infuriating if the boys on the show were equally neurotic.
For a show that has one of the most understanding and healthy depictions of a teenaged homosexual relationship, how is it that we are treated to a series of “teenaged” girls who are nowhere near as normal as any of the women I know?
I was especially annoyed this season when Mercedes was given a plot arc where she became more assertive. “Assertive” in TV speak means “turns into someone you hate.”
Here you have an overweight black woman (the only black character on the show) who has had issues with her weight (which is fine) but eventually accepted herself as herself. She has found a group of people who accept her for who she is and provide a support structure that I know a lot of people wish they’d had in high school.
So what happens this season? She decides she wants more leads and rather than being reasonable (or even bitchy) about it, she leaves the Glee club, forms her own and starts poaching the Glee club to come join her so she can have a club that is all about her.
Basically, she screws over her friends and I’m supposed to sympathize with her? These are people you’ve been through thick and thin with and when you are all on the verge of something great you say “screw you – if I can’t get everything I want, I’m going to do it myself.”
It was such a departure from one of the core concepts of the show – the nerdy kids sticking with and supporting each other – that it made the first half of the season nigh on unbearable.
Up until that point, Mercedes (the token black character) and Tina (one of two token Asian characters) were the only two female characters who felt even slightly sympathetic. Tina, of course, gets to play mostly the supportive girlfriend role and sits around waiting for the one solo she gets per season.
They have to autotune every song Finn sings but Tina gets one solo per season.
Who else do we have? We have Quinn, who is so filled with self loathing that she regularly sabotages everything good around her. Give her a chance to have a relationship with the daughter she gave up for adoption and instead of allowing her to make good choices, you have her torpedo that opportunity almost immediately.
Santana actively tries to push everyone away from her and is, if possible, more masochistic than Quinn. Yes, we learn much of that comes from her own fight to come to grips with her sexuality but it doesn’t make her character any more likeable.
Britney is likeable but stupid. The whole idea is that she isn’t so stupid as she seems and she has a very kind heart but still, almost all of her laugh lines are centered around the fact that she is clueless. She is balanced by Puck, who gets most of the clueless guy lines and that would be fine if she wasn’t part of a larger pattern.
Rachael basically spends every episode making one self-centered wrong decision after another so she can come around and do the right thing in the last five minutes. Never fear, though, she’ll be a self-centered diva at the beginning of the next episode.
Even the adult women on the show are crazy or bit players. Sue Sylvester, obviously, is the show’s villain. Jane Lynch is glorious and I love Sue as a character but let’s face it, as a role model, she isn’t exactly top-notch.
Emma is obsessive compulsive and can’t bring herself to consummate her relationship with Will. The story is so old at this point, they seem to have just let it fester because they don’t know how to resolve it. Her neuroses make her interesting and funny but it feels like they have also left her with nowhere to go.
You know who the best female character on the show is? Coach Bieste. Here you have a woman who doesn’t look like a model, who has self-esteem issues (and in this society, a woman who looks like her wold) but who is also a freaking football coach. And a good one. She can also sing, as we finally found out this season. About fucking time.
Actually, now that I think about it, Sue Sylvester might be a good role model. She may do horrible things but she is, at least, always true to who she is.
Which brings me back to what they did with Mercedes this season and why that one character choice pissed me off. Mercedes wasn’t a “good girl” but she was genuine. When she betrayed her friends, she ceased to be genuine and became just another bitchy, self-absorbed girl in a cast that was already full of them.
Worse, there has never been a point where she acknowledged that she betrayed them or that she missed the people who were supposed to be her friends. Instead, she just kept telling them how she wasn’t going to come back and how her club was going to beat their club at sectionals.
It was manufactured conflict and it was a disservice to the character.
Thing is, this isn’t anything new. When TV shows take a female character and they want to make her more assertive, they almost always do so at the expense of her soul. You can’t be strong and self-confident like – say – Sue Sylvester without also being a bitch.
I know a lot of strong and self-confident women and I can confidently say that none of them are a bitch.
Where “Glee” falters is in the fact that almost every woman on the show is the source of conflict and the men on the show become the source of resolution.
Take the two homosexual characters on the show. When Kurt came out to his father, his father was amazing. I thought it was a brilliant decision because it showed gay youth watching the show that coming out didn’t have to be a horrible experience. It showed that some parents can be loving and understanding.
When Santana came out to her grandmother this season, she was thrown out.
Now, I thought that was a good call on the surface because we’d already seen an example of an accepting family. The reality is that the other extreme exists and you shouldn’t ignore it or pretend it isn’t a possibility.
But we have a male relative who was understanding and a female relative who was absolutely horrible.
The man serves to make the situation better and the woman serves to make it worse.
I don’t think these decisions are on purpose or deliberate. They just are. And they are frustrating because so much of “Glee” is worth admiring. The non judgmental way the show deals with teenage homosexuality, teen pregnancy, bullying and simply finding a way to live as an outcast are all things to admire.
As is the fact Puck can always find a guitar when it is time for him to sing a song and there is always a string section when you need it.
The problem isn’t “Glee,” the problem is that these female stereotypes are everywhere and while the show makes an effort to be progressive in some areas, those efforts serve to highlight the areas where they have made almost no effort whatsoever.