Editors' Note: Guest blogger jb beeson is deputy executive director for the National Youth Advocacy Coalition.
Let's get this out of the way - I'm a gleek. When I heard about you, I was more than excited - a show about choral singing, musicals, queer folks, outsiders, and teenage angst? I squealed with my gay posse, once or twice.
But, throughout, your first season, there was this thing that started picking at me. It had to do with the off-hand comments about the principal's ethnicity. Or the way in which the issue of Artie's disability is handled amongst the characters. Or the fact that one character's name is simply, "Other Asian."
I found myself wincing every time I tuned in. And believe me, this isn't a new conflict for me - I grew up watching musicals, which, many of us know, glorify colonialist fantasies, slump in heteronormative ideals, avoid unequal racial and class dynamics, ride out mysogynist fairy tales, and exoticize people of color identities and culture (read: Miss Saigon, Avenue Q, The Music Man, Flower Drum Song, South Pacific, Hairspray. . . ) So, yes, maybe I should not be so surprised that these narratives are playing out in my new favorite showtune television show.
On Tuesday, April 13th, the opening scene in which Coach Sue Sylvester is shown cutting the ponytail off a student, calling that person a "shemale," then recommending that the student use the hair to "donate to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, they can use it to plug the holes in their trailers." Really, Glee, really? Something snapped for me and I had to draw a line - that is not OK. It's not funny. You tempt me to watch you, then, you commit an aural act of violence against me - you slap my gender nonconforming identity, then you belittle people's struggles in one of the worst US natural disasters in my memory. Whoa. This might surprise you, but, somehow my queer outsider friends and I find ways to have fun and make jokes WITHOUT saying things that demonize or marginalize other people.
It's been one time too many that I have been made to turn off my political consciousness and tendency towards radical critique for me to let it slide one more time. As a queer youth of color, I have grown up consuming culture, pop culture specifically, that required me to check one or more of my identities. Watching you, Glee, has meant that I had to quiet my anger over your ablism and racism, in order to celebrate my love for the very gay culture of musicals and choral singing. I can even accept the tongue-in-cheek tokenism and the interesting way that you approach gag-worthy "rainbow coalition" diversity ideals.
What if I was a closeted youth in the a rural area and all I had to educate myself to "gay" culture was Tuesday nights with Glee? Would you be teaching me that I need to adhere to a gender normative binary and not worry myself with considering social injustice and unequal power dynamics? Would this be part of constructing a "gay" agenda, culture, and lifestyle that churns out a privileged, narcissistc gay community that seeks hetero ideals of marriage and gentrifies whole neighborhoods without notice?
I thought we were friends, Glee, you dazzled me with flashy numbers, flamboyant characters, dramatic twists, and the Broadway hero guest appearances. Is it your dad, Fox, that is making you act this way?
Even as I write this love/hate letter to you, I'm listening to the "Hello, Goodbye," song from that incriminating episode. If you do not start playing nice soon, I might have to say "goodbye," soon.