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Glee...ful?


So, last night on American Idol, in between multiple ads for next week's trimphant return of Glee: Totes pushing all the boundaries, we are really edgy you guys I swear, Randy, Simon, Ellen, and NotPaula managed to spend a good minute and a half mentioning Glee in the damn show.
 

 

Bob's theory is that they get paid extra every time they mention it.  My thought on this was that they must be getting at least 1k every time they mention it, because they wouldn't shut up with the name.

Which brings me to the point that if you say Glee enough times, everything ceases to have meaning, and you get sucked into a giant black hole.

Kind of like watching the series, for me, except my black hole is disappointed expectations and a high amount of disability/race/gender/GLBT fail.  I do like the music, though - so I "watch" the show by listening while I play on the computer with the door open, and come out for the musical numbers.

There are lots of criticisms to make about Glee, and it's actually been pretty well written about,here, here, here, oh, and even visually, here.

The one I want to talk about is the one that actually links in to me (natch), and the legacy of white women's feminism.  The path of American feminism has been largely created by white straight middle class women (somewhat like me), and there is actually now (well, its been known for ages in other circles) a poster child for this kind of feminist.  The kind of feminist who sees the "struggle" purely in terms of Her vs. Men, and refuses to see who she may be stomping on or ignoring, and who cries when called on it to manipulate her way out of responsibility and put herself center-stage again.  She won't see that her demands for parity exclude other oppressed people, thinks injustices against her are the worst evah, and refuses to acknowledge her white privilege, or considers it cancelled out by the fact that she's female.

(Intersectionality is not a simple "addition/subtraction" problem; one thing does not cancel out another. This is complicated, and should be explored by more people. It will help make sense of an awful lot of things going on in the US today.)

"What does all this have to do with Glee?" I hear you ask.  Well, Rachel is a classic White-Centered Feminist(WCF).  And I can't stand her for that reason.  She's all about how much of an underdog she is, but when it comes to thinking of other people, well, her dreams are more important than anyone else, right?  Even if it means that no-one else, ever, gets a chance at her limelight.  For instance, in episode 9, Wheels (which is a whole load of previously linked disability fail), Kurt and Rachel compete for a chance at singing the solo Defying Gravity.  Rachel, when she is told that Kurt is to have the solo, throws a fit, and even though she's had every solo in the show so far, acts like this is her one chance, and it's being taken away from her.

This is white feminism in a nutshell.  A fucking nutshell.  It never occurs to Rachel that maybe she's had a lot of opportunities so far (and has already taken a solo away from Tina), and could maybe afford to be generous. That is not the way of the WCF; all things must come to her, and if they don't, no matter who they go to, she has been cheated, and it is the worst injustice evaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh (insert weeping here). She cannot think about the chances anyone else may (but probably don't) get, because she cannot see beyond her own nose. As long as she's in the spotlight, then everything is fair.  So, Asian women, gay men, black women, people with disabilities - move over. Let the WCF get all that's hers, and then maybe - maybe - she'll think about what you need.

But for now, y'all need to applaud the advances of white feminism, and if you have the nerve to point out that maybe white women are failing to think about anyone else, well, then you're just being mean.

Rachel is oblivious to the hypocrisy in her stance, and I really can't decide how much of her character is deliberate on the part of the writers, and how much is their own unconscious bias. Is she supposed to be sympathetic? Well, in the traditional sense of plot layout, she always gets what she wants, and the others always welcome her, so she's being played like she's a good person, but her actions belie the responses of the rest of the cast. Worse, the writers throw over the other characters, making them give in to her selfish wish to always have the spotlight - Tina gives up on her solo - or something else ensures that she gets the song, like Kurt deliberately throws his audition to save his father bad feelings (and it's a horrible cop-out on the part of the writers), even though the sheer brilliance of a young gay man singing Defying Gravity gave me goosebumps - "too long I've been afraid of/ losing love I guess I've lost"?

Goosebumps, I tell you.

The song has so little meaning when Rachel sings it, but the writers give it to her anyway? Pretty edgy, writers, pretty fucking edgy.

(Is there a sarcasm font for this thing?)

It is natural, as a white woman, to start in feminism without an idea of intersectionality. The question of race is so terrifying to most white people that they talk of feminism (scary enough in itself to the status quo) as if it is completely unconnected to any other fight against oppression, and it takes some self-education to consider well, if I'm white and I'm having these issues with getting equality, how much harder is it for a black woman, or a black lesbian woman, who has to deal with institutional racism and maybe homophobia besides?, and a certain amount of empathy to get why this is really fucking important for all equality. The concept of White Privilege, hell, any privilege, is something we have to make a conscious effort to educate ourselves about, because it is, by virtue of that same privilege, invisible to those that exercise it*. I feel that feminism is a part of the greater effort to make the world better for everyone - not a world where The Patriarchy is turned upside down and into The Matriarchy, but a world where the Kyriarchy is subverted, and oppression is no longer seen as a legitimate tool for governing.

There is no perfect feminism; we're all different in our approaches, and everyone starts with their own experience. But Rachel, and in the wider sense, the series Glee itself, is only taking the first, tiniest baby step. In a Kyriarchy, I guess that can be seen as "subversive" and "edgy", but from where I'm standing, it hardly subverts the paradigm at all. Which, if it was Two and a Half Men or How I met Your Mother, neither of which claim to subvert the status quo in the least, I would be expecting. But Glee claims to push the boundaries, and I can say that the whole get over it! accusation doesn't even begin to apply here, since they promised me subversive and gender/race/orientation/disability positive, and all I see is the same old stereotypes I see elsewhere.

The thing is, I am really tired of seeing it everywhere. I hoped that Glee would be different, and that I could see some characters I could relate to, even if they didn't look like me. Perhaps especially then; I don't need a character to have white skin, be female, be upper-middle class, or speak English as a first language to be able to empathize with them, or I'd never have liked I Am Legend so much. But I do need a character to be something more than a single poorly thought-out one-dimensional stereotype, especially when I have been promised so much more.

Rachel is not me, and should not be any of us.  But as long as she's portrayed positively, then WCFs can feel good, knowing that they've helped someone today.

Themselves.


*The term "privilege" can be misleading for those first coming into contact with it - it is not the extras in life, but the things we can't get rid of even if we try, like the colour of our skin, our gender, the socio-economic class we're raised as part of.  The expectations and assumptions that come with being born white, upper middle class, and female, for instance *cough*, have meant that I can charm my way out of a traffic ticket, no-one automatically assumes I'm shoplifting when I go into a store, and it was expected that I would go to college and do well in life.  Here's a more comprehensive list of the various privileges we do and do not have - it's worth reading the ones you don't have to get a feel for the ones you do.
 

The Male Privilege Checklist
The White Privilege Checklist
The Straight Privilege Checklist
The Non-Trans* Privilege Checklist
The Able-Bodied Privilege Checklist
The Non-Fat Privilege Checklist
The Class Privilege Checklist

And We can't be equal while..., a response to the idea that "we don't need feminism, women are already equal". 

(h/t to Alas, a Blog and Geek Feminism Wiki.)

Comments

( 20 brains — Leave a chunk of brain! )
_medb_
Apr. 7th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC)
Maybe I wasn't watching close enough (and it's been a while since I saw the episode), but I seem to remember Kurt throwing the audition because his dad got a harrassment phonecall about his son being gay, rather than him giving it up due to Rachel wanting it...
(I think that it would have been a much better storyline if they'd explored that aspect more in the episode, but most writers seem to shy away from such things, sigh)
sarahbellem
Apr. 7th, 2010 06:03 pm (UTC)
Yes, that is how the show played it off (ie. Kurt didn't want to make life difficult for his dad, rather than simply caving into Rachel's whinging). I did think that there's a lot of exploration of the dynamic between Kurt's father and Kurt that should happen. The show does a decent job of portraying his father as uncomfortable with Kurt's sexuality, but trying to be supportive and work through his issues. I sure hope they develop that further and maybe Rachel will break her leg right before the finale and Kurt will come to the rescue by singing her solo.

Of course, the way I'd write these things never turn out to be how they are actually written, so I wouldn't hold my breath.
attack_laurel
Apr. 7th, 2010 06:21 pm (UTC)
Yes, what I meant was the writers give it to Rachael again, by making Kurt throw the audition (I'm not entirely coherent today). It's that the writers thought this was an awesome end to the sub plot! Gay kid doesn't do anything to rock the boat! Yay!

(that would be the sarcasm font, again.)

Unless they switch up their storywriting a lot in the second season, all the characters are going to remain completely unexplored in any real sense. Not too happy about this from writers that claim they're "pushing boundaries". >:(
attack_laurel
Apr. 7th, 2010 06:38 pm (UTC)
...I edited it to make that point a little more clear. :)
sarahbellem
Apr. 7th, 2010 05:54 pm (UTC)
I agree with everything you wrote, but I still adore the shit out of that show. Probably because I identify with the personification of Rachel as the cute-but-obnoxious-drama-geek that I fully suspect I was when I was 15. Of course, I never got the solos or the juicy leads or the captain of the football team falling in love with me, which is perhaps where the need to live vicariously through the Rachel character comes from. But I too cringed when Kurt threw the audition, and Rachel pitched a fit about not having "her" solo. That's where the show could have taken that turn at the fork in the road to Awesomeville, but kept right on toward Same-old-shitsville.

And what irritates me, aside from the white female privilege bit that you outlined so well, is that Rachel is supposed to be Jewish, the daughter of an interracial gay couple, so she's supposed to skim around the edges of privilege because she's, you know, not REALLY white (and all the stereotypes that arise when you view her as the Jewish princess, raised to be the next Liza Minelli, because her gay parents are SO into musical theatre! I'm not touching either of those things... Not enough time). It would have been one thing to give Quinn the role that Rachel plays, of the privileged white rich girl who gets everything she wants if she pouts about it enough. People would have written EPIC FAIL all over the show if blond haired, blue eyed cheerleader Quinn were the centerpiece. But again, there's this wink and a nod slipped in there... Quinn is knocked up! She's an evil blue eyed bitch who might sort of want to undermine the club, but also might kind of like it (she's complicated!).

Anyway, I could rant on. And like I said, I love the show. Crazy how that works.

Edited at 2010-04-07 05:57 pm (UTC)
attack_laurel
Apr. 7th, 2010 06:23 pm (UTC)
That is a good point - Rachael does not suffer in any way from having non-mainstream parents, and it's like they're confusing her with the old nasty JAP stereotype, while at the same time, trying to make her sympathetic.

Except, well, Quinn's more human than she is. I'm just confused at this point as to whether the writers are pulling a huge bait and switch on us, or they really are that oblivious to the message they're sending out. :)
sarahbellem
Apr. 7th, 2010 06:41 pm (UTC)
Here's another unexplored area: The fact that Rachel has gay parents, and she couldn't, you know, put two and two together and figure out that she and Kurt might be able to relate to one another on some level? I mean, a gay couple in a small town, and they're not getting harassed, but Kurt's dad is? Even if it is just teenage "pranking", why is one off-screen gay couple getting a pass as somehow acceptable, but the on-screen gay kid is getting harassing phone calls? You'd think, too, that maybe Rachel might be sympathetic to Kurt on some level for that reason, since she's so quick to remind everyone about her "two gay dads". But she sees him purely as a rival. The disconnect is so weird.
attack_laurel
Apr. 7th, 2010 06:59 pm (UTC)
Yup.
chocolatepot
Apr. 8th, 2010 03:21 am (UTC)
I agree with this comment! I wish they'd do a storyline where people didn't roll over for Rachel, and Rachel got over it in a mature way and characters could DEVELOP. I love the show, but I can't stand the way that most of the club are reset to "Rachel's got lots of talent, but I hate her guts" at the beginning of every episode. I wish either people would start liking the Rachel underneath the desperate showing-off, causing her to realize that hey, other people are people too and maybe I should be a bit less relentless. Or vice versa.
zaftig46
Apr. 7th, 2010 06:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the checklists - it;s nice to see them complied; I've put them on my Tumblr, too, with credit.
zaftig46
Apr. 7th, 2010 06:02 pm (UTC)
Err, I meant compiled. And an apostrophe instead of a semicolon. Sorry.
attack_laurel
Apr. 7th, 2010 06:31 pm (UTC)
I compiled them from a couple of places, most notably The Geek Feminism Wiki and Alas, a Blog. There are other good lists at those links.

One of the meta-filter links I used has some nasty anti-feminist junk listed too, so I'm not linking it here.

Edited at 2010-04-07 06:39 pm (UTC)
sarcasticmuppet
Apr. 7th, 2010 06:23 pm (UTC)
Glee is the weirdest show in that, while I intellectually hate so much about it, I can't stop watching it. I think it has to do with how much I love watching Jane Lynch gnaw scenery until it bleeds.

Though I have to admit that the selfishness and fail and OMGDRAMA!!! seems pretty much on par for the course for teenagers. Maybe that's why I always prefer the kids over the adults, who are for the most part unforgivably detestable (Sue in a good way, but still). Sure, they're selfish little dumbasses, but there might still be time for them to change and grow and, you know, not be teenagers any more.
attack_laurel
Apr. 7th, 2010 06:27 pm (UTC)
I really, really love Jane Lynch, who is one of the most incredible improv actors out there (she's beyond hilarious in "A Mighty Wind"), but the Sue Sylvester character is written badly. Either she's a monster, or you're supposed to feel for her, because her sister is special needs? Ugh.

Actually, I find all the adults intolerable, including Will, and I too ften get the sense that it's an ensemble cast of cut-outs revolving around the "nice" white male teacher*.

*Who is vicariously re-living his school days, and thinks nothing of physically overpowering his wife. Ugh.
sarcasticmuppet
Apr. 7th, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
Kurt's dad and Finn's mom were pretty much the only ones keeping me from saying that all the adults were evil, but yeah, ditto. All the other adults make my skin crawl.
reasie
Apr. 8th, 2010 01:41 pm (UTC)
Strangely, "Wheels" is the only episode of Glee I have seen. And I assumed the character of Rachel was the sad old cliche of the bitchy popular girl we were supposed to hate.
whitechocchip
Apr. 9th, 2010 12:07 am (UTC)
I enjoyed reading this, as it was VERY thought provoking.

My first thought was: Are you sure that the writers aren't giving Rachel all the solos because the actress who plays her has the best voice (by "best" I mean "suited for the show-choir type songs they want on the shows"). Mercedes is the only other girl who really gets to have her own moment and that's when her voice is better suited for the song than Rachel's.

I honestly think that a group of high school students of that size is not going to have many super-talented singers. As it is, they barely have enough students to meet the requirements to be a show choir. I think the reason Rachel gets the solos is that (in addition to being played by the actress with the best voice) here character is written to have the talent and experience necessary and to be the girl who's perfect at everything with no effort whatsoever.

Then I started thinking about what I would do in the same situation:
As a fellow student, I would do the same thing Tina and Kurt did and let the singer who could sing the song better or would be more accepted by the public sing it. I certainly would not want to sing a song written from a male perspective unless the lyrics were suitably changed.
As the teacher, I would do the same thing Will did. He is in the precarious position of not being able to afford to lose any singers, so he has to let Rachel have her way. He also has to consider who will impress the judges more and give the group the best chance of winning. In his place, I would coach and encourage students like Tina to practice, but I would not put her in front of such a large audience with so much pressure on her shoulders unless I knew she could handle it. I just think that in real life, the one best singer does get all the solos and is prone to becoming a diva and having the attitude issues Rachel does have.

I don't think the writers are correct if they claim to be "breaking boundaries" or being "edgy". Look at the characters that make up the glee club. They are the SAME ones you will see in any movie or TV show set in a high school or junior high. They are also the same ones you will see in any high school in America, with one key difference. The difference between Glee and reality is that Glee squishes the entire population of a high school into a small number of students. The characters in Glee are written to be representations of every stereotype available. Sometimes more than one stereotype is written into a single character. That's a lot of flat, one-dimensional behaviour to show.

whitechocchip
Apr. 9th, 2010 12:07 am (UTC)
I first started watching Glee in the middle of the season. I was confused and appalled by the adult characters. I hated the show and would only watch so I could hear the songs. However, once I went back and watched it from the beginning, it became exceedingly apparent to me that the characters were designed to be one-dimensional caricatures of stereotypes. The only difference between Sue Silvester and Snidely Whiplash is the moustache.

It's obvious to me that if the writers think their characters represent anything reality-based, they must be on some pretty good drugs. If that is the case, I want to know what they are smoking so I can distribute it to every single chronic pain patient on this planet. The fact that their show is a musical is the only thing unique or edgy about it.

I was reading one of the links, where someone was very mad at the fact that the actor who plays Artie is not, in fact, disabled. They might as well get mad every time an actress dyes her hair for a role, every time a computer is used to airbrush an actor's hairline, or every time an able-bodied actor uses a stunt double (nevermind the fact that stunt doubles are trained to do dangerous things in the safest way possible). If they found an actor who had the look they wanted and the talents required for a role, and then refused to cast him just because he wasn't disabled wouldn't that be reverse discrimination?

Quick side tangent here: It always bothers me when people whine about being discriminated against, yet enjoy the perks of whatever trait gets them that "discrimination". For example, a woman whines about getting paid less than a male co-worker, yet tells a story about getting out of a traffic ticket by flirting with the cop as if that is some kind of triumph. There's where the extra money her male counterpart is earning is going ... to pay the traffic tickets he's not flirting his way out of! I personally do not think race or gender should matter. The best qualified person should get the job. I don't need to be treated by a sub-par doctor, just because the hospital needed more women on the staff to look good to the media. I think that scholarships for colleges should be given to students based on academic or athletic ability, rather than happening to be born a certain race or gender. Let's just all be equal already!!!

I would totally love it if the writers stopped writing their characters as one-dimensional satirical stereotypes, but that would change the slant of the whole show.
I would love for the group to be expanded, and for each individual to represent less of a stereotype. They should add a girl who's really good at singing but really bad at something else as competition for Rachel. There needs to be enough members of the group to allow Will to refuse to put up with Rachel's petty attitude. They need to add more music to their repertoire that is suitable for the voices of Mercedes and the other girls.
I would love for Rachel's parents to appear on screen and to meet Kurt and help him and his dad deal with the prejudices and difficulties that come with being something that isn't seen as the acceptable societal norm.

However, I can wish and hope all I want, until the writers decide they want a more realistic, more serious show, it's not going to happen. Therefore, I might as well enjoy the music and laugh at their silly, one-dimensional characters. I tend to think of Glee as the same type of show as things like Family Guy, or The Simpsons ... who really does any of the things seen on any of those shows?

Well, that's enough of that ... I think the hamster that runs on the wheel that drives my brain is catatonic at the moment. I apologize for any misspellings. Everything I have written above is just my opinion, and anyone who doesn't like it is invited to print out this page and burn it ... just don't light your house afire when you do :)
whitechocchip
Apr. 9th, 2010 12:08 am (UTC)
LOL had to split it into two comments :)
cunhavel
Apr. 9th, 2010 01:19 pm (UTC)
I think that the problem with Rachel and people's strong reaction to her is that we have been primed by her situation--underdog--to like her, but we don't. We expect that her previous suffering would make her more sensitive and giving, but that is not the case for Rachel--she's selfish and manipulative--and I'm not sure that we should expect that from a realistic character: suffering does not always make us nicer. To the contrary: suffering can make us into serial killers.

There have been objections that Rachel hasn't suffered for having two dads, but why else would Rachel have been unpopular? She has all the qualities necessary for popularity in high school: straight white teeth, good hair, nice shape, etc. Her slight dorkiness is not sufficient to explain why anyone would douse her regularly with soda. So it's because she has two dads or because, face it, the students realize that Rachel would slaughter them all if Ryan Seacrest made that a condition of a singing contract. Maybe Rachel is being kept down by her peers to keep Rachel from devouring the whole school.

We have expectations of Rachel because we want the underdog to make well and to do well. We don't want to dislike her because that suggests that we have been tricked. And maybe we have. Maybe the writers are pushing boundaries, subverting our expectations. Maybe Rachel will get invited to the prom and be elected prom queen, make us very excited, teary-eyed, even, for her success, only to have pig-blood poured upon her and blow everyone up with solos from "Carrie The Musical." (This is a deliberate reference, in case you are wondering. Carrie = underdog who discovers she has power and kills everyone, contrary to good underdog behavior. It's certainly what I would have done in high school, so I can't criticize.)

Being an underdog does not mean that Rachel is less sociopathic than any popular cheerleader. We don't expect that she is a sociopath because that's now how the underdog trope works. The underdog loses the glass slipper, pulls the sword from the stone, becomes a swan, etc. Rachel is sort of doing those things by becoming the glee club star, but what if, the writers may be thinking, what if we depict a diva behaving like a diva?

I am not disturbed by Rachel. I am content to dislike her while loving her voice. I can't wait to hear her sing, but would be happy to see a piano fall on her head as long as she lived through it to sing again next week. I mean, I do want to see her punished, but don't care enough to become upset when she isn't. If she kills Kurt with her tap-heels because he wins a singing medal and then gets to go on to success as Sally Bowles (and receives praise for being even edgier than Jennifer Jason Leigh), I can be neither surprised nor terrifically disappointed.
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