Glee fail

Well, crap. Glee is just a big phlegm ball of fail. A popular one, at that. Because of course it’s easiest to teach the masses lessons about power and privilege by packaging it up in bright and shiny popular culture. Disney was the master.  As bell hooks has stated, not even the most intelligent person can survive the onslaught of images burned into our brains by television.

Oh, Glee!  I kept wanting to hope it would be different.   And it looked promising with its post-racial diversity, although I knew better.

Yet like a naive idiot who hangs around under the table hoping for a delicious crumb to fall off, I got all excited when I heard the rumor Charice (a very famous Filipina singer) was going to join the cast.  Then I noticed a blond guy was joining. So I wondered which of the characters of color were going to be knocked off.  Turns out the black guy who never said anything disappeared.  As did the football coach.

Plus the blond guy got more lines in his first appearance than Harry Shum (an Asian cast member) got in all of last season.  That was a pretty good tip-off.

Charice got to show her pipes.  But she also got used in a racist joke where the Rachel character talks to her loudly and slowly.  Note that I differentiate between a “racist joke” and a “joke about racism.”  Although I’m sure it was meant to seem like hipster irony, a little nudge-nudge wink-wink about how silly racist people are.  I think the problem here is twofold.

First, people assuming Asians don’t speak English has very real ramifications on us.  Like when employers say they like you, but they have concerns about whether you have the sophisticated grasp of the English language required.  Or when you don’t even get call backs, maybe because of your funny foreign name.  Or when a white guy is presumed to have written your work, because obviously you couldn’t have done it.

Second, this presentation of racism as something that is silly and harmless and foolish on the part of the perpetrator ignores the very real harm that racism is to our communities.  It ignores the way we are treated as the butt of a joke.  It ignores the way we are dehumanized.  And it makes racism seem so old school!  Because we never get beaten to death because of our appearance.  For being foreigners.  For not having the right to exist.

Glee has certainly had its Afterschool Special episodes in which there is a Very Poignant Teaching Moment.  So why couldn’t we see that when Charice was assaulted by a character’s racism?  Because she’s too shy and quiet, I guess.  Lacking in agency.  Just a shiny object to reflect the lead characters.

And while she adds to your Diversity Credits if you feature her in a song or two, you wouldn’t want a steady diet of diversity.

Like Harry Shum.  I don’t doubt that this guy is probably a halfway decent singer.  I imagine that all the featured players are probably better than average singers and dancers.  Yet in the “duet” episode he is portrayed as a bad singer or maybe a comic singer.  Guess it would be too much for him to be both a good singer and a fabulous dancer.  Kind of like having the black female lead be a mainstream hottie.  Yeah.

Shum is often ignored in scenes where it would make sense to feature him.  Like dance numbers.  I don’t want to see the female lead or the male lead.  I WANT TO SEE HARRY SHUM, DAMMIT!  Just try and watch for him in some of the numbers.  It’s hard to keep him in sight.  Instead you have to see other characters’ big open mouth faces in closeup.

Shum undoubtedly got bigger screen presence because of popular demand.  But basically they just made him a more visible one-dimensional character.  Do his lines now fill out his character?  Does he have any depth?  (I noted in a previous rant you could tell which characters matter by their back story or absence of same.  Shum’s character has no family or outside life.  And the black woman’s character took the gay guy character with her to church and we never met her parents.)

If anything, he has become a cartoon version of a stereotype.  He’s a walking Asian joke.  Not that we haven’t seen it before.

Sitting under the table again, I got all excited when Shum’s character said he wanted to play Frank N. Furter in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Even though I knew it wasn’t going to happen.  And sure enough, it didn’t.  The reason?  His character says that his parents aren’t cool with him playing a tr*nny.

Never mind the portrayal of Asian parents as close-minded.  (The implication here, of course, is that white people are all so wonderfully open and sensitive.)   What really ticked me off was the use of the Asian character, who rarely ever talks, to gratuitously throw out a slur.  A slur that went uncommented on by any of the other characters.  A slur that undoubtedly will be picked up by Glee fans.

I could go on and on.  There was also that little toss-off line about harassing “fatties.”  And I have a problem with the whole portrayal of the wheelchair user (and that the actor is not disabled).  Seriously, Glee, your choreographer never heard of wheelchair dance?  Read this:  Proud Mary:  Glee’s Very Special Sham Disability Pride Anthem

But yeah, a big phlegm-filled fail.  Mostly for making us think we’re all so aware and hip but recreating and reinforcing all this crap about privilege and power.  Plus the music makes my ears hurt.

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12 thoughts on “Glee fail

  1. Well, I do agree with you on a lot of things…the scene where Rachel is acting racist towards Charice? It was meant to show how rude and abrasive Rachel was, and to humiliate the character a bit when Charice responded in perfect English. They could have been more clear about it, but Rachel is…well, Rachel, and she’s a character that many find abrasive and irritating, and she’s written to be that way. You were supposed to watch that scene and get angry at her unthinking racism. And I think the fact that Mercedes isn’t a mainstream hotty is a good thing, we get some different female body types on the screen! …Even if she has to wear more concealing clothes when playing Frank N. Furter for no reason whatsoever.

    And Harry Shum’s character, Mike, in Duets, was revealed to be close with his family and culture, maybe to an unhealthy extent (all of his and Tina’s dates being traditional asian food, at his house) and very shy when it comes to singing. I loved him in this episode. The song he and Tina sang helped him start to make the transition from unwilling to sing solos, to singing an honest solo, as the song is supposed to sound bad, and the singer has to change his voice in order to properly sing it. And Tina, his girlfriend (who is also asian) is quite fleshed out.

    I don’t know, I’m not disagreeing with you, just some of your points. I hate that Matts gone, I hate how Mercedes is fading into the background, I hate how a lot of the diversity in the characters is not as diverse as one could expect with the diversity of the cast.

  2. I totally agree with you. I despise Glee because it comes off like it would be such a “post racial” show but it isn’t. Which makes it worse in my opinion.

  3. I also disagree with you on a few points. I too appreciate that Mercedes isn’t a mainstream hottie because you know what? I’m not a size 2, so I appreciate seeing people who aren’t size 2s on my screen act (mostly) confident in their bodies and confident in their talents. So that’s something.

    The reason they don’t show Mike dancing much (like they don’t show Brittany) is because they outshine the cast rather significantly in dancing ability. They’re trying to make it more homogeneous. Would I like to see both of them dancing more? Yes, I would.

    And as for his singing, I think it makes a better storyline for him to be very shy about singing. I actually don’t know if his character is meant to be a poor singer, or if a song where he could speak his first solo was just meant to be a first step for him. Remember, he was characterized as shy last season when they brought up that he was afraid to dance outside of his room. Hopefully they’ll go somewhere with that.

    I would like to see more of the non-white characters since its’ always nice to see fellow-not-whites on my TV screen. I also think that perhaps your accusations, while not baseless, are not entirely fair either.

  4. While I love Mercedes and am always thrilled to have a plus-sized character, I am tired of the perpetual and sole intersection of fat and black. The shows and movies that have these characters want us to think of them as being progressive. But there’s still an attitude of fat=bad and since black women aren’t as important/interesting/beautiful as white women, it’s okay to make them even more inferior by being fat. Black women are already considered “other” so Hollywood has no problem othering them further.

    On that note, my jaw dropped with this week’s episode when there was a fat white woman (in the back ground so you couldn’t see her face) who walked across the screen without taking a prat fall, being ridiculed, or otherwise shown to be an abomination. Yay progress sob.

  5. I was intrigued by the publicity surrounding Glee but was disappointed. The episodes I’ve seen have had their moments – there was a bit where Rachel told off the chastity club in the first episode, for instance, and I thought the rather unlikeable Quinn did become a bit more well-rounded in later episodes – but after a while I was totally bored of good white man duped by scheming blonde – twice!

    Also they define a ballad as a song that tells a story and then sing a lot of songs that aren’t even ballads by their own definition. It’s not a major complaint but it’s the sort of niggling non attention to detail that makes me think that they don’t really care about the story they’re telling :)

  6. I hate “Glee” and everything about it, so this was rather a breath of fresh air for me.

    That said, while I see and mostly agree with your point about Mercedes’ weight (that it’s part of a trend of portraying women of color as sexually undesirable), I do feel slightly stung by the strong implication that overweight = unattractive. I’m a size 12 and would like to see more people like me on TV. But, y’know, would it kill them to have a cast with, say, more than one black woman, in more than one size, in a major speaking and singing role? Just a thought…

  7. Elliana says “And Harry Shum’s character, Mike, in Duets, was revealed to be close with his family and culture, maybe to an unhealthy extent (all of his and Tina’s dates being traditional asian food, at his house) and very shy when it comes to singing.”

    Why is being close to your culture and family unhealthy? What qualifies as a “healthy” or “unhealthy” extent?

    So, basically Tina’s beef with Mike was that he’s “too” Asian? I didn’t understand that argument between Tina and Mike because it seemed like the show was just to reinforce the notion that Asian food as “abnormal” and by using an Asian figure to do so, saying “Look! Even Asians don’t like Asian food!”

    It could very easily have instead been a more universally relatable topic about their relationship and Tina wanting to have dinner alone with Mike instead of always in the presence of his parents.

    Also, dim sum for dinner?

  8. I like Glee because greater than half the time, I like the music. I like some of the characters, but most of the writing is completely stupid, and whenever they get ahold of a topic that they could really make a statement about (like the last episode with Kurt and the new Coach) – they FAIL.

    So I’m often disappointed by Glee, but I still like it. I try not to expect too much, and end up running across gems like the ‘Dalton Academy Warblers’ who turned Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream into something I could listen to over and over again. I’m a harmony junkie and these guys turned it out for me.

    Mercedes was totally hot as Frank N Furter, but I felt weird about her being the Dr. instead of a guy. Calling the only other large woman on the show a beast also doesn’t sit right with me. Not to mention the missing black guy who never talked, Artie not actually being disabled, and Mike only being in the club because he can dance (what?!)..

    But the thing I HATE about the show = Mr. Shue. We’re talking fire-of-a-thousand-suns hate. His privilege drips over everything, turning every exchange into an obvious white-guy-saves-the-day thing. He’s a slimy dude, still trying to get Ms. Pillsbury even after she’s moved on to much greener, Stamos-covered pastures. And he’s not even written/portrayed in the way that you’re supposed to totally hate him. Just as though he’s playing the role that he *should* play – as the white savior/teacher. [HATE him.]

    And yet. I guess I’m one of those people who sometimes supports racist crap like Glee because of the trinkets they throw at me. (ie – hot young dudes doing a capella harmonies)

  9. Some people I know were discussing this the other day. I just wish they’d take the characters stereotypes and bust them open and flip them around. they are trying, or at least, that’s what they set out to accomplish, but they basically just turned the story into a not so clean version of high school musical. They are floundering at this point, throwing in random story ideas and not really focusing on much of anything, just taking an issue and haphazardly trying to tackle it. It’s more of a fumble to me. The only thing saving this show for me is the music, because otherwise it has no novelty.

  10. Yeah, I really hate that american shows always depict asian kids as having an “overprotective” and “not as understanding as whites-with-open-arms” parents. And though I have nothing aginst, you know, plus-sizes coming out on the show, I still think that a black or an asian female character could afford to be hotter. DON’T GET ME WRONG. I think Mercedes and Tina are both wonderful. It’s just that, well, why is it always that it’s the white chicks that are prettier? Why do the female and male lead both have to be WHITE? Why can’t asians outshine the whites for once? Seriously. And I know people are probably tired of hearing this again and again, but asians are not all interested and savvy in technology. Please.

  11. Mike (the asain guy ur talking bout) is starting 2 become a developed character! He is dating one of the main characters, Tina, he loves to do everything asain (racist but adorable) like he’ll say things like “asain kiss” or “asain couple’s therapy!” (seriously). And I bet the black dude left because he had another commitment or movie! And charice will be back by nationals as a major competition!

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