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.