“Glee” grows up… a bit
A little while back in the comments, Dante asked me what I thought about Glee’s treatment of gay characters. I haven’t always be thrilled with its hyperdramatic portrayal of its only one (or of its two atheists), but this week was pretty on-the-mark in that respect.
I don’t think anyone watches Glee for the plot, but consider this fair warning I’ll be spilling plot points in episodes up to and including Tuesday’s “Never Been Kissed.”
I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Kurt (Chris Colfer) because he seems so determined to be himself, and also because Colfer is a fantastic singer and an endearing actor. But it’s been hard to ignore some of the character’s stalkerish behavior, especially his bewildering crush on Finn (Cory Monteith), a character I find thoroughly uninteresting with a voice that’s much too auto-tuned.
Still, there have been a few good moments between the two, even if they didn’t always fit within the plot. Exhibit A would be when Kurt’s father (Mike O’Malley) yells at Finn after Finn goes off on Kurt using words like “faggy.” The dad’s speech, about how everyone knows using “gay” and “fag” as a general pejorative is derogatory, was great even though plot-wise Finn was rightly creeped out by what was going on. And in “Duets,” the episode Dante asked me about a little while back, Finn finally called Kurt out on his behavior, saying if he had acted that way towards a girl she would’ve rightly been upset.
While Kurt has been a fun character, he’s also an extraordinarily stereotypical gay character. He loves show tunes, is always wearing the latest ridiculous fashion, goes with the girls when the club is split by gender, and is a bit obsessive in his crushes. In “Duets” he decided to drop his duet with another boy because he thought it would ruin the boy’s reputation and decided to take “the high road,” which was either tragic or offensive. Then he went on to do a “duet” with himself as both a man and a woman, which was either knowingly glib or offensive — I couldn’t tell which. (It also bothered me that he was portrayed as hating religion because he’s an atheist, but that’s another matter.)
Last night we finally got a new gay character, and he’s a breath of fresh air. With Blaine (Darren Criss), we see a kid who’s confident in who he is, apparently a pretty normal guy who’s had it rough but who’s done a good job of dealing with it. The way he’s presented is dreamy, to say the least:
Basically, Blaine is perfect and lives in a perfect environment. But I’m okay with that for now, since I also went to a school where bullying wasn’t tolerated, even if it wasn’t quite as ideal (or nearly as preppy) as Blaine’s. I’m also operating under the (potentially naïve) assumption he’ll become a little more real later, but in this week’s episode his function was largely to counterbalance Kurt, and it worked well.
Along with Blaine we get a closer look at Karofsky (Max Adler), the bully who’s been bothering Kurt for a while now. The bullying of LGBT youth has only recently received major attention and this episode was well-timed, but I thought the resolution of the story missed the mark a bit. Yes, deep down many homophobes are sublimating same-sex attractions, but I saw coming the moment when, instead of punching Kurt, he kisses him, and I thought the show glossed over the fact that it was an assault. Amazingly, they didn’t play the incident up very much and left Karosky barely fleshed out at all.
Much more unfortunate was the entire plot surrounding the very gender-nonconforming Coach Beiste (Dot Jones). At the end of the episode the lesson we’re left with is, basically, that people can tolerate you even if you’re an ugly weirdo. I’m not quite sure what they were thinking when they brought the Beiste character in this season, but I think they’re treading some pretty dangerous water.
The problem with Glee (besides the gaping plotholes) is that it asks us to laugh at characters and then tells us to be sensitive about the very traits it just mocked. That’s just the case with Kurt’s femininity and Beiste’s masculinity. I’m all for seeing the humor in everything, particularly ourselves, but it gets a bit confusing for the viewer and a little uncomfortable at times. Things improved a bit this week — I’d say the Kurt-Blaine plot was one of the best arcs yet — but I’m definitely hoping the trend continues and we don’t slide back into laughing at Kurt getting stuffed into trash cans.
ETA: Some have also brought up the fact the school left Kurt to deal with the bullying on his own, which is definitely not appropriate. But that’s a pretty fair reflection of reality, and the fictional school Kurt goes to hasn’t stopped any other kinds of pretty serious bullying (like locking a student in a wheelchair in a porta-potty or throwing slurpies on just about everyone all the time).