I’m wild about Glee. It’s inspirational television for teens, a beacon of hope that passion can trump status and music will bring us all together. I’ve got chills – they’re multiplyin’.
As a bonus, the show offers a whole lot of conversation starters for teen viewers, and I’m listing mine below. I’m going to let you see my cards first: I think the show does a shoddy job with its female and minority characters, who bring to life damaging stereotypes. But this is also an opportunity to talk about stereotypes with kids, so let’s use it. And there’s plenty to be psyched about: straight talk about girls and sex, a moving coming out scene between father and son, men who hug and cry, and, hello, Jane Lynch!
I’ll have more to come, I’m sure, but if I was teaching right now, here’s what I’d be asking:
How does Mercedes manage and express her anger? How might her comments and behavior reinforce stereotypes about African-American women and girls? Is this a fair representation of an African-American girl?
What I think: African American women and girls are often pathologized and labeled “too loud” or aggressive. When Mercedes belts “Bust Your Windows,” a song about her disappointment that Kurt will not reciprocate her crush, she becomes violent, smashing up a car. When she gets upset, she threatens to “cut” someone. Would Quinn or Rachel act this way? Mercedes is playing the “angry black woman” character. This is a gross, harmful generalization about African-American girls.
We hear almost nothing from Tina, the Asian-American character. How does her silence reinforce stereotypes about Asian-American girls? How does her style and personality undermine stereotypes about Asian-Americans?
What I think: Asian-Americans are often portrayed as quiet bookworms. Glee busts Tina out of the bookish part, but she says so little that she’s gutted of personality. If this weren’t such a hideous display of stereotyping, her lack of dialogue would be laughable.
Do you think Rachel is a likable character? Why or why not?
What I think: Rachel is fundamentally unlikable by girls because she comes off as too conceited and arrogant. Can’t a female character be ambitious without being obnoxious? Would it be possible to represent an aspirational girl without painting her as a know-it-all?
What did you think of Rachel’s response to Finn’s manipulative behavior when he tried to get her to rejoin Glee? Should she have forgiven him so quickly? What would you have done?
What I think: Finn sexually manipulated and lied to Rachel. Within minutes, she’s singing and lovingly looking into his eyes. Did he even apologize? I think she looks like a doormat and shows none of the spunk she demonstrates in her professional projects – which further suggests she’s a caricature of an unattractive, ambitious female.
Why would Kurt, who is gay, say “that’s so gay?” How might this be like other situations where you find yourself saying something that really degrades who you are? Think about girls who call each other “slut” and “ho” or who use fat talk (“I’m so fat”).
Would it be harder for the show to have a gay character who looked and acted more like a “conventional” guy? Why does Kurt have to be, well, so gay?
Puck tells Finn that Kurt doesn’t belong on the football team. What does Puck mean when he says, “I’m a stud. I can wear a dress to school and people think it’s cool?”
What I think: The terms of status in school mean that justice is always unequal. If you’re cool, you can get away with doing things other kids would get killed for. This is one of the foundations of bullying and aggression.
But let’s end on a high note. On the bright side:
How does Glee club fight the rules of power and status at school? How does being in the Glee club allow members to break free of stereotypes about who’s in and who’s out?
What I think: Music levels the playing field. When the kids take the stage, passion smashes the hierarchy of high school to bits. And that’s why I get chills when I watch. Hope springs eternal.