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Just a Question…

2010/05/26

How is it that Glee, arguably today’s most watched, highest praised prime-time television show with out queer cast members (Jane Lynch and Chris Colfer) consistently disappoints me with its insistence on heteronormativity and then (sort of) wins me back by the end of each episode? Particularly this week’s Lady Gaga themed episode, “Theatricality”, which had the highest potential to date for radical queer politics. Half of the show relied entirely on reenforcing gender norms, with “the girls” (including Kurt, the young gay teen character) dressing like and performing songs by Lady Gaga. “The guys”, however, uncomfortable with the idea, don KISS costumes and rock out in a more “acceptable” version of glam. I suppose painting a lightening bolt on your face is femme-y while painting on cat whiskers is butch?

Meanwhile, Finn struggles to cope with the idea of sharing a bedroom with Kurt, the result of their parents moving in together. He is troubled by Kurt’s omnipresent queerness, claiming he “puts [his] underwear on in the shower every morning” because he’s uncomfortable with Kurt’s sexuality. Finn is even physically repulsed by Kurt’s attempt to help him remove his KISS make up with a moist towelette. While Finn’s reaction is probably a realistic representative of how many highschool boys would respond to queerish contact, it’s a story we’ve all heard ad nauseum.

Unfortunately, however, Finn can hardly be blamed; Kurt’s character has taken a rather creepy turn in the past few episodes, concocting a scheme that pairs up their parents in order to position Finn as a kind of brother/room-mate/ object of desire. The whole dynamic has a problematic incestuous vibe to it. Kurt is simultaneously the creepiest and the most emotionally realistic character in the show; his coming out to his father was one of the most emotional scenes of the entire season, but his continued efforts to get Finn into his bedroom are borderline disturbed. And, again, isn’t the story of the gay boy hopelessly infatuated with the straight jock another narrative past its expiration date?

Conversely, the scenes with Kurt’s father have continued to be heartwarming and reasonably progressive. When Finn refers to Kurt’s choice of decor as “faggy”, Kurt’s father bursts on to the scene demanding that Finn leave his house immediately and reassuring Kurt that the room looks great. It’s standard fare, yes, but it’s about as good as I’ve come to expect from the average television show. The episode concludes with Finn defending Kurt’s right to be different from a pair of football players, wrapped in a red shower curtain (which I guess is the straight boy version of a Lady Gaga outfit).     

So my question is, it is alright to be completely essentializing and heteronormative on the one hand, and moderately progressive on the other? Is Glee giving viewers the queer-lite version of progressiveness (“Being different is fine! We’re all different!”) while continuing to propagate what it means to be a “real” man/woman? And perhaps most importantly, am I asking too much from a television show that one can watch on basic cable?

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