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Archive for the ‘Glee’ Category

Rebound: Being Unique on “Glee”

In gender, girl culture, Glee on April 25, 2012 at 5:11 pm

Phoebe B.

Lena Dunham’s hotly anticipated Girls is still the topic of the week, with bad and good reviews in every major and minor news outlet. In all the hubbub, I worry that we might have missed what was (for me at least) the most exciting moment of television in some time. Last week, Glee addressed being gender non-conforming through high school student and Vocal Adrenaline member Wade/Unique. Wade feels more at home when expressing his gender as feminine and the amazing Unique is definitely not the kind of girl who gets included in Girls.

Unique is played by Alex Newell, from last year’s Glee Project. Alex regularly performed in drag during the show. For example, he once wowed Ryan Murphy by singing “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls as Effie White, which may or may not have brought me to tears (I love that song!). He is truly talented and I loved him on the Glee Project (and on Glee for that matter). Sadly, he didn’t win the Glee Project, but I am grateful that Ryan Murphy saw his talent and cast him anyway—and I would LOVE to see more of him.

So here’s what happened on Glee last week: Wade asked Kurt and Mercedes whether he should perform as Unique in a Vocal Adrenaline show. The duo dissuades him from doing so, then persuades him (per Sue’s evil-ish influence), and then attempts to dissuade him again. The final dissuading, however, is unsuccessful, and Wade goes on to perform as Unique and wow the crowd. She sings, following the Disco themed episode, “Put on My Boogie Shoes.”

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Glee, Gay Bullying, Silence, Suicide, and Speaking Out

In Glee, violence on February 22, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Phoebe B.

The winter finale of Glee put teen bullying in the spotlight, focusing on the suicide attempt of former bully-turned-sweetheart David Karofsky. Karofsky, a former McKinley High football player, once wreaked havoc on Kurt’s daily life—Karofsky violently and oppressively bullied Kurt, ultimately causing him to briefly change schools (to the private school Dalton). However, it is revealed in the course of the series that Karofsky is in fact gay, a realization for him which prompted and perpetuated his bullying of Kurt. Last week, Karofsky announced his crush on Kurt, which was overheard (and seen) by his football buddy, which begins his forced outing, subsequent bullying, and suicide attempt. Amidst discussion of Tennessee’s proposed prohibition of the word “gay,” Glee argues quite loudly about the dangers of that kind of constructed and oppressive silence—as Rolling Stone did a few weeks ago in “One Town’s War on Gay Teens.”

Teens who are queer, questioning, gay, lesbian, transgender, or not cisgendered face the distinct danger of both real and emotional violence. This point is driven home by Karofsky after his suicide attempt as he talks to Kurt in the hospital. Karofsky says that his mother thinks he has a disease or that there is something wrong with him that could be curable—an experience he shares with Santana, whose grandmother kicks her out of the house after she comes out. With hateful language directed at him on Facebook, Twitter, tumblr, and on his locker, Karofsky lives in an environment where violence is inescapable and no place is safe. Glee does not shy away from the very real violence that pushed Karosfky to attempt suicide. Indeed, Kurt tells the prayer group that people on Facebook are still demanding he try again, as he explains the differences between Quinn’s experience as a pregnant teen and his and Karofsky’s experiences as gay teens in small-town Ohio. Kurt counters Quinn’s notion that suicide is purely selfish as he explains the fear and sense of clear and ever-present danger faced by out gay teens and even adults. He explains how suicide might feel like the only safe place amidst the violence and abuse, the only place away from the self-loathing, and a consequence of the isolation felt by Karofsky.

Karofsky's dad finds him after his suicide attempt

The episode references the suicide pandemic recently detailed by Rolling Stone. The article suggests that the consequences of a prescribed silence on anything deemed not-heteronormative isolated students and ultimately led, in Minnesota, to the rash of teen suicides. Indeed, in this Glee episode Principal Figgins suggests that the faculty must be careful to avoid multiple suicides in the aftermath of Karofsky’s attempt. And then, in that scene, teachers from Mr. Schuester to Sue Sylvester wonder what they could have done to prevent Karofsky’s suicide attempt. They wonder if it was in fact their responsibility to talk to him or to have intervened earlier. Mr. Schuester reminds the group that they had worried for Kurt’s safety, which was why they came down so hard on Karofsky, but Sue interjects that she knew something was up and she should have said something. Emma ends the conversation and the scene with the question: if it wasn’t our responsibility, then whose was it? Emma suggests here, I think, the ways in which teachers ought to protect their students and the ways in which the ability of teachers to speak to their students freely can create a safer and less lonely space.

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