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Glee Has A Lot of Problems But Its Certainly Not Amoral

May 25, 2012

In the wake of reading far too many articles about the harm Glee is doing to the very progressive base it takes credit for embracing I’d like to take a look at the series. I’ll be the first to admit that Glee is not a very good show on most days. It’s unevenly written and has trouble grasping the very ideals it seeks to teach its characters.

It’s imperfect, but anyone who says the cruelty and manipulation it shows its’ characters is tasteless is missing the point. Of course it’s exploitive and reprehensible— it’s about high school. Anyone who has spent time in a public middle or high school should recall how common and casual cruelty can be. It isn’t surprising the writers have fallen into the same line of thinking its characters would which is to take serious issues; the lives of gay teenagers, abused women, people of color, bullying and make them appear both all consuming and terribly uncomplicated all at once.

Ryan Murphy, the show’s creator, doesn’t delve much into the moral fiber of his characters. Like many teen soaps he uses a sort of morality-based shorthand that is occasionally just as good as the real thing. He works in consequences more often than personal growth. Glee became popular in a season where one of its main characters got pregnant then lied about who the father was. It was never about moral fortitude regardless of how we’re now qualifying that. For the same reason it’s senseless to condemn the show for being scandalous it’s not worthwhile to shame it for being sloppy.

There is no higher ground; there are too many hormones at work for that.  FOX has a similar problem mostly because they’ve come to the conclusion that their viewers don’t have perspective so they don’t work to create any. Regardless of those faults it still finds ways to explore things that have were previously taboo or inappropriate for mainstream conversation. I view it in much the same way I see the feminism of my generation. It’s lighter and less reverent, a little more willing to make itself the butt of a joke, but more young women are exposed to feminist ideas because it’s broadened and become a more accessible movement.

That’s not to say in some ways the critics aren’t right. Glee has always been a bit of high water act, lots of grandiose ideas and themes and very little actual complexity. It races into and through storylines that supposedly examine serious problems. As a show Glee searches continuously for that one transcendent moment and it regularly falls on its face for its efforts. It’s not equipped for nuance.

The overarching problem is that critics then qualify Glee as a show about identify and identities (whether it be characters coming out or discovering their own defying attributes), but it’s a show about high school and therefore it will always be a show about moderation. That’s what high school is despite what it’s often portrayed as, your first opportunity to learn limits. Glee is still learning what their limits are.

As progressives we should expect more from shows than to simply include diverse characters, but not anything near perfection. The world is at times an exploitative place we can’t condemn our television for telegraphing that instead of our higher ideals.

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