Monday, April 15, 2013

Glee: It (Doesn't) Gets Better - Reflection/Hyperlink?

Ok. So here's my tiff. While we can all agree that Glee is hugely problematic, I want to take a closer look at the reasons that this show and these episodes are hugely problematic to LGBTQ youth. In doing so I'd like to discuss Individualism as it relates to Kurt and his problems. Bare with me, this might be a tangled mess of problems. Ok so first off, the audience is meant to see Kurt as a blatant homosexual kid. If we were to examine him and break his character down into boxes, he would be the stereotypical gay man who is a diva, cares about his clothing, hair, and makeup, talks only about "femme" issues (planning weddings, outfits, scarves, and high fashion), and gender bending. We see him as flamboyant, full of himself and his talents, and grabbing for attention. This is a problematic stereotype of gay men. While there are some folks who love to brag about themselves and their outfits, not all of them are painted as homosexual men. Kurt is never really given the chance to be anything but gay. He's a token, someone who is there to put some drama and some representation into the mix. If you were to ask any conscious (read: aware) person in the non-heterosexual/gender conformist spectrum, you would notice another phenomenon: NOT ALL NON-HETEROSEXUALS ARE LIKE THIS. In fact, there are very few who are. Yet the presentation of Kurt as a representative character of this group of people is not only highly problematic, but repititious. More often than not homosexuality is portrayed in media by being dominated by white gay flamboyant males, ignoring gender variants (read trans*gender folk, queer folk, agender/genderless folk), people of color, lesbian women, bisexual people, asexuals, and folks of intersex experience. Nope. We're all white, we are all masculine femmes, and we all love anal sex and blow jobs. Having Kurt represent even the smallest part of the LGBTQetc. spectrum on a show where he's the only openly gay character (I'm purposely ignoring Croftski for the moment because he represents another type of gay masculinity that I may get to later.) is irresponsible at best. Being a female-bodied, queer identifying person in a same sex romantic situation, I look at Kurt and feel happy that at least there's a non-heterosexual on the show. But then again there's no one like me. Lesbianism is a joke and something that isn't talked about unless it is for the eyes of straight males. There are no straight women begging gay men to watch them have sex. There is so little representation of LGBTQetc. clarity that it sickens me. The second thing that is really problematic with Kurt's situation is the use of this complex with Individualism. For now, we'll understand individualism is the USAmerican cultural believe that nothing is unreachable and that whether you succeed or fail in this culture, it is your own doing. Imagine this as a "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" kind of moment. Individualism states that if something good happens in your life (you get a raise, for example,) it is because of something that YOU did, not the social structures that surround you. Likewise, if you don't have a job, it's your own fault because YOU weren't trying hard enough to get one. If you're on welfare, it's your own fault - not the fact that you have been systematically denied your rights to get a job. This is individualism: The belief that you are the only one responsible for what happens to you. This affects Kurt in a really twisted way. When he's being picked on my Croftski, Blaine (Darren Criss, who is absolutely fabulous and wonderful and who plays Harry Potter in A Very Potter Musical <3 <3 <3) tells Kurt to find "courage". "Courage" is the thing that is going to make him stop bullying Kurt. "Courage" is the thing that is going to make all the bad things in life stop happening to Kurt. "Courage" is the answer to his problem when he is being physically assaulted in school. "Courage" is how Kurt is going to avoid being kissed or touched in the locker room or the hallway. What a load of bullshit. Courage is the twisted little smirk of this individualism complex that runs rampant all through the show. According to Blaine, having courage to be who you are is the answer. Courage will open doors and end oppression. Courage will let us all come together in solidarity to help fight homophobia. If that were the case, I'd be fucking chock full of courage! Here's the problem: When you tell someone that a problem they are having can be fixed by them doing something about it, that is encouraging individualism. No human deserves to be bullied because they are different than the rest. With Blaine telling this to Kurt, as noble as his intentions are, it gives the viewer this understanding that Kurt's problems are the problems of all LGBTQetc. identifying people and that all they need to do is fix it for themselves. Sue Sylvester calls high school "a dry-run for the rest of your life" and says that "people are nasty." Oh. Ok. So by this logic, along with Blaine's concept of Courage, Kurt should either put up or shut up. To me as someone who is not heterosexual and can relate somewhat to Kurt, it feels very much like "It Gets Better", that popular phrase that Dan Savage created for youth who were coming out and comitting suicide. With this believe that the outsider will be assimilated and that "It Gets Better", there's this sort of false belief that people will stop being nasty after high school and that this is a temporary thing. It fuels this Courage complex that Blaine believes in, that all things can and will get better if you just pick yourself up by your bootstraps and tell your enemies what's what. In truth, it's not uncommon for this to happen to LGBTetc. youth and when they confront it, they get murdered in some alley or in some field by homophobic understanding of human nature (See: The Larame Project). But what Glee communicates to the audience is that problem is a normal problem for the LGBTQetc. community and that all those who are represented by that community should know that life sucks now but it will get better. It doesn't always get better. It is a false hope that LGBTQetc. identifying people won't have to expect unhappiness later on after high school. Or at the very least that they should just deal with it, as Sue Sylvester says. To me, this is horribly painful simply because the oppressed (LGBTQetc. community) are then put into a position where their pain is a characteristic of life, leading people to think that it's normal and there's no need to fight. Keep it under control and have the courage to be yourself. LGBTetc. youth don't need just courage. That's putting a bandaid over a broken leg. They need allies - something that Glee was sorely lacking - a no-tolerance policy for violence and bullying, safe-spaces, and basic human rights, which do NOT include Croftski forcing a kiss on Kurt. For the sake of this response, I hope that I've listed enough to make my point clear. I am extremely uncomfortable with this series and none of them are simple reasons that I can list off. There are many problems with this show and I don't like the idea that this is what teenage-hood is being depicted as. *screaming* And I'm done.


  1. Great post.
    I do believe Santana eventually comes out (or, rather, is dragged out of the closet by Finn) later in the series. But, before that, her perceived bisexuality was definitely played up for the male gaze.

    Is it actually fair to say very few people like Kurt exist? Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the amount of folk who fall into similar stereotypes as Kurt are not as common as media would make them out to be (because, basically, almost every gay man on TV is the flamboyant, femme, gay man as you've mentioned above). But to say that there are very few with this personality IRL seems potentially dismissive? I know that, particularly in Black queer communities (and I use this just because Black queer communities are the communities I happen to be the most familiar with, although as I've admitted before my familiarity is sadly inadequate), these qualities that are 'rare' are quite easy to be found but the REAL people are far more complex than the two-dimensional representations that we often get from TV. I just fear it's veering too close to something akin to the "Real women are ____, not ____" that we see a lot of nowadays (you know, when asking for more 'plus-size' models or something and the argument is 'Real women look like this [insert photo of larger woman] not this [insert image of very thin woman'] when in reality both images are "real" women and to uphold one over the other can lead to a sort of dismissal/erasure that wasn't the original intention). I refer to you on this, though, as you're far more knowledgeable than me. Just a thought that popped in my head while reading.

  2. I think that's a very good point that I overlooked or at least didn't edit to say. I meant to say that Kurt's character is gay and thats pretty much it. There's not really another side to him, nothing that marks him as being human like everyone else in the show is. Perhaps what I meant to say is that there is no character outside of the gay stereotype that is Kurt. There is a problem with jow I phrased that so thanks for pointing it out to me and keepin it honest. I did the post in a bit of a rush and didnt reread it...

  3. There's also something big to be said about the ways in which Kurt is presented a the stereotype for gay men and masculinity, but also as LGBTQetc. Identifying people. It's kinda like all other types of nonheterosexuality get brushed aside to feed this consumeristic image of "the white fag" (and I use that term specifically as a type of privuleged acceptable nonheterosexuality because gay doesn't embrace the true understanding of what this dilemma is. However, as I'm often viewe to be in a privileged position when using this particular word, i would like to point out tht I mean it both offensively and not offensively, and that

  4. Loved loved loved your breakdown of Kurt.
    And yes I do agree that he is only there to just say "hey look we have a gay kid in the show". and also he is very problematic and stereotypical.
    And like you said there are many problems with this show, but one thing that still sticks out to me is the bullying of all kinds (cyber, physical, verbal and emotional) but yet not one not one person even tries to do anything about it.
    The principal basically tells Kurt to deal with it and that it gets better eventually or whatever.
    Which to me is a pile of bull.
    This show does not give anyone being bullied in the real world a sense of hope or help or sense that some people might be able to help them out.

  5. your breakdown of kurt was the best part of the blog. these stereotypes are always represented by the media. i like how much you had to say about glee, you went more in depth than anyone else's posts i have read. i also liked how you were like "oh wait!" and added two more comments because you had so much to say - very admirable. i like how strongly you feel about something and that you express yourself completely. - great post!