On Glee, Bullying, and Inventing Things Differently

I don’t watch Glee, largely because I don’t find it compelling at all, except in that the musical numbers can be fun. The show also pissed me off with a few episodes whose messages were quite clearly: disabled people are here so that able-bodied people can appreciate what they have. Additionally, I don’t find the characters or plots very compelling, so I don’t watch it, and I haven’t seen the most recent episodes.

I guess the most recent episode was “First Kiss,” “Never Been Kissed,” where Kurt (the gay character) gets bullied by someone who turns out to be a struggling with his own homosexuality. Greteman has a wonderful discussion about the rather conservative approach of the show: the gay boy as the victim whose first kiss has to come through a violent encounter, and the bully as a closeted gay guy. From Greteman:

We could not see Kurt have his first kiss be the ideal, romanticized first kiss because that would not have made him sufficiently the victim. It would have made the gay scene of intimacy as romantic and legitimate as the scenes of straight intimacy we saw between all the “straight” couples. And this is just unacceptable it seems. Instead, we can only imagine the gay male as victim as we most often see Kurt OR as we saw him in the first season as the “predator” trying to turn his straight crushes gay. Now, Kurt’s presence on TV is significant. He is a significant representation to see on TV as GLBT students are present and visible in high schools more and more in contemporary society. And do face a constant barrage of harassment and bullying, often left unaddressed by teachers and administrators. This was seen poignantly when Kurt confronted Mr. Shue.

. . .

My disappointment is that the “gay” youth seemingly can only operate as victims. They are never successful, always haunted by bullying and violence against their body. And, to a certain extent this violence is an important constitutive element of being a “gay” subject. But, I think investigating and thinking about ways to read this violence is important.

I’ve been meaning to post my thoughts on the recent “It Gets Better” campaign and the anti-bullying discourse that has been circulating over the last few months. Hopefully, I will find more time and energy for that. But at the moment, what I would say, is, in rhetorical terms, we lack inventional topoi to imagine arguments and representation differently. There are the same standard talking points: the young gay boy is a victim, the bully may be (probably is) a repressed homosexual, the problem is psychological (don’t be mean!). Cindy Patton, in Fatal Advice, explores how sex ed taught straight youth that HIV was a gay problem, and that gay men were to be felt sorry for while straight people were immune to the disease. I think the anti-bullying discourse seems to be working the same way: feel sorry for the young gay boys, feel better about yourself for feeling sorry for them, and vilify the bully rather than addressing the system.

Richard Kim wrote a wonderful piece in the Nation recently about imagining things differently:

So when faced with something so painful and complicated as gay teen suicide, it’s easier to go down the familiar path, to invoke the wrath of law and order, to create scapegoats out of child bullies who ape the denials and anxieties of adults, to blame it on technology or to pare down homophobia into a social menace called “anti-gay bullying” and then confine it to the borders of the schoolyard.

It’s tougher, more uncertain work creating a world that loves queer kids, that wants them to live and thrive.

Amen. One last approach: American Pragmatist Josiah Royce Philip Hallie has written about how kindness can be the ultimate means of cruelty. For slaves, having a kind master conveys that they know how to do kind things, but refuse to do the ultimate kindness: end slavery. With sexism, kind acts like flowers and opening doors for women show women that sexist men can be nice, but still refuse to fight sexism. And the same is true of anti-bullying campaigns: it teaches to be nice and to feel sorry for, rather to act to change how privilege and heterosexism can be changed.

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2 Responses to On Glee, Bullying, and Inventing Things Differently

  1. Nels says:

    Hmmm, you make good points (like usual!), but a lot of other gay blogs I’ve been reading about the episode point out that the idealized kiss would have been some kind of unrealistic cop-out. I’m not sure anymore what I think, I have to admit. When I watched it, I wasn’t surprised by anything. Some gay blogs have been saying for weeks that this was going to happen because it’s what happened to so many of us, especially since this was the bully (of the two on the show) who kept touching Kurt. I’ve been arguing since Tuesday that I saw this as realistic, based only on my own experiences and probably age, of course.

    Love the last paragraph. That’s going to stick with me.

  2. Michael says:

    I agree that an idealistic kiss would have been a cop-out, but not so much because it’s unrealistic. I’m not sure I care how realistic it is: I care more about the rhetoric of it. A romantic kiss leads down the “just like straight people” route.

    I guess what I want is something that surprises us, which is an unrealistic expectation on my part, perhaps.

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