Apparently Glee had a “very special” and “heart-wrenching” episode this past week. I wasn’t going to write about it, because I don’t care too much about the show, but with the number of blogs I’ve read opening it up for discussion in a boom of comments and with my interest in gay representation in stories as both a gay man and lover of fiction writing, I feel compelled to weigh in. I didn’t see the episode. I can’t stand Glee after giving it many shots last year. Its status as a sing-a-long for adults aside, it tends to be a pretty heavily male-centric show and leaves its characters in the respective pigeonholes set up for them. I wouldn’t have that much of a problem, since most shows on TV tend to do this, especially teen dramas, but many of its viewers claim the show is breaking new barriers for acceptance and tolerance. The creator himself even has this high opinion of his own show. I’m sorry, but simply depicting minorities on TV isn’t groundbreaking if they merely fit into the molds made for them. It’s just not. These depictions are actually an affront to these minority groups.
To those of you who didn’t see the episode, Kurt, the token gay teen, gets bullied by a football player, who turns out to be gay himself, and at the end brashly kisses Kurt. At least this is what I understand by what I’ve read about it. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Of course I’m glad when TV shows portray gay characters and their struggles. We need it. I don’t have any problem with Glee including such a story line, especially with all the bouts of recent homophobia found in the news. I take issue with how it has been perceived by certain bloggers and the commentators. This isn’t nearly as revolutionary as these “gleeks” are claiming. Gay kissing on TV isn’t anything new, and the barriers have already been broken. I remember seeing it in the shows I watched growing up. The first primetime male to male kiss aired on Dawson’s Creek in its third season finale – the episode entitled “True Love” – with Jack and his love interest of the season. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had Willow and Tara’s first kiss in its fifth season in the episode “The Body,” and the two shared many others on the show after that. And I loved the way BTVS did it too. The episode is innovative, not because of the kiss, but because of the realistic, severe, and jarring way it was shot along with the subject matter. The episode is so focused on the death of Buffy’s mom, and Joss Whedon throws it in casually. In the season five episode commentary, he said he wanted the first kiss not to be such a big deal in the primary spotlight but something natural and common. The two show affection to each other with a kiss for mutual solace in the wake of grief, similar to many other scenes with straight couples doing the same. It wasn’t forced but expected of how their characters would be reacting in the scene. The WB wanted Whedon to take it out, but he refused and threatened to cease production of the show if it wouldn’t air with the kiss included.
Cut to about ten years later with this past week’s episode of Glee. My main beef with the show is how every character is an exaggerated cast type, and the closeted gay football player is no exception. Sure, on Dawson’s Creek, Jack played football, but he was already out, and I would hardly classify the treatment of his character as steeped in stereotypes. Gay fiction has transcended the “coming out” story, and now the aim must be to depict gays and lesbians like any character would be with their sexuality as a non-issue. The difficulty is perhaps balancing this with the necessity to convey the reality of the internal conflict gays and lesbians do go through in our culture, a balancing act done pretty well with Jack’s character, and impressive that it was on a teenage soap opera. After the first few seasons included story lines about his coming out, the show went on to provide arcs in which he had multiple romantic interests just like his verbose peers which is more than I can say for how Kurt fits into the acceptable and safe “celibate” but “flamboyant” image of the gay male. What real progress has been made here? If Glee is as diverse and progressive as some allege, as Ryan Murphy himself alleges, it would’ve had a male-male kiss already, and should’ve taken a cue from its predecessors to not base it on gross stereotypes.
Willow and Tara in “The Body” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, aired 02/27/2001
Jack and Ethan in “True Love” from Dawson’s Creek, aired 05/24/2000